Graffiti: I Draw the Line at a 6ft High Penis

For the last couple of weeks, kids have been everywhere. The woodland I work on has been practically lousy with them. Easter holidays, you see. They have been released on mass from the penitentiary-esque confines of the educational system to clutter up the place and generally get under the feet of their elders and betters. Not that I’m against this kind of thing, me being a keen advocate of getting the youth of today out in the countryside and inflicting nature on them.

This has been coupled with a noticeable rise in the levels of graffiti on the reserves and greenspaces in my area. Now, I’d normally baulk at drawing such a direct line between correlation and causation, but in this case, given some of the dubious spelling involved and generally poor penmanship, I’ll make an exception. It was interesting then, to come across a well-argued if slightly lofty piece on the general harmlessness of graffiti in urban greenspace. Coming fresh off the back of a week spent splattered with brown paint from covering up large purple phalluses scrawled across veteran trees, I thought it necessary to offer a response from the coal-face.

There are many, many, many…many things I could better employ my time doing than removing graffiti from trees. So as I try to scrub the ‘Scorched Earth Brown’ from beneath my fingernails, it’s not surprising that I might muse ‘why not just leave it?’ I can see the point, too. Sometimes graffiti can be colourful, interesting and beautiful. Just ask Banksy:

Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.”

Neil is a PedoExcept it wouldn’t be a utopia, Banksy. It wouldn’t be a colourful place full of imaginative works of art to captivate the eye. What it would be is a landscape full of six-foot high penises, tags, exhortations to ‘Fuck da Police’, or warnings that ‘Neil is a Pedo’. When we talk about graffiti, just because we append the suffix ‘artist’ in the description, doesn’t necessarily follow that you’re going to get works of art. To use a completely one-sided statistic, 100% of the graffiti I’ve dealt with this week has fallen into one of the above categories. And it’s been on trees.

Ah…but I’m being subjective, aren’t I? What’s offensive and ugly to me, might be attractive to others. Who am I to argue with penises?* Surely they are art, are they not? Certainly, the Greeks were very fond of them. If an ugly, gravelly wall is a suitable canvas to be brightened by a colourful and perhaps socially aware mural, then why can’t an old, gnarly tree be improved with a giant, purple penis? It’s all subjective, of course. And that’s the problem when you start making arguments about subjectivity. No one can say ‘no’.

The original argument in Tales of the City was about a colourful picture on an old concrete wall. But where colourful, unasked for artwork begins, giant purple phalluses often follow. If the interesting but unexpected artwork on the concrete wall is allowed, then how can we draw the line at the obscenity on the veteran Oak? some people don’t find old, gnarly trees that aesthetically pleasing, and the graffiti doesn’t particularly do any harm to the tree – so why not? I could bring out the old ‘broken window’ theory here, but I think you get the gist.

*Another one to add to the collection; ‘sentences I never thought I’d write.’


Elm – The Forgotten Tree

Want to confuse an environmentalist under the age of thirty? Shove one of these under their noses and ask them what it is:


Elm has very much become the ‘forgotten tree’, but it still perseveres, suckering away in hedgerows, a persistent reminder of how quickly an apparent stalwart can disappear from the landscape and the collective memory. I don’t think I’ve seen a mature Elm tree, but I’ve scouted around the base of many a juvenile, peering up into the canopy for hairstreaks. It almost seems unthinkable that in a few decades time you could conceivably wave the leaflets of an Ash tree violently in a young conservationists face all the time jeering at them ‘So what’s this, youngster, eh? Eh?….EH? You don’t know do you? Kids these days…’ only to be met by blank stares. Or retreating backs. Whichever.

But the Elm is a reminder that such things are possible. Likely, in fact. You can count on it almost as much as you can count on the jeering of the old brigade as they stroke their beards and reprimand you for not knowing your willow tit from your marsh. I look forward to having the authority and stately-ness to give the whippersnappers a good jeering. For now though, I’m off to wallow in doom and gloom.

