Alexei Sayle: A plague on the plague of street furniture

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Indy Lifestyle Online

In the last couple of years, a plague of street furniture has broken out around my house. There are now at least four new pedestrian crossings within 500 yards, each with its own set of flashing, beeping traffic lights; there are zigzag lines either side of the traffic lights, black and white stripes traversing the road, nasty little fences around the crossing, and uneven red pimpled tiles for blind people to trip over on the pavement facing the crossings. There are also speed bumps of random height down the centre of the road with white triangles painted on their lumpy surfaces, and poles have sprouted up bearing signs telling you the many things you aren't allowed to do, and the times when you aren't allowed to do them.

In the last couple of years, a plague of street furniture has broken out around my house. There are now at least four new pedestrian crossings within 500 yards, each with its own set of flashing, beeping traffic lights; there are zigzag lines either side of the traffic lights, black and white stripes traversing the road, nasty little fences around the crossing, and uneven red pimpled tiles for blind people to trip over on the pavement facing the crossings. There are also speed bumps of random height down the centre of the road with white triangles painted on their lumpy surfaces, and poles have sprouted up bearing signs telling you the many things you aren't allowed to do, and the times when you aren't allowed to do them.

Everywhere you look there are lines: yellow lines, double yellow lines, red lines, and more white zigzags painted on the road surface. There is a bright-green cycle lane with more markings and its own traffic lights, narrowing the road to the width of an 18th-century cart track.

The disruption to my field of vision with all the jagged lines, different colours and beeping lights is such that when I leave the house I always feel as though I am in the first stages of a migraine. To counteract this visual horror I have paid a classically trained miniaturist to paint a cityscape after the style of Constable on the inside of a pair of sunglasses, with a pinhole for me to see out of, but that's only a stopgap solution.

Interestingly, the very right-wing Kensington and Chelsea council in London has realised how horrible this rash of street signs and other car-related garbage can be, and is taking steps to remove as much of it as they can in certain test areas.

This is a very welcome development, but I couldn't understand at first why a borough as wealthy as Kensington and Chelsea was the one taking action, until I realised that in recent years, designers have produced some damned ungainly looking vehicles , all of them in the luxury segment.

There's been any number of peculiar BMWs, especially the upmarket 6 and 7 series, there's the gruesome new Rolls-Royce, the nasty Maybach, and the horribly lumpy Porsche Cayenne. The council obviously felt that, what with all the ugly cars and the nasty street furniture, the cumulative effect would be too much for the delicate sensibilities of the monied population of south-west London.

Mind you, I still reckon, no matter how strange-looking some luxury cars are, that it's better to let designers, with all their outlandish ideas, create motors rather than letting the public have any input into the shape of cars. That is, if the way people treat their houses is anything to go by. See, I'm a bit of a keen viewer of all those housing porn shows on the TV, and the thing that strikes me about them is just how unbelievably horrible most people manage to make their homes. At least car designers have had an education in styling and aesthetics, even if they do sometimes choose to bend or break the rules, but ordinary people... Jesus!

Apart from the basic dictates of safety, tidiness and hygiene - which many seem unaware of - there is the straightforward shocking bad taste. Even the houses that they show that are supposed to be the good houses look terrible: there is nearly always the appalling UPVC double glazing, which wrecks any notion of harmony or proportion, the terrible clashing wallpapers, the grubby carpets, and the half-finished DIY, with live wires hanging from holes hacked into the walls.

So, if you sometimes wonder about the baroque excesses of your BMW 5 series or Audi A6, remember: it'd look a hell of a lot worse if you'd designed it.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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