Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cone Man

or "How I stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Cone".

Some jobs are tougher than others. Lion-tamer. Rodeo bull rider. Sewer cleaner. Wacko Jacko's publicity agent. It's tough out there.

My all-time favourite is cone-man. When I was in the classroom, I often launched into my “Cone-Man Routine” in response to the teachers' perennial favourite, “Why do we have to learn English?”

First choice answer was, “Because I said so. Shut up and get on with it!” When that wasn't successful, I might say, “So that you do not have to learn to say,””Would you like fries with your Big Mac?”” - or - “I'm sorry, we only have Macdonald's cola.” My last stop – Cone-Man.

I first saw the cone men in a late night documentary which (to my endless aggravation and chagrin) I didn't tape. It has, to my knowledge, never been repeated on TV. All of us have been annoyed at times by the plastic cones on motorways – used to cone-off lanes so that the road crews can work there safely. Or, perhaps, more safely than standing naked and unprotected in the midst of tons of hurtling metal might be more accurate. Anyway, you get the idea. The cones are there to protect the road workers. But, how do the cones get there in the first place I hear you ask?

I never thought about this until I saw the documentary about Cone Men. The cones don't appear magically, like garden gnomes. Oh no, cone men put them there.

Therefore, in an educational environment, Cone-Man is the ultimate deterrent to poor classroom behaviour and the nonpareil of the motivation stakes. “We are doing English so that you do not have to be a Cone Man when you grow up (aside – if ever!) becomes the ultimate deterrent!!

Here's how it works. Picture a crew of four men and a small open-topped van filled with cones. One man has a brain. He is, thankfully, in charge. He drives along the hard shoulder until he reaches the point where the cones are to be placed. He stays in the van. Told you he was the one with the brain. Say, the outside lane needs to be coned. Smeg-head numero uno hops out of the van, grabs a cone from the back, sprints across the motorway, places his cone neatly where it belongs, sprints back across the motorway, grabs another cone and repeats the process. Oh yes, I forgot. He passes his mates, Smeg-Brain and Numptie-Brain in the process. Much more interesting if you have three lads sprinting across the motorway at the same time. Gives the drivers at least a sporting chance of hitting one of them! Got the idea? Van-man drives slowly down the hard shoulder as they place cones for miles and miles. All the time, cars are being funneled into an ever-decreasing space. What the hell! Somebody's got to do it! To give the Cone Men at least a sporting chance, they do this late at night or early in the morning. It's only fair.

Eventually, they get all the cones out. Unfortunately, that's not the end of it, thanks to the “Cone Hot-line” Remember this one? The public rings a number to report cone problems on the motorway. Cone Men have to fix it.

“Hello, Cone Hot Line, how can I help you?”

“I'd like to report a missing cone, please.”

“Ok, where is it?”

“Junction 8 of the M6.” (For those who are blissfully ignorant, this is the epitome of motorway junctions and to real Cone Men - or Real Men of Cone if you prefer - attains the same mythological status as Davey Jones' Locker.)

“(Groan, groan), Ok, thank you, we'll get it fixed.”

And it's the cone men who have to risk death or serious injury to fix it.

Despite the fact that Cone Men were a marvelous motivational tool for the classroom, there is a very serious side to this. Perhaps cone men are not the most intellectually gifted members of the gene pool; perhaps they have the social graces of a chimpanzee's jock strap, maybe they will not inherit the earth – but they are performing an essential service that few others want to do.

As long as they do not try to dilute the human genome by reproducing, I say, “Thanks a lot guys – keep dodging those trucks!” Otherwise our roads would be in worse shape than they are.

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