People who write signs (and I myself am known as the King of the Felt Pen Exclamation Mark, as in ’PLEASE wash up!!!’) can’t help getting emotional. It’s their moment on stage as it were and their exasperation often has comical results.
I am something of an aficionado and here are a few gems noted on my travels.
In a Spanish hotel bedroom: ‘Do NOT wash vegetables in the sink’ One wonders what previous horticultural/culinary misdemeanours had taken place.
In a cafe in Tavistock: ‘Please do not write your correspondence at our tables’ Totally baffled, we felt obliged to put this to the test. We hardly had time to put pen to postcard when the proprietor emerged to tear us off a strip. My companion was so incensed, she refused to pay for her latte, upon which the owner threatened to call the police.
In a small hotel with ‘shared facilities’: A chain across the bath sported a sign which read ‘PRIVATE!’
In another hotel in a spa town in Germany, a notice in the bathroom translated as ‘Do not remain in this water for more than 30 minutes without a doctor’s prescription’ What if one couldn’t speak German? Would the seemingly beneficial spa water have eventually peeled the flesh from one’s frame, leaving a steaming skeleton redolent of the Acid Bath Murders?
Community notice boards are a great source of amusement. I think I found Newbury’s answer to my own Lady Margaret in this hand-printed announcement, to be read in clipped tones: ‘West Ridge. Drawing Room. Plantagenet Productions in honour of H.M. Queen Mother A.D.2000. Poetry, prose, philosophy from a pride of writers from olden times to today, given in recital by Dorothy Rose Gribble. For tea-bar facilities, please book quite three days in advance’ One could imagine Just William’s unwilling presence on the sofa as Dorothy Rose warbled on!
On the tiny Caribbean island of Bequia, passions were obviously running high going by this neatly typed message on the town board: ‘To whom it may concern, Friend or not Friend. All person with outstanding bills at Fay’s Boutique, please settle. Person who fails to do so, names and amount will be placed on board. Thank you for your co-corporation. No hard feelings. Fay Snagg’ Hard feelings had obviously bubbled up however, because underneath in fierce Biro Fay had scrawled ‘Notice: Anyone found removing this notice WILL PAY THE PRICE!!!!’ By the afternoon, the notice had of course had disappeared.
Japan is a good source of inscrutable signs, from a tiny brass plate fixed to a wall about six inches above the pavement saying ‘Do not open any shops round here’ to the almost offensive notice in my hotel bathroom ‘Don’t let your friends say you have a smelly bottom’ On the beach we had to walk out a considerable distance in order to read a sign that warned ‘Danger of Tidal Wave’. Luckily the tide was out!
Some notices are scary, such as the one in the snake house in the Bronx Zoo: ‘Do not tap glass. What would you do if it broke?’ And the one spotted by a friend’s mum sticking out of a pretty flowerbed outside a cottage in the north of Scotland. Thinking there may be seedlings for sale, she got out of the car and strolled across. Bending over she read ‘I know you have been stealing my plants. There is a gun aimed at your head’ She beat a hasty retreat, her illusions shattered.
But the real corker was one we saw from our ferry as we sailed out of the harbour in Nevis, West Indies. In six foot letters an angry resident had painted ‘NO PISSING’ along a corrugated iron fence. Needless to say, there was a chap having a wee up against it!