SIGNS OF THE TIMES


Signs are usually brusque, devoid of humour or humanity –  rather like a sergeant-major’s barked commands to a nervous squad of raw recruits – LIFT….DINING ROOM ….TOILETS …BAR….SWIMMING POOL……SHOP…..SLOW DOWN….. TURN LEFT….. LEVEL CROSSING … EDIT…ADD MEDIA….. PUBLISH…. VIEW POST…… CLICK HERE….. STOP..
It comes as a pleasant surprise therefore to find signs that by their form and style amuse and surprise and entertain:

 

 

 

sign v

 

A very ironic johnknoxy sign seen in Edinburgh outside the Modern Art Gallery. It reminded me of the  archetypal Scottish joke ……On Judgment Day. as  the souls of the damned were whirling through the abyss down into the all-consuming  flames of hell, they cried out, ” O Lord, we didnae ken, we didnae ken!” and in response this mighty voice from above boomed out, “Weel,  ye ken noo!”

sign ok

but on the other hand……a cheerful and jaunty reassurance above the entrance to the Modern Art Gallery – I think both signs are the work of Martin Creed whose good-natured philosophy is very binary or dualistic or whatever.

sign bm

 

 

A polite apocolyptical global warning sign in a student kitchen……

 

Byres Road sign

A very Scottish sign seen in Glasgow’s Byres Road. Scots are addicted to pies. And bridies. There is word that a left-handed bridie is being developed in Forfar with the thumb-hole in the pastry casing placed correctly for a left-handed grasp.

sign rr  A wonderfully creatively welcoming door in an Amsterdam hotel which believed in giving the place personality, soul, a sense of humour, human warmthsign nnThe Conscious Hotel, the same surrealistic hotel whose doors  give you such a warm, poetic  introduction to  Amsterdam. ” Your breakfast is 100% organic and there are plenty of healthy choices but we won’t force you to survive on nuts and berries. At Conscious hotels, you make the choices that are right for you. Except for wearing socks with sandals. Then we might say something..”
Or as Saussure famously said: “In language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system. “

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So Vast A Distance


moon 2

An English guy I was sharing a taxi from the airport with told me this story about his mother. Great storyteller. Hard not to listen to him. He had one of those rich, brown voices and it was a sort of ghost story. I could see the taxi-driver leaning back in his seat so as not to miss a word…Anyway this is what he told me in that James Mason voice of his:

Valerie, my mother, he said , had reached the stage where she had to be put into sheltered housing. She was becoming increasingly deaf but poo-pooed the suggestion that being fitted with a discreet  hearing aid would improve her social life and without her glasses she was blind as a bat so if she mislaid them they remained mislaid. When the phone went and I saw who it was I guessed (usually correctly) that she needed me to find them for her, had probably spent hours groping on and under chairs and cushions in a fruitless search for them. Not that she called very oftenShe’s a very independent lady, dislikes being what she called ‘a burden’ to anyone.  It must be like taking your dog for a walk, she told me  the last time we went for a very slow stroll round the park.
Her new flat was only a 5-minute drive away. If you have any problems, just call me, I told her. Anything at all just give me a call. Seriously. Anything at all.
You’ve done quite enough for me already, she said. I’ll be fine.

The first night on her own in her new flat she called.
Richard, she said, her voice little more than a whisper.
I’m hearing voices, she said.
From the street? I asked. From the neighbours’ flat?
No.
Have you switched your computer off?
No reply.
Have you checked that you haven’t just left the TV on?
No reply. I could hear her rapid breathing.
From where then?
You’ll think I’m losing my mind.
From where?
From the ceiling.
Oh

I switched on the bedside lamp. It was 3 am.
What are the voices saying?
Voice, she said. A woman’s voice.
What’s she saying? I asked. It was 3 am. and I was tired.
Richard, she’s frightening me, she said. She  knows who I am. She knows my name.
That woke me up. She’s not the type to imagine things. But a voice emanating from the ceiling…..
This woman, what is she saying? Is she saying something nasty?
The same thing over and over.
What same thing? There was a pause then her voice dropped even lower. A little less than a whisper.
Hello Valerie. 

Hello Valerie?
Yes, my mother said with a quiver in her voice. That’s what she says. That’s all she says. Hello Valerie. Over and over again. Hello Valerie. Hello-
Okay, I said. I could hear her panic. I’ll be round in quarter of an hour, I told her. Don’t worry. Trust me, there’ll be some simple explanation.
When I got there I quickly located the voice.
Right enough, it came from the ceiling.
It was the smoke alarm’s automated voice saying  L o w   B a t t e r y  at 15 minute intervals.

When I got home I told this story to my Mary but either I told it badly or I screwed up the ending or something. Any how she didn’t find it funny. It’s one of these Reader’s Digest urban myths, she said, not even looking up from her computer. Like the legend that Kennedy made a trip to Germany in the 60′s and in a speech in Berlin, trying to win over the crowd,  he told them, “Ich bin ein Berliner”.  According to the myth however, a “Berliner” is also a type of  doughnut so the crowd just laughed at him. They thought he was telling them, ‘I am a doughnut’.
She finished whatever she was doing on the computer and  looked up at me. What do you think? Fact or fiction?  She shook her head. 
All nonsense, she said. Fiction. Fantasy. All of it. I’m surprised that people let themselves be taken in by that sort of stuff.
I just shrugged. She says the same thing about my religion – Fiction. Fantasy. All nonsense.

