Sunday 14 March 2010

Shaggy Dog Story

This has been mainly Trucking Hell, so far. However, time for a short break.

Rex, the smartest dog in the world!

Rex was an intelligent dog. Rather more intelligent than most other dogs. No, let us not beat about the bush, Rex was by far the most intelligent dog in the world.

Okay, if you were to take, say, Willow as the yardstick that isn't saying much, but really he was quite incredibly intelligent. He was able to reason and even speak in English, althoug he quickly discovered that he was better off not advertising this fact.

For a long while he accepted that he was just different, but as he got older he began to wonder exactly why he was so smart. Eventually he decided to find out, and set out to discover exactly where he came from.
Now, his memories of "The early years" were rather blurred, but he could remember...something. He could remember being in what he now knew to be a laboratory. He recognised the images in his mind as being lab equipment, and he had hazy memories of a face...a benevolent face. A face he had come, over the years, to regard as the canine version of God. The face was wearing a green suit, which he now knew to be a surgical gown, and it had a logo on it, resembling a snake eating its tail.

He had come, he realised, to accept the fact that he was a lab animal, and therefore his intelligence was, he knew, artificially induced. However, he had a doggy urge to find out why, and also to get one question answered. Why was it that whenever he stubbed his toe he got a headache. He knew that was just wrong!

Purely by luck he happened upon an old newspaper blowing along merrily in the wind. He gave it a passing glance, and suddenly he was chasing it with all his energy. Finally he caught it, and brought it down with his front feet. Unfortunately he landed badly and jarred his right foot, and was immediately overcome by waves of dizziness. Damn this curse! Why did it happen. He had to find out!

When his vision cleared, Rex saw the photograph that had caught his eye. There! Right there! On the page in front of him was a picture of a building, and on it was the very snake symbol he remembered. Not only that but the face of God smiled benevolently up at him from the page.

*Silas Milliner, the prize-winning doctor and brain injury expert today retired from forty years as head of research at Boid laboratories. Dr Milliner was responsible for the development of micro-electronic implants that slowed and eventually reversed the effects of brain injury, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. *

The piece went on to say that the benevolent Dr was retiring to a house in Newtown, which was, miracle of miracles, a short journey up the road. Rex could imagine his journey, his quest for answers coming to an end!

The poor pooch approached the house and discovered that he was begining to get concerned. What if the Dr wanted to re-examine him? What if he wanted to reverse the process? Could Rex live as a normal dog? Should he really be searching for answers? He decided that yes, he was scared, but his need for the truth outweighed his fear. He approached the house, and rang the doorbell.

The door was opened, and Rex stared into the face of God...

It was an interesting introduction. The good Doctor was surprised to see Rex, and delighted. He assured the dog that he was safe, and bade him enter. Rex could see that the poor man was making an effort, and begged him tell what worried him so.

"It is like this, Rex. You were my first success. I'd been working on a neural network for years, and finally discovered that I could interface living tissue with a gell of microprocessors of my own design. There were many failures, but you, Rex, you were the first success. You were just a stray, living on your wits, but after I implanted the technology you became far more intelligent. However, you escaped from the pound, and we lost you. Now I have the problem that I want to see you as a test subject, but my conscience forbids me to do so. You are intelligent. Supremely so, and you can communicate. I never expected this level of success. It never happened in any of the other subjects. However, you are, by any standard, an intelligent being, and I no longer have the right to treat you with any less respect than I would treat my fellow man. In fact I feel I owe you for what you may have suffered since I used you. Is there anything I can do? Anything at all?"

Rex looked up into the eyes of his God, and saw compassion, love, and a desire to pay for what he saw as his ill treatment of one of his creations, and was moved to the core.

"Doctor, I have had a good life. You owe me nothing. However, there is one thing, one thing only, that has concerned me though the years. It sounds trivial, but believe me when I say it has been a curse!"

"Tell me what it is, friend Rex, and if I can explain, and indeed rectify it, then you have my word I will"

Rex sighed. "Silly as it may seem, it is my feet. If I stub my toe I get a headache. if I jump down from a heaight even a poodle can manage, I get dizzy. Running makes me physically sick every time my feet hit the ground. Why is this?"

The Doctor sighed. "I am so sorry Rex. You have to understand that the implants I designed were not really for an animal as small as you. They were built for the skull of a human, and were far to big to fit in what is a really small brain case. So I did the next best thing. I put them in a place I thought would keep them safe. I never realised they would pain you. I put the thinking implants into the pads of your feet!"

