One of the more, um…interesting aspects of the driving job was that it forced you into close contact with that curious mindset, ‘The Official.’
Given to wearing impressive uniforms, often with even more impressive hats, these individuals have a job to do, and they are not going to let petty annoyances such as common sense and humanity get in their way.
That really isn’t a fair statement. For every ‘Official’ you meet you are likely to encounter tens of ‘officials’ who do their job so well and so unobtrusively that you never notice them. To these people I offer my humble apology, for the book will contain quite a few references to ‘Officials’ whilst barely acknowledging the existence of the ‘official’ who has made my job, my day, and my life just that little bit easier. To those people, those unacknowledged heroes of every day life, I salute you.
To the ‘Official’ however…
The job of carrying Ford car parts to Germany and Belgium was, for the most part, uneventful. Once we had been given suitable wagons we just got on with the work and tried, to the best of our abilities, to make our runs legal. It was not fun having to try and tiptoe a 38 tonne truck past every police car and weighbridge, trying to look inconspicuous. However, The Boss had decided that he didn’t have to bother with HGV road tax when ordinary car tax would do, so we were regularly getting pulled. It then fell to us to explain that yes, we knew the vehicle was not legally taxed, but that we were not responsible for that, and the very nice police officer would have to speak to our boss. I have no idea how many summonses he go about this, but I should imagine it ran into the high tens, possibly touching a hundred. Yet still he persisted in doing it.
The one bonus of the Ford job was that you almost always came back empty. The job paid well enough that a one way trip was worthwhile. Well, I say it paid well. Certainly Mr Boss made money on it, but we poor drivers were still getting paid £120 per week, whether we worked in the UK or abroad, and whether we went home every night or once a fortnight…
One thing Mr Boss did not mind was his drivers carrying passengers. This meant that I could at least take Girlfriend du jour with me when she was on holiday, so I got to see her. And it was on just one of these occasions when we were honoured by a demonstration of the thoroughness of the Customs Official.
Disembarking from the P&O ferry, we queued at the customs station. Now, frequently we would just be allowed through ‘on the nod,’ but on this occasion a young Customs Official came out and asked if he could search the truck. I nodded and climbed out of the cab, paperwork in hand.
“What have you got on board?” he asked.
“Glider engines,” I grinned.
He looked puzzled and wandered round to the back of the trailer, and asked me to open up. I got him to check the customs seal on the trailer, then broke it, an opened up the back. He looked in to a totally empty trailer.
“But I thought you said you had glider eng….OH. I get it. Yes, very good.”
He did not seem best pleased… He then asked if I would mind him searching the cab of the truck and again I nodded my consent. He climbed up into the cab and started poking around, opening cupboards, looking into carrier bags of dirty laundry…I watched in some amusement as he discovered the bag into which Girlfriend du jour had placed her worn unmentionables…
Finally he sat in the driver’s seat and asked if I understood my customs allowance. I agreed that I did indeed.
“Then why is it,” he inquired “that you have down here on the form that you have 400
cigarettes? You should know that your personal allowance is only 200”
“Yes, I know. 200 for me and 200 for her,” I replied and pointed to my girlfriend in the passenger seat. He looked over, saw her, apparently for the first time, yelped, and fell headlong out of the truck…
That’s right. He’d searched the cab, and totally failed to see my young lady in the passenger seat. Which is funny all by itself. But he’d also found her bag of used drawers. What the heck did he think that I would be doing with a bag full of lacy skimpies? No, on second thoughts, keep the answer to yourself, for I do not want to know