A hot bath and a generous glass of Glenmorangie later, I went for a stroll round the garden, watched the stars, heard a skein of geese honking their V-shaped way to wherever, whatever, somewhere South…..
Summer where have you gone?
And what was the name of that James Mason film with the Hungarian guy on the zither and Orson Welles coming out of the shadows to ask what have the peace-loving Swiss ever done apart from invent the cuckoo clock? (Which they didn’t; it was the Germans, according to Mary when I asked her what the film was called. It was called The Third Man she informed me. And James Mason wasn’t in it. Joseph Cotton was. And the Hungarian zither player was called Anton Karas. And…..)

I sometimes wonder how a husband and wife can become separated by so vast a distance.

SIGNS


Signs are usually brusque, devoid of humour or humanity –  rather like a sergeant-major’s barked commands to a nervous squad of raw recruits – LIFT….DINING ROOM ….TOILETS …BAR….SWIMMING POOL……SHOP…..SLOW DOWN….. TURN LEFT….. LEVEL CROSSING … EDIT…ADD MEDIA….. PUBLISH…. VIEW POST…… CLICK HERE….. STOP..
It comes as a pleasant surprise therefore to find signs that by their form and style amuse and surprise and entertain:

 

 

 

sign v

 

A very ironic johnknoxy sign seen in Edinburgh outside the Modern Art Gallery. It reminded me of the  archetypal Scottish joke ……On Judgment Day. as  the souls of the damned were whirling through the abyss down into the all-consuming  flames of hell, they cried out, ” O Lord, we didnae ken, we didnae ken!” and in response this mighty voice from above boomed out, “Weel,  ye ken noo!”

sign ok

but on the other hand……a cheerful and jaunty reassurance above the entrance to the Modern Art Gallery – I think both signs are the work of Martin Creed whose good-natured philosophy is very binary or dualistic or whatever.

sign bm

 

 

A polite apocolyptical global warning sign in a student kitchen……

 

Byres Road sign

A very Scottish sign seen in Glasgow’s Byres Road. Scots are addicted to pies. And bridies. There is word that a left-handed bridie is being developed in Forfar with the thumb-hole in the pastry casing placed correctly for a left-handed grasp.

sign rr   A wonderfully creatively welcoming door in an Amsterdam hotel which believed in giving the place personality, soul, a sense of humour, human warmth sign nn The Conscious Hotel, the same surrealistic hotel whose doors  give you such a warm, poetic  introduction to  Amsterdam. ” Your breakfast is 100% organic and there are plenty of healthy choices but we won’t force you to survive on nuts and berries. At Conscious hotels, you make the choices that are right for you. Except for wearing socks with sandals. Then we might say something..”
Or as Saussure famously said: “In language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system. “

Joke


 

 

cowscolourwords

A man and his wife were awakenwd at 3:00 am by a loud pounding on the door. The man gets up and goes to the door where a drunken stranger, standing in the pouring rain, is asking for a push.
“Do you now what time it is?” asks the husband and slams the door and returns to bed.
“Who was that?” asked his wife..
“Just some drunk guy asking for a push,” he answers.
“Did you offer to help him?” she asks.
“No, I did not, it’s 3:00 in the morning and it’s pouring rain out there!”
“Well, you have a short memory,” says his wife. “Can’t you remember about three months ago when we broke down in a snow storm, and those two guys helped us? I think you should help him, and you should be ashamed of yourself!”
The man does as he is told, gets dressed, and goes out into the pounding rain.
He calls out into the dark, “Hello, are you still there?”
“Yes,” comes back the answer.
“Do you still need a push?” calls out the husband.
“Yes, please!” comes the reply from the dark.
“Where are you?” asks the husband.
“Over here on the swing,” says the drunk


 

 

 

The Making of Lists


Mmmmmm

Today I have stayed all morning in bed wondering, Am I a good person? Am I a bad person?

I find that things become clearer once you organise  them into  orderly lists so I start on a positive note by going over all the good things I have done in my life.

Right away I have a problem with my daily purchase of The Big Issue from the sad young woman  who stands,  every day, all day, rain hail or shine, outside the supermarket and wishes every passer-by a nice day even when they ignore her. I go into the supermarket every day and buy at least £20 worth of food and drink but only give her a quid. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Stopping smoking is another grey area. Is that morally a good thing or just selfishly a good thing? Can something selfish be good? I’ve stopped because I don’t want to kill myself. Nothing particularly heroic there!

And taking in that stray cat my daughter brought home which drove my dear wife crazy and gave our younger daughter fleas and an allergy – a generous enough impulse but wasn’t it a bit thoughtless, a bit self-indulgent? And wasn’t the good deed more my daughter’s than mine?

And becoming a vegetarian? Did that stop me from buying shoes for which some poor cow had provided the uppers? Or wearing my ski hat made from the fleece of an unborn lamb?

I once stepped between a young woman and a man who was hitting her. He was smaller than me. My wife sort of pushed me into doing something about it. All the same I did the right thing. Stopped him by grabbing his arms, enclosing him in a tight embrace. She wasn’t grateful though. Told me to mind my own f*****g  business. And when it was all over and they had gone off, arm in arm, and I was dusting myself down, I discovered my wallet had gone. 

But I did save a boy from drowning. That was definitely a good thing. He had jumped in after his dog, not knowing it would dog-paddle its way safely to the river bank. His sister was running along the bank, screaming her head off, but couldn’t swim so I did what most adults would have done and  dived in,  grabbed him, swam him ashore. But then I am an excellent swimmer. With certificates to prove it. The boy probably showed more courage in jumping in after his dog than I did in jumping in after him.

 Tomorrow I might get round to listing the bad things.

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