Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Darkness of @ShitChester




I have followed ShitChester since the very beginning, back when it was just two friends and one Twitter account. Two friends who were armed with a keen eye, a quicker wit, and the remarkable ability to find the humour in some of the most mundane aspects of our Roman city.

It was their tongue in cheek look at Chester, their sharp observational humour and engagement with followers that meant it soon surpassed anything they could have predicted. In 2013 Jennie Povey departed ShitChester, leaving 'Tony Chester' in charge.


Four years later, after the infamous Kony picture, the ‘Dig up Deva’ debate and "Eating The Facts’ with Mike Jones - which some may agree is what gave the account it's notoriety. And after a LOT of talk about parking, lack of cinema, and the Northgate development ShitChester has become something of a local cultural phenomenon.

I recently sat down with Tony Chester over wine, Jager bombs, and of course, Lego to talk about the success of the Twitter account. The time and effort that goes into maintaining it, and the passion he has for our walled city.

Also and perhaps surprisingly, the darkness that accompanies running it alone and anonymously.

I’ve known Tony for 9 years now,  before the days of  ShitChester and way before everyone started calling him Tony. I’d like to say before the darkness but I’m not sure if that's true?

I always thought he came across as a shy character with a poetic soul. At the same time someone with a quick, deadpan sense of humour who could make you cry with laughter. Someone who always had a unique take on things, and I'd say that’s still very much who he is today.

Did he ever think back in those early days, with those very first tweets, that one day he would be mixing with local politicians, some of which he could now count on as friends. 

"What are you doing tomorrow Tony"?

"I'm meeting Mike Jones for a coffee in Ginger"

That one day he would be interviewing local businesses and celebrities daily, or that he would have a diary full of events that wouldn't look out of place in a copy of Cheshire Life.

Taking a sip of his Jager and assembling his Lego beach Batman figure, he thinks about this for a moment 

"Not really, I thought it was clever and I thought we could have some fun with this. But I never expected it to go to this level though, it was just more of a private joke really"




It was images like this, back in the very early days of ShitChester that caught the attention of followers, and inspired the accounts gradual shift. Instead of looking at the quirks of the city, and seeking the humour, it began championing change, and celebrating what was going on in Chester, rather than letting followers focus on what the city lacked.

Mainly, a cinema and adequate parking. It was always the lack of cinema and parking.

“I spotted the graffiti on my way to work one day. It tied in with what was being said about Chester at the time, and also the Twitter name. I thought we do need more stuff happening here, we do need more positive things and that inspired people"

"It was like a cult.people jumped on that quite quickly and it became a lot more positive, more journalistic and it suddenly grew from there”

Despite ShitChester growing and evolving from here on, gaining notoriety, what never changed was the desire for Tony Chester to remain anonymous. As once famously asked, by the then Lord Mayor of Chester Hugo Deynem during an interview:

"Why do it covertly"?

"Why? I don't want attention for myself. I want to have that anonymity. Chester's a small place. Also, If people don't know who you are they don't notice you and I guess that's the appeal. I could be anyone in the street taking a photograph, I don't want to be seen as anything more than what I am, I just want to be myself. And if I don't want to be Shitchester one day, I can just not do it"

"I think people trust in that anonymity. Without giving too much away I would like maybe someone else to be that public face, which is why I often get people to help me out with interviews. Companions that come along with me. A bit like Dr Who and his assistant.



Can I be Rose then please? No? More Donna?

But by remaining anonymous, by mostly working alone, doesn't that make it quite a lonely experience?


" Yes I feel there is a loneliness to it, and that darkness has haunted me for quite a while. But I feel a certain loneliness is necessary. If I'm stood in a big crowd taking pictures, when you're looking at everyone else....well no one can really see you"

It was surprising to hear. Having an often overflowing diary of commitments;

"I can't do it at the moment my schedules pretty busy for a while now" 

And with almost 22 thousand followers on Twitter, some of which are among Chester's most influential and interesting characters (and those are people who he can now call friends) He still feel's lonely?

"There is that sort of darkness to it yes"

Although he sometimes has someone along side him in interviews, Tony Chester does the bulk share of running ShitChester alone. It is not of course, just the Twitter account but the blog too and I asked him to give us an insight into the work that goes into maintaining both.

"It's not just a tweet or a picture, it's regular posting and engagement. The blog is something I try to keep regular writing 2 to 3 a week. There's often a lot of research that goes into them, making time to do the interviews writing them up. Then the networking, and attending events" 

As well as this side, there is of course, as with all good 'caped crusaders' the Bruce Wayne element to his life, and Tony retains a full time job alongside the work he does on the Twitter account and blog.Which leads me to my next question. Does he ever resent, even a tiny bit, all the work that he puts in for free.

He looks genuinely surprised.

