“Art Don’t Pay My Bills,” exclaimed the spidery scrawl on the hand-dryer, “Daddy Does!”
That witticism, in the less-than-salubrious toilets of once infamous Queen’s Crescent dive bar Monkey Chews, was the start.Soon, everywhere I went, I noticed that London’s inebriated tribes are wont to leaving a slug trail of graffiti across our earthier bars that is at best genius, at worst bottom-numbing – but always worth snapping. “Toilet Door Poetry” (as I christened it) was born; it became a blog (tagline: “because people like to write where they shite”), and feature in Time Out. A classic in the cubicle at the French House in Soho, for example? “Make Doherty History”.
I’d forgotten all about the “genre” until my interest was reawakened the other weekend during a witching-hour visit to Aces & Eights bar in Tufnell Park. We had just reviewed the nearby Nuraghe, and were sinking martinis in one of its booths – before a Damascene moment in the colourful toilets.“I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure!” quipped one Alan Partridge-inspired scrawl on the wall. “Indifference is fun and very different but also not different,” said another, “so I guess in short when it comes to difference I’m quite indifferent.” Okaaay. And how about this haunting observation: “Johnny Cash is watching you piss, snort, shit or fuck (maybe all of the above)”?
Whilst the phenomenon is not unique to our city (in the US it’s hilariously called “Bathroom Art Expression”; and even Parisians are prone to Piaf-like sentiments – “La vie est courte. Pas les temps pour les regrets” reads une toilette in Montmartre), it’s in London that WC poets are at their most aphoristic (and, undoubtedly, slaughtered). “Men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool,” declared Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.So back in the day, when I kept my (very dated now) blog on the subject, what others stood out? “Remember, no matter how cute he is, some girl somewhere is tired of taking his shit” was a classic at Old Street arty rave pit The Foundry; while “Everyone just fuck of back to Top Man”, at Nambucca on Holloway Road, had plenty of ker-pow. And a favourite at the Lock Tavern? The pithy “it will all end in tears,” which says something about life’s transience. Doesn’t it?
But as with most writing, the best examples are hauntingly simple: “I wouldn’t want to take me home” was one whisper on the stalls of The Dolphin on Mare Street; while back at Aces & Eights in 2013, there’s a quiet poetry to “I’m drunk that’s how it happens”, the lack of syntax adding to its power.And now here’s the challenge. We want to start a project documenting the Toilet Door Poetry around us.
So if you’re out and about anywhere in London this week – but especially in the neighbourhood (there’s plenty to mine at the Abbey, for example) – tweet/email us your pics, and/or add the most memorable lines of Toilet Door Poetry you’ve seen below.
Oh, and forget the overtly sexual stuff – while it has its, erm, utilitarian place, it’s not quite what we’re looking for.