April 7th It’s 6.30pm and I’m the first to arrive at The Lazy Lizard (a cafe and bar with a rustic image, with home made food and service with a smile) in my home town of Weymouth, I order a beer and scan the entrance. Russell Stainer is next to arrive all the way from Leicester; we grab a seat and discuss the wiry bearded man sat opposite wearing a fluorescent jacket and sipping half a lager. We call the wiry bearded man over; it’s Mr ‘Speedy’ Clarke who taught us maths. I’m at the ‘Class of 1988’ Weymouth Grammar School reunion. Forty minutes into the reunion it feels more like a bad date, or three men whose dates have failed to materialize, then they start to arrive, a portal from history: Adrian Bratt looks well (well fed); David Short looks tall; Justin Measures short. Lisa Walbridge reminisces how I threw a ‘tizzy fit’ when she tipped the box of Maltesers I had bought for our cinema date onto the floor; I don’t remember. Stuart Lloyd still blames me for being knocked over by a car when I called out his name and he ran unchecked into the road; I don’t remember. We all blame ourselves for the relentless singing of the surname of another Stuart (who stuttered) to the theme tune for the British cinema advertising company Pearl & Dean; Babababababababababababababababa..........BOWDEN! That I shamefully do rememememememememememem.......BER! New photographs are posed for and old ones passed around; class portraits of all-white mainly working-class kids; the girls in white knee-high socks and the boys with slick hair flicks, fixed bad-teeth smiles and brown National Health specs. I came equipped with camera kit to film the reunion but it feels inappropriate and a lot more interesting on paper; as the updated class photograph head for dinner, I head for home, content in the knowledge that I won’t be attending the next reunion.
16th There’s a white line; It’s less than a millimeter thick but it’s definitely there; It shouldn’t be there. It’s the end on a long day at EBS printers in the Italian city of Verona; the printers want to go home and I would like a drink. I’m advised there are two options; let the mistake go and negotiate a discount or reject the plate costing the printers a significant sum of money and a delay to the printing. Along to the lyrics of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s White Lines I rapidly asses the pros and cons; the cons go a long way. England Uncensored is my first book, my creative legacy on which my early career will be judged; it would be the first page I’d turn to for the rest of my life; I wouldn’t be able to confidently promote the book; my daughter to whom the book is dedicated will one day be visually savvy enough to see the mistake; It’s a fine white line but not one I’m willing to tread; Melle Mel sings me the answer “Don’t Do It” I point my finger in the air and pronounce “reject the plate!”
19th Sat in Jamie’s Kitchen in Leeds, September 2011, the concept sounded simple; we would open a photography + film gallery and events space in the heart of this thriving city. Seven months later we have. Tonight is the official launch of White Cloth Gallery opening with The Family, an exhibition by Jocelyn Bain Hogg. BBC Radio have had their interview, the PR company are on patrol at the door and the numbers start to come; more than 240 names are ticked off the list.
23rd I’ve always been acutely aware of my own mortality, many of Ronald Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ generation is. Watching the video for the 1984 single Dancing With Tears in My Eyes by Ultravox on the music television programme Top of the Pops about a nuclear power plant meltdown and imminent explosion, I had to sit at the front of the lounge so my parents wouldn’t see the tears in mine. I lay awake at night imagining the flesh peeling from Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure; sometimes I still do. I’ve never been able to watch Threads; the British television documentary-style drama account (also from 1984) of a nuclear war and it’s effects on the British city of Sheffield. Today I am 40 years old and ponder how long I have left; four football World Cups? One monarch? One World War? 7,300 bottles of red wine? I always assumed I would drink hard until I turned 40 then turn my back on the booze and live a life of vitality and health; turns out I’m a big fat liar; “Hello, I’m Peter Dench and today, the Villiers Terrace have introduced me to the Jaeger Bomb!”
28 - 29th It’s the wettest April on record and today is the wettest day of April. The proprietor of the pub in which I am meeting the six participants on the ‘This is London Workshop’ went out on a bender and fancied a lie-in instead. I send the cold and grey half-dozen to the coffee shop to warm up and wait.
May 2nd My daughter Grace lost her first tooth today, she is seven years old. We found the tooth and placed it in her specially made ‘I’ve lost my first tooth pouch’ that she got from Santa Clause who I’m informed is in cahoots with the Tooth Fairy. When she’s asleep I gently reach under her pillow and replace the tooth with a five pound note and sit down in the lounge to absorb the news, reconsider, grab the note back and nip out to buy a four-pack of Scrumpy Jack cider and place the change in the pouch; children prefer shiny coins.
