Human billboards

Signs of the Times: The lives of the sign holders on Grafton Street

A new documentary examines the lives of three ‘human billboards’
This is a moment of my life, being here in Dublin. It’s definitely defining.
When you’re holding a signpost girls don’t look at you at all. It’s not like you’re a doctor or a lawyer. It’s not really attractive just holding a stick.

COUNTLESS MEN AND women tell us every day where the nearest barbers, beauty salons and shops to us are.

Although they can fade into the background of our shopping experiences, they stand in all kinds of weather, watching the world pass by, holding their signs.

But we rarely stop to wonder what life is like for these ’human directionals’, people who hold up signs directing shoppers off the main streets to out-of-the-way businesses.

The independent Irish production company, Lao Lao productions, behind short documentary Signs of the Times asked them to tell us.

Signs of the Times Signs of the Times

Ste Rogers, the director of the documentary, says: “Our goal with this particular film was to give a voice to the sign holders you pass everyday on the main shopping streets of Dublin.

People have a perception about who they are and why they do what they do and what is great about the film is you are turning all those perceptions on their head a little.

“Everyone has a story to tell.”

Houston Mathews, from Malawi

Houston Mathews Houston Mathews Signs of the Times Signs of the Times

“I work in Grafton Street so I go there maybe like twice a week. I stand outside holding a signpost advertising massages, facials, manicures, pedicures…

When I haven’t recharged my battery, time moves very slow. I talk with a lot of people; street performers, the girls who work in the shops, sellers…

“The weather in Ireland is horrible. Every day I have to wear a jacket and something on top because it’s very cold and raining most of the time.

“When I talked to my Mum she was like, “I thought you were next door, you’re still outside there, the way you’re talking.” And I was like “Mum no, I’m somewhere far away.”

“She misses me every second and I’m like ‘I miss you too. But I’m grown up now, I can’t just come back there and lay in your arms again like a little kid.’

I really support my younger sister because she’s the person that I love the most. Every little I get I try to send her something so she can buy herself everything she can. One thing about girls is you never know what they want to get.

 Sandip Patel, from India

Sandip Babubhai Patel Sandip Patel Signs of the Times Signs of the Times

“I came here four months ago and my plan is to stay here three years. I study at Dublin Business School.

“I work 12-4. Sometimes it’s boring but it’s no problem, I use the music player.

Some younger people create problems. They kick at my sign you know. Sometimes they turn over my sign, sometimes they kick the sign. But there are some people who are very polite and nice. They ask if you want any help, but I say no thanks.

“I like Ireland’s weather. Compared to India, Ireland’s weather is good because it’s always cool. India is so hot.”

Felipe Medeiros, from Brazil

Felipe Medeiros Felipe Medeiros Signs of the Times Signs of the Times

“I was with a mate from Brazil in London, and he went back to Brazil and I decided to continue to Dublin.

“I hold a sign for a barber shop.

“There are lots of students there and they always come down to me and they talk to me and I get to practice my English.

“You kind of look at people passing by all day. You occupy your mind with lots of stuff.

When you’re holding a signpost girls don’t look at you at all. It’s not like you’re a doctor or a lawyer. It’s not really attractive just holding a stick.

“But one day this girl stood beside me and she was looking at me and I was like, ‘What does this girl want? She wants information or something.’

“Then she asked me, “Can I stay with you for a while? Do you mind?” I was like “What? Of course you can stay here.”

“She stayed there chatting to me from 2.30pm to 7pm. I thought it was a prank, I was looking around to see cameras. It had to be a prank.

So I finished work at 7, put the sign away. I came back down and she was waiting for me. We went around the city talking. She was an Irish blonde girl, very pretty. Gorgeous. I kissed her and it was amazing. But she didn’t give me her phone number or anything. She came into my life and just disappeared.

“I was holding a sign. I never would have expected that, a beautiful girl coming up to you, talking to you for five hours, kissing you and just going away. You’ll never see her again. And you’re just going to think about that all of your life.

“I do have family back in Brazil, I do miss them but you get used to it after a while. You just crack on and enjoy the best of the city.

“This is a moment of my life, being here in Dublin. It’s definitely defining.”

I am really happy holding up the sign.

Watch in full:

Stephen Rogers / Vimeo

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