Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Dench Diary : February - April 2015

“How many boring books that don’t sell are you going to do with the same boring pictures. Regurgitated rubbish!” Anonymous

It’s a fair question and one I’m hoping was not posted on my blog by;

My Publisher
My Mother

The answer is probably three, for now. Bluecoat Press, who published my second book, A & E: Alcohol & England, have expressed an interest in publishing a third, The British Abroad (TBA). Bluecoat funded A & E entirely for around £9,000. They publish up to four books a year; that’s a sizeable outlay for an independent publisher. For TBA, we’ve agreed to try and raise two-thirds of the sum required through crowdfunding and choose the Kickstarter platform. With the demise of independent bookshops, if you can’t get a significant quantity of your stock in to Waterstones or Foyles, options are limited. Crowdfunding provides a valuable choice. 


It’s my second crowdfunding experience in three years and I’m confident of reaching the £6,000 target. I start to prepare and write a blog post; set up a British Abroad Facebook page; find snapshots from my own teenage holidays to cheap party resorts to post on social networks and secure an online feature about the book with BuzzFeed.

27th I have a falling out with cardboard cutout Dench over plans for our summer holiday. He’s keen on Kos, I’m more eager for Egypt.


10th I hurry past the iconic Art Deco facade of BBC Broadcasting House (with a facing of Portland Stone), across the pristine new piazza and through the blindingly bright glass covered entrance, collect my pass and press the elevator up button. Legendary BBC journalist and broadcaster, Dan Damon, strides authoritatively in to the small studio in which I’m waiting and takes the seat opposite. I am here to discuss TBA for an interview to be aired on World Update on the BBC World Service that Damon has presented for over a decade. The interview unfolds. “All fuelled by alcohol. That was part of your motivation wasn’t it?” asks Damon. Part of! It was pretty much all of my motivation but this is the BBC, and the BBC has reach! I proceed with caution and do what any self respecting booze-hound would do; I blame the parents. “The first time I ever went abroad was to the party town of Magaluf, Majorca, as a 14 year old. I was allowed a Bacardi & Coke and it was always a buy one get two free offer. I remember sitting at a table with my mum, dad and sister heaving.” Leaving the BBC I read on Twitter that BBC television presenter Jeremy Clarkson has allegedly punched a producer and consider asking Clarkson if he would write the intro to TBA book?


PETER: Hi Folks!

MISGINA: Good to see you, Peter! Nice to have you here! So, what’s today’s challenge!

PETER: Today you are going to make me laugh. (pause) And you are going to make me laugh by capturing the spirit of the typical Norwegian.

MISGINA: Sounds interesting! First of all: Can you tell me; what IS a fun picture?

I turn away from Norwegian television host Misigna, look up from the script and over at the participants filming for episode three of Mobilfotografene. In each programme a task or a challenge is presented by a professional photographer (that’s me). The photographer (me) gives directions and tips on how to best solve the task. Three of the photographers (not me) are sent out alone to complete the task, and when back, the photographer (me) will review the pictures (which will be printed out), and select a winner. The winner of the whole competition will have their pictures shown outdoors on Rådhusplassen (in front of the Town Hall). It’s a bit like Masterchef for aspiring photographers; I’m feeling more Gregg Wallace than John Torode, glance back at the script, breath in and continue….

PETER: A fun picture is an unexpected picture. A picture that makes the viewer think; that shows them something that they think they know about, but in a unique and engaging way.”

The three students are dispatched to Holmenkollen Ski Festival to capture the spirit of the typical Norwegian on their mobile phone. The results are fantastically vibrant, pin sharp colour photographs that make me smile. The results are printed out and presented on the wall of the studio; a silence descends. 

PETER: “And the winner is……” and I slowly start to count up to ten in my head.


17th After 18 days of palm slapping high fives and the odd head in hands low, the Kickstarter campaign target of £6,000 has been reached and breached: The British Abroad hardback photo book will be published July 2015.

