Signs of the Times

I’ve gathered a selection of signs and messages that I’ve encountered during the past month. They date from 20 March, 2020, several days before London lockdown was announced to images taken this week. Some are official, some intimate, some are signs of gratitude and hope. They range from examples of orders and restrictions created by Government authorities to uniquely crafted appliqué banners and children’s hand drawn rainbows. And one ore two that I find intriguing and amusing.

Feel good signs / Metta

Back on that Friday 20 March I bumped into one of my neighbours, an Israeli called Mickey, in our local grocery store. In the course of our conversation he mentioned he had bought some challah, a Jewish brioche-like bread traditionally eaten on the Sabbath, (or Shabbat in Hebrew). I got all excited as I didn’t know there was any available locally, and he insisted on bringing us a loaf. Later that day our buzzer rang and he left a little parcel by the door. Inside the bag with the challah I found this note:

It says, in Hebrew, Shabbat Shalom, written and signed by the young daughter in the family. I was really touched, and it felt like it epitomised a positive consequence of the pandemic – more kindness, generosity and neighbourliness.

On that day, March 20, 2020, British schools closed due the coronavirus outbreak. At this point some school windows were already decorated with drawings of rainbows and this trend was to continue at home. The idea is to cheer up passers by and inspire hope, as well as being a nice creative task. I’ve gathered some images of rainbows in the Gospel Oak and Dartmouth Park neighbourhoods. Below – I think this is a school – you can just make out the words STAY SAFE in the centre of the rainbow:

I actually really like this quite linear scribbly rainbow below, which I assume was done by a young child, but you never know!

A few more local rainbows:

A window reflects a neighbouring house. Facing out of the window is a postcard of a rainbow, the text beneath assures everything will be OK:

These drawings combined the rainbow motif with hearts and figurative drawings of NHS workers. Both drawings say Thank you NHS:

I like the way this Estate Agents sign has been customised to give thanks to the NHS and everyone on the from line:

Today I walked a different way to usual to The Heath and encountered this amazing banner on the corner of Gordon House Road. It was sewn and stitched together with different colourful pieces of fabric:

Detail of the appliqué banner:

Around the time of the lockdown I discovered an organisation originally known as The European School of T’ai Chi Chuan which now goes under the name of Metta, which means loving kindness. On the top of Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath they have put up a sign promoting daily group meditation in order to spread compassion, to be practiced at 4pm wherever you are:

At Primrose Hill, I came across this handwritten chalk sign in the window of The Washington, a pub on Englands Lane, which like all other pubs had to close because of coronavirus. The message very friendly, positive and loving. Even though I’d never actually been to that pub before, it made me want to go to there when it eventually reopens:

Today I saw a flower tribute with a yellow note, surrounded by colourful tea light candles on a bench in Parliament Hill Fields. When I looked at the note I noticed a drawing of a woman with hoop earrings, with a heart in the background. I found the drawing sweet and touching:

I’ve been noticing more neighbourliness and doorstep generosity:

More changes in the neighbourhood

A fancy terrace newly squatted, the pavement reads This house is open:

On the border of the front garden a handmade painted sign with the words Pigs on Legs. I’ve been told this is a reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

And a recent addition to the squat – a banner hung from the top floor which curiously has been created in mirror-writing – it reads HYPN OKONDIA and also seems to have a little trademark symbol:

Below a couple of photos of my local 88 bus. I’ve not been travelling on London Transport in the last few weeks, as it is not vital for me to do so. I was shocked to hear of the deaths of London bus drivers due to coronavirus; I believe 26 have died so far. In the last few days travel on buses has become free of charge and buses can only be boarded via the middle doors:

At a newspaper kiosk outside Hampstead Underground Station, a sign states hand sanitizers available, which before the lockdown would never have been a consideration:

Social Distancing

In the immediate days before London lockdown social distancing was not being enforced and it was yet not part of people’s consciousness here. I had been warned by friends in Italy as to the severity of what would be coming and so was already trying to keep my distance when I went to the shops or out for a walk, sometimes to be treated with contempt and derision for doing so. On Saturday 21 March my husband and I went for a walk and on the way stopped off at a pharmacy to see if they had any masks. This was the first time I’d encountered a sign limiting the amount of customers:

Now social distancing has become the norm; this is a recent picture from outside the local Tesco supermarket on Swains Lane:

Signs on Hampstead Heath

With the exception of a few intransigent joggers and some people obliviously staring at their phones, in the last couple of weeks people on Hampstead Heath have generally been observing social distancing. The paths can get congested and I tend to walk on the grass and fields where possible. More open spaces now have guidelines with a physical 2 metre line drawn to illustrate the amount of space needed to abide by the rules. These lines were drawn relatively recently; I first noticed them on April 11:

More signs from Hampstead Heath:

I think the problem with the sign below is that it is too linear – front and back -and doesn’t suggest any distance is needed in terms of circumference!

As I mentioned in order to avoid joggers on the paths I’ve taken to walking across the fields. A positive result was that I discovered some uplifting graffiti on something I’d walked past countless times but only seen from one side. It’s a white pillar called the Stone of Free Speech, located in Parliament Hill. The words Love Joy courage are graffitied on one side:

The weekend before the lockdown I’d walked over to another hill on The Heath – Primrose Hill . There the Ladies Toilets had been fitted with official Government signs addressing the virus:

Since then there have been cuts to services all over Hampstead Heath including closures of public toilets and playgrounds:

Waste bins have also been removed, but some people either ignored or have been oblivious to their absence:

This one struck me as a bit surreal and Magritte-like, but it could just be me! Isn’t that sign depicting an image of a person throwing something in a bin? Ceci nest pas une bin

The Heath has more restrictions on what sort of activities are permitted:

The mixed pond sealed off with NO SWIMMING tape:

I was amused by graffiti stickers that have added to this no swimming sign; especially the stay loco sticker:

A Hampstead Heath car park which is a short distance from the Royal Free Hospital has been made available to NHS staff only. A little red heart has been inserted into the O of ONLY:

This surgery has gone full on with with signage during the pandemic. I exchanged a few words with the man in the mask who was bemused by the multiple signs and notices at this Hampstead GP surgery. Photographed a few days ago, mid April, 2020:

In contrast, this laconic hand written sign with a smily emoji at a Frith Street restaurant caught my eye:


Also published on Medium.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.