Graffiti is a funny old business. Some of us are iconoclasts who rather enjoy the illicit claiming of public and commercial spaces by unseen, subversive folk. Other people (most people, probably) hate it - dirty, threatening, creating an uncomfortable impression of lawlessness.
Lately, the trains operated by First Capital Connect on the Bedford-to-Brighton Thameslink line have been carrying big panels of often quite elaborate graffiti. This one, spotted today, is a fair size:
But it's small beer when compared to pieces spotted earlier this week, last month and back in the winter. Clearly, if you want to paint a big panel on an FCC train, it's by no means impossible not only to get access to wherever the rolling stock is kept at night but also to stay there undisturbed for the several hours that some of these pieces must take to complete. From an aesthetic point of view, this is my england has no problem with this. The feeling here is that many of these pieces show real artistry and craft.
Frankly, a lot of what's been painted on the carriages this year is a welcome change from FCC's nasty blue and pink colour scheme and dull corporate branding. Moreover, FCC is not a brand which is much loved by those who have to use the company's heavily subsidised services. No, theirs is not the worst train service in this country. But it is expensive and there are plenty of other dislikeable elements of the FCC experience. Of these, insufferably rude and inconsistent 'revenue protection' staff stand out. So when some of us see an FCC train covered in big pieces of graffiti, we silently approve. One in the eye for an unfriendly company whose 'services' we are forced to endure.
But at the same time, you might look at a carriage that someone has redecorated in this fashion and ask yourself an interesting question. If, you may well ask, a graffiti artist can spend hours unobserved, working away with the spray cans in some yard or on some siding, couldn't someone much more dangerous also gain access to the trains at night? Why would someone wanting to plant bombs under the carriages find it any more difficult to proceed undisturbed than the graffiti boys do?
Sure, notwithstanding the occasional genuinely shocking outrage such as the 7/7 bombings of 2005, the threat of terrorism is exaggerated by governments and security forces in order to force an insidious erosion of freedom on a fearful population. But that is not to pretend that threats do not exist at all. So given that when terrorist attacks do happen it is public transport systems that are often targeted, it seems foolish in the extreme for a train operator like FCC to leave their rolling stock unguarded at night. Presumably there is some kind of surveillance technology in use. But it's clearly the case that the low-tech solution of having a night-watchman on patrol is not. Why not? Well, one good guess might be an aversion on the company's part when it comes to employing extra human beings.
So if your train does blow up during your commute one morning, your loved ones can at least console themselves with the thought that FCC was working hard to maximise its profits by refusing to guard its sidings and yards with the only truly foolproof defence mechanism, namely having enough blokes (and dogs) around to scare off the bad guys.
In the meantime, try to draw comfort from the bland reassurances of FCC's social media bods who state that their company is "working very hard" along with the British Transport Police "to put a stop to" the current wave of graffiti action. No detail on what this "hard work" entails. But it clearly does not entail paying people to keep an eye on the trains ALL NIGHT and EVERY NIGHT.