Trade Plating Around England, Part Four

Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash

Driving the minibus, a bit of racial tension and a near punch up.

Brief recap, I spent two and a half years trade plating round England with the occasional foray into Scotland and Wales.

In the previous parts I have mentioned that there are two minibuses that are used to ferry round the drivers. Additional minibuses are hired when there is no way that drivers can complete their jobs without being transported around.

There are two permanent minibus drivers and when they are off for holidays or ill then replacement drivers are required. The self employed drivers refuse to do this as they won’t earn as much as normal. Hence it falls to agency drivers to fill in. This was usually split between Kev2 and myself. The common term for moving the drivers around is “chasing” and the minibus drivers can spend up to 15 hours a day chasing all over the country. Many people have said that driving for this many hours must be illegal, it’s not. There is no restriction to the number of hours you can drive when only a car licence is required.

As far as I was concerned, I had no problems with chasing drivers round all day. Firstly there was no pre-planning transfers the night before, no getting wet between jobs and no long walks from site to site.

As usual I was sent through the work list for the next day during the evening. This time it had a list of drivers, where they were to be dropped off and then collected from. The jobs were to pick up six drivers from the yard, drop one off in Rochdale and then take the remaining five to Ingleton near Kirby Lonsdale in Lancashire for their collections. Follow them to Middlesborough, take them back to Ingleton and then follow them to Middlesborough again. Once completed I had to phone the office for further instructions.

Start time was 04.00 in the middle of January, It was pouring down and I was glad I was the one who would be in the dry.

The six drivers were all self employed and all HGV drivers, Richard who was being dropped off in Rochdale was also a PCV (public carriage vehicle) driver. Off we set, the other drivers on board were, Harpie, Jagir, Henryk, Graeme and Kamil. I was on good talking terms with Harpie, Jagir and Graeme. I knew Kamil vaguely and Henryk by reputation only. The journey up to Rochdale was uneventful as everyone either slept or looked at their phones. There was no conversation whatsoever. Once Richard was dropped off at around 06.30, there was a general call for a stop for pee and some breakfast. The route to Ingleton was on A roads with no services so it was going to be a greasy spoon in a lay-by and a pee in the bushes. Once we stopped that was when the first hint of the impending trouble began. Sausage cobs, bacon cobs, or full breakfast cobs were ordered by every one except Kamil who only bought a coffee and a bar of chocolate. Once back in the van he asked generally “how can you eat that shit”. “What you on about” Graeme replied. “That pig shit”. Graeme quickly realised and started to wind Kamil up, It’s bloody lovely, do you want some”. Kamil told him to “f*ck off”.

The religious make up of the occupants of the minibus were, Graeme and myself Christian, Harpie and Jagir, Sikhs but not practising, no turbans, just a small beard on Harpie and Jagir clean shaven. Kamil, Muslim and Henryk I have no idea as he did not speak to me at all during the day. The nationalities were also mixed. Graeme is English, myself Scottish, Harpie is Indian, Jagir is Indian via Italy, Kamil is Egyptian and Henryk is eastern European.

We got to Ingleton around 08.00 with no further incidents but I could sense that all was not well behind me.

The job for the day was to take 10 lorries to Middlesborough docks for onwards shipment to Africa. This is quite big business with trucks that are past their best in the UK being sold over to Africa where they then have a second life. The trucks by the time they are exported have all their better days behind them. The place where we were collecting from looked more like a scrap yard. Graeme, who had been here before gave me directions which led down farm tracks to the site. I parked up and left them to find someone on site and sort out the trucks. I thought that this is the time for me to close my eyes and grab a break. Nothing was ready for the drivers and it took an hour of shifting other vehicles to free up the first five of the ten. Assurances were made that the next five would be ready to go on our return. The last one rolled out at 09.15 and I tagged on the end.

