Over the past two decades I’ve lightened lives by placing numerous humourous signs in my company’s Wellington office building foyers and on their sides.
One set of signs on one of our building’s wall sits opposite the statue of a chap with a dog, this apparently of some historic significance, in the busy Plimmer steps central city location.
Pre-covid when Wellington received over 130 tour ships annually, it was common to see tourists dutifully photographing one another in front of the statue, then notice the signs and joyously have their photos taken standing between them.
The first read,
Looking at this sign is strictly forbidden.
and the second just along from it bore the message,
Looking at this sign is permitted.
One minute limit.
Readers may not be aware but signage on city buildings’ exteriors require Council permission, albeit given their nature I never bothered seeking it nor expected any problem.
Well to my surprise back in April, while I was in Europe, our Glasgow office received a copy of a letter from the Council (copy below) addressed to our Wellington office and sent on to me then in Budapest.
“Hello RJH Holdings Limited,
Council has received a complaint about the signage shown in the photos below:
They appear to be on the wall of a building your company owns.
This is the first complaint and there may, in fact, be some history to how they got there since they’ve been there for some years (at least since 2017 according to a Google Street view photo).
If there is, I haven’t been able to find it, so if your company, as building owner, has any record of how they got there, or what was behind them (perhaps they’re ‘art’) being installed, I’d appreciate it.
If not, notwithstanding their longevity, and apparent benign purpose, because a complaint’s been received, it might call into question their legitimacy to continue to be there, and what action, if any, Council might take.
Any feedback appreciated.
Compliance and Monitoring,
Wellington City Council.
What sort of miserable killjoy would complain I wondered, presumably he (no woman would bother) being upset at the “WCC” at the bottom, passing the sign off as a Council edict.
In Budapest I drafted a reply and it was duly despatched from Wellington to Bob Barber.
“Dear Mr Barber,
We have informed the Waipawa Camera Club of your letter.
The Club President, Mr. Chris Gollins, has advised that notwithstanding the club’s by-laws, he is prepared to grant an exemption to the complainant and issue a written permit to look at the sign for up to 3 minutes in a single gazing session.
Please advise the complainant’s name and address so the permit can be forwarded.
Finally, as the building owner, we have no view on the matter.
Wellington Asset Manager.”
Read below Bob Barber’s splendid reply.
“Hello Mr Gibbs,
Thank you for your letter of 21 April 2022.
I wish Mr Gollins and the Waipawa Camera Club well.
I didn’t know its activities extended so far south but the club’s members are welcome to visit and expand their skills in this fair city anytime.
I cannot provide the name of my informant, but suffice to say they were sufficiently offended, following their first viewing of the signage in question, to be moved to bring this matter to my attention.
On that basis it’s likely that to afford them a permit offering a full and generous 3-minutes viewing might be more than they possibly would be able to handle.
Accordingly I’ll decline on their behalf to accept your offer but the gesture is however, appreciated.
In any event, I made an executive decision not to pursue the matter (unless, of course, I get another complaint).
Compliance and Monitoring,
Wellington City Council.”
What’s hugely encouraging about all of this is, as we know, is the general and largely correct negative view of public servants and specially local body bureaucrats, as dullards without a sense of humour. Well, not so Bob Barber. He should run for mayor and we’d litter our buildings with supporting signs.
Back in the 1980s the Council was to all intents and purposes run by the then Town Clerk, a dominant character by the name of McCutcheon.
He was in a perpetual rage at me and the late Chris Stevenson whose famous siren, recorded in so many cricket books during that golden age for New Zealand cricket, split the air every time New Zealand scored a boundary or took a wicket.
Chris and I had humourous signs everywhere. McCutcheon was enraged and would write threatening letters and we would deny responsibility and suggest the other, that is Chris or me, was possibly responsible. More bureaucrats of the Bob Barber ilk would certainly be a blessing.