It’s been nearly a year in the making. After all, it takes a while to sift through 10,000 photographs. But More Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) is finally here. This is the second collection of Dad’s bizarre and baffling London street photography. And it’s even bigger – and a little bit brighter – than the first.
Like most people, we’ve been trying desperately to look on the bright side of life over recent weeks. And if the global pandemic hadn’t pretty much put us under house arrest, chances are I still wouldn’t have finished going through Dad’s albums. On balance, of course, I’d definitely prefer that to be the case. But it’s also true that – three years after his death – Dad’s been helping us get through the uncertainty, upset and boredom of lockdown.
The photographs he took on his London wanderings have kept us entertained and intrigued as we made the final selection for the book. They’ve also helped us feel connected to the city we love while we haven’t been able to get out there and enjoy it properly for ourselves. There are some sadder shots among them – but on the whole, Dad’s pictures show the capital at its very best. It’s loud. It’s crowded. It’s colourful. And it’s the best place in the world.
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.
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…
After Mum died in March 1995, Dad never went back to his job in a sports shop. He was heartbroken, exhausted and not *that* far off retirement age anyway. Instead, he began to spend more and more time out with his camera in London – taking countless photographs of the city he knew and loved. But he didn’t always think to mention where he’d been and what he’d seen. And I didn’t always think to ask…
In compiling this book, I was once again faced with a huge challenge: which pictures to use from the many, many albums and memory cards Dad left behind?
Picture quality was a major consideration. Not all the negatives from the pre-digital shots survived and many of the A5 scans just weren’t good enough to make the final cut – which is why this one of the Royal Family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace ended up in the ‘overs’ pile…
There were also lots of pictures of celebrities: Gordon Ramsay running the London Marathon; Dawn French strolling through Trafalgar Square; and a delightful close-up of Rolf Harris at an art fair, taken back when he was a much-loved family entertainer and adopted national treasure, rather than… well… you know…
Quick! Let’s change the subject – here’s that nice Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet…
Oh, and here’s another picture that didn’t make the book: writer and broadcaster Robert Elms interviewing a giant hamster…
We nipped home and grabbed a few copies, and after a few sales and some very kind donations, we had enough for our next contribution to St Christopher’s. Amazingly, that’s taken our total so far past £1,500. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped.
Hot on the heels of that, the good folks at St Christopher’s wrote a lovely feature about Gordon, Jane and our two books that are raising funds for the hospice. You can read it here: http://bit.ly/stcgraffitibook
We’ve said it before, but we’re amazed and proud that Gordon’s story and photos have touched as many people as they have. We couldn’t be more pleased that his legacy is living on and having such a positive impact.
Tomorrow’s a big day – our second-ever zine fest, and the first that’s not a single bus ride from our house. If you’re anywhere near the Workstation in Sheffield tomorrow (Saturday 18th May), please come and see us!
We’re really pleased to be launching two new bits of work: 3:52AM, a perzine of words and photography by VJ Sellar about the experience of insomnia; and Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning), a collection of Gordon Gibbens’ photos of the stranger side of London life. Plus, we weren’t sure we were going to be able to pull this off, but there’ll be a special treat for fans of Tracey Pitcher…
* Obviously this egregious display of mutual back-scratching will do little to allay the suspicions of those who think we’re part of the Secret World Small Press Government.
We’re enormously grateful to the shop’s co-proprietor Jonathan Main, who is carrying our book free of charge to maximise our donations to St Christopher’s. If you’re within staggering distance of London SE19, roll up, enjoy the fresh air and support an invaluable local bookshop.
In related news, we’re currently hard at work*** on a companion volume of Gordon’s non-street-art pics – Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) – which we’re aiming to present to the world at the Sheffield Zine Fest on May 18th, also in aid of St Christopher’s. Watch this space!
** Although we still haven’t worked out why Margaret Atwood signed a book to ‘Dave’ when Jane met her at the Edinburgh Book Festival a few years ago
*** Gawping at the screen with a mounting sense of panic