They Saw The Sign

Put up a sign and most people will obey it.

“Stop," “Keep Right," “First Class Only.”

From the time we learn to read we are surrounded by sings, proclaiming their prohibitions or permissions. And soldier ants as most of us are, we obey them.

“You’ll never get away with it,” I said to Nick. “Fritz will go spare.”

Fritz was the Chief Officer, the boss, and we were the lowest form of shipboard life, the apprentices he ruled with an iron first. Actually it was a velvet first in an iron glove. For all his Teutonic, square shaped, shaven head, Fritz was more bark than bite.

There were signs all over the ship, informing passengers of the shortest route to the evacuation stations; marking the boundaries that kept the posh types in First Class segregated from the lager louts and lassies in Economy. Displaying all of our community rules and regulations; where not to smoke, to enter, to climb and to make too much noise. And sometimes, due to the prying fingers of souvenir hunters who removed them, or glue fatigue causing them to fall and break, they needed to be replaced.

So it was that Nick and I had been charged with the periodical task of identifying missing or broken signs and ordering their replacements. Traffolyte signs they were called, multi layered plastic of different colours, the top layer engraved to create a modern cameo of letters and symbols.

“That should do it, don’t you think?” said Nick showing me the requisition he had painstakingly two finger tapped on the battered typewriter in Fritz’s office. Normally we would have sent the handwritten draft down to the bureau to let one of the Women Assistant Pursers type it up, but not this time.

I grinned, stamped it with Fritz’s stamp, slipped the top cover into the envelope and buried the duplicate in his filing system.

Several weeks later a large box of new Traffolyte signs turned up, as ordered.

“You can unpack that lot and put them up,” he ordered. “The Carpenter will give you the adhesive.”

We set to work, but left Nick’s new sign until last. Actually we hid it in our cabin under a mattress until we were well across the Pacific and the weather had warmed up sufficiently for the swimming pools to be filled. Then, on a balmy, starlit evening, somewhere around Fiji, we removed the sign from under the bed and glued it to a bulkhead.

Disappointingly the effect was not immediate. Perhaps it takes time for a new sign to filter through the hive consciousness. But then the buddings of a miracle. In a secluded, sheltered corner of the sun deck, visible from the bridge wing if you just happened to be looking in the right direction, were two lovely and properly compliant your ladies.

Lying under a sign that read, Topless Sunbathing Permitted Here.


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