I’ve been a journalist for nearly 20 years and during that time I’ve written some pretty weird stories. The growth in demand for woollen coffins springs to mind (the headline was ‘Rest in Fleece‘). Then there was the resurgence of black pudding, referred to by one interviewee as “Lancashire Viagra”, and the popularity of a form of tripe known as “slut”. But in two decades, I have never had cause to type “a nice big pair of bollocks highlights the problem”.
Until today. Thanks to Wanksy, a road artist who shames local councils into fixing potholes by drawing huge penises around them, I’m also able to write “sometimes I like to put a bend in it just to spice things up”. In another first, I have learned that when you search for ‘penises’ on Google, the top thing to, er, come up is ‘penises in state of decay’. It was some time before I realised State of Decay is a video game.
Wanksy, whose moniker is a nod to celebrated street artist Banksy, first attracted attention last Spring when giant male appendages started appearing on roads in Ramsbottom. I live in this beautiful South Lancashire market town but I’ll admit to a quick giggle at the happy coincidence of a place with bottom in its name being the birthplace of the “Cockness Monster” (just writing the headline for this article was a minefield, the simplest statement – ‘Wanksy in Ramsbottom’ – likely to be misconstrued).
Puerility aside (but only for a moment), the anonymous Wanksy has a serious point to make. Potholes are the bane of modern life. They go unfixed for months on end, damaging vehicles, endangering pedestrians and causing injuries to cyclists. When councils do fill them in, it’s often with a paltry bit of tarmac which disintegrates within a few weeks.
So, unlike most people who content themselves with merely moaning about the state of the roads, what prompted Wanksy to do something about it?
“I am an artist and I was sick of hitting potholes that were ignored,” he tells me. “So I used my art to take direct action and highlight the problem. I hoped it would work. It has in some cases but not in all.”
While some potholes on the receiving end of the Wanksy treatment do not get fixed, many of them are repaired within a day or two. I can attest to this: as a Ramsbottom resident and regular driver, I am constantly swerving round potholes. But the majority I’ve seen with the distinctive penis surround have disappeared quickly. This includes the one opposite my house (see photo on the left). Last summer, this had become a chasm and was only mended once Wanksy had done his thing.
Despite his growing fanbase (25,000 people on Facebook alone), Wanksy has been absent from the streets of Ramsbottom and its surrounding towns for some months. What prompted his return?
“It was a number of things. A break in the weather, some really bad potholes, and a lot of requests to get back to it from my followers.”
Wanksy’s loyal fans have urged him to spread his wings and target other parts of the North West and further afield with his graffiti. It’s odd but not entirely surprising that someone who has been quoted as saying “since primary school I’ve been drawing penises for years, who hasn’t?” should be so well respected (he admits to being surprised by the groundswell of support). But will he heed the clarion call?
Aside from the prospect of more penises on British highways, what’s next for Wanksy? The combination of endless rain and the onset of proper winter means that roads in many parts of the country are in an appalling condition. Does he have an action plan?
“I try to only do holes that are really bad, dangerous or have been there a long time. Also it’s hard to paint in winter when the roads are wet. Paint won’t stick.”
This will come as some relief to Bury Council who are on record as saying that Wanksy is “stupid” and “incredibly insulting” to local residents. I wonder what Wanksy thinks about this.
“They are not happy, I know that. But if there were no potholes, there would be no Wanksy. Fix the potholes, I go away, two problems solved with one solution.”
And if you’re tut-tutting at Wanksy’s strategy, it’s worth bearing in mind that his graffiti isn’t permanent. “I use non-permanent line-marking spray, the same as road workers use,” he explains. “It’s designed to fade and wash off. I won’t use spray paint or anything that traditional graffiti artists use.
“I was informed by a legal expert that in order to be prosecuted for graffiti you have to use something that permanently marks a surface, so I only use non-permanent paint. Apparently it’s because of this law that the line marker was invented for the road workers to use.”
And you may also be heartened to learn that Wanksy is putting his fame to good use. He is giving away a one-off canvas in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support (details here on how to enter and have the chance of winning a Wanksy willy for your wall).
In the meantime, I’m hoping to see a giant penis on the street leading up to the local supermarket. It’s not every day you can say that.
By Helen Nugent