Graffiti these days can be pretty sophisticated but when I was growing up it was almost purely about sloganeering. Where today’s graffitist packs a dust mask and a bag of spray cans in all colours, back in the seventies their only equipment was a bucket of whitewash and a burning grievance. So-and-so was a grass, Sham 69 ruled OK, George Davis was innocent and I well remember the pre-Google query ‘Whatever happened to Slade?’ posed in six foot high letters on the wall of the Oval cricket ground.
The piece of graffiti I remember most from those days though was in Catford, sloshed onto the side wall of a shop just off the South Circular. It was the late seventies and early eighties and I saw it every time we drove home along the A205: three-foot high capital letters, ‘MARRY ME LUCY? X’ it said, the ‘x’ being a kiss added to the end at a slightly lower level.
It’s years since I’ve passed through Catford and I’m sure it’s not there now (it was a turning on the left after you passed Catford Bridge station going east: possibly the corner of Thomas Lane but I can’t be sure – for one thing on Google Street View there’s a bus in the way) but I’ve often wondered in the years since who Lucy and the amorous paintbrush wielder were. Was it a genuine proposal, sited carefully in the knowledge that Lucy passed that way every day on her way to work? Or was it an anonymous, soul-baring howl of unrequited love given public permanence by someone whom Lucy had barely ever noticed?
Despite the fact that hundreds of people saw it every day there was something about the kiss at the end that gave the message an extra intimacy; there was a certain chasteness about that ‘x’ that raised it above a simple ‘I love Dawn’ or ‘Dave 4 Julie’. This was a direct question, the direct question, and even as a child I felt I was imposing on a private moment by even reading it, let alone actively looking for it from the crumb-strewn back seat of the family Renault 4 as we crawled around the one-way system.
‘MARRY ME LUCY? X’ – thirty-odd years on, that question still remains unanswered, at least to me, maybe even to the person that asked it. There was a story behind that question painted on a wall in south-east London three decades or more ago and I’d love to know what it was.
You’d be at least in your forties today, but oh, Lucy, where are you now?