London and Moscow Rules!


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As a child, I climbed up a public tree, knowing it was forbidden fruit. An overzealous neighbour called the police resulting in my father paying a fine. I am visiting my son in the UK and I realise that I am surrounded by a plethora of warning signs hanging on every available surface ‘No parking,’ ‘No admittance,’ ‘No mobile phones,’ ‘It is against the law to smoke in this enclosed space,’ ‘Do not consume food on this pavement,’ ‘Do not attach cycles to these railings.’ Here in the UK there is cautionary advice when crossing the roads. ‘Look right,’ ‘Look left’ and sometimes, ‘Look both ways,’ just to be sure. It could well be a courtesy to visitors, but I am more inclined to think it is a longing and fondness for rules, passion for notifications and tribute to the saying ‘better safe than sorry.’ There are differences worldwide however. The Germans, Swiss and Belgians believe that rules become imprinted and stored in ones DNA with no need for ‘’ In China, the public prohibition signs go alongside a uniformed figure to convey the idea of authority. This is very useful for English speaking guests who remain puzzled at clumsy, yet beautiful translations like ‘Do not disturb, tiny grass is dreaming.’

In Moscow, you will notice a clear absence of warning signs, except for the essential ones such as ‘Keep Driveway Clear,’ or ironic ones such as the public sign in Patriarchy Ponds park that warns ‘Do Not Talk With Strangers,’ with a clear connection to the book ‘The Master and Margarita’*. The scarcity of warnings signs is probably due to a lack of trust in the law, but how long can this liberalism last before the inevitable wave of modernization takes over?


Hints to this brave new world ‘Pay Parking,’ ‘Bike Sharing Programme’ and the new phone application ‘GetTaxi’ are beginning to emerge. Nevertheless, the Russians like their British counterparts have been taught what one should do and what one should not do and this made them generally civil respectful and polite. I decide to take pictures of the British forbidden: we go from the slightly wordy ‘Please Keep Dogs Under Control At All Times And Clean Up After Them Using The Dog Bin,’ to the brief ‘Barbecues And Fires Are Prohibited.’ We are treated to ‘No Musical Instruments Or Amplified Sound,’ ‘Please Could You Keep The Noise Down Thank You’ and ‘Please Do Not Put Glasses On Railings!,’ (how do you put a glass on a railing?). At least people know where they stand. As long as it isn’t on the railings. Despite all these rules, London is one of the most popular destinations for tourists and settlers who cite reasons such as business opportunities and freedom as reasons near the top of their tick-box list, which everybody seems to have these days. “In London you are free to follow any trend you like,” I hear on numerous occasions. I think at this juncture it is only fair to congratulate London on the political correctness of its prohibitions because I have yet to see a sign as direct, than one that I photographed in Vondelpark in Amsterdam last summer –

‘Welcome to Amsterdam. When It Is Hot Please Dress For The Body You Have, Not For The Body You Want. Thanks.’

There are now around 300,000 Russians in London and my point of concern is how do they survive this ruling pressure? Well perhaps many of the prohibited activities do not actually concern them? For example they generally do not cycle in London (because they don’t in Moscow) and they have little need for driving in London. They leave their dogs in Russia and postpone their barbeques for when they return to their dachas, (country houses). On the other hand, how can they feel comfortable with other areas like not being allowed to take a musical instrument to the park, being told to keep the noise down outside a pub, putting their cigarettes ends in a bin and so on ad infinitum. Some of them go to English manner classes, which is peculiar yet admirable. Some others might follow the rule ‘rules are made to be broken…’ I don’t want to go that far. Perhaps the answer to my question appears on a sign (of course) written outside a pub in the capital: – ‘I Like To See The Glass As Half Full….Hopefully Of vodka!’

The moral is: It doesn’t matter where rules are taught, what matters is that rules exist. Without rules we cannot live together and let me be clear about this…people love rules! Rules rule!

*The prohibition sign shows the silhouettes of Professor Woland, accompanied by his henchmen Koroviev and Behemoth. Underneath it is mentioned ‘Do not talk to strangers’ clear connection to chapter 1, titled ‘Never talk to strangers’ of the book “The Master and Margarita” by Bulgakov.