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. “


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. “



No-one has lived here since the terrible thing that happened in the forties. The war had just started  and the woman who lived here with her writer husband came from Hamburg (she pronounced it ‘haybag’ which made people laugh) .

Anyhow one day the postie noticed that the parcel he’d left for her outside the door the day before was still there and he pushed open the door  (nobody locked their doors in those days, still don’t, most of them) and went in and called out her name ( she and he were on first name terms ).

No reply.

Perhaps they had gone over to the mainland, he thought, to visit the writer’s parents in Fraserburgh more than was likely (the father had his own trawler, so folk said) and he was just about to leave was the postie when he heard a strange noise from upstairs, not a cry, not a groan but something in between, the sound you yourself might make with a bag or a pillow-case or a letter-sack pulled over your head and not having your hands free to pull it off.

So he went upstairs to that room high up on the  left (you can just see the window)  and

Six Things NOT To Do When You’re On Your Own


Be useful. Take a kitchen knife, go out into the vegetable garden, cut a cabbage, then for the family dinner make a big steaming  bowl of  choux  à la manière de Samuel Beckett  (Set an extra place and keep them waiting).


Be active. First thing in the morning, open the door and stretch and bend in the early morning sun, stretch and bend, stretch and bend, stretch and bend at the same time making a continuous humming sound from deep low down  in the diaphragm. Mmmmmmm mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. If it’s raining, don’t bother.



Be interactive. Phone a friend who lives in a far-off rainy country and tell her about the weather here and how life goes on and on outdoors because of all the sunshine here. Describe the clothes you are wearing and how bronzée  you have become. Tell her about your natty sandals and about the gorgeous student you met who wants you so much he veel die wizout you. Describe in detail the alfresco  lunch  you had with the jolly Chevalier family on a long table under their apple tree (don’t forget to mention the  bottle of  Chateau Chambertine they opened in your honour).


Be adventurous. Discover your naked self. Take off all your clothes and proceed to the nearest river and practise walking on water. Note that this requires very little skill but a great effort of will power. Persevere. Fail, then fail again (but fail better).
If it’s raining, don’t bother.


Be idiosyncratic. Let out yor inner self. Put on a fancy waistcoat, find the glass ball you have had for years in the attic in the cardboard box  labelled MISC and go into the street with what used to be called a ghetto-blaster. Do a silly dance and wave at the people who gather round. Smile.  Turn the volume up. Proceed  to juggle with the glass ball. Make fun of anyone who shows  either embarrassment or hostility.
If it’s raining don’t bother. 

SIX (If it’s raining )

 Be more extravert. Talk to people. Assert yourself. Go to an Art Gallery and ask one of these Curator chappies about one of the paintings: a simple question like  ‘How old was Cadell when he painted this?’ will do for starters. Then try a more complicated one like  ‘ Is what Guthrie said true?  That he used orange so much in his later paintings because  in the summer of ’26 he got a bulk supply of the stuff at half-price?’
This will give him the chance to show he is not simply there to prevent people from taking  photographs of  the pictures.


The Intransigence of Things 4



The light went out.
Hermat shut his eyes, opened his eyes.
The same total dark.

Then a
ll the noises started again, but not the same noises, no longer the screech of metal-on-metal  but the   plaintive songs and cries of imprisoned birds:  linnets, thrushes, robins, nightingales, wrens, larks, warblers, a cacophony of calls above which Hermat could clearly distinguish the distinctively complacent  voice of  the cuckoo. They seemed to be whirling all around him, past his face, over his head, he could feel the draught of their passing wings, some bird even brushing his hair with a wing or a claw as it flew too close, making him duck even though it would have been too late.
Then s
omething was tugging at him, not so much tugging as pulling, not even pulling, holding rather but with a slight patient indication of the desire/need to be moving/escaping.  Now that his eyes had adjusted  to the darkness, Hermat could see  one of the capped figures, now a dark presence, standing at his side, gripping him by the upper arm. There was no real reason to resist. However there was still the option of pulling his arm away…
Meekly he allowed himself to be guided away – a long way –  from the visible side of the cube into its inner reaches and recesses where the darkness was complete and palpable……
and then the guiding hand was no longer guiding and there he was,  abandonedin the dark physically and metaphorically, forsaken, frighteningly alone, the dark presence by his side no longer present, the bird songs trailing off one by one as though the individual birds too had taken flight for a sunnier,  friendlier clime till only the call of the cuckoo was left.

He stood there for what seemed hours,  wide open eyes seeing nothing, total darkness, only the relentless bi-tonal call of the cuckoo sending through his listening brain a crackling  tide of strangely patterned repetitive sound waves.
When that call also began to trail off, he followed it through the darkness,  his hands held out in front of him, till it too was lost in the dark silence,  leaving him guided now only  by an inner voice in which he placed absolute trust……

and then he was falling, falling, stepped off the edge of his world into airy nothingness, turning, rolling, somersaulting, cartwheeling helplessly through the dark vacuum that nature was supposed to abhor.