Clapham Common (Guest spot)

Today’s guest spotter is Bradley L. Garrett, a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he is studying Urban Exploration. Bradley’s own blog is here.

I have lived in Clapham, in South London, just across the street from Clapham Common (a huge park) for about eight months now and six months ago I bought a bicycle. This was a significant event because it meant that I no longer took the bus to Clapham Junction train station, I now rode my bike through the park every day instead in what I thought to be a small victory over mundanity.

The first time I encountered the little freehand graffiti penis was on one such ride. I was listening to an audio lecture by Arnold Weinstein about Baudelaire’s poem The Swan and here comes this phallus, standing erect in the road like a raucous troll, exacting some sort of fare I was sure. But how to pay it? Figuring all it wanted was some attention I photographed it and moved on.

For six months now I have encountered this masculine assemblage, swerving around it at the last second, sure that, like some form of voodoo charm, it would hurt somebody if I ran over it. Sometimes I would remember it before my encounter, anxious to see if it finally had aroused enough offence in the community to have it painted over. Every once and a while I would stop next to it, seemingly not of my own accord, and stare around, wondering what sort of thought or action it was meant to invoke, feeling like someone was watching and noting my confusion with pleasure. One biker stops, check.

It’s almost mathematical in is perfect pointedness. Even the fact that one testicle hangs slightly lower than the other seems to me to be anatomically correct. Thinking that after months of study, I had now understood its form, my analysis of the thing moved on to function more seriously. The phallus points straight down the asphalt path. My first inclination was, of course, to assume that it points the way to something. Perhaps it was the remnant of a petty birthday party joke, a Facebook tagline proclaiming “when you arrive in Clapham Common, follow the penis to Dave’s party.” Later, I began to wonder if the trajectory of the penis was subsidiary to its location. Could it be a meeting point of some sort?

This notion seemed to be reinforced by my mate Mike over drinks one night who proclaimed Clapham Common as a place where gay men go to “get bummed” which in America (where I come from) means to be depressed but here is some euphemism for anal sex. Could it be that this innocuous little sign I swerved around everyday was a meeting point for clandestine homosexual encounters at night? Perhaps one day, I thought to myself, I would conduct a 24-hour stakeout to satisfy my need to unravel this mystery.

Finally last week, wrapped up in sweaters, scarves and gloves, in some strange sociological crisis, I did indeed undertake such a weird experiment. What happened was this: just across from the white penile package, there is a park bench which, if you were to sit on it, positions you perfectly to observe the sign (or encounters with the sign). I sat there on a lazy Sunday, pretending to read a book so that I could view interaction with it. And what I saw disturbed me.

Time after time, whether confronted by pram pushing Mommies, solitary walkers or ambitious runners, no one noticed the phallus. They rolled over it, stepped on it and ran past it without even a glance. Thinking that maybe I had, in some sick vision, just imagined the damn thing, I walked over to it. Still there. And then what I saw gave me the shivers.

A second phallus, just up and to the left, barely visible, but there. Even worse, it was a different colour and facing a different direction! How could I have missed this before? Horribly disturbed by the new revelation, I walked home, sullen, curious as to what kind of ghastly person would sketch a pair of horrors like this, knowing the frustration their presence would invoke.

[Now that Bradley has pointed out this parkland penis in London, the Pavement Graffiti blog site will return to the subject of street wangs from time to time]

Autumn leaves

09nNOV11-cP1070398 VancouverLeafHow quaint, I thought. Someone has etched an autumn leaf in wet cement on the sidewalk. Then I noticed another, and then a whole slew of them under an almost bare street tree.

On many blocks along Seymour Street in Downtown Vancouver it is permanently autumn, thanks to these almost inconspicuous installations that must have been put in place when the sidewalks were paved in the late 1990s.

09nNOV11-cP1070404 VancouverLeaves blogVancouver has many examples of street art, most of it official, some of it unofficial (though, as you would expect, graffiti mostly occurs at the fringes of Downtown, not in the centre).

Floral tribute

05coct04-cp1000215-newtownflowersI wonder how many people know the story behind the coloured flowers on the traffic island at Newtown Bridge? They were originally painted during a day-long Reclaim the Streets party in November 1999, but if that were the whole story they would have worn off long ago. In fact, these flowers were deliberately preserved by friends of Kathy Jones.

Kathy was an artist who worked with advocacy groups for disadvantaged people in the Newtown area. On the day of the Reclaim the Streets demo it was Kathy who organised the decoration of roadways, kerbs and traffic islands at the intersection of King Street and Enmore Road.  Just a few months later Kathy died. Her friends tied notices to the light poles to let local people know she had gone and coated this particular set of painted flowers with marine varnish. My photograph was taken in 2005 when regular applications of varnish had kept the bouquet fresh for six years. In 2009 the flowers, while still visible, are gradually fading away.

Garden borders

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A thoughtful graffitist provided a decorative fence for this little garden of asthma weed near Piss Alley in Enmore. To see another tiny nurtured garden, check out Darlinghurst Nights.

Elsewhere in Enmore, pavement degeneration around a cast iron alignment pin has created a niche for a weedlet garden. Many thanks to PC for his enthusiastic explanation of alignment pins, which indicate where the surveyed kerb line is. For me, official pavement embellishments such as hydrants, manhole covers, and the various kinds of alignment posts, pins and stones, can be enjoyed for their aesthetic qualities or read like an archive of urban development.99sep14sc-alignmentpin-blog1