I wrote a post a few days ago called Signs obscuring the sights of Oxford about the forest of metal obscuring the view of the Clarendon Building. I was trying to work out how anyone could do this, could be so blind to beautiful things that he could stick signs up in front of everything.
I was not, I decided, just stupidity (that is, the stupidity of these people does not adequately explain what they do), nor was it class in the social sense or a deficiency in formal education. There was a kind of dullness of the senses about them. Where we see beautiful views to cherish, I suggested, they just see bricks and stones and roads.
Here is another example. St Giles is a fine broad street running north from Oxford, with a line of trees between the carriageway and the eclectic mix of buildings on each side. As the photographs show, what dominates the scene is sign-posts.
St Giles church is obscured by a large board, apparently placed deliberately to dominate the vista as much as possible. That does at least have the backing of a statutory requirement as well as a practical value – it does not need to be where it is, but drivers do need to see in advance which direction to take.
The offensive ones are the white and yellow signs between every tree, each with a set of essays explaining the parking restrictions. The restrictions are a story in themselves, involving electoral bribery, a stealth tax imposed undemocratically, and either a lie or a gross miscalculation by a particularly dim Oxfordshire County Council Highways officer. I will tell that separately. Accept for now that there are variations in parking policy which must be communicated to those wishing to park.
There is no need for them to dominate the street in the way shown in the picture. They could have been set back behind the trees in a way which made them visible to those actually trying to park without dominating the whole view. What does it take to be this crassly oblivious to your surroundings?
These little people love signs as tangible evidence of their own importance. There are lots of them, and each new wave of them competes with the last set, so they have to be bigger and brighter than the ones already there.
The argument for them, if their perpetrators were made to justify them, is one of utility; they are useful and that alone justifies their prominence. I do not suggest that any great thought went into their siting, any balance between utility and the view. These people do not even see that there is anything to argue about.
If this sort of person had dog-shit on his shoes, he would wipe them on a fine Persian carpet if that was the most useful material to hand. He would piss into a Meissen dish, make calls on his mobile whilst a string quartet played, use a Picasso to block a draught, put ketchup on smoked salmon, or walk over a formal flower-bed. None of these things are any worse than defacing Oxford’s streets like this.
These would not be acts of deliberate vandalism, but the lack of the cultural hinterland which tells other people what is right and wrong. It may be stupidity which makes the highways officers of Oxfordshire incompetent and unfit for the purpose for which they are employed, but it is a far deeper cultural failure which allows them to ruin Oxford’s streets like this.