19th A financially successful photographer used to live at the end of my road; he moved to a bigger house to accommodate a cinema screen for his burgeoning family. Our daughters, who were in the same class have remained friends, and today we take the train out to the London suburb for a birthday party; the plan is to drop Grace off then find a country pub for lunch as it’s too far to return home. After depositing Grace at the front door I ask about the nearest pub and am advised to “tap it into Satnav.” Satnav? I haven’t got a car, and march in the general direction of The Cock Tavern; half an hour later I arrive too late for lunch. After filling up on booze, bus back to pick Grace up and chug a beer taking in the signed Terry O’Neill prints on the stair walls before Grace bounces over with her party bag; I check to see if it includes return train fare home; it does not.
21st 10.19am the first box of England Uncensored arrives at my home. As giddy as a five-year old expecting the postman on their birthday, I’ve been peering out of the window for hours. Opening the box there’s a few pleasant surprises; along with five of my books there’s a copy of William Daniels Faded Tulips and a copy of Pantelleria - da Armani a Zzibibbu by Walter Tjantele. All books went to press at the same time and we were all there to watch; it’s a touching gesture. I inhale the ink from an unwrapped copy of England Uncensored and apprehensively begin to check each page for the inevitable cock-up. The photographs were taken over 12 years, shot on three different cameras of three different formats using countless film stock scanned by several scanners; I turn the final page without regret. In triumphant mood I take a copy of the book to Lord’s cricket ground and the company of international thriller writer Tom Knox and celebrity photographer and photographer of celebrities, Chris Floyd (apologies Chris). There are five photographs taken at Lord’s in the book and I take a tour of the locations. I recognize the man sat in the same place where I snapped him four years previous and say hello to John C Page. John has been a Marylebone Cricket Club member or 43 years, he wishes me luck with the book and signs his page; then drops the book down the concrete steps.
International Thriller Writer Tom Knox (left) & Chris Floyd
25th Nip to the Villiers Terrace for an afternoon glass and am delighted to discover an envelope has been left in the till with my name on it. Inside the envelope is a postcard with a portrait, the card reads; “Hello Peter. Coming back from a job, realised I was in the vicinity of the legendary Villiers Crouch End. Sadly you weren’t here when we got here! Next time though. Hope all’s well with you. Looking forward to your book arriving. Best regards Niall PS. I bought you a drink. Ask the barman.” I ask the barman. Niall has bought me a drink; cheers Niall.
28th - 2nd June. I take a look around my hotel room; it’s so small I only use one eye, the lazy one. I open the window hoping for a view across one of the Venetion canals that dissect the city; there’s a brick wall. The room is cold and the air-conditioning jammed on so I pull over a blanket. The smoke alarm has a flashing light so I snap on an eye-mask. The elevator strains so I pop in some ear-plugs. If there’s an evacuation I’m not hopeful; in the morning an earthquake shakes me awake. I’m on assignment in Venice for an American travel magazine. They have seen thousands of photographs of the watery city and want to see a “Dench take on it” and I take myself into the city. Slow walking couples gently touch marveling at the shops selling world-famous Murano glass, gondoliers shout there availability and waiters try to keep tables from wobbling.
31st I’m mentioned in a tweet from my old university @DerbyUni; Congrats @peterdench! First monograph this year ‘England Uncensored’ @DerbyUniADT grad & @formatfestival photographer. It’s all true, but I’m irked; it’s been 17 years since that graduation and I haven’t heard a peep from the course since, no mention, no aftercare, no invite to return.
2nd - 5th Arriving back into Gatwick Airport, thousands of miles of bunting has been stitched across the fabric of the land for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. I’m nonplussed; after the 2011 Royal Wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, I’m bunting’d out and decide to let this four-day celebration march past and retreat home with a bottle of vodka and enough cooked chicken to feed an infantry of Grenadier Guards. Gazing across the resting urban foxes towards Villiers Terrace, the customers are in jubilant and jubilee mood; the bunting is strung like a child’s game of cats cradle. My decision to abstain starts to niggle; as a photojournalist shouldn’t I be documenting the present in an attempt to preserve the past? I drop a piri-piri chicken wing in the trash, drain my glass and button my shirt; “Betty I’m coming!!!”
9th I have been married ten years X
A version of this feature first appeared in issue 7 of Hungry Eye magazine, available to buy here
England Uncensored is available to buy here