CAUTION: STEPS, said six (6) signs at the British Library. Yes, thought I, they’re steps alright. They’re definitely steps. I stood, transfixed, wondering if perhaps they were man-eating steps, or trick steps that opened into an abyss and sent you plummeting into the core of the earth.

But no, I stepped, and they stayed put.


Beats me.

And then there are the talking lifts/elevators.

“The next stop will be level two. Level Two. The doors will open at level two. Please stand back until the lift has come to a halt. When the doors open, step out of the lift. If you do not plan to exit the lift, please stand back. Stand clear of the closing doors. The doors will now close. The doors have closed. The next stop will be level three.”

What did we do before all the warnings?

“Insert the flat end of the seatbelt into the buckle until you hear a click.” Thanks for that. Or, “This product may contain nuts.” On a packet of nuts.

How hard a time would we have if all the signs disappeared? Would we not know how to buckle our seatbelts? Not recognize the stairs? Not understand how to get out of a lift? Or is it all about removing the time, the space, the freedom to think?

Here’s my warning:


Or as the wonderful old IBM sign said, way back in the 1960s:





  1. cathi rae 7 years ago

    oh dont get me started on the risk averse world we live in – luckily i do my bit by riding young foolish horses – its my stand against the cotton wool wrapping world we live

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      Yeah! Me too! Now what were we talking about? (Should have read that warning sign about falling on your head too many times….)

  2. Sara 7 years ago

    My son’s favourite came on before the movie on a DVD we were watching.

  3. Marian 7 years ago

    I know! We laughed about it, when we visited London last year. In Belgium, there are not so many warnings. The funny thing is: My daughter’s first full English sentence was: ‘Mind the gap between the train and the platform!’
    “Why do they say it over and over again”, she asked. “Did an old lady got stuck with her foot, and then her foot was torn off? Was the blood all over the platform, and was it such mess, that they don’t want it to happen again?”
    “Possible”, was my answer. And then we get out of the tube, minding the gap (which was one inch).

    1. Meg Rosoff 7 years ago

      I’ve occasionally seen a really terrifying gap at some stations. But a yawning 18 inch black hole? You’d notice it, believe me! (p.s. love your daughter’s English lesson)

    2. Lesley Martin 7 years ago

      A friend of mine actually saw a small child fall down one of those gaps – luckily the train driver noticed. That’s one instance when I think it is worth the warning; after all as you step off a crowded train, mind elsewhere, it would be easy enough to get a foot stuck in a small gap with possibly horrific consequences.

  4. Duncan Ball 7 years ago

    The THINK sign reminded me that my English teacher at Lexington High School (I’m also originally from Boston) used to start the lesson every day by writing THINK on the blackboard. Simple though it was it had an effect. We need more THINK signs and fewer warning signs. Or maybe a universal sign with a drawing of a brain.

  5. jackie 7 years ago

    I can’t help but think that the warning about the steps is because it inspires the beginning of a picture book. And that while you are walking up, or doen the stairs thinking about the picture book you might trip, up, or down the steps.
    And who lives in ‘the gap’. Perhaps a tube train troll who wil grab your ankle and pull you in to Neverwhere.

  6. Veronica Roth 7 years ago

    And here I thought Vancouver was the prime place for nanny-isms. I’ll have to def stay out of the British Library when I’m back. 🙂

  7. Elli 7 years ago

    To inject a serious note (me? serious? What’s come over me?), as far as I’m aware the lift warnings are all about compliance with disability legislation, and are intended for the benefit of blind people. And ‘Mind the Gap’ is no doubt partly for the same reason. Although talking of ‘Mind the Gap, those notices use to seriously freak me out when I was little. No-one on earth will ever be able to convince me that it wasn’t a ghost or a zombie making those announcements. The tone of menace in that voice…

  8. Amanda 7 years ago

    Mind the Gap has made it to Australia. We brought it home on a t shirt in the early 90s, and never suspected it would fester and crawl out into public space. (The station it is now used at has a curved platform – sadly it’s only printed on the platform – there is no mellifluous announcement)

    My favourite local warning came one frosty day when driving kids to school and we passed a relocatable LED Billboard – you know, the kind that tells you your only way to get somewhere has been closed for repair till Sunday.
    But this sign seemed made for me.
    It simply said “INSERT MEMORY CARD”.

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  10. Roderick Chu 7 years ago

    In your native land, the explanation is the vast oversupply of mediocre lawyers looking for work!

  11. Intrigued Lady 7 years ago

    The talking elevators are for blind people!

  12. Roy Levy 6 years ago

    Don’t you love the way the tube announcement “mind the gap” at some point became “mind the gap between the train and the platform”. I always get an urge to sarcastically respond “ohhhhhhh THAT gap !”

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