Monday, 17 August 2009

Something Offal 18/08/09

Something offal this way comes

I suppose that it is only fair, having pointed out how events that happen to other people can provide me with so much delight, to chronicle the (not all that) odd occasion when Murphy steps in to make me the butt of the joke.

People have varied images of truck drivers. To some the song ‘I like Trucking’ as shown on ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ epitomises the group. Overweight, dim as a penny candle, and endlessly scoffing Yorkie bars as they try to scare little old ladies out of their wits with their air horns.

Others see them as Knights of the Road, ever willing to offer help to stranded fellow drivers, to provide directions to the most obscure of places, and transport as well, if the need arises. To yet others the image is that of windswept and interesting modern day gypsy, endlessly driving their rigs to an unreachable yet beckoning destiny.

Each perception is right, in its own way, and each is entirely wrong. Especially the one suggesting the romance of the job…

“I want you to do me a favour.”

These words, taken at face value, are harmless. However, when Mr Boss spoke them they had an undercurrent of meaning. The words themselves were not important. The message was carried by the unspoken word. And the unspoken word said, “I have a particularly nasty job for you. A job I wouldn’t do if you were paying me three times the pittance I pay you. A job I have offered to all the other drivers, and which they have laughingly told me to shove where the sun doesn’t shine!”

Unfortunately I had been working for Mr Boss for less than a year, and was unaware of his duplicity, and helpfully enquired what the job entailed. Apparently he had a contract with a slaughterhouse to remove pallets of frozen offal to a disposal site. Oh, and the job started at 8pm, which would be nice, as it was the middle of a very hot summer. This, as it happens, would be an important factor in why the job went very wrong very quickly…

7:30 pm saw me at the yard, where I was met by Mr Boss. He looked a little concerned at my attire, but I had dressed for the weather in shorts, sandals and tee shirt. It would, in hindsight, have been nice of him to tell me what he actually knew of the job, but he was worried that if he told me the truth I’d turn around and go home, leaving him to do it. So he remained unhelpfully silent. I took the tractor unit and left the yard, heading for the meat processing plant a mile or so up the road.

On arrival the site foreman took a look at the paperwork.
“Ah, you want trailer 1776, it is parked over there,” he said, pointing to a long parking bay full of trailers. I walked over to the row and started looking. I reached the other end, turned round, and walked back. Nope, I couldn’t see it, so I went back to the site office, and explained that I couldn’t find fridge trailer 1776 in the row at all.

“Fridge trailer? It isn’t a fridge, my friend. You’re looking for a tipper trailer. Should be easy to find too, as it has been stood in the sun all week, full of offal!”

Ten seconds later I was on the phone to Mr Boss, who denied ever telling me that pallets or fridges were involved. He was so convincing that I started to believe him and question my own sanity. As it turned out, I was later to discover that the guy was more closely related to the weasel than the ape, but that is for later stories…

I found the trailer, using nothing more than my sense of smell. Dear gods, it reeked! I looked for the sheeting to cover it, but one of the company drivers who were doing the same run told me that they didn’t sheet the load, as the sheets were then unusable for anything else. When I asked him what they did for load security I was told, “Brake very gently, and deny everything.”

My lord, how the trailer stank. I reversed under the coupling, checked the trailer was fastened and climbed on to the back of the truck to fasten the airlines. Whilst there I was able to see into the tipper body. You don’t want to know. Really you don’t. Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Anything that was not useable by the butchers (which, to be honest, at a time before the ban on mechanically reclaimed meat and spine/brain material wasn’t a lot) was in that trailer. And you have to understand that if the butchers wouldn’t use it even for pet food, it was not just offal, it was awful. Worse, it had stood, uncovered, in the heat of the summer sun for a week, where flies and other insects could get at it. It roiled. It rolled. It heaved. It fulminated. Things crawled in it. Bubbles rose to the surface and POPPED in an oily sludge, producing yet more smell.

See, I told you that you didn’t want to know…

8pm, and off we set. Three trucks, each with its cargo of doom. Each driver firm of chin, clear of eye and wobbly of stomach. Two of the three drivers clad in waxed boiler suits and waders. What exactly did they know that I didn’t?

