I was in the Waterstone’s in Cambridge last weekend and, given that I was on my own and had no one to hurry me up, spent so long browsing I actually needed to break for a cup of tea and a trip to their bathroom. While I was in the toilet I was enjoying the Cambridge bookshop graffiti. It was a higher grade of graffiti than I am used to. In the center of the wall one person had posed the question ‘What is the source of moral obligation?’ and others had taken the time to respond. These were proper responses too; not just a big, context-free swear word or a picture of a drippy cock.
I’m not sure if the person who wrote the original question was actually seeking the responses. Its possible he (I’m making a confident assumption on it being a he, since it was in the men’s room) came back week after week, seeking answers to his quandary. It’s also possible, and I think more likely, that it was a stab at ironic, postmodern toilet graffiti. I enjoyed it either way.
On a different wall someone had drawn a box with the words ‘Number of toilet users with own pen’. Some people had ticked in the box. I didn’t, even though I had my own pen, (I always do.) I have never written on a wall in a toilet before and I couldn’t bring myself to start then. Toilet walls aren’t the place for surveys.
This sort of thing didn’t happen in Basildon. On the face of it, it seemed more appropriate in Cambridge, but why would it? Not everyone that takes a shit in Cambridge is studying for their philosophy masters. On the same day I was walking past Kings College and a guy pointed up at the college and said to his kids ‘Kids, this building is over one hundred-thousand years old’. They’re not all geniuses. I think it might have more to do with the fact that the wall is just far enough away that you can’t write on it while you’re still sat down. By the time the average user has finished they have had quite a bit of time to mull over the source of moral obligation. Those same people might have ended up just scrawling a big swear word if the wall had been a little closer. That extra bit of space made all the difference.