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.’

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Why We Must Keep Nature in Our Dictionaries – My favourite nature words and how they will save your children come the end times

It’s the latest harbinger of an apocalyptic future where machines become our overlords and we’re forced to communicate entirely in binary  – the Oxford Junior Dictionary are replacing ‘nature’ words with decidedly ‘unnatural’ counterparts. Is this a very audible bellweather of the inexorable move of the human race indoors and, ultimately, into the very machines themselves?

I do wonder, in my more pessimistic moments (generally, 75% of the day) just how this generation will turn out when they hit adulthood. It’s a virtual unknown. Yes, there were Video Games, before that TV, Radio and even books – all of which, if you listened with a gloomy disposition or with a miserabilist’s bent to the ear, would rot the brains of our youth, turning then into gurning simpletons with poor social skills. I’m pretty sure this hasn’t happened, though I often can’t quite tell when forced to interact with the service industry. Lamenting the ‘youth of today…’ is a universal right for anyone over the age of 30 (although I think I started at 21), it’s usually not particularly well-founded, though.

But the Internet, the many screens we are confronted with day to day – it’s all-pervasive in the modern world in a way that the others were not. They change the way we work, the way we think, even. What change, then, to a developing mind? I’m hardly covering new ground here though; Project Wild Thing (about which I was characteristically but perhaps unjustly mean about a while ago) is just the latest in a line of attempts to convince us to take our children out into the natural world and leave them to their own devices, may the strongest survive. A bit like the Hunger Games, or (more originally) Battle Royale. On second thoughts, maybe I misunderstood Project Wild Thing. Or maybe I’ve just been watching Battle Royale recently.

newts on facebook

I was doing a little research the other day – Wikipedia has really got it in for newts

Removing natural words from the dictionary is all very well, and I can see the point in an age where we’re teaching our kids coding, but where will it leave them come the Zombie Apocalypse*, eh? That’s the real question here. Knowing how to spell ‘algorithm’ ain’t going to help them when they’re scrabbling through the undergrowth, pursued by hordes of the undead, trying to work out if this strange nut thing they’ve found is edible or poisonous…if only they knew it’s name they could look it up on wikipedia and find out…except, wait, that Jimmy Wales chap has finally had to shut Wikipedia down due to lack of donations. Well, that and the Zombies eating every single online editor until its accuracy drops to an all-time low (I know, who’d notice, right?).

So here are my favourite nature words that you should go out and teach your children immediately – failing to do so is basically condemning your offspring to a real-life shuffle-on part in a George A Romero film:

Osprey – Os-prey, os-prey. For some reason I find something very agreeable about the two separate parts of the word when they come together. Plus, it’s an awesome, awesome raptor and who knows what role falconry will play in a dystopian future?

Hemlock Water Dropwort – There’s something about the way the successive syllables rise and fall…plus, in an apocalyptic society, you can disguise it as celery and poison your rivals.

osprey

Osprey Post-Armageddon fish delivery system

Juniper – Gin will be essential when society collapses (Who am I kidding, Gin is already essential).

Coppice – maybe it’s because I’ve done so much coppicing, but the word always brings on a warm feeling. Plus, if you want to make those hurdles for tripping undead pursuers or spears to stab them right in the face, then long, straight poles will need to be cultivated.

Tawny Grisette – Roles off the tongue, doesn’t it? Plus good to know the difference between this edible mushroom and some very similar, poisonous ones that you can then use to poison your rivals on the way to the top of the rudimentary feudal system that will evolve once the zombies have been dealt with.

Others on the shortlist were – Glanville Fritillary, Bird’s-foot trefoil, Ribwort plantain and Teasel. So what’s your favourite ‘nature’ word, and just how will it help us survive an uprising of hyper-intelligent Tesco automated check-out bays?

*I appear to have switched my end-of-human-race scenario from AI run wild to Zombie epidemic, lord knows why. Again, I may have been watching too many films over the holidays. Coming Soon: I write a piece where I explain that both are merely more cinematic stand-ins for environmental collapse, Zombies are in fact a metaphor for climate change and AI represents our own attempts to control a natural environment that will, inevitably, rebel and kill us all.

Project Wild Thing or ‘How Shoreditch invented Environmental Education’

I finally made the Herculean effort to sit through Project Wild Thing or ‘How Shoreditch invented Environmental Education’ for the second time recently. And though with repetition I was perhaps not quite as hostile towards it, there still remained a niggling antipathy and feeling that all was perhaps not to be taken at face value. Why is this? The documentary addresses key issues that I agree with and have worked towards in the past 5 years, yet for some reason I still found something cold and off-putting about it.Project Wild Thing

Perhaps it is because the focus is most undoubtedly one of a salesman. Talk of ‘marketing’ and ‘product’ is not likely to go down well with many in the sector. These sections of environmental charities and organisations are growing significantly, with improved wages, in comparison with reductions in actual conservation and environmental education staffing. But then consider who is the target audience for this? The Guardian and The National Trust have heavily promoted it, and there will certainly be an element of preaching to the converted here. The real target audience should be those in urban centres on low income, those in areas of deprivation (yes, it focuses on high end products such as I-pads, but these are becoming ubiquitous in all households, and even greater barriers to environmental engagement exist in low income areas, particularly those with high levels of immigrants), but I saw little effort to promote to these groups or engage them. That woolly phrase ‘nature deficit disorder’, presented as a dead-eyed hydra, set on zombifying the next generation, is trotted out repeatedly, but it is ill defined and little energy is expended in actually explaining the scientific or social issues behind the phenomenon.

There is certainly the air of back-slappery about the whole thing. Virtually no recognition is given to the vast amount of environmental education work done by the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB etc, which I am sure will not have gone unnoticed, considering their stated involvement in the project. About the only organisation given any screen time is some monkey-tree-net-climbing nonsense, which I am sure is very beneficial for young people, though is still an artificial construct in a natural space. There would have been innumerable better examples at almost any Wildlife Trust or RSPB nature reserve, but maybe this would not have fit in with the narrative. It is almost as if David Bond believes he has stumbled upon this problem himself, and only he and his East London hipsters can save our kids, educate them about the environment and save our environmental spaces.

I will try and ignore my own perceived sleights however, and look at some of the many positives I found in the film. From the perspective of anyone in the sector, almost without exception the most interesting and engaging parts are when somebody other than David Bond is talking, such as Monbiot, excellent as ever expanding on the themes of Feral, and most notably Chris Rose, late of Greenpeace.

Another plus point of the film was the interactions with children and young people and the explanations they gave about the barriers they face in using and being encouraged to use their local green spaces, although the phrasing of some questions by Bond was almost certainly leading and garnered him the response he was hoping for. Even given these opinions and observations, the approach was still to ‘market’ his natural ‘product’, rather than attempt to find a way to breakdown these barriers. Given the background of Bond and the initially stated predisposition to marketing and promotion, I should probably have come to terms with this by now.

I am almost certainly viewing the project through the jaded eyes of an environmental educator, and maybe I am feeling a little under appreciated for the efforts the sector has gone to in broaching the gap between screen and stream almost since TV’s invention, but I’m sure I am not alone. Project Wild Thing comes across as a marketing exercise, a vanity project which focuses on the creative – little mention is given to the science and theory behind these benefits, what nature is, how it is struggling, where you can go and how you can make the most of it. These are the areas where I believe real headway would

Tigers, to my knowledge, still can not be found in Epping Forest. Although there was that business about a Lion on the loose in Essex a few years back, so who know? I digress...

Tigers, to my knowledge, still can not be found in Epping Forest. Although there was that business about a Lion on the loose in Essex a few years back, so who knows? I digress…

be made in inspiring the next generation to get their feet dirty, an overly didactic approach towards screens risks being confrontational and the contrary nature of children is likely to see it fail. Like it or not, screens are here to stay and setting them up as ‘the enemy’ is doomed to fail. Incorporation of screens to some extent may assist, through ID apps etc, but addressing the barriers to green space and why the security, familiarity and insularising effect of screens are preferable to

the wild, rough and tumble of our woodlands might be a better bet. The much pushed ‘wild time’ slogan may work for some, middle-class, cosseted children, but I have spent numerous occasions reassuring children from vastly different backgrounds, that green spaces are in fact safe, and not dangerously infested with poisonous insects and even tigers. No seriously, I have been asked before if there are tigers ‘in there’. And not by a child.

Most of all, my issue (which in fairness, was picked up at one stage) was that the lead should be coming from parents, teachers etc. I am sure I was not the only person thinking that if you don’t want your children to spend so much time in front of screens, then don’t given them ipads; if you want your children to show an interest in the environment, then show some yourself.