We hit the M25, and headed for the Dartford Tunnel, which, before the opening of the bridge, was guaranteed to be busy. The two drivers in the ERFs of the company fleet had pulled some distance ahead of me, as my truck was old, slow and poorly maintained, so when I got to the toll booths I was greeted by a worrying sight. A fleet of Landrovers in Dartford River Crossing logos, surrounding the two trucks. Another Landrover drove over to me, stuck on its blue lights and a ‘Follow Me’ logo, and escorted me to the hard shoulder.

It turned out that we were persona non grata at the site. They would very much like us to go away. To leave. They would be massively grateful if we would consider turning round and discovering a new route avoiding the M25 tunnel, if we would be so kind. Sadly they were couching all this in words that would cause a nun to blush. They really were not keen on us being there. Stupidly, paying no attention to the warning glances of the other two drivers, I enquired why they were so hostile.

It turned out that on the last expedition from the processing plant to the disposal site, one of the drivers had been less careful with the air brakes on the approach to the tollbooths than was sensible. You may recall I mentioned the lack of sheeting on the trailers? It seems that the sudden application of brakes had caused what we would call ‘a load shift’ and what the toll road officers referred to as, “throwing ten tonnes of shit at the tollbooths.” Apparently there was a scattergun effect when the load left the trailer and quite a number of people got a share of the effluvium. One girl ended up with a sheep skull pretty much in her lap. Whilst lacking skin or flesh it still had the eyes attached, and they gazed mournfully at her. Apparently flayed sheep skulls are not as cute as the ones still attached to the sheep, and she was now off work and on tranquilisers. The toll collector in another of the booths was so affected by the smell as to projectile vomit over a car, whilst the fumes caused the abandonment of a number of booths, and cars, for a number of days. To be air, the chaps did have good reason not to want us going through the tunnel…

So, we were unceremoniously turned round, and sent away. The officials didn’t care where we went, just that we went. So, we turned round, and went all the way back along the M25, anti-clockwise, which is not, on the whole, the most sensible way of getting to Canterbury from the north of the country.

One of the things you see on motorways and especially the M25 in summer is convertible cars with the tops down, tailgating lorries. Not so that night,strangely. Any car that drew up behind us very quickly pulled way back or passed very rapidly.

At about 1am we pulled off the motorway, and drove down quiet country lanes, and eventually up a narrow winding track. It only qualified for the name road rather than cycle path because nobody in their right mind would want to ride a bike down it. The smell of corruption was overwhelming. Good lords, and I had thought the trailer smelt bad!

We turned into a yard, lit with powerful yellow floodlights. My command of the English language is not sufficient to describe what confronted me. I will try, but however bad it may sound, believe me when I say it was in actuality ten times worse. At one end of the yard was an old brick building. Windowless, but with a multitude of vents, it steamed in the demonic light. Had Dante witnessed this place his Ninth Level of Hell would not have been ice, and Judas would have had much more to concern him than chilblains. (Incidentally, did you know that Judas was a red-head? That’s right. Judas is carrot).

In a hut adjacent to the building were three men in orange boiler suits. One acknowledged us with a wave and then wandered out. He was an imposing being, having shoulder length grey hair and a massive beard. We stopped the wagons and got out. The two other drivers started pulling on long rubber boots. What did they know that I didn’t?

After a brief chat, the two drivers wandered over, and told me that we had to tip the load in the courtyard. I looked, and it was at this point I decided that when I got back home Mr Boss was going to die. The ‘courtyard’ was in fact an area of about an acre, possibly of concrete, but mainly of offal, several feet deep. I watched as the first driver reversed his wagon in to the slurry, and got out of the cab. And I realised the significance of the boots. The tipper trailers had a small diesel engine to power the tipping hydraulics and it was mounted half way down the chassis. It was started by a crank handle, and this meant that you had to wade through the gunk to reach it. I looked down at my spindly white legs and sandals.


I will draw a veil over the next twenty minutes, except to say that there are nights when I wake in the early hours, screaming.

Having pulled the wagon clear I availed myself of the hosepipe on the side of the building. It was meant to be used for washing the wheels of the trucks before we left. I had a far better use for it. Whilst I was washing myself down I observed the chap with the beard shovelling some of the goop down a ramp into the processing plant. And then pick up a sandwich and start eating it.

In my time I have seen, heard and smelt a lot of things that would curdle the stomach of less hardy folk, and not even flinched. However, I have to say that it took me several weeks before I could look a bowl of beef broth in the eye again without breaking into a sweat. And it took me several more weeks before I managed to get the smell out of the truck...

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