Living as we do in the rural backwhacks of beyond, we remain largely oblivious to much of what is reputed to blight modern life, although with Grenoble a mere 40 minutes away, those of us who really want Kalashnikov-toting youth can just pop into town for it and still be back in time for dinner. Looting and rioting opportunities are limited, and while I’m told you can acquire whatever kind of stupefiant you like in resort if you look under the right stone, we don’t acually have to put up with emaciated druggies chasing dragons through the garden. Or whatever it is they like to do.
The fact that nasty urban problems remain largely confined to the nasty urbs is one of the attractions of life in godforsaken bits of France, for both incoming expat Brits and the native French, and we see none of the apparent yearning for degenerate behaviour so often displayed by the residents of smaller British towns. Oh yes, Hastings has a terrible drug problem, they tell you smugly, as though it meant that the town had in some way arrived in the big league and could hold its head up alongside the likes of Toxteth and Tottenham. Call me old fashioned if you like, but I quite enjoy small pleasures like being more or less sure that I’m not going to come home from work to find a charred shell where my house was when I left in the morning.
Still, just to prevent us from sliding into self congratulatory complacency, the local youth do a fine job of defacing various buildings with meaningless juvenile scribblings. Now I’m not the sort of old fart who insists that graffiti art is nothing of the sort and its authors should all be spray painted orange and made to walk about naked all winter. In fact, if you drive about Grenoble you’ll find many fine examples of the genre, most of it rude caricatures of the Hungarian dwarf. An easy target you might say, but well executed nonetheless. (And there are those who would assert that he ought to be, but that’s another matter entirely.)
Round here though, all we get is ‘tagging’, an activity which involves no artistic talent whatsoever and consists largely of writing your name and a load of rude words on the nearest wall in big letters. My spies tell me one of the chief culprits is a girly who signs her scribbles with the same butterfly design she has tattooed on her back. Now I know Plod isn’t generally known for brainpower, but let’s face it, the tattoo artist isn’t going to be the main suspect there is he? Unless she’s going to claim she was stealth-tagged while eating a lunchtime sandwich with her mates outside the college.
The baffling thing is the lengths to which people go just in order to write a load of crap on a wall. Risking life and limb in order to plaster your initials all over the top half of Slide Planet seems indicative of some sort of major identity crisis, as does filling the pockets of your skiwear with an assortment of felt pens and spray cans with a view to writing ‘I woz ‘ere’ on a wall somewhere above 2600m. I’ve got bad news for you, children – no-one gives a shit. The rest of us woz there as well, and given that there’s a cablecar link between there and resort it was hardly the sort of achievement which merits advertising, was it?
Having said that, I do have a weakness for some of the more surreal offerings you see occasionally (by which I do not mean the word ‘merde’ scrawled in orange down the side of our house thank you very much). ‘Sorry about your wall’ written in English down the side of an old café is a classic, along the lines of stern signs erected on bits of public land and and warning ‘do not throw stones at this notice’. And we do have at least one piece of what could broadly be described as art. I’ve no idea what it’s supposed to mean, but I have that problem with Tracey Emin as well, so what would I know.
My favourite piece of graffiti though, is the Arsebox. On the road between here and Grenoble, this is one of those EDF (or possibly France Telecom) junction box things, on which someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to paint the word ‘ARSE’ in metre-high letters. In English. No, I have absolutely no idea either.