Hurrah for Trees! (Trees are Ace)

There was a tree of the year competition (sorry, #treeoftheyear)? I missed that one. Was it on Saturday night TV? (Actually, that would probably have made a half decent program. Better than Springwatch, certainly). Anyway, this reminds me that a couple of years ago I started to compile my ‘Top 10 Trees of Epping Forest’. What the original purpose of this was, I don’t now remember. I can’t quite imagine how I would have managed to convince anyone that it was work related. I’ve dug out the photos from my inept computer filing system (pathway: pictures > pictures > Spike > pictures > 2012 > trees) and it looks like I only got to 5. So to continue this months theme of being positive (yay nature), getting excited about things (this hurts my face) and only writing shiny, happy posts, here they are (next month, if winter ever starts, I will return to being a dedicated miserabilist):

5 – (In fact, imagine this soundtracked by the Thunderbirds countdown to lend it the necessary gravitas)

Grimston’s OakGrimston Oak - Bury WoodBig oak in a clearing in Bury Wood. I haven’t noted whether it is English or Sessile. Found at a junction of 3 paths. I can’t find any details about who Grimston was and don’t remember any anecdotes from my time at the Forest (and they do love an anecdote!). Those with a more sinister bent of mind might like to imagine that those horizontal branches on the right hand side once served an ominous purpose. Not me though. And if you did, you’re clearly wrong-headed and should be sectioned forthwith.

4 – Massive Bugger of a Veteran Hornbeam Pollard in FairmeadVeteran Hornbeam Pollard

(That’s it’s official name amongst those in the know, in case you were wondering. Honest it is) I don’t think the photo really does the scale of this tree justice. Worth bearing in mind that the bole is at head height, though. It’s a lapsed pollard, of which there are many in Epping Forest, so there’s a danger the limbs will snap. Pollarding is…you know what, I’ve given that talk so many times I can’t be bothered to type it out here. If you don’t already know, go read a book or something (sorry, that was unnecessarily rude. Here’s a link). I have also definitely not tried to climb this tree. Never. How dare you even suggest such a thing!

3 – The Fairmead OakFairmead Oak

Ok, what’s left of the Fairmead Oak, anyway. Such an awesome tree (and so artistically shot in black and white by myself (I had just worked out how to use that function)), you might have noticed that it is the background image for this very blog. It is Phoenixing quite wonderfully and you can probably just make out the regrowth coming from the snap point. Who knows, might even survive.

2 – The Lost Pond CoppardLost Pond Coppard

Huge diameter, about 20-30 feet maybe? It’s been coppiced then pollarded. Pretty Cool. Just look at the base of that thing. If you were a child (or of a childish frame of mind), it makes an excellent hide-and-seek apparatus. I, of course, being a grown adult man have done no such thing. Don’t be foolish! And I certainly wasn’t on my own when I didn’t do it.

I think this was actually Epping Forest‘s official entry for the ‘competition’, but it’s not the best, oh no (and that is FACT, not merely my subjective aesthetic opinion). The best tree is…drumroll…                .                                                                                                                               .                                                                                                                                                                                        .

Honey Lane Quarter Oak1 – Honey Lane Quarter Oak

My, the tension was palpable there, wasn’t it? This English Oak is awesome, gnarled and just all-round pretty damn cool. Obviously this rather arty photo was taken by somebody with a little more camera-type skills than my point and click efforts (in fact, if you look closely you will see me in the shot, leaning thoughtfully against the trunk, like some kind of enigmatic troubled soul). It is found just off the road at Honey Lane Quarter past High Beach, and as far as I am aware it does not currently have a name. Although now it does, because right this second I have named it Spike’s Oak. And who says I can’t?

Veteran trees are undoubtedly cool, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool (and I like to make up a tree-based rhyme pretty much all of the time). Seriously, this ‘Tree of the Year’ thing is all I ever hear about from the ‘kids’ when I hang out on the ‘street’. And why the heck not? This is the point where I remark that at least they have more personality than your standard X-factor contestant etc and so forth. But I wouldn’t do that. Trees are made of wood, they don’t have a personality. They are awesome though. Except for Sycamores, they’re a bit crap.