Signs of the apocalypse
Signs and notices. They are as diverse and devious as authority itself. I am in Dublin. You might think Dublin to be quirkily anarchic, free from the tyranny of signs. Well now, the bathroom attached to my rented room is tiny. Swing a cat in there and the cat dies. Entry to the shower is via a sliding glass door precisely the width of myself aged 20. To get inside aged 61 I have to shovel handfuls of self round the aluminium door jamb, until there is more inside than out. After that, the rest follows with an audible slurp.
A notice is fixed to the far wall of the cubicle. When I took my first shower I was curious to read it, but there was a jet of water between me and it, and anyway, the print was too small. So, having ladled my belly through the door I stepped into the shower. My foot shot from under me. It shot with a speed I could do nothing about. One moment I was stepping into the shower, the next I was lying on the floor in the folded position popular with newborn wildebeest.
The impressive thing about new-born wildebeest is the speed with which they gain their feet and start galloping away from predators. Had there been predators in the shower I’d have died. I lay for maybe two minutes with the water playing amusingly over me while I settled my nerves and assessed the damage to knee, elbow and skull, all of which had struck the glass with some vigour. Finding no protruding shards of bone or arterial bleeding I eventually set about hauling on the plumbing to regain my feet. As I slithered upwards like something primeval, the notice on the cubicle wall came into view, translated, thoughtfully, into four languages.
‘‘Dear Guest, rubber non-slip bathmats are available upon request at reception.’’
Am I alone in hearing the tinkle of malicious pleasure in the words ‘‘Dear Guest’’ and ‘‘upon request’’? No, I thought not. It’s war.
Travel is rich in signs and notices because in unfamiliar surroundings you’re always looking for information. But giving information is never the priority of the sign writer. Asserting power is.
Authorities know they don’t deserve the power they hold. They live in perpetual dread that we’ll see through them, that we’ll scoff at them behind their backs, in front of their backs even, that we’ll giggle at their bald spots and their detumescence, point out their awful ignorance and worse breath, their sheer suburban inadequacy. So they fend us off with signs and notices that smack of the polished jackboot. Queue here. Stand behind red line. Strictly no admittance.
But it does no good. We remain disobedient and disorderly. So the authorities are forever having to ratchet up the language until eventually they reach its shrill limit, as in a notice I saw last week. It was in Sydney airport, as it happens, but it could have been anywhere that people are dressed in a little brief authority. It was the primal scream of all school prefects newly graduated to long trousers.
Secure area: Unauthorised possession of prohibited items prohibited.
Where does one start with such language? One doesn’t of course. If that is the state of their prose can you imagine the state of their underwear?
But even this fails to equal the best sign of all time, which I first heard of years ago. They tell me it is mythical but I refuse to believe it. The thing is too good.
Caution: This sign has sharp edges.