Cat’s Eyes, Road Studs and Bott’s Dots

Regular readers of my posts (if there are any) will know that many bear only a faint connection with what might be termed ‘news’ or ‘the local area’. Sometimes I put these observations in the ‘Local News’ section and crowbar in a preface that suggests some relevance to either of these two criteria. On occasions, like with the story about the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima last week, no topical or geographical connection can really be found apart from kicking off with ‘and that reminds me of…’ This is, I admit, a bit feeble and also makes me sound like a bad ’70s comedian.

Encouraged by Penny I’m thus moving some of these things away from the fast-flowing river of local current affairs and into some calmer backwater where my musings can drift, probably unnoticed, on more sluggish tides.

This one is actually Penny’s fault as she drew my attention to the story. It concerns things which we see every day when we drive and which are particularly noticeable at night. They have saved countless lives. There are 500,000,000 of them in the UK alone. Can you guess what it is yet?

I’m talking about cat’s eyes, those shiny, bumpy things in the middle of most roads. (I’m not sure where the apostrophe should come. 500,000,000 of them need the metaphorical eyes of more than one cat; but as the inventor was inspired by seeing the eyes of a single cat caught in the gleam of his headlights when he was inadvertently driving on the wrong side of the road, we’ll settle for ‘cat’s’ and move on.)

Cat’s eyes have come into the news in the last few years for two reasons. Firstly, in 2015, the government announced that it was prepared to look at the current legislation which demands that these ‘reflective road studs’ be used on roads. The argument is that there is now new technology available which could create studs that are not reflective – so breaking the law as it stands – but light-emitting, using LEDs charged by solar power. I haven’t looked up what has happened to this idea since but it seems unlikely that it will be given much parliamentary airtime as long as there are more important things like Brexit and the awarding of fat contracts for HS2 to deal with.

The cynic in me wonders how much it would cost to take up 500,000,000 cat’s eyes and replace them with LEDs. The sudden vision flashes before me, like a cat’s eye caught in the light, of all 500,000,000 being replaced and unveiled, whereupon it’s discovered they have all been put in upside down.

And what happens to the old ones? 500,000,000 is about eight for every man, woman and child in the country. What would you do with yours, assuming that was how they were disposed of?

The other threat to the traditional British cat’s eye emerged earlier this week. It seems that Norfolk Council had been doing repairs and put up a sign which read:


An American tourist driving past was horrified that the council had been removing eyes from cats and then, in a rather menacing way, boasting about this on roadside signs. The message could certainly be understood a number of ways by a foreigner, particularly when only seen for a couple of seconds.

The council might have been taken over by sadists – as she supposed – or by dogs. But that would be to ignore the ‘warning’ aspect: there’s a clear threat involved here. The cats have had it and it’s you next unless…unless you do what? The sign is silent on this. Or was this a reference to Norfolk Council’s ‘warning cats’, animals trained to alert the authorities to bad weather or nuclear attack, which had had their eyes removed? But by whom, and why? By the council, to increase the effectiveness of their other senses, or by some malign enemy? By any reading of the message, society was teetering on the brink of chaos.

Anyway, she complained. A couple of days later the council had replaced the signs with ones that read:


The ‘warning’ had been taken away, which was a improvement. The rest of it, however, only replaced one confusion with another, slightly less visceral, one. ‘Road studs’ might be the things that fix the road onto whatever is underneath the road. If these have now been removed, as the notices candidly admit, the whole carriageway could at any moment rear up like a sheet caught in the wind. The image is hardly likely to make for, as the Department of Transport might say in today’s parlance, ‘a safe and relaxing driving experience.’

Then I thought again. Road studs were, of course, those well-muscled Lotharios who hang around in lay-bys waiting for female motorists to break down – ‘Hello darling,’ they’d purr, ‘looks like your big end’s gone.’ And now the council has removed them – quite right too. But why because of this should we be urged to exercise ‘caution’? Surely we should be being encouraged to ‘rejoice’?

I find it quite quaint, and also quite alarming, that a district council should change its signs because of the sensibilities of a cat-loving tourist, cat-lover though I am myself. So, next time you’re driving in the USA and passing some roadworks, you might see signs warning you about the removal of Bott’s Dots, that being one of the names they give to cat’s eyes. If you do, make sure you go straight to the nearest council office and complain like hell.

Brian Quinn
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