"You mean...." said Rex...

"That's right. I gave you paws for thought..."

Thursday 10 September 2009

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside! 10/09/09

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

Although the life of a driver can be lonely, Mr Boss was happy for me to carry
passengers. Often this would be Girlfriend du jour. But just occasionally…

My first trip to Portugal was supposed to be a quick in and out in between my usual tramping work all over Europe. I had a load of girders to deliver just north of Porto and a load to collect from Jerez in Spain once I was tipped. The trip was scheduled so I arrived on the Friday, got tipped Saturday morning having cleared customs in Porto, then straight out into Spain again, ready to load on Monday morning. It was mid July, the sun was shining, and everything was all right with the world.

As I pulled up to the Spanish/Portuguese border at Villar Formoso I was met with a long line of trucks queuing to go through. I pulled in to the end of the line and parked, then got out to see what was causing the hold-up. The third truck I came to was a British registered wagon and so I asked the driver if he knew what the problem was.

“From what I gather there’s either a strike or a holiday. I can’t make it out.”
The pair of us walked further down the line and I asked the driver of a French truck what was causing our unscheduled stop. He shrugged in the typical Gallic way. He too was baffled and he accompanied us as we strolled up the line. A Spanish registered truck had its driver’s door open and the driver was sat inside reading a newspaper, so in my newly learned Spanish I enquired after the health of his toothbrush. He looked at me askance. I did a quick mental shuffling of Spanish nouns and managed to establish that the reason for the hold-up was preparations for a bank holiday on Monday of which none of us were aware. I passed the information on to my French friend, who, it transpired, spoke Spanish rather better than I did, and my English compatriot, who was impressed with my linguistic prowess, and I was not going to tell him any different!

Very slowly the queue abated and eventually I was waved through the rather primitive shed area of the Portuguese customs area, and into the country. There I sampled, for the first time, the Portuguese road system. When The Gods made Portugal they wanted to make it really big, but discovered that when it was shown on a map it made Spain look silly and so they hammered the edges until it fit better, and as a result the landmass got all wrinkled and crinkly. Now, it is possible that you may remember your geography teacher talking about tectonic plates, continental drift and other such guff. Personally I prefer my version. Either way, the route from the border to Porto was along some of the twistiest and steepest roads I have ever encountered.

As I crawled my way up an incline some miles into the country my eyes fell upon a vision, an apparition, a…what the hell was it? Walking along the road was somebody apparently clad in nineteen fifties drawing room curtains, with an Afghan Hound around its neck. As I drew nearer the Afghan Hound resolved into a very furry collar on a Parka, whilst the nineteen fifties drawing room curtains resolved into…nineteen fifties drawing room curtains. Purple paisley pattern fabric, red sashes, velvet, silks, cotton, all amalgamated into something that may have been trousers, may have been a skirt, but was, without a doubt, English. And the whole person was hitch-hiking. Intrigued, I stopped to see if it wanted a lift.

It turned out to be a very attractive young lady. Gratefully she climbed into the truck and threw her rucksack into the back.
“Hi! I’m Echo.”
“Echo!” she grinned at me.

I asked her what she was doing and she told me that she was going round Europe on a pound a day. Clearly I looked askance. She explained that she had finished University and was having a gap year before deciding whether to continue education or look for work. In the meantime she had allotted three hundred pounds and set out to hitchhike and walk around Europe, spending as little money as possible and depending on the kindness of strangers. I looked at her again. Tall, slender, waist length brown hair, startling blue eyes set in a perfect face. I was smitten. It occurred to me that if she had the same effect on other European males as she had on me she would probably return home with most of the three hundred unspent.

I asked where she wanted taking and she said that wherever I was going would be good for her. She was in no hurry and when I told her I was going to Porto she was quite happy to accompany me. I was happy to let her. And so we set off. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am shy around strangers and more so around the opposite sex. Echo, however, was easy to talk to and even easier to listen to. As we toiled along the road between the boarder and the motorway, we discussed everything and nothing, we OOOHED and AAAHED at the scenery and within an hour it was as if we had known each other for years. Truth to tell, I can’t remember much about the journey to the coast, but before long we had reached the motorway that runs between Porto and Lisbon, and shortly after that we arrived in Porto.