21st Hungry Eye magazine have kindly let me squat in a corner of their stand at The Photography Show hosted at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. It’s a chance to experience an exciting overview of the ever-changing photographic industry, plus the chance to discover new ideas, learn the latest techniques, hear from the experts and be amazed by the latest kit and deals available from a diverse range of exhibitors. It’s also a chance for me to flog some books and sign some posters. Elinor from Wales pops by for a touch of Dench, as does Rosie. Gareth Tibbles deviates in for a chat; Matt Obrey and his infectiously happy partner swerve in for some banter and Tom Stoddart photo-bombs along to buy a book.

Olympus cameras backed TBA book with a sizeable pledge and I have a question for the man who authorised it. I find the man, predictably, at the Olympus stand where a woman is being photographed while liberally doused with paint. I ask the man the question. “Why?”. “Timing” replies the man who makes big decisions with few words. I think that clears it up and we discuss the possibility of a future collaboration.



8th Cardboard cutout Dench has announced aspirations to be a photojournalist; I’m both flattered and disappointed.

20th It’s the fourth anniversary of the mortar attack in Libya that took the life of Tim Hetherington. Tonight, the Frontline Club in London is hosting an evening celebrating his life. Listening to the programme of short presentations by friends, family and colleagues reflecting on Tim’s legacy, it occurs he continues to be more prolific than I am.

23rd The hooligan-working-class far right have stolen the English flag. On Saint Patrick’s Day, the river Liffey flows green through the heart of Dublin. On Saint Andrews Day, the Saltire flaps vigorously along the high roads and low roads of Scotland. The breeze of Red Dragon flags being unfurled across Wales on Saint David’s Day, can be felt in faces as far away as London. On the feast day of Saint George, the national day for England, the red cross of Saint George is barely visible. Despite over 80% of people in England feeling pride in their country, almost a third associate the cross of Saint George with football hooligans and lager louts; a quarter are put off flying the flag because of links to far right extremists like the English Defence League. Two thirds don’t even know the date of Saint George’s Day.


I of course know the date. It’s the day on which Rupert Brooke died. The “handsomest young man in England” perished at 4:46 pm on 23 April 1915 after developing sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. He was sailing with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on his way to the landing at Gallipoli. Today is the birthday of great English landscape painter, J.M.W Turner; the birthday of the greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare’s and regular readers will know, it’s my birthday. It’s time for the English to rise up and reclaim the flag, to relinquish the shackles of shame and regain their red cross to bear. I jump out of bed determined to strike out across London and photograph evidence of a red cross renaissance to present to the government and lobby for a public holiday; then I feel a bit dizzy so get back into bed for another hours detoxing doze.

Disembarking the overground at Stratford, east London, I walk south towards West Ham then bank west through Bow, Mile End, Whitechapel and Brick Lane where I stop to refuel with a lamb Biryani before continuing on to Battersea via Sloane Square and a quick toilet stop at The Saatchi Gallery. During the journey I encounter no spontaneous Saint George’s Day celebrations.

24th I take cardboard cutout Dench to a charity fundraiser at The Alex, Crouch End, in an effort to reconcile our differences.

25th Aha! I knew it.Today there is a celebration in recognition of Saint George. Arriving at the Feast of Saint George in Trafalgar Square (the square that commemorates a very English naval victory), I replay the video message delivered by the dazzlingly bonkers Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, inviting everyone to;

“A celebration of all the great things about England” including;

“Traditional English dishes of all kinds”; I opt for the Indian inspired chicken of Mr Singh

“Traditional English sporting activities”; I hoop a duck and dislodge a coconut with my shy.

“Traditional English music”; I tap my thigh to the sounds of the Crystal Palace Brass Band and The Beatles sound-a-likes performing hits from hit musical, Let It Be.

Traditional English Tea; I attend a talk about tea history in the Tea Tent with Jane Pettigrew, as she unfolds the story from tea's first arrival into the London docks in the 1650s to today's Bubble Tea Shops in Soho and tea dances in Spitalfields Market.

