I thought I was seeing things when I came across a man putting up a sign in the field behind our house, warning people about a ditch that runs alongside.
It’s just a ditch, not dangerously deep or precipitously sheer – simply a bog-standard ditch like the ones we used to leap across as children. On further investigation, I found that it was not the only sign and that along the length of the ditch, several bespoke metal signs alerted people to its presence.
Not only are these signs urbanising a green area, they are another example of health and safety gone mad. Not more than a few hundred yards away is a river – far more of a hazard, particularly in spate – but, (quite rightly) there are no warning signs along its banks.
Nor are there any signs tagged on to trees which could fall on passers-by in medium-to-high winds, or on hedges which could prick and possibly puncture the skin.
These signs are fuelling the compensation culture under which we live. So is every other ridiculous waste-of-money sign on our high streets and in our playgrounds warning of falling acorns or damp leaves.
I remember a sign in a London pub alerting women wearing high heels to the presence of cobble stones. My first thought was ‘Can’t they see for themselves?’ It’s called common sense.
Surely by drawing attention to so-called hazards, those putting up the signs lay themsleves open to problems, by admitting there’s a potential danger. If you leave a ditch alone, it’s just a plain old ditch that may require wellies if you care to step in it.
If you line it with electric fences and razor wire, you’re basically waving a flag saying: ‘Hey! There’s a hazard here.’ And to some that’s a challenge, an invitation to, quite literally, dive in and have a closer look.
Throughout my childhood I lived close to an electricty generator surrounded by robust fencing. For decades the villagers co-existed with that box without incident – we barely even noticed it. Then someone plastered it with ‘Beware, danger of death’ signs and everyone came to look.
Some hazards obviously warrant signs but many are unecessary. Roadsides now have warnings under overhead power lines. Bright yellow signs – again a blot on the landscape – telling us exactly that: there are power lines overhead. What is the point?
And I recall a sign placed beside a pile of logs on a forestry track urging ‘Caution: risk of fire’. As if that’s not a red rag to a bull! Although speaking of bulls, as a keen walker I definitely think these creatures warrant their own warning signs – preferably big ones.