Three a.m. Monday morning is an indecent time to start the week’s work, but that was my joyous start time this week – nasty, but it means a Friday lunchtime finish which is far preferable to a Saturday morning one.
My official route for the week was to Bedford and then either a back-haul or collecting empty cages from the Coventry store. A “back-haul” is the term for bringing goods back from a supplier to the Wilko distribution centre, as opposed to the usual deliveries to stores.
The run to Bedford is a straight two and a quarter hours down the A1 and then ten miles down the A482 into a sleepy Bedford. Easy, and due to the start time the sun is soon rising, making the trip much less soporific than a full run in the dark.
On the first night, I set off a little bit late because the trailer was still being loaded when I arrived at work; and of course due to the usual faff of finding the store which for once actually wasn’t too bad. As is becoming tediously regular, the driver’s map I was given was out of date and the instructions regarding how to get into the loading bay were incorrect. This was compounded by a huge amount of building work going on around the store making access more restricted than normal.
After a few attempts to do it as described on the map, it was obvious something was wrong but luckily at this moment the store staff turned up and put me right. It’s a long blindside reverse from a narrow street, around a long bend and into the yard. Due to the 45ft trailer, it’s tricky but once you’ve done it once, it’s easy. I’m actually getting ok at blindside reversing now – I just have to jump out of the cab to inspect proceedings once or twice to see how it’s going. As i’ve said before, a rear window in the cab makes blindsiding easy. If your cab has a remotely adjustable left mirror, then a good tip is to keep moving it outwards whilst blindsiding – this slows down the inevitable switch to the wide-angle mirror.
Anyway, once into the yard I hook up the tail-lift power lead, unload, reload with empties and charge home – a nice short eight hour night for once.
The next night i’m ahead of schedule so I get to Bedford at five a.m, a full hour ahead of the official tipping time of six a.m. I try to sleep but i’m feeling wide awake after a lot of caffeine on the way down so I start to unload hoping that it’ll mean an early get away.
I’ve unloaded three quarters of the trailer by six when the store manager appears and has a quiet word with me explaining that the reason for the six a.m. tipping time is restrictions imposed by noise regulations. I get the feeling that I’m not the first driver that he’s had to tell this to before. Of course really our office should tell us this but nobody said a thing to me, I just picked up the keys and waybill and set off.
I have a backhaul today from a firm called Anker International who operate from an industrial estate just outside Northampton. I find the place easily enough, and am told to put it on a bay, hand in my keys and go get a coffee whilst they load up. I remember when I worked at Royal Mail watching the artic drivers back onto bays thinking “i’ll never be able to do that…” but here I am doing the same thing – i spin it around, back on, and with one little shunt i’m perfectly positioned. I feel like a pro
I spend half an hour watching TV, drinking the free coffee and talking bollocks to a friendly bloke in the rest area. I soon get the shout that loading is over and I return to the truck. There’s thirty one pallets of paper on board making this the heaviest load i’ve carried so far, but I enjoy the sunny drive back across to the A1 through the countryside. I’d love to have a go driving a really heavy load just to put my typical work into perspective. We don’t run heavy and I can imagine that a full forty four tons feels very different.
On Wednesday morning, Monday’s early tipping misdemeanour has set wheels in motion and the store manager gravely explains that Environmental Health have been on to them threatening to shut them down due to breaking noise conditions. He’s not having a pop at me, but he’s just exasperated by the ridiculous situation.
It turns out that some people who live in a flat near the yard are really on the ball when it comes to the slightest transgression of the sacred noise regs. All I can say is that if you don’t want to be woken up at anti-social hours then don’t buy a flat that’s fifty feet from a loading bay. If I was to choose “city centre living” then at least I’d check if there were any big lorries or industrial looking yards directly behind the flat. If a peaceful idyll is required then I suspect a more rural location would be more appropriate? I can see things getting ever more complicated for this store as there’s a brand new block of flats being built directly above the yard. I’m just glad it’s not really my problem.
There’s no back-haul today, so it’s over to Coventry to pick up their empties instead. The map i’ve been given for the Coventry store is illegible so I’m totally reliant upon my satnav. This is fine up until the last few hundred yards, when it firstly tries to send me down a road with a length restriction and then refuses to navigate me down any bus lanes. This is not really surprising but in this instance not really helpful as in order to reach the store, I have to use some bus/taxi only roads. I circle the store a few times and then ring them up for help. A very helpful woman from the store stays on the phone and talks me in as I drive. I turn into the road leading to the loading bay – it’s lined tightly with taxis on both sides; as soon as they see me they are galvanised into action and perform a well-practised mass circling manoeuvre around me as I crawl down the street. It’s bizarre but it works. After ten minutes of chaos, i back onto the bay and load the empties.
As soon as i start my engine to leave, the taxi dance starts again and soon I’m out of the packed city centre and away onto the M6 heading for home.
Thursday is business as usual to Bedford and then i’m told to do a backhaul from a company in Northampton. I find the place ok but end up down a dead end road facing the wrong way for them to load me. I see a nice empty yard to spin around in so sneak into it only to meet with an officious man giving it the “this isn’t the public road you know…” line. Whatever. I assure him i’m not going to destroy his gates, thank him, spin about and reverse down to the firm’s gates.
I needn’t have bothered. They were expecting me to bring them six hundred empty boxes and the load I was told to collect had been taken yesterday. Foolishly, I ring work to tell them what’s occurred instead of keeping my mouth shut and heading home empty.
Ten minutes later the phone rings. “You’re empty aren’t you? Can you just go to Bentley’s in Loughborough?” Well I can hardly say no and I scribble down the directions. The crucial information is to take the turning “opposite the Volvo garage”, but when i get to the place there is a whole row of car salerooms, none of which are Volvo.
Sod’s Law dictates that I try every wrong turn before eventually finding Bentley’s yard. I drop my trailer onto a strange downhill bay, and hook up the one that is being loaded. I’m soon on my way again but this time with forty thousand brushes on board. Foolishly I had forgotten to swap plates when changing trailers so head for home blissfully unaware that I have no rear number plate. Ah well, the next Wilko guy will bring it back to the yard when he finds it.
I get in on Friday feeling like shit as I have a cold coming on and i’m really tired. “Can you go to Oswestry, it’s an hour and a half late already?”. Ok, that’s cool, a nice run into rural Shropshire and it’ll make a change from Bedford. The seal on the trailer is the wrong one, so by the time that’s sorted I’m running two hours late.
I get to the small town at about six a.m. and for some reason I find the reverse into the side street from the main drag really awkward. It’s a bit constricted but nothing too bad, i think i’m just tired and feeling ill. Due to the time of day some early traffic starts to build up. The store staff come out to help me but they’re only watching my back. I’m a bit off-line so the cab is zig-zagging about…I’d clocked some cycle stands on the pavement when I first arrived but forgot about them and I didn’t see them in my mirrors as I pulled forwards to straighten up – crunch! Bollocks. Ah well it had to happen sooner or later.
I’d flattened one of the stands and ripped the nearside side-skirt on the unit free.
I call the boss and then talk to the garage. They tell me how to release the side-skirt and I pull it off, hammer down the exposed bracket with a lump-hammer from the store, and then get on with the delivery.
My passenger for the ride home is a mucky side-skirt:
I would like to apologies to any cyclists in Oswestry who are currently missing a parking spot.
A bit of a downer for the end of the week but the lessons learned are:- i) don’t feel rushed by other road users ii) don’t trust anyone else to watch you properly and iii) be especially observant when you’re tired.
I get home at lunctime, have some drinks and then sleep sleep sleep…