Silly signs of the times

Years ago when I lived in football mad Melbourne, a local church threw out a major challenge to its parishioners

Years ago when I lived in football mad Melbourne, a local church threw out a major challenge to its parishioners asking on its large external notice board, “What would you do if Christ came to Hawthorne?”

Below that, some wit had written, “For starters, I’d shift Matthews from forward pocket.”

Responding to silly signs is a sign of intelligence and maturity, isn’t it?. When I read a notice, “This door is alarmed” I attached a note, “What frightened it?”

Governments at all levels are obsessed with protecting us from ourselves or, probably more truthfully, are obsessed with making sure that they risk no liability at all if a citizen does something idiotic.

For example: a sign at a Council park, “No running, jumping, skateboarding, eating, drinking, smoking, straying from clearly sign-posted walkways, picking or otherwise handling all plants and flowers and keep off the grass. No dogs or other pets allowed. Please enjoy this Council facility.” Now this is fun central, isn’t it?

So many signs are unintentionally ambiguous. Brisbane City Council buses have a sign on the front, “Please hail”. Is this an appeal from the Lord Mayor to the Almighty to bombard the city with large lumps of ice? It hardly seems an election-winning move.

Queensland Railways have a yellow line running along station platforms with a painted sign which reads, “Behind the line is fine”. The first time I noticed it I was being drenched in a sudden downpour flecked with bits of ice so it certainly wasn’t fine either behind or in front of the line. Perhaps God had finally answered the Lord Mayor’s appeal for hail, I wondered.

Can you understand that when I was in the United Kingdom and saw a road signed, “Draw Bridge” I regretted not bringing my colouring-in pencils? I was impressed by another UK sign which thoughtfully informed motorists, “Elderly people crossing” just below the street sign, “Cemetery Lane”.

The folks who run the United States highways are very proactive when it comes to public safety and a couple of their signs which caught my fancy were “Important signs ahead” and “Emergency phone 103 miles ahead.” I thought that the sign, “Yield to peds” in front of a zebra crossing was sinister and likely to be counter-productive. After all, some motorists could be inclined to accelerate if they see a child molester crossing the street. Yeah, got the filthy pervert!

The American obsession with crime was no better illustrated by a sign in a mid-western city, “Parking lot under police surveillance” coupled to another sign, “Do not leave valuables in vehicle”.

I was titillated by a sign in a laundromat, “Automatic washing machines. Please remove all of your clothes when the light goes out”. My inner pervert urged me to stay and watch the striptease show but since the only patron was a morbidly obese lady of a certain age, I didn’t find it difficult to be virtuous and leave.

Trying to be culturally aware and politically correct has its own dangers.

Staff at the Swansea Council in Wales decided that it would be a great idea to have road signs in both English and Welsh, a language spoken by about one in five. None of them could speak a word of it so they emailed a translator asking what “No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only” was in the native tongue.

Regrettably, the translator was unavailable and the emailed inquiry generated an automatic response. The Council was delighted with the prompt response and it was included in the sign which, as well as the English notice, now read — in Welsh — “I am out of the office at the moment”.

One of my favourite public safety notices appeared in all of the lifts in a New York skyscraper: “In case of an emergency, please call (number and extension) and leave a message”. If this sign had been in the lifts of San Francisco’s Glass Tower, the setting for the 1974 disaster blockbuster, The Towering Inferno, I have no doubt that a lot more lives would have been saved.

An American electricity company sternly warned people of the risk they would be taking if they messed around with their equipment, “Touching wires causes immediate death. $200 fine”, while an American hospital would certainly have won first prize for speedy treatment if you could believe their “Surgery Parking Only. Five minute limit.”

A US maternity hospital must have caused prospective mothers some worry with their sign “Deliveries at the rear of the building”.

Visitors to the US can hardly fail to notice that every hamlet has some claim to fame for being the birthplace of somebody famous or nearly famous or where somebody famous or nearly famous stopped by on a rainy night in 1912 or where somebody famous or nearly famous had a third cousin twice removed live there in 1961.

You can imagine my joy when I read a very impressive brass sign attached to a tall granite monument in the archetypical American rural township, “At this site in 1897 nothing happened. But we wanted a monument just like everybody else in these parts”.

What signs have you come across? Share them with us.

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