On Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean there dwells a particular species of red crab that once a year emerges from its hidey-hole and swarms en masse to the beaches to make love. To the dismay of the island’s householders, these skulking, disagreeable creatures are suddenly picking their way across every road and lawn. Residents of southern Edinburgh have been lately regaled with a comparable spectacle. The graffiti tag “LURK” has appeared everywhere in the streets, on every possible surface. Maybe all of these LURKs will eventually congregate amorously on a beach somewhere, but until this happens they are not moving and the potential clean-up bill looks to be horrendous.
So who is LURK and what does LURK mean? Is LURK a noun and a name or is it a verb and a command? If you were going to write a single word over a good third of Edinburgh South, why would you choose the hollow-sounding and perplexingly unsatisfactory “LURK”?
The following explanation is so stupid that it will seem almost unbelievable to you. It will seem as if we have left the human world and set foot in a kind of alternative, Neanderthal psychology. But it is all, lamentably, true.
LURK is a “tag,” which means that it is basically the graffiti artist’s name. LURK writes their name on everything that they can out of a crudely possessive, childlike instinct. If their name is on an item then it is theirs. This is rather like how the Union Jack was used in far-flung places by agents of the British Empire. The more LURKS that are strewn over Edinburgh the more that LURK has in the bag. If the word LURK was written upon every available object – on every leaf and petal and blade of grass – then LURK would, in their mind, own absolutely everything and we would be all correspondingly disinherited of the Earth.
The point of this is that it is impossible for Edinburgh’s flâneurs and commuters to ever forget about LURK. As soon as you have put LURK from your thoughts, there it is again, coming up on the next lamppost. We are all in this way labouring under LURK’s totalitarian regime – LURK is as omnipresent as Big Brother. With Brexit you can switch off the television – with the Anaconda song you can hum Dancing Queen to override it – but with LURK the only way to escape is to fling yourself into the BirdBox Challenge meme, blindfolding yourself and risking a laughable and humiliating death under the wheels of one of Edinburgh’s noiseless electrical buses.
Tychy and LURK are both famous Edinburgh pseudonyms, our city’s equivalent of Batman and the Joker. Yet I author thoughtful articles and essays whilst LURK simply scrawls a single word over and over again in a witless hyperactive stupor. You will notice that none of the hundreds of illustrations that appear on Tychy have been ever signed. To me, the artistic signature is an admission that you don’t have an individual enough style. LURK, on the other hand, is a disembodied signature without any actual art or content to adorn. So LURK and I have emerged as ultimate cosmic opposites and arch-enemies. Only one of us can continue – there is not enough room in this city for both of us.
Can we use psychological profiling to get to the evildoer behind the tag? I believe so and, in addition, I have employed the insights that are afforded to us by graphology to build up a credible profile of LURK.
Firstly, there is more than one of them. You will have observed that there is the alpha LURK motif, with the leg of the K crooked jauntily as though it is manoeuvring itself into a Wellington boot, and that this LURK is larger and more confident. Then there is a far weaker and imitative LURK, which is typically splashed in pale pink.
You might assume that LURK is male and that their manic graffiti campaign lies on extremes of human behaviour that women can never access. Or, to paraphrase the feminist Camille Paglia, there is no female LURK because there is no female Mozart. Nonetheless, the slant of the R is strongly suggestive of a female hand. It is also worth noting that none of the tags are especially high off the ground, which points to authorship by either two dwarfish gentlemen or else a pair of elderly ladies. The stark spacing of the motif’s letters and their wild tapering edges also indicate obese, sausage-like fingers that struggle with operating the spray cans.
With this, we can conclude that LURK is two fat old women. I feel that they are probably sisters, who work as a unit but with one being dominant and the other passive. There is nothing attention-seeking and exhibitionistic to this graffiti since the paradox of LURK is that they never feel safe enough to be present at their own exhibition.
It appears to me that LURK are haunted by the possibility of human annihilation. The unending repetition of their moniker represents the need to print some lasting trace of themselves on to Edinburgh. LURK is thus likely to be Catholic or to have received a shared Catholic upbringing. They are either nuns or – more probably – they were raised in a convent school.
The cramped lettering points to controlling personalities and a fear of abandonment. I can picture two brittle egos that have been recently plunged into a devastating crisis that, in turn, triggered their need to dementedly replicate the LURK tag across every obtainable surface. The sisters could have worked in a care home where all of the medications were mixed up and some of the patients died. Or they could have run a pony sanctuary that was raided by the Scottish SPCA, with the sisters being exposed and prosecuted for their cruel or inept treatment of the animals. In any case, these women will have experienced a high level of social humiliation and the consequent need to regain a symbolic control over a world that has rejected them. Note that their graffiti campaign is a war on the ratepaying public, with postboxes and bus stops being targeted but with the doors of private residences left unscathed.
Lurk is a Scottish surname that originates in Ayrshire. Appropriately for graffitists, the Lurk family motto is “Ad metam,” which means “to the mark.” Unfortunately, though, there is no record of anybody with the surname Lurk living currently in Edinburgh. One promising theory is that the sisters have a teddy bear or a stuffed animal with the name Lurk, which connects their graffiti campaign back to childhood comforts and certainties. Overall, I judge it to be more probable that LURK is in fact the word “look” spelled phonetically. This reveals that the sisters are from Wales or that they have Welsh accents.
During the latter hours of my research, however, I have made an astounding discovery. If you take each instance of the LURK tag and pinpoint it on Google Maps, eventually an image begins to form out of the initially haphazard dots. A superb and indeed almost photographically toned portrait of the ladies themselves. They are ostensibly prim in their nuns’ habits and yet they have gloomy, devious faces. They have weak mouths and the sort of eyes that are always ungluing. The littlest one looks like she is usually blubbering. They stare out of the map of Edinburgh and out of the bleakness of their deplorable lives, gaunt and goggle-eyed. You are chilled to the quick at coming face to face with LURK.