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Sunday
Jun072015

I spy Dan's eye

On Friday night my wife and I drove up to Wisbech.

Wisbech, in case you don't know, is the capital of the Fens, an inland port on the very edge of Cambridgeshire, "a town that looks as if time stood still around 1925".

It's less than an hour north of Peterborough but once you get there it feels further away.

For some reason it's developed a dodgy reputation but there are some gorgeous Georgian buildings along the river and in the centre of town.

Anyway, we went because we'd been invited to a "private book launch and exhibition of photographs" at the Angles Theatre.

The book and photographs were by Dan Donovan, who lives locally.

My Eye is a photo journal that features images from a number of countries – America, Portugal, France, Belgium, Italy and of course England (Ely, Emneth, Downham Market and London, to name a few places).

They are personal to Dan but anyone can admire them in their own right.

Two of my favourite photographs were taken from the rustic attic bedroom Dan and his older sister shared in their home in Matlock, Derbyshire, when they were small children.

I'm not very good at describing these things but the room is completely dark and the focal point is a wooden staircase and a single window that provides the light and looks out over the countryside which is left to your imagination because there's barely a glimpse of it.

In the photo it looks more like a hayloft than a bedroom. Perhaps it was, once.

Dan's father died when he was five, I think, so they're not only lovely images but rather poignant as well.

My wife took a fancy to a photograph taken in a wood in Sandringham. It features a wonderfully ethereal shaft of light that casts a natural spotlight on the ferns on the ground.

Dan's sister and brother-in-law liked it too so we could be in a bidding war. (Dan, if you're reading this, relatives come first. I don't want to be the cause of a family dispute.)

For those who don't know, I've worked with Dan for over nine years and I can't thank him enough for the work he has done for Forest.

He first contacted us in September 2005, before the smoking ban was introduced. I still have the email:

I'd like to register my support for the 'Fight the ban: fight for choice' campaign.

Sunday evening at Naples airport, about to enjoy a cigarette after checking in. I was told there was no smoking areas and I would have to wait 'till I got to Gatwick. I was then told with the other boarding passengers to wait next to the shuttle bus as we were about to get on the plane.

We all stood for approximately 10-15 minutes as the bus churned out diesel fumes waiting for the OK so we could get on. The bus finally took a 400 yard trip to the plane which in fact would have been a hundred yard walk. The irony of it all enraged me.

The world has gone mad. All the passengers were exposed to lethal fumes and yet I wasn't allowed a cigarette. What's more I figured the bus was pretty much running all day, making unnecessary trips, guzzling fuel and pouring out fumes in a 'smoke free' environment!?

It's this kind of scenario that encourages me to support your campaign even more. Authorities should consider that the smoker isn't the health threat here and do something about encouraging good air con, less pollution and stop scaring the life out of non-smokers.

At that stage I had no idea what he did. In April 2006, two months after MPs voted for the smoking ban, he emailed us again offering his services. I have that email too:

I run a graphic design company, just up the road from you, and if ever you need our services I would be happy to help.

We met the following week in Ely. It was obvious he was the real deal, a superbly gifted designer, photographer and musician.

Since then Dan has designed most of Forest's campaign materials including logos, letterheads, posters, invitations, beer mats, book covers and much, much more.

Dan attends many of our events, filming or taking photographs. I've not yet had the courage to book his band, King Kool, to play at a Forest event (they're far too loud) but their music has featured on several videos Dan has produced for Forest, including the one below.

For someone whose band makes such a racket he's remarkably quiet and unassuming. I'm sure I must annoy him when I change my mind or request a minor amendment to his artwork at some ungodly hour of the day or night, but I've never heard him utter a single cross word. Not even an exasperated sigh.

Dan's circle of friends are an eclectic bunch.

Unless I'm mistaken, Ben, his assistant, has added even more body jewellery since I saw him at Forest's 'Stop The Nonsense' event in London in February.

Jo, Dan's wife, could stop the traffic with the colour of her hair. (I mean that as a compliment, btw.) Jo is Irish and works at a private hospital in Kings Lynn. She described herself to me as "occasionally fiery". I didn't argue.

Pas, drummer with King Kool and the archetypal "wild man of rock" (looks wise), had cut his hair and trimmed his beard since I saw him last. Wisbech, he said, was attracting a younger hipster crowd and I suspect he wants to fit in.

Meanwhile, playing cello, was another friend of Dan's, a musician who has worked with Blur and other bands.

My Eye (the cover photo was taken by Dan's teenage daughter Fern) is a limited edition 100-page, soft back, perfect bound book. You can view the images and buy a copy here.

Warmly recommended.

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