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!