This is not a Sign

For no reason, other than to bring to your attention its oddness, I’d like present you with this image.


This is a sign placed at an intersection between an alleyway and a busy street in Heaton, Newcastle. You should be able to make out the original writing, ‘onwards and to drive out with’, which appears to have been painted over so as to read ‘on and to out wit’.

Now, I have spent many a perplexed hour, on the route to and from the city centre, trying to decipher this riddle. What is the meaning of the original text? Is it some strange legal requirement of the council: informing us, perhaps, of a cars purpose?

Even more pressingly, who went to all that effort to graffiti it with white paint? The words ‘on and to out wit’ have a strange sort of resonance, do they not? I would often spend days speculating if I had, in fact, haphazardly stumbled on the meaning of life: to keep going and be more clever than those trying to outsmart you.

Well, in an anti-climax rivalled only by a party popper that doesn’t explode, a little research revealed that this was actually part of a series of ‘fake’ signs, created as an Art project for Northumbria University in 1995.

They were made by Lucy Freeman, whose aim was to raise questions about how much attention we really pay to street signs.

And the white paint? Also Freeman, who wanted to evoke issues about dyslexia and its effects, a problem she is personally effected by.

So, sadly, I didn’t discover a sign from the cosmos (ah, get it? Sign… hilarious). However, on a positive note, the work continues to inspire and evoke criticism 17 years after its unveiling, hats off!

Also, I can now answer one question with full conviction; do I really pay attention to street signs? Yes, if I pass a strange one I will notice it doesn’t make sense in roughly three years. Hurrah!


5 thoughts on “This is not a Sign

  1. I have wondered about that one myself recently, excellent research and a mystery is laid to rest once again.

  2. Thank you both for your kind comments šŸ™‚ Keep an eye on this space if you’re interested in things I waste my time staring at.

  3. Amy Ekins says:

    Can I ask where you found this info please? I’m writing a paper for my Creative Writing MRes (at Northumbria) about public textual art, and since my undergrad degree (which ended in 2010) I’ve been sporadically trying to find online evidence of where these came from for use in my work, and I’m so relieved to now know, but could really do with a source so I can cite it in my upcoming conference!

    • Hi Amy,

      Bad news I’m afraid, I’ve had a good look on google and it doesn’t seem to be there anymore!? I distinctly remember searching for ‘onwards and to drive out with newcastle’ but the only thing I can find now is my own post and a similar one by someone else ( There is a hyper link on this page but it only leads to an error page which makes me think it might have been taken down.

      I’ve also tried to find out if lucy freeman is still working in Newcastle so you can hunt her down and get an interview. It seems like she might have had an exhibit recently (

      Sorry I can’t help you any more than this, its a lesson in referencing I’ll sharp not forget!

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