Following the signs to the TIR yard I was concerned that there was little HGV traffic on the road. However, my concern became alarm when we arrived at the TIR park to find that apart from one Spanish registered truck it was totally empty. I pulled to a halt and we got out to see if we could make any sense out of what was happening. I was not a little impressed when Echo asked, in Spanish, what was occurring and nodded and chatted for a while. She then turned to me and explained that a bank holiday had been declared and no work would be done today, over the weekend or Monday. As a result, any chance I had for a reload was blown out of the water. I would have to park up, clear Customs on Tuesday and get tipped, and then hope to get a reload a soon as was possible.

The Spaniard suggested that British truckers usually congregated at The Atlantica Bar and pointed out on a map where it was located. He assured me that there was plenty of room to park and I should take the trailer as well, for security. Echo seemed quite delighted at the idea of stopping for the weekend and I was not going to argue with her, so we set out for Matosinhos and The Atlantica Bar.

The bar turned out to be a large single story building, literally on the beach and beside it were maybe half a dozen British and Dutch trucks, parked on compacted sand, right there on the beach. Oh my! Mid summer, Portugal, with three days off, parked on the beach, next to a bar, with a beautiful girl as company. What could be better?

Well, what could be better became better later that evening, when I suggested that Echo might like to borrow my sleeping bag and sleep in the trailer. She looked at me and at the back bunk.

“What is wrong with me sleeping there?” she enquired.
“Well that’s where I sl….Ooooh! Nothing. Nothing at all”

It was a more innocent time. STDs were the numbers you put in front of a telephone number if you were calling from out of town. Aids were a slimming supplement. We werenot fettered by mores and vows of chastity. We were not bound by promise of celibacy and faithfulness. In truth, the only thing that bound and fettered us was gravity and the small area that was an HGV bunk bed. Good taste requires that I draw a veil over the more physical aspects of that night, but I trust you will allow me a brief moment to remember and marvel that I didn’t dislocate anything major.

We leaned a lot more about each other that night. I leaned that oral sex did not involve talking at all and she learned that the distance between the bottom bunk and the top bunk was exactly five inches below where your head reaches when you sit up suddenly. I learned that she was incredibly sensitive when touched in a certain way and she learned that the distance between the bottom bunk and the top bunk was exactly five inches below where your head reaches when you sit up suddenly. I learned that her command of basic Anglo-Saxon was even more impressive than her command of Spanish and she learned that I knew how a gentleman apologises to a lady he has wronged. I learned that more than once a night was possible, when you were motivated strongly enough and she learned that more than four times a night was not possible without the aid of trained medical professionals. I learned that she was warm and cuddly and she learned that I snored. I learned that she intended to stay with me for a little while longer, at least, and she learned that I giggled. And people say that learning is boring…

The next morning, when I awoke, she was gone. Briefly I was mortified, but I realised that I should not really have expected anything else. I was an ordinary truck driver, of little or no merit, and she was an incredibly attractive, intelligent young lady. To her I must have seemed a toy, a means of transport a…there was a note on the dashboard.

“Hi, I’ve gone for a swim. Get breakfast cooking for when I get back.”

I have never really understood why, but I find a woman in a swimsuit at least as sexyas a woman out of one. Possibly the seduction of the concealed. Possibly the promise, the lure of what is to come. Possibly I am just weird. In any case, when she returned, in a shining pink and blue swimsuit I nearly burned my sausage.

Later that day we met up with some of the other drivers and went to the Atlantica Bar for a meal. On the menu was homemade vegetable soup and as I adore soups, I ordered a bowl. Marco, the waiter, came out with the order. Marco, the waiter, had a problem. Marco, the waiter, was stoned. As he came over, he tripped or stumbled, and the hot soup tipped neatly into my lap. Fortunately the sea was a few seconds away, at a dead run, and it provided a cooling solution. Eventually I emerged from the ocean, and trudged back to the truck, changed into dry clothing, then returned to the bar. The owner was stood at the door, and angrily waved a bill in my face. She wanted to charge me for the soup! Echo wandered up and explained what had happened, and I offered to show her the damage. The owner relented and offered me free food and drink for the remainder of my stay. I never did get around to trying the soup, however.

