Physical Graffiti!

05 Feb

A remark from one of my new work colleagues a few days ago reminded me of today’s topic.

He remarked that the envelope supplied to us on our arrival on-site containing a tightly coiled anti-static wristband and cable for computer use resembled nothing so much as an oversized condom packet. At that point an idea for an article started to form but fell quickly into the pit where most of my ideas go for lack of further inspiration.

However, shortly afterwards we were an enjoying an evening meal in “Frankie & Benny’s” (a Chicago Grinder Calzone – and it was delicious, thank you for asking). I visited the toilets before the food arrived and saw something that hauled the previous idea out of that pit and into the “in progress” file!

As I came out of the facilities I half noticed a machine on the wall. Forgetting that I was a in a family restaurant rather than some seedy bar or pub my brain assumed that it was an up to date version of the old-style “something for the weekend” vending machine. While that thought was still happening I caught sight of a large , colourful word on the front.

It was: “Chewable”!

I will not offend your sensibilities by detailing exactly what followed in my head when those two mental images met but it wasn’t very nice! Funny though!

In fact when I did a double-take and actually LOOKED it turned out to be a machine selling something called Chewable Toothbrushes! I imagine it’s some sort of chewing gum.

And as you will have gathered from the Led Zeppelin album used as the title of this piece, all of that reminded me irresistibly of……


Particularly, pub graffiti and even more specifically, pub toilet graffiti.

This first came to my notice in the early 1970s when I would occasionally meet my father in the lounge bar of The Swan in Ipswich. This was the place where people from his office sometimes met after work and was also the nearest pub to Ipswich 2nd District Tax Office – the one where we would spend our permitted 40 minute overtime tea break from 5pm to about 6.30pm!

Anyway, I bumped into Dad in there one evening and as he came in from the rather primitive outside loo he stopped and suggested that I might enjoy the writing on the machine out there.
I remember feeling particularly pleased at this conversation as it was the first time I recall him talking to me man to man rather than father to son.

I went outside to see what he had meant and soon saw that a man with my own sense of humour had been at work with a marker pen on the Durex dispenser.

I don’t know if they still do but such machines used to bear the British Standards Institute “Kitemark” and beneath that logo the words “Manufactured to British Standard xxxx” (I never noticed the actual number) and this wit had added “….. so was the Titanic!”

While I was still sniggering at that one I noticed other now classic remarks on the same machine:

“This chewing gum tastes horrible”
“… but it blows lovely big bubbles!”
“Buy me and stop one”
“Buy two and be one jump ahead!”

After that, of course, I kept an eye out for further witty items and a number of the pubs I regularly visited came up with example, not from the vending machines but from the walls of the toilets themselves.
Here are some of the more philosophical ones:

“My mother made me a homosexual!” (this was followed in different writing by..)
“If I give her the wool, will she make me one too?”
“Eat sh*t – 10 billion flies can’t be wrong!”
“You’re never alone with schizophrenia!”
“Life is a sh*t sandwich – the more bread you have, the less sh*t you have to eat!”

And if anyone is wondering about my apparent prissiness over the use of certain words above, I refer you to which explains some of my difficulties in that area. Besides this is hopefully being read by any number of age groups and I don’t want to upset any parents unnecessarily.

Meanwhile, back at my graffiti studies – you will note that these are all apparently the works of reasonably intelligent (if, maybe somewhat twisted) minds and to me are infinitely superior to the supposedly arty “tags” of the spray can painters of just about any piece of blank wall in the inner cities. Let them call their works “wall art” if they wish – to ME “graffiti” means clever WORDS. And I think the “graf” bit in the name signifies writing, doesn’t it?

To move away from toilets now I can reveal that only once in my life have I given in to the temptation to write something on a public surface. It was in the summer of 1978 when I was still commuting between Ipswich and Chelmsford and had to get a non-corridor train from Chelmsford to Colchester on my journey home. On the wall of the compartment (of which I was the only occupant) some ardent Arsenal football supporter had scribbled:

“North Bank plus Clock End equals invincibility!”

Note: for the uninitiated or very young reader these were the two “behind the goal” stands at the old Highbury Stadium.

Given the epic FA Cup Final earlier that year between my team and Arsenal I was not going to let THAT one pass! So very neatly I wrote underneath it:

Ipswich 1: Invincibles 0 : May 6th 1978

I was rather pleased with that!

I will now conclude by telling you of my all-time favourite example of this genre. It was not in a toilet (at least not an official one) but was spotted by me in the lift at Queensway underground station while I was on a Tax course with Barclays in 1987. It brilliantly summed up all possible views on Ecology, Superpower confrontation and probably a lot of other issues too. It read, simply:

“Nuke the Whale!”

And I hope that one day I can think of something equally good!


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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Ipswich


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