I found myself staying at the Premier Inn, Braintree last night. It was for a family wedding, which was a great success and a lovely day for everybody since you ask, but that’s not why I write. In my perfectly serviceable bathroom was a fairly typical sign:
I even photographed it, because I can. It was accurate, in the sense that the hot water tap beneath the sign on the sink, helpfully marked out with red piping, did indeed produce hot water, when you turned it. The cold water tap, in blue piping, produced cold water. I ran that hot tap for a good long time when shaving, and even at its hottest, it was just above lukewarm. There really was no need to warn me of its temperature with a specific yellow sticker on the wall. CAUTION Water That’s Nothing Like As Hot As You Expect It To Be, might have been a more helpful and pertinent sticker.
Above the towel rail, as you can see, I was warned again:
this towel rail can get hot
This is not a surprise. It is a heated towel rail. It is designed to get hot. The switch that turns it on and off was outside the bathroom door, and clearly marked TOWEL RAIL. I did not turn it on. It did not heat up. But had I chosen to do so, in order to use up some more electricity while in the room, I would have pretty much expected it to “get hot.” I am not actually complaining about my stay in the Premier Inn, which was perfectly serviceable, and didn’t cost me that much money. But these danger signs are becoming more and more common, their insidious application to walls and other surfaces clearly driven by fear of litigation, which is one aspect of American culture I was hoping we’d keep at bay, along with prom night, the rude phrase “can I get?” and guns, but we are losing the battle.
I often use the British Library. A more stoutly and traditionally British place you could not imagine, in the sense that it offers a warm, subsidised welcome to people from all four corners of the earth, who crowd its public spaces, speaking in every language under the sun and partaking of something we in London can be justly proud of. But the journey from Euston Road to the front entrance of the Library building is becoming more and more perilous, or so the signage would have you believe. There’s a piazza between the road and the doors, which does indeed get slippery underfoot when it’s icy or wet. There are signs everywhere telling you this:
CAUTION: PIAZZA CAN GET SLIPPERY WHEN ICY OR WET
Then, if you are brave and intrepid enough to actually traverse this Total Wipeout-style assault course and reach the shallow steps leading up to the front door, you are assailed by seven identical signs, two on each of the three shallow steps and one for luck, which say:
These signs, blots on a fabulous architectural landscape, render the otherwise beautiful piazza in front of the British Library laughable. And just that little bit less British. Whatever happened to KEEP CALM, CARRY ON AND MIND HOW YOU GO?
I understand. I get it. Certain individuals must have tripped up the steps at some point. It’s an everyday hazard. We all trip up. I tripped up the escalators at Waterloo station last year. I cut my knee. And even today, because I am still wearing my wedding shoes, which have slippy soles, I slipped while crossing the car park of the Premier Inn this morning, and almost skidded into the path of a thankfully slow-moving van. There were no signs up warning me not to do this, so if I had been injured, I could have sued the Premier Inn chain, presumably, and possibly Lenny Henry in person. And by golly, I would have! Although I imagine a crack legal team could avoid liability by shifting the blame skilfully onto the manufacturers of my shoes, which bear no sign saying CAUTION: SOLES CAN PROVE USELESS ON SLIPPERY TARMAC or BEWARE OF ONCOMING VEHICLES WHEN WEARING SHOES IN BRAINTREE.
Have we, the public, become more idiotic and clumsy over the past 20 or so years? Have we lost the use of our senses? Or our legs? Can we no longer commune with the climate and work out for ourselves when it might be icy or slippery? Are we constantly burning our hands on things that are designed to be hot? Or are these alarming signs merely part of some broader conspiracy to keep us all in a constant state of panic and fear, and thus distracted from more important issues such as the fanatical dismantling of a once-decent and compassionate society that was built up in the postwar years when socialism was not a dirty word on the left but was ultimately deemed too hazardous to the forward march of monetarism and free market capitalism to maintain.
WARNING: END OF NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE
WARNING: END OF FREE EDUCATION
CAUTION: DO NOT BE POOR
PS: Alan Williams sent these signs from a factory in India, which are rather refreshing: