'Facts Not Opinions' barks the motto above the doorway of the Kirkaldy Testing Museum in Southwark. 'Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer' runs the forthright header across the entrance of the Old Bailey. 'Victoria Concordia Crescit' (Victory Through Harmony), urges the backlit motto at Arsenal's football ground to fans — fizzling extra bright when Spurs are visiting.
Haughtily phrased these architectural one-liners may be — yet they are wise, they make you think, and they give you a pretty good idea about the establishment you're about to walk into.
But now there is a new breed of motto being stamped above the entrances on London streets — the Hello. You can't walk down a London shopping mile, or weave through a London shopping mall, without being accosted by a Hello — not from a fellow Londoner — but from a hoarding that's the vapid handiwork of the most lackadaisical copywriters ever to lift finger to MacBook Air (and a single digit is all their efforts require).
Sometimes, as in the case of endless Tesco branches, the Hello stands alone. In this instance, it's cold and perfunctory — a Hello that says "We both know you're here for lasagne and toilet roll. Let's get on with it." In other cases, as with the Argos rebranding, there's an overtly chummy attempt to personalise the salutation, with a reference to the immediate area (see image above). This kind of Hello is even worse, disconcerting even. Yes, we know we're in Old Street. But I'm not Old Street. Why are you calling me Old Street? Do I even know you? Leave me alone!
If we continue to litter London so wantonly with Hellos, where will it end? Once every shop in the city has a Hello slapped on its frontage, will our libraries, schools and pubs be next? Will boozers the city over become the Hello and Hounds? Are tourists at St Paul's soon to be greeted with a great, shiny hoarding that purrs down at them, 'Hello, come to see the Big Guy?'
The danger doesn't end there. Camden Town Brewery is in the process of claiming the words 'Hells' for its own. Though that's hardly the same as Hello, it is irrefutably only different to the tune of one letter. What if Camden Town or Tesco or Argos or anyone else gets their mitts on copyright for Hello? What if Hello is privatised and we have to pay as we go for the privilege of using it? What if we become a London where the Hello police hand us on-the-spot fines, merely for allowing Hello to slip from our lips? These are all things we must watch out for.
Not that anyone in London really says hello anyway.