Chalking on pavements – illegal activity

I’ve just done a first – deliberately taken an illegal action. Unknowingly I committed the same offence as a child, chalking hopscotch squares on the pavement as I played with friends. This morning I knew what I was doing. My offence – to chalk names of flowers on the pavement. I have done this to encourage people to notice them, and, if they don’t know their names, to be able to identify them. I also added a smiley face. Partly for the joy of sharing my delight in these flowers with whoever may walk by. Partly as I think we all need a smile at the moment.

First I had to dig to the back of a cupboard to unearth a box of chalks, not used since my girls played schools, writing lessons with chalk on a blackboard. (Chalk, blackboards, school, for several reasons that seems a lifetime ago.) Then I started: purple for the delicate lilac flowers of field madder; yellow for golden buttercups; white for glorious, lavish May.

As I wrote, skylarks were singing so I added a suggestion for people to listen for them. I sometimes walk along too wrapped up in my own thoughts to raise my head to listen. Then their song catches my ear. As I listen to these birds singing as they rise, my heart lifts too. I remember too when I did not know the song of skylarks, and I would not have dreamt they could be heard from in our village. They were too ephemeral – birds of poetry and music – to be part of our prosaic world. Yet here they are. Our world is not prosaic at all… That is perhaps above all why I have been out chalking the pavements this morning…

To ‘get your ear in’ to skylark song you can listen here. The British Trust for Ornithology have produced a video which describes skylarks and their song. (This compares skylarks with wood larks. To see and hear woodlarks we will need to wait for when we can visit Thetford Forest again.)

I had been wondering about labelling wild plants round the village when I heard of botanist Boris Presseq of Toulouse Museum of Natural History chalking names on the pavements to highlight street flowers in his city. The simple video of him doing so has had 7 million views. He has understood this moment in time and the desire of people to see and get to know the world that is around them. He said: “I wanted to raise awareness of the presence, knowledge and respect of these wild plants on sidewalks. People who had never taken the time to observe these plants now tell me their view has changed. Schools have contacted me since to work with students on nature in the city.”

Boris Presseq and fellow botanists write chalk plant names on the pavement in Toulouse, France.
Boris Presseq and fellow botanists write chalk plant names on the pavement in Toulouse, France. Note, this is prior to lockdown in France. Photograph: Claire Van Beek/Handout

Dee Carlock, one follower put it very well:

It’s a great idea. When you know the names, the plants become more alive to you as individual beings.

People across Europe have started chalking names of plants on pavements. Sophie Leguil is doing this in Hackney.

Meanwhile, I have come back in, dusted chalk off my hands and am watching the rain come down. I hope a few people will enjoy my efforts and have understood their meaning before they are washed away…

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One thought on “Chalking on pavements – illegal activity

  1. Amanda Beart 4th May 2020 / 4:38 pm

    Wonderful idea Jo. Keep up this illegal act. I will visit you in prison !!

    Liked by 1 person

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