Signs of the times are driv­ing me up the pole

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats - KEVIN BLICK From car jour­nal­ism to the canals was a change of pace, but liv­ing on board tug Harry is a con­stant eye-opener

It was Wel­come to The His­toric Vil­lage of Kin­ver that set me off. Since we’d last been down that way a year ago, an ugly road sign style af­fair had sprung up by the tow­path, en­croach­ing into one of my favourite canal views, down past Hunts Lock.

Leav­ing aside the curious use of the cap­i­tal let­ters, let’s just think about Wel­come to Kin­ver. Who is it wel­com­ing? Not me – I know I’m there and so do 99 per cent of the boaters and those who don’t soon will be­cause the next lock is help­fully called Kin­ver Lock. Not the tow­path walk­ers – most of them prob­a­bly live in Kin­ver. Maybe the odd cy­clist who’s strayed too far and is now in mor­tal dan­ger of not get­ting home in time for his tea? And why do any of us need to be ‘wel­comed’? Should we be an­tic­i­pat­ing a par­ish coun­cil wel­com­ing com­mit­tee, the Mayor? Do I need to dress for the oc­ca­sion?

The sign has, of course, been erected by the Canal and River Trust and once you’ve seen one, you will start to spot them ev­ery­where. Now I have two ob­jec­tions to these – firstly they are state­ments of the ab­so­lutely bleedin’ ob­vi­ous; I’m in Kin­ver, Wind­mill End or wher­ever – they con­vey no use­ful in­for­ma­tion what­so­ever. Se­condly, and far more im­por­tantly, they are pro­foundly ugly and out of keeping. Ever since God was a choir­boy, to use my late father-in-law’s lovely say­ing, the canal hard­ware has been black and white: it’s sim­ple, el­e­gant and time­less. Wan­der round a coun­try cor­ner and come upon a lock, tidily painted in B&W and you could have stepped back 100 years. So what bearded hip­ster of a cre­ative guru de­cided that a big, ugly bright blue bor­dered one was more ap­pro­pri­ate and why did the twerps at CRT ever lis­ten to him? It’s not as if this was a one- off blip in taste. Daft signs have been sprout­ing up ev­ery­where: in a sickly green there was ‘Watch Out - for cute fuzzy duck­lings and green hop­ping frogs’ which at least had the merit of be­ing a tem­po­rary card­board one. Or the ‘At­ten­tion dog own­ers. Pick up af­ter your dogs. Thank you’ with the ‘hu­mor­ous’ ad­den­dum ‘At­ten­tion dogs. Grrr. Bark. Woof.’ In­ci­den­tally, there is even a ver­sion in Welsh too. If any­one is anti-so­cial enough to let their ca­nine crap on the tow­path then I’m sure a bit of weak wit won’t per­suade them of the er­ror of their ways.

But none of this can match the un­speak­able eye­sore erected on the is­land at Old Turn in the cen­tre of Birm­ing­ham. De­fac­ing this sim­ple and fa­mous land­mark is a col­lec­tion of mean­ing­less gib­ber­ish on oddly shaped pan­els and posts pro­claim­ing ‘Cy­cle this way’ ,’Wan­der this way’ ‘Boat this way’. All I can say to that is ‘WTF’!

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, I am not a fan of signs: the money is found from some spe­cious mar­ket­ing pot to erect them but rarely is any sub­se­quently found to main­tain them and all those mil­le­nium trails and wel­come boards soon be­come tar­gets for graf­fiti or sub­merged in weeds.

Even the in­for­ma­tion on those canal his­tory pan­els dot­ted here and there has usu­ally dis­ap­peared be­neath a coat of mould and dirt sim­ply be­cause no-one comes along with some Mr Mus­cle and a cloth to keep them clean.

I do have to say that I have found one col­lec­tion of signs I heartily ap­prove of. And they are, dare I say it, a ‘trail’ – the Dud­ley Her­itage Trail. This com­prises 33 unique sculp­tures that tell the story of this area’s fas­ci­nat­ing and largely van­ished in­dus­trial past, with themes re­searched and de­vel­oped by lo­cal res­i­dents and school chil­dren, and cre­ated by lo­cal sculp­tor Luke Perry and his pub­lic art team.

They are what canal signs should be – hand­some to look at, in­for­ma­tive, unique to their lo­cal area and an ad­di­tion to the canalscape. It goes al­most with­out say­ing that none has been van­dalised. Learn a les­son CRT.

Still, I sup­pose I should be grate­ful at least that the canal locks aren’t spat­tered with the multi-coloured health and safety pan­els found on EA ones. Oh dear, I hope I haven’t spo­ken too soon.San­diore

The sign has, of course, been erected by the Canal & River Trust and once you’ve seen one, you will start to spot them ev­ery­where

Now this sign by a lo­cal sculp­tor does work


Yes, but we know we’re there...

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