Sunday saw me up and cooking breakfast as Echo again went swimming, and shortly after that we both set out to walk into Porto and partake of some sightseeing. Regimented rows of white walled, red tiled buildings rose from the sea up into the hills. Designed for keeping port stored in exactly the right condition to mature; now they were beginning to be redeveloped into what was, at that time, a burgeoning tourist industry. As European money had been poured into its neighbour, Spain, now it was beginning to be routed into Portugal, but at the time of my visit Portugal was still an incredibly poor country. The jarring dissonance of wealth and paucity, affluence and effluent, was plain to see. An area of white stone villas segued uncomfortably into a shantytown of tin and breezeblock, then into an industrial sprawl of soot-belching chimneys, steel refineries, smoke and flame. It was simultaneously awesome and depressing beyond measure. We were entranced.

All of a sudden the smell of smoke assaulted our senses and in front of us a wooden building lit like a brazier. A few people left the building, at some speed, and it became apparent that it was a building used, not surprisingly, for the production of port. The fire drill was carried out with sufficient precision to make me think that this was not an uncommon occurrence and everybody appeared accounted for, so, always willing to watch a free show, I sat on the grass bank and observed.

Now, having seen the apparent haphazard nature of the rest of the Portuguese infrastructure I was looking forward to seeing how the fire brigade performed. However, I was really not expecting the arrival of a white Fiat 500 car, which stopped outside the burning property and disgorged four burly guys in black uniforms. One of them ran to the front of the car and opened the boot, the Fiat being rear-engined, and extracted a length of hose, then whilst the other three grabbed at the nozzle-end of the fire hose he ran with the reel to the fire hydrant. Unfortunately for him, but to our utter delight, he had failed to notice something that Echo and I realised fairly quickly. About a hundred yards from the fire hydrant the hose ran out, became taut, and his progress came to a sudden halt and both he and his three colleagues ended up on the floor. After regaining their composure a huddle occurred, a consensus reached and the hose was reeled, deposited back in the boot, and the four returned to the car and drove away.

We sat for a while longer, but as the building burned and the recent occupants stood about smoking, watching and chatting, nobody else turned up, and eventually, as the building fell in on itself we left and headed back to the truck, the Atlantica Bar, the ocean and another night together.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

The Pain In Spain 09/09/09

The Pain in Spain

It is possible that I may be misrepresenting the job of Continental Truck driver somewhat. For every yin there is a yang. For every up, a down. For every easy job a…let me explain…

My very first trip to Spain made me fall hopelessly in love with the place and the people. Sadly it is something like twenty years since I last visited, apart from a wonderful week when two dear friends of mine invited me to partake of an off-roading holiday in Andorra. Even that short return visit rekindled my love of the place. Even if Spain has tried to kill me on at least three occasions…

The first occasion was whilst I was delivering Blackpool illuminations to The Castle in Barcelona. I was, for reasons I have never managed to discover, delivering to The Castle the following:-

One Large Plastic Illuminated Postman Pat.
One Large Plastic Illuminated Postal Van.
One Large Plastic Illuminated Cat.
Two hundred and fifty Wuzzle’s bottoms.

I had no idea at the time what a Wuzzle was, but have since found out that they are combination animals. For example one is called Bumblion, a combination of lion and bumble-bee. Of course, they are characters from children’s TV and therefore only the better characteristics of each animal are manifested in each of the mythical beasts. Excuse me? What are the better characteristics of a bee and a lion? Does this beast have the capacity to sting you to death before it eats you, but chooses not to do so out of the kindness of its feline heart? And Eleroo. A cross between a kangaroo and an elephant! I’m still trying to imagine what would be the effect of an animal the size of an African Elephant hopping across your back garden. I’m guessing you’d need a JCB to discover whether your garden gnomes survived the attack. But I digress…

The whole concept was so bizarre that whilst the team were unloading the trailer, I went across the road and took pictures. As it happened there was an old wreck of a Renault 4 abandoned at the kerbside outside the main entrance, so I used it as a makeshift tripod whilst taking pictures of the load coming off and being carried past what turned out to be inflatable illuminated sarcophagi. It was obvious that the team that were unloading the trailer were quite skilled and before long they had completed the job. The trailer was empty and I was ready to return to the TIR park, to see my agent, and sort out a reload.

I am not the most striking of individuals. I don’t have ‘presence.’ People don’t stop what they are doing and stare when I walk into a room. I actually enjoy being inconspicuous. So you can imagine my surprise when I wandered into the office of my agent and the assistant shrieked, dropped her coffee and fled the room! Moments later my agent came out of his office and beckoned me, whilst gabbling on that he thought I was dead. Bemused, I followed him into his office, wherein he had a little black-and-white TV, whilst reassuring him that I had not, to my knowledge, shuffled off these mortal coils. He pointed to the TV, which was showing a local news program. I watched for a few moments and then, as my fairly limited Spanish began to understand what the rapidly speaking reporter was saying, my stomach turned over.

