Before Twitter, there were Rees’s pieces

Before there was the World Wide Web, there were libraries and bookstores. In high school I loved crawling the shelves of the Banff Book and Art Den, discovering books that would shape my view and style. Kurt Vonnegut, for instance, and Spike Milligan.

Before there was Twitter, there were bathroom walls and similar public surfaces whereon could be etched – or markered or spray-painted – comments on life and sundry witticisms (often recycled).

At the junction of these two was Nigel Rees and his series of books of collected graffiti from around the world, published 1979–1982. I discovered them in the Book and Art Den. They informed my sense of humour (I still use some of the jokes from them) and they instructed me on British swearing patterns and cultural references (such as the “[name] rules, OK” graffiti common around the Sceptred Isle at that time).

Nigel Rees was – is – a BBC luminary, host of the Radio 4 quiz panel show Quote… Unquote. He has collected books of quotations and phrases and anecdotes and such like. Quite a few books, in fact; somewhere north of 50, I believe. I don’t have most of them. But I’ve read Graffiti Lives, O.K., Graffiti 2, Graffiti 3, and Graffiti 4 quite a few times (although only once in the past decade).

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