Working the throng, I talk to Vitoria from Russia and Juan Ignacio from Spain. Tyler from the USA and Marta from Italy. I hang out with Alina from Switzerland who is nibbling an Eton Mess purchased from the Meringue Girls and Constanza from Chile, munching a scotch egg from The Pie Cart. I photograph Miyu from Japan and hand a flag of Saint George to Thiago from Argentina and encourage him to wave it. Thiago hands back the flag and exits Trafalgar Square.


26th It’s the day of the London Marathon (LM). The preparation has been gruelling: waking up early; cooking extra meals; washing sweat saturated running kit and extra childcare duties. It’s been worth it and allowed my wife Michelle to concentrate on her training schedule and raising over £5,900 for the Stroke Association.

Despite living in London for nearly 20 years, the only time I’ve  witnessed the LM must have been in 1986 after a four hour train journey with my parents and sister Jennifer from our home town of Weymouth. You couldn’t walk between the train carriages back then, confined to looking out of the window, rereading comics, sucking on barley sugar sticks and asking; “how many more stops”. The reason we were going to this particular LM was that my maths teacher, Mr ‘Speedy”’ Clark, was participating, a reason I could never calculate as no one was particularly fond of Mr 'Speedy' Clark. We found a space along the route and watched the Mars sponsored Marathon pass, reaching out a hand towards Jimmy Savile and cheering along Bernie Clifton ‘riding’ Oswald the Ostrich. Afterwards, the choice was to eat, or visit Madame Tussauds - family Dench couldn’t afford both. We voted to eat and spent the rest of the day clapping runners long after the roads had reopened and taking photographs of the Mount Street sign in Mayfair, the name of the street on which we lived in Weymouth.

Vaguely remembering the LM drill, I dress myself and daughter Grace in layers, pack various snacks, gather some friends and head to a spot on the Embankment in front of the splendid Somerset House. I show the very tall man who turns up to block our view a picture of my wife. “She’s dressed as Wonder Woman, if you see her coming, let me know”. The very tall man says he can see Wonder Woman. It’s not my wife (or the race has been very unkind). An uncle texts to say he’s just seen Michelle overtake celebrity Chris Evans on the BBC’s television coverage. Formula one racing driver Jenson Button motors past, followed in a blink of an eye, by Blue Peter presenter, Lindsey Russel, several more Wonder Women, a Dalek, a woman framed as the Mona Lisa, Jesus nailed to a cross, a telephone, the Honey Monster, a large ear and lots of men called Dave - much to the annoyance of my friend Dave. After two hours of gobbling Jammy Dodger biscuits, fruit juice cartons and Violet Creams, my wife runs past with a quick wave to the family.


27th I appreciate football chat can be tiresome, please indulge me or skip this paragraph. Tonight my team, AFC Bournemouth, secured a place in the first tier of English football for the first time in their 116 year history. I’ve been a supporter for 26 of those years enduring away days to the pits of Portsmouth and Leeds and wet nights on the terraces at Southend and Wycombe. I don’t have Sky Sports TV so watch the penultimate match of the season (home against Bolton) at Sue and Dave’s house. As a photojournalist I’ve experienced many extreme emotions; tonight was unique. After a reasonable intake of beer, and wine, and vodka, I return home too excitable to sleep and (according to my wife) drink for a further three hours, arms aloft, swaying in the corner of my kitchen whispering “we did it” while replaying tunes from the CD, The Very Best Club Anthems …Ever! In the morning, I log on to Facebook, change my status to ‘in a relationship’ (with AFC Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe) and check the seat number on my ticket for the final game of the season away to Charlton Athletic that Geoff, my brother-in-law traded favours to acquire; right game, wrong end.

A version of this feature first appeared in volume 3 issue 3 of Hungry Eye magazine available to purchase here

The British Abroad and all my other books can be purchased here

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