Apparently, a bomb of several hundred pounds of explosives had detonated outside The Castle causing mayhem, death and destruction. A lorry driver had been badly injured, police and soldiers had died in the blast. The bomb, it turned out, had been packed in the shell of a Renault 4 at the front of the castle. The same Renault 4 that I had used, not 90 minutes earlier, as a tripod.

As the news story unwound, we worked out that the explosion had happened no more than twenty minutes after I had had my paperwork signed. Had the crew who unloaded the trailer been less efficient, or I had been a little later with the delivery, then I could have been resting against the Renault when it exploded…

The second occasion was at a place called Vic, just outside Barcelona. I was in the process of delivering chopped polythene pieces to a factory near the fire station and had stopped on a hill just outside the town, so I could have some lunch. As I sat drinking a cold cola, I watched another Renault 4 drive past, heading down the hill into town. About three seconds later my brain caught up with my eyes and ears. There was no driver in the car and the engine wasn’t running. I looked down the hill to see what was going on, and my heart lurched.

At the bottom of the hill was a police centre, with police office, a courtyard and housing. The car had gone through the courtyard and the explosives had detonated. Later I was to find out that many of the dead and injured were women and children playing in the courtyard. I understand the politics, but I don’t care about them. No organisation can claim any moral high ground when it bases its protests on the slaughter of the innocents. No matter what ETA may claim, it can never take the moral high ground, and any political statements, any deals, any progress it makes toward gaining Basque independence will be forever tainted by the souls of their victims.

The third occasion required the combined efforts of the Guarda Civil, twenty tonnes of paper, the cack-handed mechanical ineptitude of Mr Boss and a paella, and can be read elsewhere in the book, under the title ‘Paper paper everywhere.’

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Dodgy 08/09/09

The idea of driving on the continent can be off-putting to some people. Driving on the wrong side of the road, seeing road-signs in a foreign language, having to remember driving regulations…it can be very disconcerting. There was only one thing I found difficult, and it was, and is, very specific. If I returned to the UK from Calais to Dover, Eastern Docks, and if I had to head north along Jubilee Way, I was fine until I reached the roundabout at the top of the hill. Then I had to stop, and wait for a car to go round, and then follow it. For some reason I could not remember which way to go round that one, specific roundabout.
Sometimes, of course, it is not me out of step, but the rest of the world…

“Look, it’s a dead easy job. All you have to do is take the tractor unit and go and pick up the trailer. It’s in Valencia, at the garage where Alan is getting the Volvo fixed.”

I was dubious. Mr Boss’s ‘easy jobs’ had a tendency to become ludicrously complex, because he either ‘forgot’ certain details, ‘forgot’ to make arrangements that he promised, or downright lied. However, the idea of a tractor-only run to Valencia, then straight back with half a trailer load of cardboard car door trims did seem like the ideal trip for a spring weekend. I agreed. You’d think by then I would have known, wouldn’t you?

I was, once again, in the little Volvo F6, the day-cabbed unit that was not intended to be a long distance continental truck. A day-cabbed truck is one in which the cab is designed only to be used during the day. There is no facility for resting or sleeping, whereas a sleepercabbed truck has, as the name suggests, a sleeping compartment behind the driving seat. I put up with the wisecracks from the other drivers.
“What are you doing? Road testing for Matchbox?” “What does it want to be when it grows up?”, because I knew something they didn’t. I knew that I was totally out of my mind to be doing the job with that truck, but loved the job too much to care.

The problems started when I was half way across Spain. At about 2pm, with no warning, there was a massive snowstorm. With no trailer there was no weight on the back axle, and being such an old truck there were no driver aids such as anti-lock brakes or wheel spin reduction. For a couple of hours the driving was quite interesting…

Valencia was under several inches of snow when I finally found Alan. I wandered into the cafĂ© that abutted the workshop that held his broken Volvo, and greeted him. “Broke the back axle. That trailer is heavy!”

I was confused. “ Heavy? It is supposed to be partly filled with door cards.”

“Yeah. But the rest is full of car doors. And engines.”

Mr Boss had done it to me again!

