Pining For The Punk Fjords

Although Norris McWhirter would never have dared venture inside, it's likely that the world record for the largest concentration of old-skool magic marker graffiti in a single location would have been held by an eighties railway station waiting room. Across the nation, years of neglect, underfunding, bureaucratic red tape and a general lack of interest in maintaining anything municipal beyond a basic level of functionality had allowed layer upon layer upon layer of scrawl to build up on walls that would have put the end titles of Murphy's Mob to shame, and would certainly have provided graffiti-compiling curmudgeon Nigel Rees with enough material to comfortably retire on.

Although the cumulative effect of so much handwritten text in alternating primary colours would have suggested little more to the untrained eye than that Mr. Messy had exploded, more discerning observers could just about trace an evolving subcultural history of nothing in particular through the dense lexicographical cacophony. Trends replaced trends, slang replaced slang, and not particularly coded threats to 'Bopper' for being a 'grass' replaced not particularly coded threats to his equally unimaginatively nicknamed antecedents. And weirdly agressively punctuated rewrites of Row Row Row Your Boat to be about rolling joints somehow managed to remain indelibly visible through the whole lot.

If there was one recurring graffitic totem that seemed to epitomise the simultaneous permanence and futility of unattended public walls in a rapidly changing world, it was that early eighties rallying cry 'Punk's Not Dead'. As Richard Herring has noted, this brave, defiant and principled stand against the vagaries of fashion and the rise of materialism would invariably be rendered inert by someone crossing out the 'not', and someone else - and it was never the same person - judiciously adding an 'S'. In gamely attempting to convince the world at large that punk was still a viable force, its few remaining adherents had left themselves wide open for humiliating public demolition, and quite possibly came to regret spending their small change on a marker pen rather than helping to push The Exploited slightly nearer the top forty. And it was probably at this precise moment that punks ceased to be frightening to the world at large.

Quite why they were any more deserving of this status than any other youth cult (including some more genuinely threatening ones) is something of a mystery - though those zany Sex Pistols saying 'barstard' at Bill Grundy might have had something to do with it - but punks loomed larger in the juvenile catalogue of terrifying peers than perhaps any other historical equivalent ever. Indeed, even well into the 'Punk's Not Dead' era, it was not unusual for school playgrounds to reverberate with distressed reports of 'a punk' on the rampage in the vicinity, usually accompanied by Godzilla-esque tales of them headbutting chunks out of buildings whilst a small army of police cowered helplessly behind riot shields.

But by the time of Channel 4's celebration of the, erm, Fourteenth Anniversary of Punk, though, they had seemingly lost all of their terror-generating cachet. Old ladies would write to newspapers expressing gratitude to 'punks' that had tackled a bag-snatcher. Ludicrously mohicanned male model Matt Belgrano established himself as the Wogan-friendly face of anarchy. Even the tabloid press started to view them as some sort of loveable friend-in-need in the fight against the 'dangerous' dogs, ecstasy-addled hordes and obvious hoaxes about 'live' ghost-hunting that had become the new public bete noires. After all, SOMEONE needed to take a stand against whoever it was that had started appending smiley faces with wizard's hats to the railway station waiting room walls.

Nowadays you're more likely to find those selfsame railway station waiting rooms covered in coffee dispensers and adverts with similing mug-wielding monochrome girls endorsing 'Cafe Ainnichuchi' or whatever the latest one's called. And nobody's ever written anything on their faces either. But spare a thought for those defiant idealist punks who felt the best way to preserve the integrity of a youth movement that once had the establishment quaking and the charts rigged was to plead their case to a handful of rain-drenched commuters. Remember them this way: as a spiky-haired old-skool city smasher hurtling down the street shouting 'RAR RAR RADDL-A-RARR!' in the face of nobody in particular.