Friday, January 26, 2007

Grey alerts

After a long day forging sense from the senseless yesterday, I had a chilly wait for the homeward-bound train. Freelancing for such disparate and worthy places, my brain tends to wander off anyway. Was thinking of devious forthcoming Benny things when a bored voice interrupted:
“Customers are reminded not to leave items of unattended baggage anywhere on the station concourse or on trains. Items of unattended baggage may be removed without warning and could be destroyed. If you notice items of unattended baggage at Victoria, please alert the nearest member of staff or British Transport Police.”
I’ve heard this on occasional loop forever, but this time it manages to register. Ooh, says my brain, that’s a bit careless. The same awkward phrase used three times in three sentences.

And what a mouthful it is. You need a punchy, distinct bit of imagery if you want people thinking, “IS THAT RUCKSACK A BOMB?!?”

“Bags” and “packages” are easily imagined. The word “suspect” would add some good jective.

But if you really want us to take notice, how about the one from old 2000AD?
“Be pure! Be vigilant! Behave!”
I realise they don’t want to alarm anyone with something phrased too distinctly. The Evening Standard is more than enough to fill our journeys home with MAD PANIC. But still, it’s not really much of an imperative.

Perhaps sounding a bit bored and management-jargony make us heed the warning subconsciously. Like times tables, it goes in because it’s repeated and not because we have to take any notice.

In balancing the “watch out” with the “don’t start a stampede” it’s a lot like “Inspector Sands”. This openly secret code-word alerts staff when things are kicking off. “Fire!” would start everyone screaming at the prospect of being vividly barbecued. But Sands gets a mention we stay meekly where we are, at most thinking, “Oh, just get on with it.”

There was an Inspector Sands incident at Victoria earlier this week, too. I watched an entire busy platform of subterranean passengers wearily roll their eyes.

1 comment:

Rob Stradling said...

I love those announcements, especially when they're done in multiple languages;

"Bagga non-attenduno sera confiscatori, et es possiblay, detonatio!"

I've always hoped that some wag will think to add on C-3PO's speech to the ewoks. You know, the long stream of gibberish which ends with the admonition; "Ee tuda shuda - BOOOOOOM!"