Strangely, when I rang him, he wasn’t available. His wife told me to contact the company we were contracting for, which I quickly did. When I rang them they made it clear that Mr Boss was fully aware of what the load consisted of and that the trailer had to be back at Poole within three days. Oh…goody!

Alan and I exchanged views on Mr Boss, then he helped me to couple the trailer and I left. Very slowly…

At this time the BP Truckstop in Bordeaux was still under construction and so the favourite stopping place for truck drivers was at St-Genise de Saintonge. We called it ‘Saintes.’ It is on the National 137, and for trucks heading for Cherbourg it was just one day’s drive away.

I pulled in the truck park at 6pm and the snow was falling heavily. I was absolutely shattered. To get there had been a struggle, as my poor little truck was pulling something in the region of ten tonnes more than its design weight. I stopped the engine and as the snow settled around me, I covered the windscreen with copies of the Sun newspaper, set the alarm for 2:45am, tried to get comfortable over the seats, avoiding the handbrake and fell asleep.

My alarm clock at the time was an ‘amusing’ device, in the shape of a cockerel and it crowed. My how I laughed when I saw it. How I giggled when I bought it. How I hated it that morning…

Getting out of bed was always a struggle. One’s body had to form an S shape to try and avoid the gearstick and the handbrake lever. There was little danger of taking the brake off, but it was three inches long, and no matter where you lay it wanted to become intimate with your buttocks.

No time for coffee. I changed the tachograph disc, checked that my driving break, at least, was legal, fired up the engine and started off. Around me the car park, the trucks and the road were swathed in a blanket of white. To my recently asleep mind it was if the whole place had been draped in a duvet. It was hard to make out where the car park ended and the road began. It was, I discovered fairly quickly, equally hard to see where the road side ended and the grass verge, ditch or pavement began. This was going to be an interesting trip back!

As I crested a small hill I saw headlights approaching me. Two or three cars in line. The front car started flashing its lights at me, rapidly. He was on my side of the road! Or was I on his? In my still semi-asleep state I considered the possibilities. Either I, a lone English truck driver, had awoken and sleepily driven onto the wrong lane of the carriageway, or several locals had decided to play a joke. At the last minute I swerved onto ‘my’ side of the road and the convoy of cars went past, horns blaring, fists being waved out of the windows. Each car had a GB registration and a GB sticker. And approaching me was another set of headlights, flashing madly. For now I really was on the wrong side of the road.

Having sorted out in my mind exactly where I was supposed to be, I pressed on again, as the snow continued falling. All was well, until I approached La Rochelle and in front of me was a long queue of cars. I eased in behind the last and realised that they had been there for some considerable time, as the snow was thick on them. I got out of the truck and spoke to the gentleman in the rearmost car. He explained that the slipway that he, and I, needed to get from La Rochelle to Cherbourg was closed, due to snow. Workmen were clearing it, but they had been there for over an hour and expected to be there for at least two more. I thanked the gentleman and returned to my truck, turned off the engine, and settled down to wait…

How remarkably peaceful it was! All external noise seemed to be damped by the snow. One or two of the cars ran their engines to keep warm, but the most prominent noise was the susurration of the snowflakes, drifting, falling, hypnotic in the light of the yellow streetlamps.

My hands caressed the satin-smooth skin of her shoulders, my fingertips stroking her throat as they slid down the gentle curve of her bosom to her full, magnificent breasts. As I cupped the left breast it went Dee!....intrigued, I caressed the right. Dah!...I had quite a rhythm going when I suddenly realised it was a police siren, and woke up...

Startled, I looked for the source of the noise. On the other carriageway a Peugeot, resplendent in its blue livery, red, amber and blue lights on the top piercing the snow-laden gloom, the word ‘Gendarme’ in white on its flanks. What was upsetting them?

I looked in my mirrors to see who they were waving at. Behind me a long line of cars, trucks and busses was becoming visible as the daylight started to break through the stygian darkness. I could see nothing behind me to warrant such excited behaviour, so I looked to see if it was any of the cars in…front?

There were no cars in front!


It would seem that I had fallen asleep, lulled by the peace and quiet and in doing so had become an unintentional traffic jam.