It was still pouring and the route took us across the top of the Yorkshire Dales. On route one of the things I saw was the Ribblehead viaduct disappearing into the rain. It is huge when seen from ground level, I had seen it plenty times on the TV, but only close up and driving underneath part of it do you realise the engineering feat the navvies performed. By this time the rain was running across the road like a river. The wind was blowing across the road and the lorries in front were getting the full force, rocking them from side to side. Next interesting place was the home of Wensleydale cheese, Hawes. It’s a lovely little place with traditional stone built buildings and narrow streets. The only thing spoiling it were the cyclists, everywhere and in the pouring rain. Dressed in dayglo Lycra, some stopped looking at maps, some with everything but the kitchen sink in panniers and other dawdling along at around 5mph two abreast and no chance to pass them. Thankfully they dwindled away once through Hawes and it was back to narrow country roads until we got to near Catterick and the A1M. One strange road sign I did spot near Catterick was “Beware Tanks Crossing”.

The run up to the docks was straightforward and there was half an hour wait while paperwork was checked and the lorries driven into the compound. It stopped raining while we were in Middlesborough and then stayed off for the rest of the day.

It was now 12.30 and everyone piled back into the minibus. We had being going for about  half an hour and were travelling back down the A1M when things started to kick off. In the front with me was Graeme who was sitting quietly looking at his phone. Behind me was Kamil and Henryk, in the back row was Harpie and Jagir. The radio was on but I could hear chatter from behind that was getting faster and louder. Suddenly I can here Kamil shouting “Shut up you f*cking P*ki bastard”. Harpie quick as a flash tries to stand up and shouts back “I’m not a f*cking P*ki I’m an Indian you stupid Muslim wanker” Graeme spins round in his seat and starts shouting “fight fight fight” like a ten year old kid. Jagir is now also trying to stand up to throw a punch at Kamil. Henryk is sitting there minding his own business. Graeme now starts shouting “f*ck off back where you came from”. I”m not quite sure who that was aimed at. I can see in my mirror that Kamil and Jagir are now pushing at each other and I am desperately trying the think what to do.

We are getting near to Catterick and I see a slip road ahead and decide to pull off there. I go into it a speed and slam on the breaks to give everyone a jolt. Minibus stopped I use the most authoritative voice I can muster and tell everyone to “sit down and shut the f*ck up”. Remarkedly everyone does. I get out and walk round and open the sliding passenger door that gives me access to the main seating area. “Right” I say, still trying to sound like I’m in command, “nobody speak and nobody move. If anyone speaks or moves they are out the door and on their own. Whilst I’m driving this minibus I am in charge and you do what I tell you. We are all here to do a job and I don’t care if you hate each other guts just don’t do it in the back of the minibus”. All this time Henryk is just sitting there completely oblivious to everything going on around him. I decide to rearrange the seating  and put Harpie in the front with me, Graeme behind me and Kamil directly behind him in the back row. I put Henryk in the back row with Kamil with Jagir in front of him. This leaves a seat on each row between drivers and hopefully the protagonists split up. I again warn everyone that they will be left behind if there is any more trouble. I finally tell them that I will ring the office to report them if anyone kicks off again.

I get back into the driving seat and off we set. There is silence from the back for the rest of the trip to Ingleton.

For an agency driver to be laying down the law to a group of self employed drivers is a first but then it was a first for me with drivers squaring up to each others at 70mph on the A1M.

Once back at Ingleton the next five lorries are lined up and waiting. This lot look worse than the first group and it is now 15.00 when we roll out of Ingleton. This time I get a better look at the Ribblehead viaduct and can see it in all its glory. Light is fading fast and by the time we go through Hawes it’s nearly dark and the cyclists have gone. Progress is slow and Jagir is starting to fall behind. He is slowing down to around 5-10mph on the hills. The roads are narrow and there is a pile of cars, vans and other vehicles behind us. He finds a place to pull over and I stop behind him. Jagir climbs out and looks at the lorry as if it will suddenly fix itself and then looks at me blankly. “What’s the problem with it” I ask, he just shakes his head and says he doesn’t know. “It’s loosing power as soon as the engine strains”, It’s f*cked” he says. Ring the office for advice I tell him. He rings and is told to carry on even at a snails pace. As soon as his call finished, my phone is ringing and it”s Mark the planner telling me to leave Jagir and carry on to Middlesborough to collect the four other drivers. “Do we wait for Jagir” I asked. “Someone else will pick him up later” I’m told. I relayed this to Jagir and suggested he put on his hazzards and carry on. I later found out that it was 20.00 before he arrived and had to wait another hour for another driver on his way down from Scotland to pick him up.

