Friday, 6 August 2010

Taking Candy From A Dog

Last night I went to a book signing by an old mate of mine who writes under the name of Vic Templar. The book is called Taking Candy From A Dog and is available from Blackheath Books. Vic describes it as "Tales of football, picnics, cats, holidays, rabies, ghosts, skeletons, George Best, Father Christmas, punk rock, moth rescue, starling execution, ant holocaust, emu puppets and being winked at by strangers".

From what I've read and heard so far, the book goes way beyond the usual reminiscences about Spangles and Chopper bikes and straight to the heart of formative experiences and relationships. And it mentions Dracula ice lollies, which were black on the outside with red jelly in the middle.

The launch itself had Vic reading from the book with a backdrop of old family photos, and a wonderful moment where he played a recording of his grandad talking about how he met his nan. There was also an excellent film of  Super 8 moments from family life in the Seventies which you must see here.

Later on, in a pub garden up the road, Vic and I chatted about the film. It features scenes from a silver jubilee street party in 1977 on what must have been the coldest June day ever, shot in the Chatham street where my nan used to live before I can even remember anything and where my mum was born. I explained that my first memory of being at my nan's was from the early Seventies, at the newsagents that she owned and ran until the late Eighties. It turns out that Vic was a paper boy there between 1981 and 1983, and that my grandad gets a mention in the book for being a daft old sod and giving kids too much change when they bought sweets.

My nan, who is 90, will undoubtedly remember Vic when I mention him (omitting, of course, to mention the "daft old sod" bit). I think I'll phone her later today.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Values and Perceptions

I took this shot in the summer of 2009. As I was wandering about Riverside Gardens in Chatham shooting the soon-to-be-gone-forever, this group of young gentlemen asked me to take their photograph. I did so and, naturally, the group asked to see the photo on the camera screen. Thing is, this is film. There is no preview. This concept was clearly alien.

I gave out a couple of cards and said to email me, and I'd let the the group know when the photo was available. The boys thanked me and I walked away.

Then came the shout: "Paedo"!

Yeah. Thanks for that. Film is disappearing as fast as civil liberties and social documentary photography. One day, when you are old and I am dead, this photo will be part of my legacy and you will maybe see your your young selves and see the value of the space your town once had through older, wiser eyes.

The brightest of futures to each and every one of you.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

It Says Here... Do You Ever Wish That You Were Better Informed?

I was subtly misquoted in the Medway News today. The spirit of the comment was more or less intact, but the actual words were twisted just enough to reduce their articulacy and distort their meaning, and a couple of key supporting points failed to appear.

A direct quote is a direct quote, and one would expect a trained journalist to either get it in shorthand first time or ask for it to be repeated. Unless there was particular reason for wanting to misquote someone.

Also, the paper wanted my address and the names of my wife and kids, just so you know. I can't imagine why those details were deemed relevant, but I didn't give that information. After all, I couldn't trust them to get it right, could I?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Medway Eyes Goes To College

A few weeks ago, artists' collective Medway Eyes was invited by Steve Keevil, a lecturer at Mid-Kent College, to speak to the Creative Media Diploma students there. Eventually, this was arranged via a flurry of Tweets to take place on Thursday 19th November. So, on Thursday morning, I headed off on the bus to meet Steve for a chat over a cheese and Marmite sandwich (college food is great, by the way) to talk through what I would be doing with the class after lunch.

I hadn't prepared anything. Steve had said it wasn't necessary. That's OK. Unpreparedness is one of the things we do best at Medway Eyes. We were set up to put on an exhibition just over a year ago, then it was gigs, then we decided to go multi-media. OK, we know that stuff, but since then we've had to learn a bit of law and PR because of Monaxle's arrest under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act in July, and how to handle local and national press enquiries (two completely different worlds there). Recent weeks have found us attempting to engage, by invitation, with Medway Council about the appalling lack of consultation surrounding the regeneration of Medway and being interviewed by Radio Scilly (myself, Groovy Uncle and Rich Clark on separate occasions - each talking about the free ME1 compilation, as well as our own stuff).

Anyway, enough of that. Back to college.

After a tour of the department, it was time to talk to the students. Fortunately, I had written 750 words on Medway Eyes for Your Medway the evening before, so I took that crystalised idea of what it is into the classroom and proceeded to ramble for half an hour. I likened Medway Eyes to an Indie record label, thanks to a conversation I'd had with former Dentists drummer Ian Smith just moments before leaving the house, and talked about how independence means freedom of expression. I described the promotion of artists from the roots up, how the collective was inspired by the Medway bands' co-op of the late Eighties, how we thought of the name at the last minute, what had happened in our first year, how we'd put on the most visited exhibition ever at the Brook Theatre gallery, how we operate on a break even basis, how broad our spectrum of contributors is, how they jump in and out of the group on a project by project basis, and so on, and how we need more structure as we expand. As I waffled like an utter arse, I began to appreciate the scope of what we've achieved in our first year and I felt really chuffed, and really appreciative of everything the creative community has contributed to our projects.