Oh, and I managed to catch the boat, by about five minutes…

Monday 7 September 2009

Gas Trick Flu 7/09/09

Gas Trick Flue
I had settled into the rut of driving from Halewood to Fords and actually became quite comfortable with it. Were it not for an act of blind stupidity on the part of Mr Boss, combined with an incredible piece of luck, I would possibly be tramping up and down the road from Halewood to the docks to this very day…

Although initially I was reluctant to take the truck abroad I soon actually started to enjoy the work, and in spite of working hours that were long and illegal, for several months I had a lot of fun hauling loads to Germany for Ford. However, there was one thing that I was unaware of, and that my boss had decided to ignore in the hopes that I would sort the problem out for him.

At that time I was pulling the trailers with a Volvo F6 day cab tractor unit. This is not a vehicle designed to be slept in, and for months I’d been working around this by sticking up newspaper round the windows and sleeping across the seats in a sleeping bag. Whilst this was not exactly comfortable it was, at least, possible.

The thing that I was unaware of manifested itself on the 1st October, when I arrived at the German border with Belgium. The police officer on duty came out, looked at the truck, and promptly told me to turn round and go home. It soon became clear to me that Germany operated a rule whereby you could not enter the country after 1st October unless you had a form of cab night heating, as the weather began to deteriorate badly and they quite rightly didn’t want idiotic foreign drivers freezing to death and cluttering up their countryside.

A hurried phone call persuaded Mr Boss to send the only tractor unit that we had with a night heater, and he told me he’d make arrangements for my truck to be fitted with one. He sounded quite perky about the idea. This, in itself, should have put my on my guard…

I met the other truck driver and we swapped trailers. This meant that I ended up having to go to Spain and because of Murphy’s Law I ended up there for two weeks. No change of clothes, no food, and little money. I have to tell you, that was a long two weeks. It was also the first time I’d been to Spain by truck and I loved it. On returning to the UK, tired, hungry and smelly, Mr Boss showed up with the night heater...

Oh my…it was something the shape of a traditional flying saucer, with a grille at the top and a spout at the side. It came with a clear plastic bottle of liquid. It was, in effect, a paraffin heater! I asked for the instructions and was told not to worry about it. All I had to do, apparently, was fill it with the liquid and light it. No worries, it would turn itself off if it was tipped over. And like a fool, I believed him.

Back again to Germany, and the Police Officer tried to get me to turn around again, but I showed him the heater. He conferred with his book of rules and his colleagues, and grudgingly they allowed me in to the country. I smiled, waved and set out for Saarlois and the Ford factory.

Having unloaded the body panels, and reloaded empty cages, I pulled out of the factory and parked up in the truck park. It was too early for bed, so I wandered into the village, found a bar, had a coffee, and then went for a walk. I happened across a Pizza place and bought a chicken pizza and a bottle of cola, and then returned to the truck.

Pizza consumed, I stuck pages of The Sun to the windows, filled and lit the heater, and then retired to my bed.

The next thing I knew was being in the open, in daylight, with a blinding headache, a massive pain in my chest and an oxygen mask. Ye gods, I hurt! A paramedic was kneelingbeside me and one of my co-drivers was beside him. It took a while to find out what had happened. My co-driver and friend Carl had arrived in the early hours of the morning, unloaded and retired to bed. His alarm had gone off at six and he came over to see what time I would be leaving, but couldn’t get an answer.

Eventually he’d attracted the attention of a security guard, and they’d smashed the window and gained entry, to find me very unwell across the seats. By very unwell, I mean not breathing, blue, and cold. The ambulance paramedics had to restart my heart.

It took me a week to recover, another week to get home, and several more days to find out what had happened. Mr Boss, it seems, was not happy with buying the heaters and the fuel to go in them, so had simply bought paraffin. As you know, boys and girls, you should never use a paraffin heater in a room without adequate ventilation. This burner had been designed to run on a much safer fuel and it did not react well to paraffin. Subsequent investigation revealed that the fumes it gave off were noxious. I had been very lucky. If Carl had not been diverted to Saarlois, and had not come across to see me, then I would no doubt have died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning. As it was, my chest and heart suffered not inconsiderable after effects and for some years after I had to have regular health checks. As luck would have it there was no real long-term damage done, but it was only through sheer luck that I do not have to dictate this through the medium of a medium.

Mr Boss and I had words when I was fit enough to go back to work. Strangely it did not take me long to persuade him that the trucks we had were not suitable for the work and before long we were the proud owners of two second-hand Iveco trucks, with bigger engines and night heaters. Which, incidentally, didn’t work very often, orvery well, but at least he’d made an effort. My real continental truck driving life had started!

