The signs that Archie was having a mental breakdown were, literally, there for all to see, but thanks to the region’s policy of putting out ‘encouraging and supportive’ messages on the motorways, it took a while for anyone to notice.
He’d worked in signs for thirty years, a favourite employee and workmate of all due to his optimistic outlook and bright smile, Archie was dependable, he was a great listener, he was… well, he was just Archie.
When his life started to fall apart, he felt he couldn’t tell anyone. They were so used to him being the strong, supportive one, how would they cope? He made an enormous effort to keep himself well groomed, to carry on as normal after his wife left, after his daughter joined a cult, even after Toby, his dog, developed canine Alzheimer’s and barked at him and attacked him every day. Each day began with the challenge of regaining Toby’s trust. But while he looked normal - and only slightly dog-mauled - on the outside, inside he was crumbling away. It was only a matter of time before the stress spilled over into his work life.
He had always been a fan of the new signs policy. He liked typing: Be a Courteous Driver. It said so much without hectoring the public. Another favourite was: Tired? Just a nice, gentle question, not an accusation. Please use seatbelts – an entreaty, not a command. There was a list of approved statements. Archie liked them all. They were, like him, nice. Then he went off-list.
Worried? Pull over. Call a friend. Don’t drive stressed. His first off-message message didn’t raise any concerns among motorists who were so used to the bizarre, aphoristic nature of their signs, they assumed it was just a new version.
Emboldened by the lack of reprimand, Archie continued with his own messages. Anxious? Stop for a while. Have a cup of tea. And a biscuit. Biscuits are always good also went unremarked upon.
I like Wagon Wheels. Have a Wagon Wheel. Wagon Wheels make everything better, on the other hand, raised a few eyebrows. It was all very well being encouraged to drink tea and eat biscuits, but specific biscuits seemed to push a few motorists over the edge. They complained, one pointing out that he was diabetic and deemed the message discriminatory.
Unaware, Archie carried on. Rushing home to see Sportscene? Slow down. Get it on catch up. Scottish football’s rubbish anyway caused outraged calls from Ross County supporters.
Aren’t dogs odd? But cute and funny. Buy a dog, and Women, eh? Sheesh – what can you do? went out before anyone had a chance to stop him. When he got the message that the bosses wanted to see him, he sent his last message to the motoring public: Well that’s that screwed. Bye now. And stop driving like a dickhead. You. Yes. I meant you.
Even after he’d gone, the bosses were tempted to keep that one.