Friday 27 November 2020

The Van

At the end of my to-fro with the UPS delivery driver, I blurted out "I used to work for National Carriers in England": must be been trying too hard to establish my down with the hood cred. But it's true: the Summer after I left college we set off on a road trip round England looking for a) work b) somewhere to live that wasn't a sky-blue Citroen Dyane. After a few weeks the solution to those two requirements intersected on the same day in Cambridge. We rented a two bedroom micro-flat in Chesterton from Jesus College and I started work the following Monday behind the railway station with National Carriers - the parcel delivery wing of British Rail.

The first week I shadowed one of the more patient drivers to learn the paper work: every day we had lunch in the van parked just outside the perimeter of Stansted Airport because the gaffer was a place spotter. One of the other drivers was a Polish exile who had escaped to England in 1940 and flown Spitfires for the RAF. All this was wasted on me because i.m.o. aeroplanes are meh! 

I got my own 7 tonner the next week [as L], which was loaded up by the warehousemen - blokes with the sack-trucks who had one gear: "amble" and strong union. The "girls" in the office would give me the paper work: addresses and consignment descriptions and I was off to Peterborough or Royston and points in between. My van-mentor had said it was bad form to return to the depot before very close to 5pm. I could roar around the country and finish early but that would make the other drivers look bad. If, for whatever reason, I couldn't do all my drops before 4:30, well, tomorrow was another day. I went home for lunch if I was anywhere near, otherwise I brought a book and a sandwich.
Those vans are big and some of the delivery addresses were 'secluded'. One little factory was the other side of a railway bridge and up a hill with two right-angled turns . . . and nowhere to turn at the far end. As anyone who can parallel park will tell you, forward and reverse movements are not symmetrical. Backing down road way was tight and on the final turn under the bridge, I managed to rip a hole 1500mm long in the near-side corner of my roof. The guys at the 'garage' were mildly pissed off that they had to make repairs on one part of the 'fleet', rather than hangin' out for the whole day doing not very much. One of the other drivers told me, helpfully but too late, that nobody would think of driving to that place: everybody parked on the main road and made that drop by sack-truck - it was quicker.

Another time I found myself in a dead-end in a warren of little garages and reckoned there was just enough space to do a three-point turn to get out and back on the road. Turned out to be a 15-point turn. I was losing patience by then and found that only thing between me and freedom was the corner if a brick garage which was going to snag my nearside front bumper The bumpers on 7 tonners are 6mm steel, so I imagined that I'd chip off an inch of brick and be on my way home for tea and medals. 
No so! My degree was not in Materials Science. Bricks are tougher than steel. I returned to the depot with that half of the bumper pointing forward like the beak of a Greek war-galley. I had sufficient imagination to think what it would do as I passed cars, prams, bikes and telephone boxes. Luckily I was only about 10km from home and I wasn't stopped by the police. The guys at the 'garage' were more pissed off because it was my second make-work mishap in a month.

Mostly it was good fun, I got to see a lot  of the East Midlands of England and found that there were a huge diversity of ways to make a living under late 20thC capitalism: abattoirs, boiler-makers, carpet-fitters, domestic cleaners, equestrian-centres, farms, garden-centres, hair-cutting. I rarely got tipped but did get to make some window boxes for the tiny flat from some discarded crates. I could have stayed but we decided to take the loot and go home to Ireland for Christmas. That's when we 'inherited' the bed-sit in Leeson Street and the following Summer we set off for Sicily and Nederland.

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