Ryan T. Pugh

The 'T' stands for Humour

Keep Calm & Read This


When future generations of schoolchildren read textbooks about the early years of the 21st century from their underground fallout-proof classrooms, two questions will be asked more than any others:

  1. Miss, why are we still down here?
  2. Miss, why did so many people decorate their houses with inspirational quotes back then?

I’m not qualified to answer the first question, but it should be quite simple to tackle the second. Actually, thinking about it, no, it isn’t. They’re both so enigmatic. At least with the nuclear annihilation thing there’s some academic discourse and layperson-friendly literature (Eric Schlosser’s Command & Control and John Pilger’s The Coming War On China are the most recent haunters of my sleep). But, as far as I can tell, our brightest academic minds are yet to busy themselves with the psychology behind why, one forgettable Saturday afternoon, a grown man might be seen climbing a step-ladder in order to nail in a hook from which he intends to hang a £27 hunk of Habitat driftwood bearing the legend ‘Wine Not?’ It’s almost as if these bright academic minds have got better things to be writing about…

Using inspirational quotes as decor is very much an early-21st century vogue. They adorn the walls of kitchens, hallways and bedrooms nationwide. Yet despite their popularity, the phenomena doesn’t even have an official name. To find such items online, you have to type in vague phrases like ‘inspirational wall art’, ‘wooden signs with writing on’ and ‘wall quotes – shit’. So, seeing as no one else appears willing to do it, I’m going to step up and give this phenomena a name: Wall Talk. It’s a cross between ‘small talk’ and ‘walls’. It’s the best I could do.

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…The arse to my hole

Interestingly, Wall Talk is one of the few trends that has crossed the class divide. You’re just as likely to see an inspirational quote above a corroded Hotpoint cooker as you are above a newly fitted AGA. It’s as prevalent on the shelves of John Lewis as the shelves of Wilko. (And the only real difference between the Wall Talk found in those two fine establishments is the quality of wood; the quotes are, reassuringly, just as shit, regardless of price. Live – Laugh – Love.) Some people (primarily League Two footballers and Carphone Warehouse branch managers) love Wall Talk so much that they stencil their favourite quotes to the walls in an enormous font. It’s quite something. It looks like the graffiti of a polite giant.

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Wall Talk: where punctuation goes to die

I’m forever curious as to why these little domestic trends occur. In the early noughties, there was a fashion for discoloured canvasses of the New York skyline or Paris by night. And before that it was Jack Vettriano paintings and black & white photos of random babies. Now it’s the turn of Wall Talk. But who was the first person buy Wall Talk? And how did we get to where we are? And when will it end? Perhaps Wall Talk reflects our modern love affair with brevity. We like our writing to be direct and punchy, ideally using fewer than 140 characters. Wall Talk certainly fits that bill. Some of it is so direct and punchy, in fact, that there’s often a hint of Gestapo about it, an element of happiness-at-gunpoint:

‘Life’s a lake – jump right in!’

‘Pardon?’

‘I said, jump in ze lake!’

‘What? Now? But I don’t want to. It’s cold.’

‘Yes! Now! Jump in ze lake. And ven you are finished you must Run barefoot across the beach of your dreams.’

‘But- but- I might cut my foot on a stone.’

‘Silence!’

Most Wall Talk is about dancing. This kitchen was made for dancing! Dance to your own music! Don’t wait for the storm to pass – learn to dance in the rain! and so on. Personally, dancing in the rain has never appealed. It’s bad enough dancing indoors; I’d hate to have do it in a moist field. For one thing, it might provide the heavens with too much temptation:

‘Just one quick bolt of lightning to the back of his head,’ says one cherub to another, ‘and this sorry mess could all be over. It’s the kindest thing to do. I mean, look at him, dancing in the rain.’

Of all the dance-related quotes, Dance like nobody’s watching is, of course, the most famous. Why, though, I’m not sure. Unless you’re a contestant on Strictly, the chances of anybody ever bothering to watch you dance are minimal. Even the first dance of a married couple is largely ignored. It may look as though the guests are watching, but if they’re anything like me, they’re secretly wondering when they’re going to get a slice of cake.

Wall Talk would have you believe that dancing is synonymous with liberation. Well, not for me, it isn’t. Rather than freeing me from my cares, dancing actually chains me to my prehistoric ancestry. When I’m dancing, I become acutely aware of the fact I’m descended from a long line of knuckle-dragging flint miners; I visualise them prancing merrily around a campfire in an attempt to ward off as-yet-unnamed viral strains and woo their mate’s hairy sister. It always puts me off somewhat.

Anyway, enough of this small talk. Back to Wall Talk. Yeah?

It’s an acquired taste at the best of times, but it’s notably worse when it’s funny. At least inspirational Wall Talk is attempting to serve some sort of purpose. Humorous Wall Talk offers nothing but Poundland witticisms:

Careful – Free Range Children!

We childproofed our house – but they keep getting in!

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…and go mouldy after weeks of neglect in the fruit bowl

It’s one thing to want to re-read the same motivational quote everyday, but, other than viewers of Mrs Brown’s Boys, who wants to see the same joke over and over? It would be like inviting the postman into the kitchen every morning to do his ‘Lovely weather for ducks’ line.

One thing that sit uneasily is that Wall Talk jokes are often about alcohol, specifically wine:

I always cook with wine – sometimes I add it to the food!

Of course size matters – no one wants a small glass of wine!

Sip happens!

Wine taster – will work for free!

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My superpower? Probably attempting to manage my alcohol intake.

For some reason, wine is generally treated with more reverence than other drinks. If people admit to drinking lots of wine, it’s not seen as a big deal. If anything, it’s cause for a knowing wink. But imagine if the word ‘wine’ in the above witticisms was replaced with ‘Tennent’s Super’:

Of course size matters – nobody wants a small can of Tennent’s Super!

Tennent’s Taster – will work for free!

I make Tennent’s Super disappear – what’s your superpower?

If you saw something like that hanging in your friend’s hallway you’d immediately organise an intervention.

I’m not against Wall Talk. Each to their own and all that. It just interests me how it’s become so prevalent. Maybe one day I’ll join in the craze. I’d need to find something that spoke to me personally, though. I’d like my Wall Talk to serve a purpose:

Close the fridge door properly – like nobody’s watching

Don’t wait for the storm to pass – submit your metre reading to British Gas by the 26th or the bastards will give you another estimated bill

Keep Calm & Don’t Forget to Buy Bread

Anything like that, really. That would be fine. Of course, by the time I attempted to jump on the bandwagon, the bloody thing would have moved. I’ll start stencilling enormous inspirational quotes just as everyone else is painting over theirs and pretending Wall Talk never happened. They’ll get the New York skyline canvasses and random baby photos down from the loft and the process will continue – fashions in, fashions out – until the bomb drops and we’re back in the underground fallout-proof classroom, looking at pictures of the early 21st century.

Last week, somebody told me that humans naturally have one leg that’s stronger than the other. Thus whenever we get lost we end up walking in a big circle. We can’t help it. Our legs are designed to come back to where they started. I think our brains are, too. We re-tread the paths. And suddenly I’m a caveman again. Centuries from now. Prancing merrily around the post-apocalyptic campfire, trying to woo my mate’s hairy sister. Liberated. Like nobody’s watching.

Moving in circles. Jeez. It makes you want to pack it all in and hit the claret. Oh, well. Sip happens.

 

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