I've been in the UK for two weeks, far far away from my California home, and inevitably people have asked about the differences between the two places. Almost as inevitably I've dazzled with answers like "Oof, um, I dunno really. Pies?"
Then it hit me. It hit me in Whitby.
Almost everywhere you go in California there's a birth-defect warning sign. It goes something like this: 'these premises harbor chemicals known to be harmful during pregnancy". It freaked me out when I first got there, then I realised it meant that that there were three particles per square acre of a chemical which, if you snorted it in its pure form five times a day for nine months, might lead to an increased in risk of 0.00006%. And I calmed down.
In Whitby this morning I wondered what the California legislature would make of the fact that you go and buy your kippers in a 200 yr old . . . shack is the only word, where the walls are black and sticky and the smoke belches out merrily in all directions. The only sign says "open".
It struck me that Britain doesn't go in much for safety signs at all. There's a stately home in Yorkshire called Harewood House with a children's adventure playground a stone's throw (or toddler's tumble) from a boating lake and the only warning sign is this one:
In other words, tourists are ten a penny, but some of these plants are really precious.
I thought I'd seen a safety sign up in a moorland village later in the day, but when I took a closer look, it said this:
Again, this is all about protecting the precious garden from harmful sheep (or possibly the precious sheep from harmful plants) but not about protecting the tourists from anything.
I started paying more attention to signs after this and they really are very British indeed. Some of them are snooty:
(It's not just that there's no parking on the grass, it's that a duke doesn't want you parking on his grass. Drive on, peasant!)
Some of them are stoic in the face of British weather:
And some of them are just a little out of date:
But all of them are somewhere on a line between slightly dotty and totally bonkers. I'll keep my eyes peeled for more over the next month or so. And I daresay as I head northwards in Scotland, where the sheep are wilder and the people are . . . well, they're my people so I won't say it . . . the signs will be worth a look too.