02 December, 2009


Is it a sign of the times?  Just across the street from the Anguilla House of Assembly is Her Majesty’s Prison.  Strategically located, you might think.  Well, so it is.  The Ministers of Government and Permanent Secretaries pass by HM Prison every day.  And, every day, they walk and drive alongside a sign that is posted outside the prison.  Is it only me that finds it an odd sign?
“Restricted area.  No trespassing without authorization”.  Restricted area, I can understand.  What I cannot understand is how anybody can give me authorisation to trespass.  If I get permission to enter a restricted area, then, common sense alone tells me that I am not trespassing.  What the designer of this sign appears to have done is to conflate the three well-known phrases, “Restricted area”, “No trespassing”, and “No admittance without authorization”.  Here it is in close-up for you to appreciate it in all its glory.
While we are on the subject of illiterate public administration signs, have you noticed the one at Sandy Ground?  Sandy Ground is a port of entry, where most of the island’s cargo is landed at the jetty and stored in the Customs House.  The Customs House is home to Her Majesty’s Customs.  The sign must have been up for some years, as it is battered and faded.
During all that time, innumerable government officers have driven past the sign.  They must have seen it, and noticed that something was wrong.  Did they not recognise the error?  Did they not realise that the error made HM Customs into something of a laughing stock?  Here is a close-up for your better appreciation.
“HMS Customs”?  We know that the prefix “HMS” is associated with the sea.  And, so it should be.  The letters stand for Her Majesty’s Ship.  They are an indication that a ship in question belongs to the British Navy.  The letters “HMS” are not an acceptable enlargement of, far less an improvement on, the initials “HM”. 
The persons responsible for ordering the production of these signs ought to be ashamed of themselves.
And, what about you, Ron?  Just because some government officer gives you an illiterate draft, does not mean that you have to produce it just as it appears.  Surely, as a professional, it is not below your dignity to call up the government Department boss and ask him or her if he or she really wants to appear to be a fool.  You might point out that the risk is that people will be afraid to bring you their sign-work for fear that you are going to be the originator of illiterate signage.  For your own protection you need to make that call.
You may say it is a little thing.  I insist it is not.  It is a sign that we live in a post-literate society.  We are administered by semi-literates, er, the educationally challenged.  We make a laughing stock of ourselves by allowing such persons to put pen to paper in the public service.
Do we need a new Department of government literacy? 
Is that not what the school system is supposed to be?


  1. It's spreading like the Pig Flu:

    Montserrat Reporter: "Johnny worked from 1987 – 1994 as a Customs Officer, HMS Customs and Excise Montserrat."

    • The Police & Criminal Justice Community Job Site - Blue Line Jobs: "Jobs, careers, employment, work in police, HMS customs..."

    Cayman Islands National Drug Council: Supporting Agencies: "Health Services Authority, HM Prison Northward, HMS Customs..."

  2. Another one is the use that is made of the designation "the Honourable" (with or without "u") followed by an office holder's name and office, in that order, as in: "the Honourable Victor Banks, Minister of Finance". You read that in the paper all the time.

    The designation belongs with the office, not with the person. It should read: "Victor Banks, the Honourable Minister of Finance", yet we keep seeing it being attributed to the person, rather than the office, as if our politicians' inflated egos need any more boosting...

  3. And not just readin' and writin' but also 'rithmatic. My wife and I recently had lunch at a local establishment. We had 2 plates of chicken at $10.00 per plate and 4 bottles of beer at $3.00 per beer. The 20 something year old server tried to calculate the total bill in his head but then resorted to a calculator. After some furious pecking he announced "$25.00". I said "no, I think that is too low", more furious pecking produced "$35.00". I said "no, that is too high" and then offered to help by saying "$10.00 times 2 is $20.00, the 4 beers are 4 times $3.00 which is $12.00, $12.00 and $20.00 is $32.00", to which he quickly agreed. I gave him $35.00 and the look of anguish on his face at having to subtract 32 from 35 was quickly erased when I said "that will be fine".

  4. "H.M.S" means "Her Majesty's Service".

  5. "Honourable" is an honourific applying to members of the House of Assembly. It does not refer to a ministerial appointment. There are no ministers in the House of Assembly. They include "the honourable Eddie Baird, representative for Road North", "the honourable Keesha Webster, second nominated member", and "the honourable David Carty, Speaker of the House of Assembly". Victor Banks is "the honourable Victor Banks, Minister of Finance".

  6. "Her Majesty's Service Customs" does not make any sense. It is not an expression known to the public service. It is a simple mistake.

  7. More on lack of basic education in Anguilla. In the right lower corner of the first page of the Official Government website, there is a "Statip" which exclaims the following:
    Did you know? Since the new millennium, 2001 has had the highest rate of natural increase of 11.5%. This registers 183 births and 50 deaths for a population of 11, 561 people. Anguilla will conduct its next census in 2011.
    They probably are referring to a "natural increase" in the population, but I think they meant 1.15%, not 10 times as much, as stated. I wonder how accurate the 2011 census will be.

  8. One of the first signs you see at Blowing Point Port, before ascending the slope to Immigration, tells you that CCTV is in operation and that you are being “monitered”. Considering that a fair number of travellers are literate and educated, it doubtless amuses them that their first impression of Anguillian public servants is that they aren’t. Hopefully this won’t give them airs of superiority.

    This sign was presumably commissioned or approved by a civil servant or Ports Authority official who is at a reasonably high level on the totem pole. Maybe s/he should be transferred to a non-desk job which doesn’t involve reading or writing. Picking up litter springs to mind.

  9. It was probably someone in “HMS Customs” who commissioned that sign!


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