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. “


Writer’s Blank

Duncan 1

Tumti tumti tumti tum
tumti t

sometimes I think
I have nothing
to write about
that hasn’t already
been written about
by someone else
and then I stop sucking
the end of my pen
and quickly write
‘sometimes I think ‘
and take it from there
making a noise like a trotting horse
with my tongue
as I go

ebra qw


Young people in cafes

tapping away at a laptop keyboard

or simply texting

are ten a penny

but something you seldom see


is someone

usually a woman

(like J.K. Rowling

for example

but in this case

a young man)

actually writing

–  not typing  –

putting  pen to paper

and actually WRITING.


What’s this?

Or this?

Or this?

or this?

Or this?

A work of art doesn’t have to represent something outside itself or be like something else in order to be interesting; the focus may lie in what it is in itself rather than what it resembles in the ‘real’ world.
The mechanics of how it came to be are safely locked away in the mind of the artist

But can you guess what triggered off any of the above five images?



i tapped him on the shoulder

he looked up 

mumbled Change please

clutching an empty coffee carton

with both hands

blank white face

funny empty eyes

in his twenties 

i gave him some coins

he slumped back into the foetal position


what was he doing there

in the rain

wrapped in that yellow membrane

against the cold

and the wind

going nowhere

nowhere to go


on a street

in glasgow

what was he doing there


this is giacometti

great guy

great artist

with his head between his shoulders

crossing a street in paris

to get to the cafe where his friend


the photographer

great guy

great artist

is waiting for him

watching for him

from the café window

as usual he is late

and as usual never wears a hat

and never takes a taxi

even when like now

il pleut des grenouilles

cartier-bresson smiles as he takes this photograph




Words have sounds and rhythms which reinforce their meaning: ‘flip-flop’ echoes the sound and rhythm made by that particular type of footwear….and ‘thud’, ‘bang’, ‘crash’  etc. are obviously words that echo the sound they represent; words like ‘shuffle’, ‘flutter’ imitate movement as well as sound…..
‘Ping-pong’ sounds even better the other way round      –     gnip-gnop gnip gnop  gni….oops…pick it off the floor…there it is…there, under the chair…
Likewise  the word – SPLASH – is an  ideogram of the event it signifies:
1) The  initial  sibilant  –  S – replicates the hiss of the stone cutting through the air (SSS);
2) then  comes the plosive – P –  as the stone breaks  the surface of the water (SSS – P);
3) the labial –  L –  pictures  the stone gliding under the sutface  (SSS-P-LLL);
4) The concluding – ASH – is the plume of spray sent up by the stone as it disappears into the water (SSS – P – LLL- AAASHSHSH).

‘glides’   has the sounds to suggest after an initial thrust, effortless motion in/on/through water  –     G….. LLL….IDE….SSSSS

and it sounds even better in French:

Le cygne chasse l’onde avec ses larges palmes
et glisse………………

And  finally I remember from my schooldays when we had to learn poetry by heart, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s

” the moan of doves in immemorial elms,
   and murmuring of innumerable bees. “