Wednesday 2 September 2009


Gaz Hunter is currently tied up, but will be doing a daily update all next week, starting Monday, to make up. Sorry folk :(

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Tragedy 25/08/09

When you drive for a living you will inevitably come across road traffic accidents. Some are fairly minor. Some not so. I thought long and hard about including this story. It was the hardest decision I have had to make. In the end I decided that I had to, as a monument to ‘Tracey’, and as an explanation as to why I now consider drink-drivers the very scum of the earth. I confess that before this incident I did not drink much, but would occasionally go out and have one or two drinks with the lads. What was the worst that could happen? I was a good driver. A couple of beers wouldn’t make a difference.

This incident changed my mind, and my life. It played a big part in making me the person I am today. If, when you read it, it makes you think twice about having ‘one for the road’ then maybe I would have done someone some good.

Names and locations have been changed. My feelings never can be...

There is a pub in Heysham, on the way to the docks. I don't recall the name; we all called it the Nuclear Arms, due to its location near to the power station. On this particular Sunday night I had taken a trailer load of toilet rolls to the docks, for shipping to Ireland. After dropping it off, I went to our agent's Portakabin to see which trailer I would be bringing back.

As it happened, on this particular night there was none to collect, so I would be going home "Bobtail", or unit only, with no trailer. This meant I would be home early. Result!

There were a few cars leaving from the Isle of Man ferry, and I tucked in behind the queue, waiting to exit the docks. The car in front was a Peugeot estate car, and sat in the rearfacing occasional seat in the back was a young girl. Her name, I discovered later, was Tracey, and that day was her 12th birthday.

The Peugeot went through, and I stopped at the barriers. A couple of minutes later I happened upon a scene of devastation. The Peugeot estate was stopped at the traffic lights. Embedded in the back was a blood red Peugeot 205 GTI.

Panicked, I grabbed my first aid kit from the truck, and rushed over to see what was happening. The driver of the 205 was yelling abuse, so he was okay. I looked in to the mess in the back of the estate car, and for the first time I understood what was meant by ‘my heart froze.’

I struggled in through the back window to the poor child.

Tracey was in a lot of pain. The floor and rear door of the car had folded in, crushing her from mid chest down. From the chest up she was cut by the flyingn glass. She was pale, and not crying, but talking quite calmly about what had happened. I started trying to clean her up, and calm her down.

We talked about the party she had been to in the Isle of Man with her auntie and her cousin. She told me she wanted to be a lorry driver when she grew up, like her uncle Trevor. I told her about my dogs, and she told me about her cats and her pet rat.

The emergency services turned up. They were concerned that I should get out and let one of them in, but I explained that I had spent several years as a paramedic, before I left to drive buses. It was decided that as I had achieved a rapport with her and was physically in there. I would remain, administer the IV and any supporting medication required whilst the fire brigade cut us out.

Over the next thirty five minutes we got to know each other very well. She wasn't too upset when I set up a saline drip, and she accepted my checking her blood pressure and pulse. I was terrified. I had not often seen such low blood pressure in a conscious person.

As the emergency services took her parents from the front of the car, and started cutting away the roof and sides, I got her to smile by telling jokes. She was not, to my surprise, scared by the noises going on around her. She was briefly worried that her mum would be cross when she saw that there was blood on her jumper, but I told her she would be so pleased to see her daughter she wouldn't worry. I promised, if her mum was cross, to buy her another jumper just like it. She decided she'd like one with a sheep on it. No. On second thoughts, she'd like one with a lorry on “just like yours.”

Thirty five minutes it took for the fire brigade to make everything safe for extraction. And then Tracey looked at me and said, "It’s alright. It doesn't hurt any more." And then did something I have not to this day forgiven her for.

She died.

The fire brigade got me out and the police were around. So was the driver of the 205. Apparently he had come out of the Nuclear Arms drunk and tried to drive home. He was still cursing the driver and family of the estate car for stopping at the red light.

I drove back to the yard, handed in the keys to the truck and asked them to take me off that job, effective immediately. I could no longer envisage going to Heysham. I could no longer pass the spot. I have never been back to Heysham since.

Her parents were badly injured in the crash. Her mother was pregnant at the time with what would turn out to be Tracey’s little brother. I stayed in contact with them for a while, but...the pain of the memory was too great. I understand that they moved to Spain to forge anew life for themselves. I'm sure her memory lives on in them as it does in me.