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Why pay for therapy when you can just make zines?

Jane's zines
I’m being facetious with that headline, of course. But not so long ago, I spotted a tweet from someone saying that they only made zines because they couldn’t afford therapy. And that kind of struck a chord with me…

Admittedly, I was lucky enough to receive bereavement counselling for free through St Christopher’s hospice when I was really struggling after Dad died. One of the things I was finding immensely difficult and draining was the gargantuan task of sifting through everything my family ever owned in our old house in West Wickham. Every single object had a memory attached to it. Parting with it forever seemed such a wrench. I was determined to do the right thing by everything – even stuff that had been shoved up in the loft and forgotten about since 1974.

It’s hard to move on from the past when you’re completely surrounded by it. But it was during those counselling sessions that I began to carve a path through. Talking about Dad to someone who’d never met him served to reaffirm what an incredible, unstoppable force he was – and, not for the first time, someone was fascinated to hear how Dad’s passion for photographing street art and graffiti kept him going right to the end. And so the idea for How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While) was born – providing me with an outlet in which to tell Dad’s story and somewhere to showcase a few of the 33,000-plus street art pictures I’d inherited.

Dad and Thierry Noir
Thierry Noir gets the Dad treatment

More and more things my dad saw

The incredible response to that book definitely helped me turn a corner in the grieving process. But the task of clearing the house remained – with literally hundreds of photo albums still filling the shelves and every other nook and cranny. I had absolutely no intention of throwing away photographs, I hasten to add – but they just wouldn’t all fit into our little house in Penge.

(As an aside, one winter’s day in the early ’00s, I went over to Dad’s house and noted that the temperature wasn’t very different indoors from outdoors. So I decided – not unreasonably – to turn on the gas fire. But then I discovered that the gas fire had been removed. In its place in the hole in the wall were three more shelves filled with photo albums. ‘Dad!‘)

Anyway, sifting through more of Dad’s weird and wonderful photographs led to Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) and the inventively titled More Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning). But then there were all the old family photographs, diaries, scrapbooks and letters from way-back-when to contend with. It made me think more and more about what it was like to grow up as an only child in a happy home with three amazing parents – Mum, Dad and Nan. I wanted to tell my Nan’s story, too. And so along came the next inventive title.

Jane and Nan
Blowing out the candles – while Nan and the novelty salt cellar look on

Ken Dodd and the polystyrene head

Every time I went to the house, though, it was still full of memories. The more Tom and I removed from it, the more long-forgotten objects seemed to pour out of the walls. An ancient tin of fish food! (My last goldfish died in 1978.) A polystyrene head! (Nope – no idea who bought that or why.) A signed photograph of Ken Dodd! (It’s in a frame by my desk. You don’t honestly think I’d throw that away, do you?) And one day at the start of this year, I was reunited with ‘the radio’, having become convinced I’d accidentally thrown it out shortly after Dad died. Which radio? Well, you’ll have to read Send Me A Sign to find out.

Somehow, though, we finally managed to clear it all. And two weeks ago, I walked out of the home where I grew up for the very last time. It’s somebody else’s home now and I hope they’ll be very happy there. It’s a lovely house. But it’s just a house. And I’ve still got a loft full of photographs and a lifetime of memories to treasure.

The profits from all the titles mentioned here go to St Christopher’s hospice – with the exception of those from Nan, which are shared 50/50 between St Christopher’s and Age UK. Compiling them – with Tom’s help, of course – has certainly helped me through the past few years.

Part of me feels I should leave the past in the loft and start looking to pastures new for my next zine. The only thing is… I’ve just taken delivery of a new viewer/scanner so I can finally look through the huge crate of Dad’s photographic slides from the 1960s and 1970s. Watch this space!

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St Christopher’s hospice: we’re upping our fundraising efforts

Our books and zine for St Christopher's and Age UK
Look, I know we could all do without yet more misery at the moment, but please hear me out… Due to you-know-what (I can’t even bear to type its name), our local hospice – St Christopher’s – has had to cancel all the vital fundraising events that were planned for the spring and summer.

It’s 25 years today since my wonderful, irreplaceable mum died – with Dad, Tom and I at her side – at St Christopher’s. And three years ago today, we were having one of the worst days ever at home with Dad, who was suffering severe symptoms stemming from his cancer and a recent hospital-acquired infection. Frankly, it was unbearable.

And then St Christopher’s came to our rescue. Later that week, Dad was admitted to the inpatient unit in Sydenham for symptom control and to give Tom and me a rest. By the weekend, he had perked up considerably and we were able to take him out from the hospice to look at the amazing street art that had started to pop up in Penge.

If you’ve read How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While), you know the rest. Yes, Dad’s love of graffiti and street art gave him (and us) focus and meaning at a time when our world was otherwise falling apart. But it was the invaluable support and care we received from St Christopher’s that really made those final few weeks as smooth and bearable as they possibly could be.

