Chapter 8 – Page 5

Around Bristol I saw different types of graffiti, some direct messages, some abstract, some subtle, some blunt. Not for the first time I saw a swastika by a main road, and wished I had a spray can. Under the railway bridge though there were large colourful murals, mostly of letters, and attractive shapes.

A lot of graffiti contains sharp shapes, over sexualised or violent images. The vast majority of graffiti (rather than specifically street art) is done by men and perhaps for men? It can leave me feeling that the images have as little relevance to me as the billboards do, other than my empathy for their anger. Some graffiti artists like Banksy go further though, cutting through the noise of images with a counter message that makes you stop.

Opposite St. Werburgs along a wall are a series of very large, well spray painted bees. One of the bees is holding a giant red crayon and appears to have written the message ‘Protect your bees’.

When a message does reach me it’s like the shock of seeing a smiling friendly face amongst a sea of angry strangers. Walking over an ugly road footbridge someone has sprayed “Live Free” on the ground. Outside an anarchist community social center I found colourful images of people fixing bikes.

There are definitely a lot of things to be said and a lot of other voices to be heard, other than those who can pay for a billboard. Taking out my little pack of coloured chalk from my bumbag, I leave a few messages of my own.

I’m to meet Lindsay and her friend Julia in a park. Like many English parks, the ‘public’ toilets are locked, presumably because of drug use. I was shocked when I found out that the reason some loos have blue lights is so that people can’t see their veins. I have to dash off, desperate to find a shop that will let me use the ‘commercial’ toilet. I remember fondly visiting Tokyo, where all the toilets were open all night, with no sign of vandalism. Vending machines sat in the open on street corners and were not broken in to. I guess it’s part of our culture in England to vandalise, but it’s not something I’ve ever understood. But I’ve never tried to find people who do it and to understand. I wonder what I would learn?

Lindsay and Julia are both meditators and members of DANCE, the Buddhist climate network that Rob Burbea started. Their warmth and enthusiasm are beautiful. In their care words are held and carefully expressed with compassion. Over dinner, pauses punctuate the conversation, as they contemplate what has been said, there is no rushing to express opinions, as everything will be heard.

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