"No? I don't view it in financial terms If the option was there to did find a way to monetise it perhaps you'd take it but then you'd lose something, your independence I think. If I was in it for the money I'd have probably stopped it a long time ago because its never made any money. It' a hobby that's gripped me and I have a passion for it"

This attitude is admirable and makes him a far better person than I am, I'm more than willing to admit that. You see, I have attended many interviews with Tony, I've been part of the research that goes into the blog post, we've made the time to conduct the interview, often travelled to get there. Then spent time writing up the piece and posting it to followers. For it to not get so much as a retweet or acknowledgement. I was furious on his behalf, does he not get disillusioned when this happens? 

"You cross them off the Chrsitmas card list!This has happened once or twice but you move on, and don't go there again"

"There are blog posts I've written which haven't had many hits but I've enjoyed writing them. The Samaritans for instance, a topic close to my heart. People who do a fantastic job and again for free. they aren't getting paid for what they do"  "When you know you've written a good one, one that tells a good story you can be happy with that"

As I said, a much better person than I am.

Does he think he needed something like ShitChester to come into his life back then?

"I believe so I feel I needed something out of the ordinary. this hasn't really been done before and its got people talking. I've been open with mental health and have struggled in the past, which is why I work alongside the Samartians"

Tony Chester famously donated the proceedings for the Lego display in Chester Market to the charity in 2016.


The lego display is now voted as being number 36, out of 97 things to do in Chester by Tripadvisor.

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186233-d12824336-Reviews-Chester_in_Lego-Chester_Cheshire_England.html

"Shitchester does give me a purpose. On those day's when you might be feeling a bit down looking in the diary, you've got an event coming up or an opening to an event on that night. Well that's a good thing to have"

Despite often working alone, and his thoughts on it being a lonely existence at times he admits to the amazing network of people he has met because of it

"It's a support network of people I've met over the past four years by doing this really, 
It does give you a framework to a life" 

So has ShitChester changed you?

"Have I changed in four years? I'd say yes. I get shy, I get nervous to an extent, but this has all given me a confidence in myself that I didn't have before. But at the same time the problem is what is that confidence about? is that the real you? is it a created you?

This where the Batman analogy comes into place, he is one one person in 'reality' day to day and another at night in local council elections. "It can be stressful, it's an identity crisis element to it and that is the nervous energy frustrations that come with being 2 different people"

So how long can maintaining this two different sides to his life go on for?

"Can this go on forever? Maybe not. If my personal life changed then perhaps not, but at the moment I'm looking forward to a lot of the stuff that's coming up this year and I'm looking forward to covering it. I get invited to a lot of press events with my friends from mainstream media and I do get a sense of achievement from that"

This brings me to probably his most asked question. 

"Why the name" Would he ever consider changing it?

"Last time I attempted to change it slightly I was openly abused for it. I don't think it's  worth the hassle"

Tony tells me about some of the abusive he received from simply changing the Twitter handle one day, "Look I have no agenda. I'm not tying to influence anything in any political way or any way.  I'm honest and if you choose to take issue with a name positive or negative well....people might not like the name but just look a little deeper"

I ask what his response is to the comments he received that he was 'funnier in 2013'

"It's still the same person doing the tweets. The past has gone we should all just live in the moment. You have to engage with what you've got now and not what you had. You must look to the future you can't do the same thing over and over again you have to take it forward.

It's amazing how many people follow now politicians, media, schools, people working within entertainment in the city "I don't feel its controversial anymore and perhaps its lost some of its edge there. But if you're going to tweet negative stuff all the time you're going to end up pretty miserable"



I asked Tony if looking back there has been a moment that made him stand back and take stock of what he has achieved with ShitChester. 



Kony.

"It's got to be KONY when I saw it again on Boxing day morning last year I became overwhelmed with emotion. It was a beautiful moment looking back at all the battles that you've fought, battles you've lost, but you can still be at peace. A totally random bizarre thing but that's what life is about"

"When I first saw it in 2013 I thought yes its a cone on statues head its a bit juvenile, but to me that is a celebration.

"Seeing the beauty in the ordinary, you think your life might be shit but there's always a statue with a cone on its head"

That sums up all that Shitchester is for me really.

It's not just one man alone with his account password and armed with a camera. No matter how much he may want to walk those streets alone. ShitChester is part of our city, he plays a huge part in the community and celebrating all that we have. Whilst maintaining the ability to challenge when needed.

He is an essential thread in that vibrant Twitter community.

A community he says himself is open to " Sharing being supportive "we come together and share stuff"

Even if sometimes sharing stuff is moaning about parking, a lack of cinema and the Northgate development.

But thanks to Stroyhouse a lack of cinema,and theatre is no more!



A salute to Storyhouse

A love letter to Storyhouse

Parking and the Northgate development, well that's ongoing.


Rachel




© Mrs Rachel O'Kelly and mrsrachelokelly.blogspot.co.uk 



























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