The first time I walked past the billboard, I could see its potential. It stood there, bold as brass and as proud as a full ashtray, sharing its jocular message with the world. I wasn’t laughing though but I soon thought of a way to change that.
I’d have to move quickly, because advertising posters seemed to have short life spans. (I know, darkly ironic for tobacco advertising.) And I’d need to plan carefully. I was as subtle as a kick up the arse, in a lift holding just two people. The billboard was at the end of our road so I nipped down there with a ruler and measured the height of the lettering. Then I dug around in the plastic box under the stairs – the one with all the tools that I can’t use properly – and found the masking tape.
The idea was both simple and largely pointless. I wanted to tape over the original tagline, mask up my own then take a photograph. After that, I’d remove my work and nip back home for a celebratory cup of peppermint tea, like a good little liberal activist.
I spent an evening wasting a felt-tipped pen to colour in the letters, got everything ready and prepared myself for the assault. Next morning, somewhere between 05.30 and 06.30, I tiptoed into the street, a scroll under one arm and a camera in my other hand. I remember there was a breeze in the air but that wasn’t why I was shivering.
Two cars drove past, which I hadn’t expected, so I leaned casually against the wall, staring off into the distance. No one stopped; no one cared. Then it was just me, standing there, blood pulsing in my brain.
The lettering stuck where it was supposed to – that was the easy part. Now I had to stand in the road and take a reasonable picture without attracting the attention of passing vehicles. There were a couple of false starts, and an unexpected commuter who seemed to appear out of nowhere, gazing at me intently as I pretended to cross over and search my pockets. I must have looked like a very amateurish car thief.
Then a moment of stillness descended and I finished the job, hurriedly removing the evidence afterwards and slinking away back up my street. I was jubilant, like a kid completing a dare, just for the hell of it.
Later, I walked into work as usual, past the poster which was none the worse for my shenanigans. And as I looked up at it, I smiled. Not quite adbusters material but a very British effort.