Friday, 29 February 2008

Off the Wall

Always prohibitively expensive to buy, vitreous enamel signs are the brilliantly colourful 'Street Jewellery' of the English scene. Most of my collection was levered off walls in the seventies from the top of precipitously-leaning ladders. With the express permission of shopkeepers, of course. All very well and typical of long-haired designer fads of the age, but these days I somehow prefer to see them still up on the wall where everyone can enjoy them. How untypically egalatarian is that of me? So I was very pleased to see these signs still in their original position on a shop wall in Bluntisham, Cambridgeshire. The Brooke Bond tea sign was once one of the most ubiquitous, but what I like here are the two sizes of Sunlight signs. It's as if the soap rep turned up, got out the sign catalogue and the shopkeeper said 'I'll have one of each'. They all bring back a painful memory. A little shop in the Highfields district of Leicester was closing, and outside was a Player's Cigarettes enamel sign, complete with the Hero sailor in glorious colour. I asked the little old lady if there was any chance I could have it when the shop finally shut. It was promised, I was over-joyed. Returning a couple of months later I saw that the sign was gone, just the empty frame staring blankly at me. On asking for it the lady said 'But you've already been in and had it'. Not me I said, gripping the counter. 'But he had a beard' was the only reply I heard as I went out.


Diplomat said...

Quite obviously a fake beard, did you ask her if she gave it a good tug to check. Why are the vulnerable so easily fooled by beards - surely it is obvious that the unkempt facial hair, whilst lending an air of relaxed, genial bafoonery is in fact a ploy to "blend in" with other beardy folk, thus making positive ID tricky after the incident/event/crime/accident. Also - when driving and committing an offence (no seat belt, speeding, jumping lights, gassing on the 'phone) make sure you don't make eye contact with any passing or stationary policeman, by all means clock him out of the corner of your eye waving his arms about and blowing his whistle accross the street, but don't look at him and proceed as if he didn't exist.

Peter Ashley said...

Excellent advice Diplo, but I think police whistles have gone the same way as bells on the front of Riley Pathfinders. Oh no, I've mentioned a car again.

Lady Barbara Skelton said...

Bad luck with the sign, Peter. My dad once told me that he knew of an allotment shed with an interior fashioned out of old enamel advertising signs. I'm sure they would have looked lovely on my whitewashed brickwork.

Peter Ashley said...

Lovely indeed. I once wrote about old enamel signs propping-up allotments sheds "...still brightly trumpeting their messages amongst the courgettes" or something like that.

Jon Dudley said...

Ah, the enamel sign...the few I managed to obtain were ineveitably pock marked with air gun pellets having been used for target practice in the local allotment. Luck was in when a chirpy cockney friend of my dad managed to 'obtain' TADDY'S IMPERIAL TOBACCO. 4D PER OUNCE' from off the wall of an unsuspecting newsagent in Dalston circa 1965.

Having devoured volume two of unmitigated England I can't wait for number three. Couldn't agree with you more about John Gorham-remember 'The English Difference'?

Peter Ashley said...

Mr.Dudley: Very glad to hear from someone who appreciates the inestimable work of John Gorham.
I knew John, and he was the perfect English gentleman, in the true sense of the words 'gentle man'. I love the English Difference, particularly the cover. Although designed by John, his friend Tony Meeuwissen (another hero)did the painting.I might blog it soon, thankyou.

Justin Savage said...

It was early, and the shop had not yet opened for business. So Keith Ash-Leigh sat, and waited. He found himself, for the umpteenth time, thinking about little Pierre and how he must be a grown man by now. Occasionally, very occasionally, he had a sense of physical proximity to the boy he had left in the barn in 1948.

Particularly, the time on the beach in Dunwich. He had taken his van, the Bedford, down to the sea to pick up driftwood. Breaking off his work to spend a penny, he was annoyed to hear a car make its way onto the beach. Crouching down, fumbling with his flies, he looked on. To his increasing astonishment he saw a tall young man with a full beard, long hair and a quite unmistakable profile, step out of a Hillman Husky and start taking photographs.

It can't be, surely not? Ash-Leigh did up the last button of his moleskins and watched, transfixed. After a time, the young photographer stowed his camera, took out an enormous red handkerchief and blew his nose very loudly, the sound drowning out the noise of the waves lapping the Suffolk coast. He then belched, jumped into the little car, reversed quickly back up to the road and drove away.

Keith sat and gathered his thoughts. He was unsettled. The similarities were striking: same beard, same height, and that face! He felt he had seen nothing other than a younger, truer version of himself. A tear welled in his eye. Reaching into his pocket he took out a large, spotted, red handkerchief and blew his nose.

That was then. This was now. He noticed the blind go up on the shop window. Stepping out of the van he walked in, pleased to hear the bell above the door announce his arrival.

'Excuse me madam, I see that you're closing down?'
'Yes, you know we are'
'Er.. I beg your pardon?'
'You've come for the sign haven't you?' Keith felt a cold shiver pass through him. Then, quickly, sensing an opportunity;
'Yes; yes, that's right, I've come for the sign.'
'Well dear, if you've got a screwdriver you take it, it's yours, like I said before.' Baffled, Keith hurried to the van, took his wooden 'A' frame decorator's ladder and pattern screwdriver and got to work. In no time Player's Hero was safely in the back of the Bedford, tied off neatly with the rest of his collection.

He turned back to the woman, now standing in the doorway and watching him closely.
'None of my business dear' she said, 'but you don't half look older than the other day. You shouldn't work so hard' And with that, chuckling, she closed the door, leaving Keith standing open mouthed on the pavement.

Peter Ashley said...

Oh God