The shift had started well – all things considered. I have to admit though that having been trucking for the last 18 years, give or take, there are times lately when I wonder how much more I can handle. Such was my frame of mind when I set out to work a couple of days ago. Ready with gritted teeth to find out where I would be heading on such a turbulent day, battered by howling winds and some pretty sharp downpours. That in itself usually darkens my mood somewhat.
The drive to work was all the more frustrated being stuck behind a hapless driver, attempting to negotiate a speed bump as if it were some kind of land mine. Crawling at no more than a steady stroll’s pace, clearly afraid that the minor undulation might break the brand new suspension springs on the ’15 plate Nissan Quashqai that the lady was peering up over the steering wheel to drive. That was just a minor drama compared to the level crossing further ahead…
After an unusually long drive into work, the feelings of dread and despair usually seep in around 2 miles away from the imposing skyline silhouette of the massive distribution centre, that I can see long before I get there from way across the open fields of the North Yorkshire countryside. It is sometimes possible to gauge the coming night’s work by the amount of empty parking spaces in the car park. Lots of open space means very little work, which in turn means one of two things: It’s either going to be a long-haul run, or it’s going to be a series of ‘waste a bit of time jobs’ whereby while we’re doing a lot, not a lot is being done.
So I pulled on my trusty million-plus-mile jacket, it and I have done that easily and then some in the time I have owned it, slipped my bag over my shoulder with the truckers contents neatly stowed, the usual satnav, couple of pairs of thick rigger gloves, four tins of whatever has the most caffeine in and various files and folders of ‘paperwork’ that we’re required to complete on shift. My other hand always carries my laptop, upon which are my works in progress, finished works and various other writing distractions. Entry through to the main building is a work of sheer athleticism, the electronic turn style gates require a badge ID to click the lock and a series of deft manoeuvres worthy of an olympic medal, or at least a mention in the runners up list, to navigate through. With a derogatory curse to the blasted gate and a nod to one of the fellow drivers that usually says ‘here we go again’ in that expression that most who work there carry lately, I plough my way up the four flights of stairs to the footbridge, braced against the near hurricane force blasts of wind that push and pull across it’s length.
The warm air of the offices soon shivers away the damp impromptu shower I just took, raindrops hit the floor masked only by the footprints of the various boot soles imprinted upon it. If you’re lucky, the security guard will grunt as you approach. Usually it’s just a feigned scowl-come-nod worthy of the stray dog, leg cocked as it casually urinates up the just washed side of the car you own. You get the idea. The canteen bustles with a myriad of languages I would never have thought possible to decipher. People within the warehouse from every corner of the world which, while great for commerce, does sort of limit the interaction though to be fair, the warehouse and transport sides rarely intermingle. I pass through the dining area again counting the bodies, a fairly futile attempt to gain insight into the nature of my working night.
The tell-tale sign is the transport office and the number of seated drivers, some of which I know, others who are alien to this depot, circulating, seated or propping up the desk in the vain hope of work. The number present determines the amount of work, or lack of it, and hence the possible nature of the load I’ll end up with. A vacant seat presents itself and I dump my kit. The eyes of the ‘outside drivers’ – those not based at our depot, immediately fall upon me, not least because I wear a Motorsport Stobart jacket which is quite rare these days and hence not seen much.
A knowing smile passes between myself and whoever is rooted to the transport desk as they focus on the sheets of paper before them. Sometimes we get lucky and keys are there straight away, others their faces dip and we’re told to sit and wait for a truck to come in – yet another game of pot luck commences then. It could be the nice shiny new ’15 plate trucks or it could be one that really needs holes in the floor for your feet to power it up the hills. You never can tell until you get the keys. Today I’m lucky – very lucky. I’m given an older truck, but one of the better older ones and a run to Millom, way up on the North West coast. Its a one road in, one road out town, situated in the middle of nowhere and seems as though it fell from the heavens and literally rolled to where it rests. It’s quite a demanding drive in a 35 foot articulated truck. It is akin to a rally road race at times with mountain curves and inclines, blind bends and break neck death wishers occasionally pushing their luck.
Eventually settled in and on my way, I head North on what becomes a non- eventful drive there, aside from the buffeting wind and driving rain. The constant adjustments of the wheel keep the truck in an almost straight line as I pass over the hills to the West. Finally, blue sky breaks and glorious sunshine dries up the crazy raindrop lines on the windshield – my mood lifts with the coming of the sun and work becomes that little bit more enjoyable as the stunning views begin to open up before me, the higher above sea level that I get. It really is breathtaking in the Windermere area of England.
I managed a small break after the four hour arduous drive which can be physically and mentally demanding but an incredible amount of fun for anyone of the petrol head persuasion. Once the load has been delivered, two cages at a time on a protesting tail-lift, the empty steel cages reloaded and strapped tightly into the back, it’s time to head back to base. There is time to enjoy the scenery on the way back, and to play on the wonderfully winding roads, as much as I dare given the altitude and sheer drops on either side sometimes. As I pass through a small hamlet, nestled amid undulating fields of rapeseed oil and wheat, the tail lights of the huge BMW ahead flicker and the back end rises sharply as the driver stamps hard on the brakes. My eyes lock in on the vehicle, eager to see what made him take such evasive action and swerve to the middle of the road. At first I see nothing, given the height of the truck and the distance I have to cover to get to where he was but then, as I draw closer, I see the reason behind his panic.
The truck rumbles forwards, pushed by the weight of the load of steel roll cages now adding inertia as I rise over a brow – only to be faced by six baby ducklings floundering aimlessly in the middle of the national speed limit road. A quick check of the mirrors tells me that I missed them all and a space a few yards ahead allows me to pull over and be seen from front and rear. With hazards flashing, flossy jacket adorned, I didn’t think twice before grabbing my gloves and heading off after the panicked ducklings as they dodged unsuspecting drivers whizzing past them and me. It must be quite a sight to see a trucker flapping his arms in the middle of a fast road, much the same as the unformed wings of the baby ducks were on a hot sunny day.
So there I am, in the middle of nowhere, chasing six ducklings up the blacktop and attempting to coral them into some sort of order with the hope of ushering them to safety. All was going well until a driver simply didn’t see them – or me flapping crazily at him to slow down. He missed the terrified ducks, and he missed me by a good few inches, but the close proximity of his tyres scattered the ducklings in just about every direction. The feather downed firework exploding across the road as the individual ducklings began to leg it – and at quite a pace given that they only had very little legs. One of the shell-shocked birds gives up and sits smack bang on the white lines, watching as his brothers and sisters create a crazy dance of fluff-balls in an effort to rediscover who’s leading who. I managed to pick the deadbeat duck up, shielded by my hands from the commotion of screeching tyres and a rapidly forming queue of drivers looking at me as if I’ve finally lost the plot.
Exasperated by my efforts, the drivers begin to help and we formulate a plan to herd the ducklings into a group and each go for one – I have mine so I don’t envy the other drivers chances but hey – it’s fun to watch. Finally, with six adults chasing some very feisty ducklings around the Cumbria countryside, we manage to get them all to safety in a nearby walled churchyard in the hope that mother duck will find them. I have to say, in this day and age there are incidents that remind me of compassion. This is one of those times. Equally, what started out as a pretty dismal outlook, saw my spirits lifted by the goodwill of others towards helpless animals. While I have no idea of whether the ducklings would survive, I felt obliged to give them a fighting chance and the fact that complete strangers also took up the fight, gives me hope for the future of the world and that sometimes, a reminder that the weight of it need not be carried.