Our family owe St Christopher’s a huge debt, which we’ve been trying to repay in some small way by donating all the profits from How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While) and Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning). As you may know, we’ve now raised more than £2,500, with a little help from our friends. Oh, and I should add that the idea for the graffiti book really came to life during bereavement counselling sessions I received via the hospice.

I’ve also just written a little zine – Send Me A Sign – which is about Mum’s messages from beyond the grave (possibly). It’s only £2, but we’ll be donating all the profits from that to the hospice, too. And we’re already giving half of the profits from Nan to Age UK – but we’ll now give the other half to St Christopher’s.

I realise everyone’s watching their pennies at the moment. And there are lots of other worthy charities across the UK who are feeling the pinch and equally deserving of our support. But, you know, if you’re in the market for a book or zine while you self-isolate/try to ignore the news… Every little helps.

PS Please also take a look at Victoria Sellar’s beautiful photozines – 3:52AM and Anything With A Face. All proceeds from both go to the amazing Maggie’s Centres, who provide free cancer support and care.

PPS On behalf of Mum, who is doubtless rolling her eyes at me in the afterlife, I would just like to say that – unlike everything else I’ve written for Colossive – my next zine will NOT include any mention of her dying. After all, she did lots of other things, too. And out of everything she did, the bit where she died was definitely my least favourite…

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Nan – the ‘lost’ photographs

Isn’t it always the way? When I was compiling Nan at the end of last year, I was convinced I’d once seen some photographs of Nan as a little girl. But try as I might – and God knows I tried – I couldn’t find these pictures anywhere.

And then a few days ago – when I was, naturally, searching high and low for something else of great importance – I stumbled across a grey cardboard folder containing around 30 assorted family photographs from way-back-when. (I think Dad assembled this little collection when he was going through his ‘genealogy phase’ in the late 1990s.)

Anyway, here’s the aforementioned picture of Nan when she was about three or four years old, I think…

Nan as a little girl

This would have been taken soon after the rapid change of fortunes that saw her mum, Gertrude, marry Bill – the man Nan came to call ‘Dad’.

And here’s Granddad (fourth from right, with his tin hat at a jaunty angle) and his fellow air raid wardens in Dulwich during World War II…

Granddad and the air raid wardens

I was also very pleased to find this picture of Granddad (back row, left) with his parents and siblings in around 1920…

Dyck family

Aunty Jimmy is missing from the line-up for some reason. Perhaps she was making the tea. But that’s Aunty Pussy striking a pose with a kitten in her arms in the foreground. I’m wondering now whether Aunty Pussy’s rather ‘unusual’ name was due to her love of cats. It’s a much nicer theory than some I’ve come up with over the years.

And finally, here’s Nan circa 1980 – continuing the family’s love of wearing off-kilter headgear…

Queen Nan

The crown was mine, by the way. But I didn’t mind lending it to genuine royalty…

To find out more about Nan, Granddad and Aunty Pussy (but mainly me and Nan), buy Nan for £6 plus postage; half of all profits will go to Age UK

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Why I wrote Nan

Nan coverIt’s just over 24 years since Nan died – so why suddenly write a little book about her now?

I read somewhere that most people are ‘forgotten’ within three or four generations. We hand down stories about our parents and grandparents – but beyond that, things tend to get a little hazy. I never met my great-grandmother, Gertrude – we missed one another by just over a year – but thanks mainly to Mum and Nan, I’ve been armed with enough colourful anecdotes and black and white photographs to form a vague picture of the kind of person she was. But that’s all it is: vague.

Nan, however, lives large in my mind. I don’t think a day has passed when I haven’t looked at her photograph, said her name out loud or at least thought of her. I can still hear her voice. And if I close my eyes and focus, I can feel her hand in mine. I miss her terribly.

I don’t want Nan’s memory to fade away to nothing. But Tom and I don’t have any children. We’re the last of the line in both our families. There’s nobody obvious to pass these stories on to. In the main, this doesn’t worry me. I can’t grieve for people who never existed. It’s exhausting enough grieving for the ones who actually did. And yet…

It’s hit me harder over the past two-and-a-half years since Dad died. The family home where I grew up – an end-of-terrace house with Nan’s little flat on the side – is finally empty, and Tom and I have been tackling the gargantuan task of clearing out everything my family ever owned. The clothes, the crockery, the furniture, the toys, the ornaments, the plethora of vintage sporting equipment: most of them are easy enough to part with. But what about all the photographs, the letters and the other little mementos that somehow clung on through time?

Some people would have just chucked them all in a skip. And I know that’s what will happen eventually – but not on my watch! They’ve helped me through the grieving process, to revisit the happy and not-so-happy days of the past and to tell the story of my Nan, and my relationship with her.

Nan was my ‘third parent’. I was so lucky to have her – particularly when my other two parents were pretty special, too. She spent her entire life looking after other people and never wanting anything more than what she already had. I wish I could be more like her.

So in short, I wrote Nan because I wanted to share her story. I didn’t want her to be forgotten. I wanted somewhere to store all these anecdotes and memories. I really hope you enjoy it…

Buy Nan for £6 plus postage; half of all profits will go to Age UK.