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Danny Wallace: "The traffic cone is a test of moral strength"


Somewhere behind me, a car slows down as it approaches, and the woman inside lowers her window to address me.

“Excuse me,” she says. “Can you shift that cone?”

I look down and I see the cone she’s talking about.

“This one?” I say.

It’s the only cone for miles.

“Yeah,” she says. “Can you shift it?”

It’s blocking a small side street. It’s right in the middle. The woman looks at me expectantly.

“Of course!” I say, and I pick it up and move to one side.

Without even saying thank you, the woman raises her window and races off down the now clear road.

“That was strange,” I think, as I watch her go. And then I realise I’m still holding the cone.

And worse – that I have moved a cone.

I’m not supposed to move cones. Why did I think it was OK to move it? The cones are put places for reasons, by officials who have training in how to handle them, and I know better than to think I’m qualified to move them hither and thither on a whim. I’m a civilian. Civilians have no business with cones. I’ve always said that. In fact, I have made it my business in the past to frown at people in civilian dress whom I spot moving cones. I have pointed them out to my son and then made a disapproving face, and said things like, “I’m not sure they’re supposed to be moving that.”

And yet that’s exactly what I did. What on earth came over me?

And what am I supposed to do with it now? Somehow I have become responsible for a rogue cone. It is imperative that whatever I do next is the right thing to do, because I am certain that I have broken some kind of law, and I am definitely on CCTV, and the Swat team is probably being scrambled already.

I am still holding the cone. This entire thought process has taken perhaps a quarter of a second.

Well, I can’t walk around with a cone, so I quickly put it back in its original position and step away. But this is a stupid thing to do. By returning the cone to its original position, I am admitting it should have been there all along. Any decent lawyer is going to have a field day with this. I do not want my actions twisted, but it seems inevitable. It crosses my mind to move it somewhere else, but I need to get out of here before I am arrested.

Cones are a minefield and I can’t believe we don’t talk about it more.

As I pad away, guilt dripping from every pore, I know I should not have moved the cone, but I also know why I did.

I am weak!

I am easily led!

I obey people who simply seem sure of themselves!

This cone has, for me, perfectly clarified that the current rise in global fascism will not be good for muggins here at all. Not because I’ll suffer, but because I am bound to join in! “I was only following orders!” will trip off my tongue!

I am EVIL. But I have to move on from this and grow.

I cannot go forward in life being a man who moves cones, even though I moved the cone. Even that phrase – ‘move the cone’ – sounds like something future psychologists will talk about in studies on human behaviour. People will chant ‘Move the Cone!’ at self-help gurus. Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Move The Cone’ book will sell in its millions. Move the Cone will quickly become shorthand for weak-minded fools, followers, sheep.

“What kind of guy is he?”

I expect women will ask other women in lady cocktail bars, in exactly those words, because those are the exact sort of words they use. “He’s a bit of a cone-mover,” the other woman will reply, dismissively, and somewhere another innocent man’s dreams will be dashed.

Yet are we not all cone-movers? Occasionally, have not even you moved a cone?

What would you have done, if a woman in a car asked you to move a cone? “Oh, I’d have just said no,” you’ll claim. Well, you’re a liar and I hate you.

As I get a bit further away, I cross the street, and as I look to my left I see the woman from before again. She is out of her car, moving the cone I returned. It had obviously been put there because the road was blocked. She shoves it to one side, then gets back in her car and drives off. Incredibly, she does not put the cone back!

What am I supposed to do now? I should go back and put the cone where it’s supposed to be. But this is not my job! What if I end up doing this all day? I could be here years! But it is my duty to do it.

If I don’t, I am essentially succumbing to fascism.

As I trot back, I think, “First, they came for the cones, and I did nothing, because I was not officially sanctioned or approved by the cones department of the local council.” Sometimes you have to move the cone.

If Malcolm Gladwell is reading this column, by the way, I want 30 per cent.



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