Tuesday, July 01, 2008
‘Art Don’t Pay My Bills,’ exclaimed the spidery scrawl on the hand-dryer of Monkey Chews’ less-than-salubrious toilets, ‘Daddy Does!’
And that, I believe, was the start.
Soon, everywhere I went, I noticed that London’s inebriated tribes are wont to leaving a slug trail of graffiti across our divier bars that is at best genius – and at worst bottom-numbing – but always worth snapping.
Whilst the phenomenon is not unique to our city (in the US it’s hilariously called ‘Bathroom Art Expression’; and even Parisians are prone to Piaf-like sentiments – ‘La vie est courte. Pas les temps pour les regrets’ reads une toilette in Montmartre), it’s in London that WC poets are at their most aphoristic (and perhaps drunk).
‘Men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool,’ declared Swift in Gulliver’s Travels. Let’s put that theory to the test in 2008...Excluding sexual graffiti, which admittedly has an, erm, utilitarian place, we have four clear categories. First up, and to be dispatched quickly, is the Uninspired. I mean, which pork-pie hat abuser at Crobar was dull enough to impart ‘Neil Aspinall is the 5th Beatle’? And hands up the numbnuts at Nambuca who whinnied: ‘Best to know what you’re looking for before you look.’ While we’re at it, the private joke is best not shared: ‘If you read this you’re Devon Malcom (sic)’. Nul Points.
It’s late. You’ve been dumped. The booze is puppeteering every movement. Fancy sharing some hard-won Life Advice? ‘Remember, no matter how cute he is, some girl somewhere is tired of taking his shit,’ warns one weary lass at the Foundry, whilst a boy proselytizes: ‘Find yourself then look for others.’ There’s even belated concern for our departed PM: ‘Tony Blair you’ve got worms under your skin’. And, look out, partygoers at Lock Tavern, one sage is blowing the whistle on your transience: ‘It will all end in tears.’
But maybe the evening’s going rather well. You’re the life and soul. Time for a little of category three: Humour. ‘Jesus saves but he should have invested,’ chuckles one comic. Meanwhile, next door a girl scribbles, ‘My mother made me a lesbian.’ ‘If I get her the wool will she make me one?’ cackles another underneath.
Finally: Poetry. Of highest pedigree is ‘The Candle’s burning and the wax ain’t happy’, which would have pleased Swift in both concept and verbal economy, but the best examples are hauntingly simple: ‘I wouldn’t want to take me home,’ whispers one reveller, a lone voice on a Friday night echoing a million others, whilst ‘I live in hope/ I sleep in Stepney’, seems to evoke, haiku-like, both the silvery aspirations and realities of life in the Big Smoke.
And as for my contribution? Well, Somerset Maugham once observed that in each shave lies a philosophy; a quick rework, and – hey presto.
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- Stephen Emms
- Stephen Emms is the founder of emmspublicity.com and also writes regularly about London, the English seaside and beyond for titles like Time Out, The Guardian and The Observer. His popular column on bench stories, Bench Marks, has been running in Time Out for over a year. For his new monthly column he has volunteered to schlepp round the boundary of every borough in London. That's a blister-rubbing 32 in total. Ouch.