Lane closures offer an opening for Sid and the luvvies

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The Independent Online
YOU NEVER know what to say to actors. If you ask them whether they're working, you could stepping on a very sore toe. If you don't, you could be ignoring their big break. I usually just say, 'What's new?'

That's what I said when I met Sid the other day. He is an actor. He occasionally works. But he is more often in the pub, which is where I met him the other day.

'Sid]' I said. 'Long time no see. How are things with you, darling? What's new?'

He frowned. I had forgotten that Sid is not one of your actual effusive theatre people.

'I'll rephrase that,' I said. 'Tell me, Sid, how's the world treating you?'

He kept frowning. I had also forgotten that he hates cliches.

What did he like, then? I remembered. Pretentious foreign phrases, that's what he likes.

'Que pasa, hombre?' I said.

His brow cleared.

'Pasa nada,' he said. 'Well, that's not strictly true. I'm working. Not only that, but I'm in the middle of a long run.'

'Brilliant]' I said, relieved, more for my sake than his. 'Muy bueno] Where's the job?'

'Down the M4.'

Could be Bath. Good. Could be last weeks of the panto at the Bristol Hippodrome. Not so good. Could be strolling players at the Glastonbury Festival. Could be worse . . .

'Whereabouts down the M4?'

'Beyond junction 12. I've been working on the M4 for six months. As an actor.'

Intrigued, I bought Sid a couple of rounds of drinks and heard one of the most amazing stories I have heard in years.

'The thing is, the Department of Transport have developed a penchant for public relations,' said Sid. 'Well, they had to, really. So many apparently healthy lanes have been coned off, and so much muttering was heard from the public, that they had to offer a bit of window- dressing. That's why they started posting notices with explanations like 'Road Mending to Replace Worn Out Surface' or 'Road Widening in Progress'.'

'I see,' I said, not seeing.

'But there was still a large measure of discontent, caused by people who used the motorway and could see that when the motorway was reduced to two lanes or even one, the works area often stood silent and inactive. There is nothing much more galling than crawling past a motorway works area in some hot and sweaty jam and being able to see for yourself that absolutely nothing is being done by engineers, motorway builders or anyone.'

'Right.'

'Right. So what do you think they did?'

I thought for a moment.

'Hired some more workers?'

'Nah,' scoffed Sid. 'You don't know the DoT. No, what they did was hire some actors. An actor in a yellow hard hat looks very like a builder in a yellow hard hat, and costs half the money. Have you not noticed that half the motorway work areas seem to be swarming with workers, yet not a single bit of machinery is actually being used?'

Now that he came to mention it, he was absolutely right.

'We don't always work on the same motorway,' said Sid. 'We get moved around a lot. I'm up the A1 (M) next week.

'Of course, wherever you go it's basically the same production and the same plot and everything - if you can call it a plot - but at least you get to change parts. Next week I'm playing the part of a bullying overseer, with clipboard. It's a bit of a boring character part. But it's better than my last role, which was the part of a man fixing the generator for the night- time lighting. God, that was boring.

'And they gave me these awful trousers, which British workmen wear and which don't quite cover your bottom but keep slipping down. I told them if I had known that the part involved nudity] . . . They said that they thought it was justified on dramatic grounds.

'Incidentally, this is all totally hush hush. . . .'

I wasn't sure whether to believe Sid or not. On the whole, I thought not.

But yesterday, when crawling past one of those motorway works areas, I had a closer look. The workmen all looked authentic to me. Then my wife said: 'How strange. Did you see what was written on the door of that white Portakabin?'

'No.'

'It said: 'Green Room'.'

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