Keeping me on the rails, of course, were Steve and the students. They saved me from a random, babbling meltdown a few times with their questions. I must say, too, that I was very impressed with the way the class responded to me, giving me their complete attention, nods, smiles and encouragement even. They could have shouted "Shut up, Beardy", but they didn't, and I'm grateful for that.

The next part of the lesson was a great idea from Steve, who is clearly a very gifted teacher. The eight members of the class were to pair up and interview me on camera, based on the discussion we had just had in the class. I argued that it was only fair that I should photograph them right back, and so that's what happened. I disappeared to the video suite and stared at the interview chair and my camera bag on the table next to it with Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat" bubbling away in the back of my mind. Then, in they came, two at a time, each pair first trying the wrong door in classic sitcom style.

I was impressed by the care and attention taken by the students operating the massive, intimidating, it's-going-to-eat-you video camera, and by the quality of the questions put to me by the interviewers, who each had very much their own distinct style. I was pleased that I was marginally less random. I described a Medway musician as a "demented talent", when I really didn't mean to use that word at all. "Driven" or "eclectic" or "prolific" might have been better, but apart from that it was a good experience. The whole thing was a good experience that I'd happily repeat, and it was nice to be recognised by the broader community and asked to speak at the college.

Now then, finally...

The new campus is excellent, but it's not as turquoise as the old one. I think that should be fixed, maybe a splash of orange here and there, too.

The video shot by the students will eventually be shared with Medway Eyes and could well go online as long as everybody is happy with that.

My photos from the day can be seen on Flickr.

On behalf of Medway Eyes, I'd like to thank Steve, Bex, Nathan, Michael, David, Luke, Ravina, Millie and Tim for this excellent opportunity.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

If You Tolerate This Then Everything Must Go

There was an interesting article in the Medway News today about the ongoing saga of the Theatre Royal. It was put up for auction last week, and nobody wanted it. Why? Well, you'd think the fact that it had been bought for £380,000, strip mined (i.e anything of value sold for salvage) and then demolished except for the listed facade would put potential buyers off from paying the same price at auction. It probably did, but what really put them off was the last minute repair enforcement notice that Medway Council slapped on the building. The auctioneers were legally obliged to inform any potential bidders of this, and duly did so.

Medway Council is now blaming the owners for not making the repairs that they have suddenly decided are required. This is the same council that previously ignored advice to just put some kind of roof on the theatre to simply save it from falling into disrepair.

The Medway News article states that the owner of the theatre is unknown. Received wisdom is that the theatre is owned by a company called Chatham Housing, whose registered address recently received a publicly funded lick of paint in what I'm sure can only be a coincidence, but it does go to show how a little can go a long way on Desolation Row.

On what day of the year will the theatre mysteriously burn down, one wonders? After all, it would make a convenient spot for a car park or an ugly block of flats.

Today, the Theatre Royal. Tomorrow, Aveling and Porter. The day after that, Sun Pier.

I'll be attending the second Chatham Future Forum meeting on Monday on behalf of Medway Eyes. I may rant.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Medway Cultural Strategy

All I can say , is "Go and look at this abomination":

Having done that, have a think abut why I felt it was my civic duty to write the following:

"This may well enthuse career artists and other opportunists, but I am sickened. You cite the towns' heritage in your executive summary (who is that aimed at? It's written in 'Otherspeak'!), while some of the most beautiful things in Medway have either been torn down (the Theatre Royal), are falling down (Sun Pier) or about to be demolished (Aveling and Porter). The genuine, independent creative community in Medway (i.e. those who are not awarding themselves and each other grants and awards on taxpayers' money) are simply trying to galvanise themselves to stop Medway Council from destroying the towns, when we should be diving for pearls".

Comment or ignore. I'll be screaming at the sheer face of dumbed down bullshit. You know where to find me.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Sun Pier is Still Broken

I sent the following email to Medway Council today. Their email address is


Dear Sir or Madam,

I note that Sun Pier in Chatham has been broken for about a year now, with it's walkway underwater at high tide. I should be grateful if you would tell me when you plan to restore this beautiful public amenity and piece of local heritage to its former glory.

Yours Faithfully,

Phil Dillon


I invite anyone reading this to do the same. We have recently seen the Theatre Royal allowed to fall into a state of disrepair to the extent that it was deemed unsafe and had to be demolished. if we do nothing, we can expect the same fate for Sun Pier.

Sun Pier was broken before the last budget round, and the Council can see it from their offices. So why is it still broken?