If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 5 July 2010

Sign of the Times

This sign has been up in our local shopping area for a while now, but it was only when I saw it today that I really questioned what it was all about.

The area is pedestrianised, and has a row of shops on one side and the river on the other. It's a natural place for people to congregate, and a lot of young people do just that. So what do we do? We stop them doing three things that they would like to do. In the past, I have seen notices like this and my thoughts have been along the lines of: it's a shared space; activities which spoil the space for the majority of people shouldn't be allowed. Now I am thinking otherwise: we stop banning things that might cause a problem, and deal with them if they become a problem.

Let them use skateboards around the shops. If they upset people, deal with that at the time. Let them play ball games. Let them cycle. If it becomes a problem, think again.

Banning these activities before a problem even arises sends out a clear message to the young - we don't really like you and we don't trust you to behave. Is there any wonder they respond by misbehaving? If young people from all walks of life share a single characteristic, it is that they all have a sense of justice and injustice, from the "it's not fair" of the toddler right up to the "I know my rights" of the gobby teenager. It's a good thing, in the sense that if people had no sense of justice and injustice the world would be a savage and uncontrollable place. We are born with this sense, but society often beats it out of people. If all you ever see are signs that people don't like you, why not live up to their expectations?

You won't see many signs like this one in any town or city in Europe. People cycle where they please, kick a ball around if they wish, and skateboard wherever the surface is suitable. Everyone seems to get along just fine.

But then the continentals seem to like and value their children, eat and drink with them, and include them in everything they do. We, it seems, can't wait to be shut of them.

Those signs just depress me.


  1. It's probably a "Health and Safety" "thing" too. Imagine if a shop assistant tripped over a skateboard whilst carrying plutonium to the rubbish skip?? it's all too risky for words....

  2. I doubt it. They have started having 'piped music' there too - middle-of-the-road stuff that you can't escape - and none of the shops knows anything about who decided to have it. None of them will own up to it, so I assume it's the 'Carnsel' throwing its weight about again. And if they had any care for my health and bloody safety they would take it away. It's an abomination. Piped music in a shop is acceptable (you can always shop elsewhere) but in a public thoroughfare it's just appalling.

    Mind you, one of today's was 'Baker Street' by Gerry Refferty, so I didn't implode too badly.

  3. The other negative aspect of all this signage and rules etc is the proliferation of the ever expanding attitude of:
    'unless someone with power tells me I can't, that means I can'

    thereby removing the need for any consideration for others, self discipline, self constraint etc. It also encourages the 'you didn't tell me not to jump off cliff/get blind drunk/act with zero common sense etc so now it has all gone wrong where's my legal aid to get compensation' ploy.

    I wonder if Captain Sensible will get rid of contingency legal fees - too much to hope for I suspect.

  4. 'No win, no fee' arrangements are very problematic. In my last job, they were the bane of my life. Anyone who had tripped up on the premises felt able to pursue a claim for compensation, and some of these lasted two years before going away (and none were successful, I am glad to say). But if you outlawed them, how would you make sure that the average John and Jane has access to legal help without expanding the already-expensive legal aid system. Some are quite genuine cases brought by people who couldn't afford a solicitor unless the said solicitor was prepared to take a punt on success. I suspect that the problem lies in the courts themselves. If the courts started dismissing spurious claims more vigorously, the ambulance-chasers would start to be far more cautious about taking on frivolous claims. At present, they seem to regard a frivolous claim (i.e. one with no basis in natural justice) as being worthy of only a small comp award, rather then a large one. In reality, those claims should be dismissed, and the claimants charged with wasting the court's time.

    It's a tricky one, though.

  5. endemoniada_885 July 2010 at 22:38

    I am amazed New Labour never talked up their greatest commercial triumph - the enormous growth industry they fuelled in printing vinyl stickers of pretty much everything, in a red circle with a line through it. Nothing exemplifies that petty, small-minded tyranny of the last decade quite so perfectly. It would have been easier and more honest to go with something like "No Trust. No Fun. No Permission." as the party slogan.

    Derf's right that it abrogates individual responsibility utterly - as is your good self with the point that it reinforces the complete lack of trust that people can behave themselves. And the worst thing about it is the ubiquity of both messages. I'm only surprised that there aren't "No alcohol" and "No smoking" signs tacked on for good measure - shame to waste all that white space, really.

    It might not be a good thing to entirely ban no-win, no-fee firms, but giving the courts discretion to make them liable for punitive costs if their case is found to be utterly without merit might help. Cases that do have merit, win or lose, could continue to work as they do currently, but it should cut down on the more fanciful attempts at making a fast buck.

  6. I'm reminded of a sign that a vicar put up in his church at the start of the smoking ban, which took the piss out of the whole idea very neatly.

    Under the approved red circle sign are the words:



    Also there is to be no rape, pillage, murder, kidnapping, roller-blading, ball games, trapeze acts, bathing in blancmange, fox hunting, bear baiting, hare coursing, hot air ballooning, driving of double decker buses, nor any activity which patronises the congregation in the way our government forces us to patronise you by obliging us to display this ridiculous notice.


  7. The other problem with no win, no fee is that insurance companies, worried about their own legal costs, are tempted to settle relatively small claims (under £10,000) out of court on the basis that it is cheaper. Net result: loads of small claims - and, for the rest of us, bigger premiums (and errr wealthier lawyers).

  8. This was the case when I was working in the field. The two claims that went through under my watch were both for around £2k. As the claims were arguable (by which I mean there was a case to be made, even if I didn't agree with it) and relatively small, the insurers wouldn't entertain fighting them - just not worth the effort and resources. These were employees, and the H&S laws around them are far stronger than those on the duties to the general public, so far harder to argue your way out of.

    I was pleased to see, a few years ago, a number of local authorities agreeing to fight each and every claim for 'major life-changing injuries' arising from loose paving stones rather then just paying out, and the number of such claims being reduced drastically as a result.

  9. "This city desert makes you feel so cold
    It’s got so many people but it’s got no soul
    And it’s taken you so long to find out you were wrong
    When you thought it held everything."

    The second verse of Baker Street - how appropriate.

  10. I'd missed that nice synchronicity - well spotted :)


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