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. “


things on their own

(especially old things)

look sad, dejected,

no longer fit for purpose

(to use the current buzz phrase)

well past their sell-by date    ……

not waiting impatiently to be used

but waiting submissively to be wheeled away

to their scrapyard in the sky

or just waiting

for the relentless rust of Time

to get on with

the job it does so well.

dogs,  on the other foot,

are patient waiters…

or most of them at any rate…

(this  collie for example,

with only ears alert)

although some

(like this arch-backed anorexic  Edinburgh whippet)

stand shivering,  quivering,

body, face, eyes

alert with  the awful  fear

that he-(or she)-who-must-be-obeyed

has gone away


never to return..

leaving them purposeless…


(A bit like us really)



‘Bad Timing’ is one of Nicholas Roeg’s less successful films (‘Walkabout’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’ being two that made a bigger impact). Below is a drawing of the box office at The Cameo, Edinburgh, where  ‘Bad Timing’  was being shown.

It was one of two films I’d chased around to see, either being too early or too late to catch either of the aforesaid films ( the other was ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ (1961) by I  forget who but a weird and very avant-garde Italian*).

When I did catch up with them, they were disappointing, partly because of the build up of expectations over such a long period and partly because by the time I caught up with them, their moment had passed, or I had moved on, or whatever.

Which led me to think about Bad Timing in real time. Hemingway’s ideal of ‘Grace under Pressure’ as a prime characteristic of bravery came to mind and then the idea of ‘Grace without Pressure’ seemed just as courageous. Acting before you have to. Speaking out when no-one expects you to. In other words, ‘Good Timing’:
Good Timing in saying ‘I love you’ when there is a risk of rejection and not out of a sense of desperation; in giving your son or daughter money before they ask for it;  in general, saying and doing things before you have to and not out of a premature fear of losing someone or something.
Yes, I like the ideal of ‘Good Timing’ as a sort of preemptive (proactive?)   instinct.   Pity about the film though.

*Written by Alain Robbe-Grillet; directed by Alain Resnais, and  French, not Italian




Our house was on the banks of the river Bogie in Aberdeenshire so my early memories are of fishing, catching and losing trout/salmon, talking to Jimmy Stephens, the water baillie whose croft was across the river from us  (talking in broad Doric – I remember him using the word ‘knapdarrlichs’!), jogging along the river as far as the railway bridge to keep fit for football, in the hot days of summer swimming in the deep pool where the Ness Bogie joined the Bogie…….

When I wasn’t fishing, I was leaning over the bridge parapet,  watching the trout (too small to catch ) weaving and waving in the current behind big stones,  or dropping a pebble  into the water or something lighter – a feather, a blade of grass – and watching how and where the air currents  from under the arch took it

Bridges I have crossed since always remind me of the bridge over the Bogie. This (below) just happens to be one of them.

Bridges and Art: The last time I visited the Modern Art Gallery I went down to the Waters of Leith, crossed the wooden bridge and discovered a bronzed, cast-iron Anthony Gormley statue standing ankle-deep in the river. Reflecting………….


And this bridge further along the river is also reflecting


Bridges and film: NOT BRIGADOON – BRIGADEE

Two Americans stumble across this small Scottish village which appears for one day every hundred years…..but this isn’t it. A surprisingly popular sentimental film, Scottish like tartan and shortbread and jokes about haggis are Scottish.This isn’t Brigadoon.

This is Brigadee. One sunny Summer day Mark and Debbie were travelling up to Huntly to see my mother and father and we all  stopped at the wood on the other side of this bridge over the Dee to have a picnic by the bonny, bonny banks and and for some reason jammed a bottle of white wine into the fork of a birch tree there as a gift to the gods of summery places or to have on our way back….I assume it’s still there.

Bridges and economics: OVER THE SEA TO SKYE

Is an island linked by a bridge to the mainland still an island?

For years there was a campaign to put an end to the toll charges on this bridge. And the Forth bridge. And the Tay bridge. All successful.

Bridges and poetry: THE AULD BRIG O DOON

This is where Tam and Maggie, his mare,  escaped from the pursuing witches who were left holding on to  Maggie’s tail as Tam galloped off and away on the other side because as we all know, witches daren’t cross water – the ending of a great poem about Scottish domestic life, then and now:

When chapman billies leave the street

an drouthy neebors, neebors meet

as market days are wearin late

an fowk begin tae tak the gate

while we sit bousin at the nappy

an gettin fou an unco happy

we think na o the lang Scots miles,

the mosses, waters, slaps an stiles,

that lie between us and our hame

whaur sits our sulky, sullen dame

gatherin her brows like gatherin storm

nursin her wrath tae keep it warm…..