Times of the sign are up
As Westminster bans sign-holders, we catch up with an ex-sandwich-boarder
We’ve never made it to the Pro Golf Sale that’s been advertised daily for the past five years by a man holding a sandwich board in Oxford Street. But if golf’s your thing, you should get down there sharpish: from August there will be a ban on all board-holders along Oxford Street – depriving us of vital information on where to find (three woods apart) two-for-one meals, cheap-rate English lessons, discount phone calls to Africa and tanning parlours.
Next month, Westminster City Council will remove sandwich boards and advertising placards permanently from the streets under a new law that will slap a £2,500 fine on the holders and the companies they advertise if they fail to comply with the ban. Westminster says it’s part of an attempt to remove the clutter from the West End to improve the experience for shoppers. But with more than a hundred ad boards paraded on London’s streets daily, that’s going to leave lots of unemployed sign-holders. What, we wondered, would an ex-sandwich-board-holder be qualified to do next?
We tracked down a former sign-holder, 31-year-old Brazilian Denis Augusto, whom we first interviewed in 2006. ‘I had been holding a sign advertising a musical instrument shop in the West End for a year,’ says Augusto, who arrived in London from São Paulo in 2003. ‘I was very fed up. I had to hold it for seven hours on my shoulder with no break and without sitting down. I even had to eat my lunch while standing. If the store manager found me sitting, he told me I had to stand. It was very tiring.’
When Augusto, who earned £4 an hour, approached his boss to ask for a 20-minute lunch break, he was refused – his boss told him the job ‘wasn’t a holiday’.
‘One day I had enough. I dropped the sign back at the shop and said I wouldn’t be coming back.’
But his time as a sign-holder hadn’t been wholly negative. Augusto has a band, and in his boss’s more generous moments, he was offered discounts on some of the store’s guitar equipment. Once he’d ditched his job, he contacted Commando Rock, a music magazine in São Paulo, offering them gig reviews, features and interviews. They took him on as their London correspondent. ‘I was lucky,’ grins Augusto, although given that he also teaches guitar and does translation work, it’s more a case, as Samuel Goldwyn once said, that the harder he works, the luckier he gets.
He’s also formed a new band, The Misconducters, with an Italian bassist and a drummer from Bulgaria, and in February this year, they recorded their first CD. ‘The music is very personal. It touches on being a foreigner in London, which is hard at times because we have problems with the language.’ The lyrics draw on phrases taken from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as touching on everything from the shooting of fellow Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes to ‘Big Brother’ celebrity culture.
Does he miss life as a sandwich-boarder? ‘Most foreigners can’t get out of dead-end jobs like this. I managed to escape. I feel victorious.’
For more info visit www.myspace.com/misconducters.
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