12 January 2009

Sign of the times

If you caught any of last year's Channel 4 series Can't read, can't write, you may remember the story of Linda, a 46-year-old bibliophile who could barely read a word. As we followed Linda's moving story towards its climax, like King Midas she found that realising her dream had the unintended consequence of Too Much Of A Good Thing. Having lived in a letterless cocoon her whole life, the revealing of the code to literacy meant everywhere she looked, previously dormant words jumped out at her, and challenged her to read them. To walk to the shops was to be assaulted verbally (in the true meaning of the word), as the crowded high street, with its signage and advertising, overwhelmed her senses.

I thought of Linda this weekend as I was stuck in traffic on the outskirts of Ipswich with little else to look at except the street signage. There is a belief amongst certain local authorities that Less is More, but sadly Ipswich is not one of them.

Most perplexing was a sign mounted high on a lamppost that warned: You are entering a public area. Not conscious that I had left a public area, I looked around for additional clues to show where one public area ended and the other began. It reminded me of the occasion I had been in a railway station, another institution suffering from excessive signage, where someone had affixed a sign to a door that read: This is not a door. Quite a philosophical challenge for the travellers to ponder as they waited for their trains.

Back in Ipswich, I noticed our sign contained a clue: a red triangle containing a drawing of several glasses. The glasses were not filled with any liquid, but from their shape I think I was meant to infer they would normally contain alcohol. Given the triangular shape of street signs in the Highway Code means an information sign rather than a warning, and the fact there was no line through the image, I presume it doesn't mean alcohol is verboten. But the juxtaposition of the two elements certainly was confusing.

So either:

i) in certain public parts of Ipswich not immediately discernible to the eye, it is recommended you carry an empty tumbler, or

ii) there are random parts of Ipswich which might make you feel like having a drink, and the council thinks you should be aware of them, or

iii) In public areas of Ipswich there are a lot of empty glasses.

And if it is somehow connected to curbing public drunkenness, and sober people can't understand the signage, what hope is there of correcting your behaviour if you are actually drunk? Like the enormous electronic noticeboards on the M25 that periodically flash DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE. To which I always think: "well if you do, it's a bit late now".

1 comment:

PW said...

"This is not a door" takes us into the world of Magritte's "Ceci n'est pas une pipe". Presumably they're saying that it's merely a representation of a door. It was probably a painting of some kind, Hoffy, and you simply mistook it for the real thing.