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27 July 2022

Cold War Steve’s Q&A: “I still have a strong affection for the sound of a tent zip”

The artist discusses his hero Gary Shaw, living in the Regency era and wishing someone else could drive his children around.

By New Statesman

Christopher Spencer was born in Birmingham in 1975. The creator of the Twitter account @coldwarsteve, he is known for his satirical collage artworks. He is the artist behind the cover of this NS summer special.

What’s your earliest memory?

I must have only been a few months old and was lying in my cot. I recall being frozen in fear, as a giant bear with a bird’s head reared up on its haunches and repeatedly pecked down at my face. It was only a few years ago that I realised that this beaked, ursine tormentor could actually have just been a cuddly toy, being playfully waved around by my mum or dad.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was the Aston Villa striker Gary Shaw, shortly followed by Morten Harket of A-ha. As an adult I would name Marcus Rashford or my wife, Katy.

What book last changed your thinking?

Rule, Nostalgia: A Backwards History of Britain, by Hannah Rose Woods. It’s brilliant and very timely.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Anyone who isn’t afraid to call out Boris Johnson’s bullshit and depravity in the Commons Chamber. Chris Bryant continues to do this very eloquently.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

The 1986 Fifa World Cup in Mexico. I have never been as obsessed with something as I was with that Panini sticker album.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d love to be a dandy fop in Regency era Leamington Spa.

What TV show could you not live without?

It would be either Inspector Morse or Top of the Pops reruns on BBC Four.

Who would paint your portrait?

My mum, Charlotte Palczuk.

[ See also: John McEnroe’s Q&A: “You don’t win every time, no matter how good you are” ]

What’s your theme tune?

The theme for Wogan, Terry Wogan’s 1980s chat show.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I was 18 and had just started work at a building in Birmingham Airport where all the food canisters from the planes were cleaned and restocked. I was struggling to keep up with the machine and becoming very distressed. One of the older workers (a man with a yellowy quiff and a fag permanently hanging from his mouth) put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t panic, son. If you panic, you’re fucked.”  Since then I’ve always tried to follow that advice, admittedly with varying levels of success.

What’s currently bugging you?

Everything. I feel so fortunate that with art I now have an outlet for my indignation.

What single thing would make your life better?

A personal driver for my daughters. I’m constantly dropping one of them off somewhere or picking one of them up.

When were you happiest?

Family camping holidays to Towyn, Wales. Me and my two brothers in the back of a Mini Metro, perched on bin bags of sleeping bags, stopping at a lay-by for a beaker of warm orange squash. A big garish orange tent. I still have a strong affection for tinned potatoes and the sound of a tent zip. A few years ago I tried to rekindle those times with my own kids. It was a complete disaster and they’ve sworn that they will never go camping again.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I have had another life – all this came about quite recently. I worked for the West Midlands probation service for 12 years. It’s a stressful job, but hugely rewarding (spiritually, not financially).

Are we all doomed?

Yes, I’m afraid so.

The New Statesman summer special 2022 cover by Cold War Steve

[See also: Sarah Langford Q&A: “Pay something attention and it rewards you a hundredfold”]

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This article appears in the 27 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Special