Caution, horses

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:


Hot Water

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:


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.









PS: Alan Williams sent these signs from a factory in India, which are rather refreshing:


22 thoughts on “Caution, horses

  1. If I ever happen across you in future, I’m desperately going to want to sneak up and emboss “BEWARE OF ONCOMING VEHICLES WHEN WEARING SHOES IN BRAINTREE.” on your footwear. That’s one of the most pleasing phrases I’ve come across in a good long while.

  2. The ads google picks for blog entries clearly work off of words and themes. Scope for fun ‘n games there. The current one is for “Water Underfloor Heating”. Anyway good to see your blog has been coralled into supporting the forward march of…etc.

  3. It’s pathetic really isn’t it?

    Sadly, another american import “litigation culture” is infecting the British way of life.

    Have you had a trip or fall anywhere? Call our law firm Ambulance, Chaser & Scum and we can clog up the legal system with your spurious claims and leach off your windfall.

  4. The notion of a heated towel rail has just turned my world upside down – I have never encountered one of those before. I may be quite unusual, and perhaps a different demographic to the more worldly sort that would visit the Premier Inn in Braintree, but if I’d met before today I might indeed have been nastily shocked into suing for damages to my fingers.

  5. As someone who never travels unless it’s absolutely necessary, I can honestly say I’ve never encountered a heated towel rail (as opposed to a radiator). I know they exist, but I’d probably have welcomed the warning nonetheless.

    The end of a report on a motorway pile-up on the local news this evening seems vaguely appropriate: “But for now the message is clear: black ice is invisible and unexpected. Motorists should be aware.”

  6. I believe some currently unused warning messages would be very helpful to the uninitiated though. For example:

    On a Coldplay CD: “WARNING: Will contain vapid, self-indulgent, wank”.

    Or, before reality TV programmes: “WARNING: Will contain people you will detest with every fibre of your being”.

    If any company decides to produce these kind of items I’d happily compose the text for free.

  7. I keep meaning to stop at Heston services to take a photo – the sliding glass door on the petrol station entrance has TWO separate caution signs plastered over it, both saying basically the same thing. I tried to take a photo the other day, but the stupid door kept opening and closing! ๐Ÿ˜€

  8. When I first opened this post google helpfully piggybacked on it, telling me where I could buy a heated towel rail. Nice. I’ve yet to read ‘back after these messages’ but it sounds appropriate already.

    Am sorely tempted to print out ‘caution, do not be poor’ and stick it to the door of one of the public libraries in my neighbourhood earmarked for closure unless swarms of moneyed volunteers (ample free time and own transport required – they’re rural) agree to work in them for free. Guerilla signage campaign, anyone?

  9. Actually, due to a bizarre crease in the spacetime continuum in Braintree, we do suggest you are careful of oncoming vehicles when wearing shoes here.

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