I love that even at Oxford people graffiti the walls. Perhaps this is worthy of further exploration?” (Bodleian Women Readers’ Cloakroom.) This throwaway toilet wall comment became my mission this week. Do the Bod readers, supposedly some of the most intelligent people in the country, produce a uniquely high flown genre of graffiti? One girl in the Rad Cam seems to think so: “Goodness, this is the writing on the wall. How exciting! But what educated, sarcastic little comments.
Let me bring down the tone. TK woz ere. 27/1/02” These scribbles are often a welcome entertainment. There’s this from the Rad Cam Men’s: I don’t need a poo Or penile dribbles, I only come down here To read the scribbles. An American paper on Graffiti in the Athenian Agora concludes that “one of the earliest uses to which the art of writing was put, along with alphabetic exercises and marks of ownership was sexual insult and obscenity.” E.g: Festus hic fuituit cum Sodalibus – Here Festus made it with Sodalibus. (Pompeii AD 79) Not much has changed.
One girl enquires if anyone has ever shagged in the Rad Cam: “University Parks and St Aldate’s Church are my records,” she boasts. A potent insult elsewhere exclaims: “YOU’RE ALL DICKS AND I WISH I HAD ONE!” She is put in her place by two comebacks: “Penis envy???” and then “Woah love, get some counselling.” The girls tend to be more conversational than the boys, and a common theme of these conversations is relationships.
Two different cubicles ask the same question: “Where are all the fit men?” The question gets a variety of responses – the conclusion is that they’re all either gay or have girlfriends. A possible solution? “They should have a society for straight men so we know where to find the minority group…!” One lone voice disputes this: “No, you’re not looking hard enough. I have an extremely fit boyfriend (smug grin) and there’s plenty more where he came from.” However, this is hardly a problem unique to Oxford. Recorded in a collection of Totally Tasteless Graffiti collected by Dr Hugh Mungus (actually filed as pornographic in the Bod stack filing system) are the words “These toilets remind me of all the men I meet – they’re either engaged or full of shit.” An alternative solution is proposed when one girl asks: “Why are relationships always so complicated? All I want is a nice boyfriend… is that too much to ask?” “Get a girl. They’re so much nicer.” This is nothing new. Around 1720, someone scrawled the observation on a window of Manwaring’s Coffee House, Fleet St, London: If kisses were the only joys in bed Then women would with one another wed. Sexual matters are approached in a less discursive, more ‘poetic’ way in the Men’s, where limericks abound: I once know a girl from Nantucket, With a cunt the size of a bucket. On safari one day, She went the wrong way And an elephant decided to suck it.
These are also unoriginal. Similar poems have been recorded in Boston, Massachusetts: A Canadian lady, Anne Tunney, Had a habit you may think quite Funny She would roll up a buck In her snatch ere she’d fuck So her husband would come into money.” And from Hull University: “There was a young scholar from Brighton Who remarked to a tart ‘You’re a tight ‘un’ She replied, ‘Pon my soul You’re in the wrong ’ole, There’s oodles of room in the right ’un. Of course some graffiti is just obscene.
The Rad Cam Men’s has the delightful dictionary definition: to crank – to wank and crap simultaneously, hence the name. In the Ladies’ we find the bizarre comment: “People who wipe their faeces on toilet walls are very very weird.” Shit is often, predictably, the topic of ‘latrinalia,’ as one graffiti scholar (yes they exist) put it. Oxford does not have the monopoly on obscenity, either, as demonstrated by the following piece of advice found in 1980s Lincoln (the town): “If you wrap sellotape round hamsters, they won’t split when you fuck them.”
The Rad Cam is not without its assignations: “Jonny does cock on Wednesdays at 11.” This is a common theme in Men’s toilets worldwide – a comic example being “I am 10 1⁄2” long and 3” wide.” Response: “Interested. How big is your prick?” The funniest bit of graffiti I found was in the Bodleian Women Readers Cloakroom.
An arrow pointing to the door stop behind the door asks “What is this?” In answer: “It’s a wall phallus enabling the wall to copulate with other walls and hence produce baby walls. Or a hybrid of wall and door – a new species will be produced.” “It’s a f****ing DOOR STOP!” someone else points out. The graffiti also includes references to the academic side of Oxford life.
The girls who complain about the rigours: large purple letters scream: “Aargh – I’m a second year, it’s xmas vac and I’m the Bod – WHY!!” Another snipe: “I bet exams were invented by a bloke,” followed by “bet he was single.” In the Men’s someone has written on a loo-roll dispenser, with arrow to the paper: “Classics degrees, please take one.”
However, as early as 1979, an almost identical joke is to be found at York University: “Sociology degrees, please take one.” Some truths of Bodleian life are clearly delineated however: “If you want fun go to the circus, the Bod is for studying… and convincing yourself that random undergraduates are actually attractive to look out of sheer boredom.” And if that fails: “Read The Erotic Arts by Peter Webb upstairs (in the top floor Art Section)… you will not be bored. ABM.”
In 1979 one graffiti covered wall in the Bodleian read: “This wall has been designated MS Bodl. 10000 and will shortly be taken away for binding.” However, this reminds that these scrawls are lost with every new paint job. Current concerns will be lost forever. On that note, I shall circulate what, from the size of its lettering, seems urgent question: “Does anyone know Azim Nooerami from New?” (Rad Cam Women’s Loos) Answers on a postcard please…
ARCHIVE: 3rd Week TT 2003