Thursday, March 18, 2010

The signs are there

This is a short post about signage and why I find myself frequently confused or mystified by it.

I've always been confused by signs lie 'No timewasters'. Are there really gangs of people roaming the streets looking for opportunities to waste your time? I think we should be told. And how about all those 'Baby on board' signs in the rear windows of cars? What are they for? Are they meant to make the driver behind think to themselves ... 'Oh, I was going to ram that car but now I'll keep my distance'?

I was driving back from Oxford on Friday when I hit roadworks on the M40. A host of speed camera signs then informed me that 'average speed cameras' were in force.

Like me, you must see these signs all the time. But has it ever struck you, as it struck me on Friday, that it's a really odd choice of image? I mean, the icon is a very old style of bellows camera with a film winding spool. Speed cameras came along way after normal SLR type cameras had been invented so why on Earth did the Department of Transport choose such an ancient model of camera? It made me wonder if the younger generation would even identify it as a camera, rather than just recognise the symbol. Here's another oddity:

It's the sign meaning 'Danger! Wild animals!' of course. But why a deer I wonder? It's hardly the most common wild animal you're likely to come across (although we do see a lot of muntjac around these parts). If the sign is warning you about a creature that may lumber onto the highway, surely a more likely candidate would be a fox, rabbit, hedgehog or maybe badger? Deer just seems to be the most unlikely animal you could hit other than something like a mink or an otter.

The ubiquitous 'Men at work' or 'man struggling with umbrella' sign would, I feel, have benefitted from the depiction of a shovel. But, let's be honest, a more realistic symbol would be a JCB style digger. Or maybe a traffic cone.

This one could be seen as just plain insulting:

And I have absolutely no idea what this sign means:

So, maybe it's time to 'rip it up and start again' as 80's art rockers Orange Juice exorted us. If we were to take British road signage and redesign it from scratch for the 21st century ... what symbols would you use and why?



Persephone said...

I think the best explanation of the "Baby on Board" sign is not, as is so often suggested: "This car is damn special because there is a baby on board," but: There's a baby wailing interminably in my back seat because I can't pull over to nurse him/change her diaper/etc.,etc, so I may be driving with less concentration than I would like...

chris hale said...

A sign seen in the grounds of a private school: No trespassing without permission. And Come alive with the Pepsi generation, rendered onto a sign in Chinese, actually read, Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave. I'm sure you remember Bite the wax tadpole, so I won't mention that particular sign.

Piers said...

I read somewhere that the "Baby on Board" sign wasn't for other car users but for paramedics. So you report to an accident scene and see that sign in the back window, you should make sure to look for one.

Don't know the truth of it, but it's an interesting possibility.

As for deer, does that really mean "wild animals"? I thought it just meant "deer".

Persephone said...

I'm sure Piers must be right about "Baby on Board".
The "Slow Children Walking" sign has compelled me to look up one of my favourite Ogden Nash poems I'll Take the High Road Commission (1949):

In between the route marks
And the shaving rhymes,
Black and yellow markers
Comment on the times.
All along the highway
Hear the signs discourse:



Cryptic crossroad preachers
Proffer good advice,
Helping wary drivers
Keep out of Paradise.
Transcontinental sermons,
Transcendental talk:



Wisest of their proverbs,
Truest of their talk,
Have I found that dictum:


When Adam took the highway,
He left his sons a guide:



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Anonymous said...

I was always fond of the " Heavy Plant Crossing" sign

It always evoked images of overweight geraniums


Piers said...

Triffids, surely?