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Vive la difference!

For an illustration of the gaping cultural chasm between the UK and our French neighbours, look no further than our pothole campaigns. While Manchester’s self-styled road artist, Wanksy, draws attention to potholes by spray painting large phalluses around them, a group of French motorcyclists have been creating hens’ nests in potholes, complete with eggs and fluffy yellow chicks.

The linguists among you will realise that this is a clever play on the French term for a pothole, nids-de-poule which translates as hen’s nest. Many of the bikers have also helpfully labelled the potholes with ‘nids-de-poule’ – just in case people didn’t get it.

The nesting campaign, which took place over the Easter weekend last month, was organised by French motorcycling groups La Fédération Française des Motards en Colère (FFMC) and la Mutuelle des Motards. They wanted to draw attention to the badly maintained state of many roads and highlight the dangers that potholes can bring to riders of two-wheeled vehicles.

In a press release issued to coincide with the campaign, FFMC notes that France has fallen from 8th place to 18th in a World Economic Forum pothole ranking. It also says that it would be necessary to invest €1.3billion every year until 2037 to restore the country’s highways and that 62% of roads will be in a poor condition by 2037 without investment.

Meanwhile in the UK, we can be jealous of France’s lofty placement in the pothole league, languishing as we are in 37thplace, just above Lithuania and Rwanda. We can only dream of reaching the pothole-free perfection of the top three placed countries Singapore, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Perhaps we really do need pothole crusader Wanksy who began his oeuvre in 2015 and continues to this day, according to his Facebook page. He was galvanised into action after a friend was injured due to potholes while riding a bike.

One of Wanksy’s latest creations features a helicopter whose propeller is made up of four connected male genitalia. Tank-mounted, rocket and even a phallus with a coronavirus tip have featured in his works. Wanksy has said that one of the benefits of drawing these distinguishable shapes is that councils are keen to cover them up, which means they get on with fixing the potholes.

Pothole art of this nature has spread to other UK cities including Edinburgh and Middlesbrough and to other countries. Last year a crusader called Geoff Upson was threatened with prosecution after drawing over 100 phalluses around potholes in his home city of Auckland in New Zealand. Auckland Council said that the drawings were a safety hazard because they distracted drivers and that Upson put himself at risk while drawing them.

We don’t know yet what the French authorities’ reactions to the Easter adornment of the nids-de-poules have been. FFMC’s aim was to gain attention by amusing politicians. Wanksy has also said that he aimed to amuse with his quintessentially English humour. Councillors, perhaps, have not always seen the funny side.

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