Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Signs and portents

Perhaps the "portents" is a bit "portentious", but "signs", anyway. Street furniture-type signs. Drivers are complaining of information overload with so many signs to distract their attention. One short stretch of road that I drive almost daily has the following affixed to lamp-posts along a stretch of no more than 200 yards: three signs warning of a school ahead, one sign warning of (non-existent) speed cameras, one warning of a sharp bend with a concealed entrance on it and one warning of traffic lights ahead. There is also the word 'slow' painted on the road. And those are just the official signs.

But perhaps we English are not quite as bad as the French when it comes to road-side clutter litter. Off the motorways over there, a driver can always tell when he is approaching the next town by the increasing frequency of the banners of greeting. These are fixed to posts stuck in the hedgerow or along the edge of fields and always seem to be of a standard size - about two feet square. They are advertisements, mainly for hotels, restaurants, garages and supermarkets. A stranger looking for the XYZ Hotel will doubtless welcome the sign that announces it: 'Turn left at the second roundabout', it might say, albeit in sign language that an illiterate Azerbaijani can understand. But why a stranger should be looking for the nearest Auchan or Leclerc supermarket is something I have never worked out. Then at the entrance to the the town, there will be another rash of signs. There will be, of course, the official sign announcing the town's name. This has to be there, and in a standard format, as it is the indicator that the speed limit falls to 50km/h (31.5 mph give or take a few decimal places). There might also be another official sign - in fact, there nearly always is - telling the world that the town has been rated as anything from 1 star to 5 star in the eyes of the floral judges. This "ville fleurie" thing is something else I have yet to work out, but it is some sort of national rating scheme. If the town has twinning arrangements with one or even several other towns, there will be another sign listing these twin towns. Then there is a sign in the shape of a cross announcing the times of masses, and often another largish board displaying the emblems of various service organisations with branches in the town - Lions, Rotary etc.

The most one is likely to see in England is a sign displaying the speed limit (when there is a change) and another with the name of the town and, possibly, its twin town name (rarely more than one) beneath. None of the welcoming banners from hotels and supermarkets; no board displaying the times of church services; no announcements that service organisations are represented.

But Brighton, in this as in so many other things, is a bit of an exception. Only a bit, mark you. A few years ago the Lions Club approached the Council with a request that we be allowed to display our logo at the side of the road on the approach to the town. 'No way,' was the response. This despite the fact that at the exact spot where we would have liked to display our logo there is - and already was when we made our approach - a large, yellow-painted board displaying the Rotary logo and announcing, 'Rotary welcomes you to Brighton' or something like that. The sign is still there. At least, it was the last time I drove along that road, which is not very often. The cynic in me wonders if the fact that one of the councillors (and a past mayor) just happens to belong to Rotary has any bearing. No, of course it doesn't!

Last week, the membership committee of the Lions Club met. One of the recommendations to be put to the club is that we should approach the Council with an offer, as a way of marking the diamond jubilee of the club, to pay for the replacement of the two ancient elm trees in Patcham that have succumbed to Dutch elm disease. It would be subject to the club being given permission to erect a plaque saying that. An unofficial approach has already been made in order to find out the possible cost and to gauge the reaction. We have been told that permission for a plaque is most unlikely to be given as it the Council's policy to refuse all such requests. Oh well, it seemed a good idea at the time.

1 comment:

Uncle Skip, said...

I was going to ask what I consider the obvious question - "When in France, isn't one always turning left in the roundabout?" Then I thought better of it.
Tom and Kathy send their best.