Terry O'Connor

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Et in Arkengarthdale ego?


I drove across the Yorkshire Dales this afternoon, using the small, un-numbered roads to keep it interesting. The air lacked the crispness of true autumn, but the hills were freshly showered from overnight rain. Pale grey mist lay across the higher tops, giving distant views the effect of layered shadows amongst which the occasional shaft of sunshine made grass, bracken and limestone glow. Sheep stood around, chewing, then wandered away to a different but indistinguishable patch of wet grass to chew some more. Nobody could have described the scenery as beautiful: damp, bleak, timeless perhaps. None the less it was curiously soothing to be driving slowly through such a scene, even the tarmac road seeming to be an unobtrusive part of the muted landscape.

But what’s this? Three traffic cones, closely adjacent and neatly aligned at the roadside. Their straight sides and orange-and-white livery clash horribly with their surroundings. It is bad enough that they are symmetrically conical, but their precise alignment and neatly parallel bands of colour are just too crisp and clinical for this place. Dammit, they are even clean. So what are they doing here? There are no obvious road-works to be protected, no lanes to cone off, no alternative route to divert. Perhaps that’s the point? They are an art installation, maybe, and even now some London-based creative is marketing large glossy prints of this innovative slap in the face of slow-lane Archers culture. The facile fleecing the gullible. That said, the absence of promotional placards suggests otherwise. Perhaps they are fugitives? Three traffic cones in the prime of life, who want something more out of their upright lives, effect an escape from a cone compound at dead of night and shuffle off into the world. Hiding in plain sight by day, they gradually make their way further and further from the nightmare world of pneumatic drills and fast traffic, seeking inner peace, and boldly going where no traffic cone has previously set foot. Or base. So should we wish them good luck, or denounce them to the authorities? Was there a fourth one, left behind because his eye-sight was failing? We may never know.

Whatever the truth concerning the three traffic cones, their presence on that moorland road was a reminder that traffic management paraphernalia reaches even the most remote of places, that nowhere is wholly safe. Just watch: it will be speed cameras next, silently clocking the curlews as they soar over wind-shivered tussocks and foaming becks.

Terry O’Connor Nov 2011

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