Signalling changes

From the Guardian, musing on the handy symbolism of coalition colours:

It’s maybe worth noting that, in the international nautical code, a striped blue-and-yellow flag means “I require a pilot”; two red and yellow triangles, “man overboard”.

Why stop there? There’s a whole alphabet of symbolism:

  • A large blue centre with yellow lurking around the edges: “Keep clear of me; I am manoeuvering with difficulty”.
  • Equal blue and red (!): “I am altering my course to starboard”.
  • Equal yellow and blue: “I wish to communicate with you.”
  • Red cross on yellow: “The way is off my ship” – I am not moving and you may pass safely.
  • Red and yellow stripes, closely mingled: “I am dragging my anchor.”

The jokes write themselves, really – especially the first and last ones.

It doesn’t just work for coalitions, either: solid red with a swallowtail indicates “I am taking in, or discharging, or carrying dangerous goods”. There is no solid blue flag – presumably it doesn’t show up well at sea – but the various blue-and-white permutations are rather unfortunate. A blue square on a white field indicates “I am moving backwards”, whilst a white stripe over blue is “I am leaking dangerous cargo” or, indeed, “I am on fire”. White and blue checked is simply “negative”, and a blue cross on white is, appropriately, “Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals”. Red surrounded by blue is, fittingly, “I require medical assistance”.

The Lib Dems come out perhaps the best of a bad bunch – solid yellow indicates that “my vessel is free of disease and I request permission to enter harbour”.

Of course, combinations of flags could mean things as well. A Lab-Lib coalition might reasonably be represented by BO or BR – red dominant over yellow – representing, respectively, “We are going to jump by parachute” and “I require a helicopter urgently”. Maybe it’s a fairer coalition – OR, a bit more evenly split, means “I have struck a mine”… and reversed, it’s “My propeller shaft is broken”.

Perhaps, on the whole, this is something that does not bear looking into too closely.

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