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.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)