The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - June 18, 2015

A banner over a bridge on the M55 motorway

A banner over a bridge on the M55 motorway

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On a bridge over the M65 the following words are daubed in paint: “SARAH B, I’M SORRY FOR WHAT I DID, I LOVE YOU”.

If I was Sarah I’m not sure how I’d feel about this.

Instead of just Sarah and a few close friends and family knowing something bad has happened, presumably in her relationship, now hundreds of thousands of other folk know as well. You can just imagine the conversation of countless drivers passing under the bridge, ‘he must have slept with someone else. Poor girl’.

Which raises another interesting point.

If Sarah’s partner has indeed cheated on her with another, then is writing an apology on a motorway bridge near the Shadsworth turn-off really going to make everything OK?

Sarah: “I was going to leave him, mum. He slept with that Cassandra girl from work. But the thing is he’s bought a big tub of white paint and broken the law by writing an apology on the M65 and vandalising public property in the process … oh he’s such a sweetie, I’m going back to him.”

The other question I have about this graffiti - and, for that matter, other graffiti on other motorway bridges up and down the country - is how is it done?

You can’t exactly head on to the fast lane of the motorway, climb a ladder - tub of paint in hand - and hope no cars come past for at least 10 minutes (well, you could, but as risk-free strategies go, it’s not the best).

So the only way it can be done, presumably, is by someone leaning over the edge of the bridge from the top, which means either these people strap themselves on by a rope or they have a mate with them who holds on to their legs as they dangle headfirst off the bridge. You’d require a very trustworthy and, more importantly, strong friend if the latter is how it’s done.

Although I can’t say I’ve personally ever had the urge to graffiti a motorway bridge (though if I did, mine would read: ‘Mrs Canavan, could you please stop dropping hair-grips on the carpet, they’re knackering the hoover’), it is actually a common thing.

For instance you have probably seen the word ‘Gouranga’ while on a motorway. At its peak, in the 1980s, it was written on more than 150 bridges around the UK. The word is apparently a Hare Krishna term meaning “peace, my brother” or “be happy” and, thanks to the bridge graffiti, has become so well known that it features on the computer game Grand Theft Auto.

To this day no one knows who is behind the Gouranga graffiti, though one man, writing on the Guardian’s Notes and Queries webpage recently, claimed he was responsible. “I began in the north west in the late 80s,” he wrote. “Gouranga is a state of mind that can be induced by simply saying the word.

“I was prompted to begin my campaign following a tragic loss of a loved one from which I thought I would never recover. Of course I did, and ever since I have wanted to pass it on.”

Which is fair enough, but when my grandmother passed away I didn’t feel the need to travel around Britain with a can of Dulux and a map of the motorway network.

The most famous - and original - motorway bridge campaign, though, happened in the late 1970s after an East End bank robber called George Davis was sentenced to 20 years in jail. The phrase ‘George Davis is innocent OK’ began appearing on bridges up and down the M1 as his supporters sought to have the sentence overturned.

As Mail on Sunday legal affairs editor Robert Verkaik put it, “it’s amazing that nearly 40 years later people know who George Davis is. It may be the original viral protest campaign.”

Indeed. All I can say to that is gouranga.

The importance of looking just right for the name

I’m not sure whether this is just a woman thing (and unlike Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Tim Hunt, I do not intend to resign if that is deemed sexist), but there was an interesting conversation between two of our female staff the other day.

Reporter one (pregnant and expecting a baby girl, an important detail): ‘I know what I’m going to call my baby, though I might change it if she doesn’t suit it’.

Reporter two: “I know what you mean, they’ve got to suit the name.”

Me: What do you mean?

Reporter two: “Well I have two friends who look like Jack’s but they’re not called Jack. I was surprised because as soon as I saw them I thought they seemed like Jack’s.”

Reporter one: ‘Exactly, it’s like my friend at school. She was called Maxine but she looked nothing like one.”

Me: Good god almighty.