Saturday, February 18, 2012

heads instructions railings

Posted by Picasa These two heads are recorded for their expressions which I find familiar in these parts. They are carved on the jams of a window on the south side of  Decimus Burton's Holy Trinity Church in Tunbridge Wells. The church for want of worshippers has become The Trinity Arts Centre.

DuchessOmnium's comment on my last post touches on a subject which has long fascinated me. Instruction on notices have a special appeal. I know just what she means about dogs being carried on  escalators. So many question are raised. My own example goes back to my youth when I travelled regularly on the  London buses which you boarded via an open platform at the rear. A notice showed pictures of the two sorts of bus stop - an unmodified bus stop and a request stop. The magisterial text reads: "At the sign shown on the left all buses stop. At the sign shown on the right the bus will only stop if  you hail the driver. Do not get on or off a bus when it is standing at traffic lights".  Apart from the use of the word "hale", with its  medieval ring, there is the concept, almost imperial in its reach, of "all". I loved both the precision of the words and the way they still retain an unintended ambiguity. Perhaps an element of poetry. And never, never will a bus fail to stop at such a stop  no matter where it comes from  or where  it is going. There was a book around at the time by the poet and critic, William Empson called Seven Types of Ambiguity. At least one types of ambiguity seemed to me at the time and still does to be well illustrated here.

Railings to persuade pedestrians to cross at the traffic lights by the roundabout at the junction of Frant Road and The London Road are intended to herd them towards the lights and the zebra crossing. Today a young man lightly vaults the railings and dodges the traffic to cross the road. My heart lifts at his disregard for rules and restraints. Never mind what nanny says. I wish I were still agile enough to ignore obstacles which take the fun out of life.


tristan said...

checking you out from my spanish hideaway in the mountains, i was a little disappointed that you hadnt bothered to summarize empson´s tour de force in a couple of sentences ...

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

It is no longer my habit to draw attention to your spelling mistakes however there's one here that helps reinforce the point you are making in the post. I think that provided you are "hale" (and hearty) you might "hail" a bus. The point is that both these words are obsolescent if not obsolete and add to the tone of these instructions which hint at a group of men (I don't see a woman's hand in this) quite out of touch with the needs of present-day bus users.

I accept your "magisterial" because the most remarkable thing about the notice is its length. Forty-two words! Again it's the out-of-touchness that resounds. If we need forty-two words for this comparatively minor matter how many will be required for something really important. Obviously this committee consists of men regularly borne (Yes, I think that's the apt verb.) by something other than a bus. A brougham, perhaps, or a phaeton.

Plutarch said...

Tristan I confess that although I appreciated the sense of the title, I never succeeded in reading more than a chapter or so of the book.

L Hail, hail, hail, hail. Thank you. Of course, it has the same root as Heil, but a more gentle resonance. Odd thing is I have made the same mistake before. It may even have been you who pointed out the error on that occasion. I have now corrected it.

Lucy said...

'What's the weather like today centurion?'

'Hail, Caesar!'