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Professional Procrastination

Autumn is a very special time in the year for one company, namely, Alfred McAlpine. Alfred McAlpine have the contract for digging holes in the road and leaving them there in Scotland. And rightly so. Who else would you give the contract to? Alfred McAlpine are in possession of more traffic cones than there are people in the world, and most of those are situated around my house.

As I mentioned though, this is a busy time for Alfred McAlpine, for the following reasons:
1) In two weeks they will pick three Scottish towns at random, and one Scottish city beginning with G. They will enter into consultation about how many holes they have to dig inside and around the boundaries of these towns to entirely remove them from the map of Britain.

2) In three weeks they will have started digging all the aforementioned holes. You’ll be able to tell because they will have five miles of cones at either end of each hole. Since no holes are dug before Autumn, the staff of Alfred McAlpine spend half of the year just looking at traffic cones until they believe that they are real people. So come Autumn time their placing cumulatively ten miles of traffic cones they are ‘colonising’ the area.

3) In four weeks all the staff of Alfred McAlpine will take six months holiday/maternity/sick/paternity leave, alternating it from year to year so it doesn’t look suspicious. This is why you will see absolutely noone working in these marked off holes in the ground you’ve just been queuing in traffic for and yet still see Alfred McAlpine vans whizzing around near chalets, private roads and back roads. Unfortunately, you guessed it, this means the holes stay and the cones multiply, populating their new colony. This explains the rather confusing practice of having actual cones around the cones now.

Today I was in a queue of traffic that lasted so long the car in front actually had to change their ‘baby on board’ sticker to say ‘toddler on board’. You may have seen this happen too, or you may have just poked your eyes out long before.

The company was first brought to attention when my own town was one of the ones caught in the cross-hairs. On a town level, for a long time I was proud to say I live in a fairly convincing lunar landscape, or perhaps the biggest ever crater in Scotland. The national lottery mistakingly issued us with funding, confusing us with some kind of ancient village ruins fallen into disrepair. On a street level it was more like a slalom course.

It started with just a couple of holes. Then it grew to three or four or five or six all in the same visible area. Some of these holes were truly ridiculous. One was directly outside a man’s garage so that when next he chose to reverse his motor he would quickly find himself perpendicular to the direction of travel. Others zig-zagged from the pavement on one side of the road, across the road, to the pavement on another, in some kind of demented game of join up the dots.

These holes were left more or less unserviced for a period of months not weeks. By that time most of the barriers had fallen into the ponds inside the holes and I was genuinely concerned for the blind man who lives on the street and who sadly had to negotiate the slalom. It took several angry phonecalls to fill the holes, retrieve the perpendicular car, and rescue the – well, yes.

Some will argue these are not holes for the sake of holes (sacrilige to the construction industry). They’re obviously trying to find something and correct it. I have no problem with that. People have underground maps for these things, presumably to avoid this very situation and pinpoint relevant areas accurately. Seemingly our underground map was drawn up by some kind of drunken pirate at sea somewhere a thousand miles away from the actual site. I fail to see how with all the techniquery of modern science you have to remove 95% of a town’s landmass just to fix a pipe.

There’s a lesson in this for us all. There’s a type of professional procrastination actually. Today if you want to follow Alfred McAlpine’s example, dig yourself into a hole. Then ignore the situation for six months and hide behind a traffic cone.

I’m still in that traffic jam by the way.

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