I managed to catch up with the other trucks just as they were arriving at the docks compound. By this time, after 18.00, the compound was locked up and no-one was around. Graeme parked up outside the gates and the others pulled in behind him. He was out his lorry, taking off his trade plates and starting to fill in his paperwork. “What happens now” I asked, “we just put the keys and the paperwork through the letterbox in the security office”. I walked over towards the security office and I could see a sign on the door above the letterbox that said, DO NOT PUT KEYS IN THE LETTERBOX. “It says DO NOT…”, that was as far as I got before he shouted “we just ignore the sign”. Paperwork done and keys dropped through the letterbox the four got back into the minibus. I repeated my warning from earlier, however it wasn’t needed as they all either slept or were glued to their phones. We were back by 21.00. Back in the yard I parked up and as the four got out they said either thanks or goodnight except Henryk who had said nothing to me or anyone else throughout the day.

My next encounter with Henryk was about a month later on a trip up to Scotland. I was picking up a car from just outside Edinburgh that was destined for London. My job was to take it back to the yard for someone else to deliver into London early the following morning.

Henryk was picking up a truck in Paisley, I have no idea where he was taking it. Driving us up there was Kenny, one of the self employed drivers. He was delivering the car we were in, into Aberdeen and picking up a coach in Inverness that was going Sheffield to be refurbished.

Kenny was waiting in the yard ready to go at 06.00, I had my trade plates and we were waiting for Henryk. He arrived just after 06.00 wearing what looked like a surgical collar. Kenny and I exchanged looks and watched him as he went to the key room to pick up his plates. “Have you hurt your neck” I asked. “It is a travel collar to help me sleep on the journey to Scotland” he replied in a strong eastern European accent. I had said to Kenny that we should share the driving as it wasn’t fair that he should do all the driving when it benefits all of us. I had learned that the offer to share the driving although not always taken up is appreciated. I said to Henryk that we were sharing the driving and he would be on the last leg into Paisley. He said nothing and stretched out across the back seat of the car with his travel collar on and went to sleep. Kenny and I swapped over once we were a good way up the M6 and we stopped again at Tebay for a break and for Henryk to take over. He said he wasn’t going to do the driving as he wasn’t getting paid for it. He said Kenny was getting paid as it was his job to drive him up to Scotland and he said I was being paid as an agency driver. Kenny was not someone I would mess with, he had been in the army and at some time in the past been a guest of Her Majesty. He had a reputation as a no nonsense type of guy who didn’t mind a bit of confrontation. His words to Henryk were, “unless you want the next vehicle you are in to be an ambulance, you had better get in the f*cking car and start driving”. This changed Henryk’s mind immediately and he drove the rest of the way without saying another word.

When you are dropping a driver off for a collection, it’s normal that you will wait until it is confirmed that he has the vehicle and it starts. On arrival Henryk got out of the car and retrieved his backpack and plates from the boot. Before he had even got to the door of the building he was collecting from Kenny was in the driving seat and we were off. “F*ck him” he said, “he can sort it out himself if there’s a problem”. My collection went smoothly and once confirmed that all was OK, Kenny and I parted, him off to Aberdeen and Inverness and me straight back to the yard or so I thought.

I had just fuelled up when the phone rang, “can you pick up a driver from Carlisle and another one from Blackpool and take them both to BCA(British Car Auctions) Manchester and then call back in”. The names and the phone numbers of both drivers were texted to me and I rang them both to see when they would be at their respective drop offs. The one in Carlisle said he was already there and that the office had said I was only half an hour away. The people in the office will say anything to get a driver off the phone. They knew I wouldn’t be there for at least two hours. It was around 14.00 when I picked up the first driver. Fortunately it was from a car dealer not far from the motorway. It was going to be tight time wise to get to Blackpool and then into Manchester before BCA shut at 17.30. Back onto the M6, the driver is an agency driver who I had not met before and never saw again. It was his first week and it wasn’t as he had expected. He had been told the story at his interview that there would be a minibus waiting to take him from one job to another and that everything ran smoothly. It’s one of the lies we were all told but soon found out that the reality was totally different. The phone rang again, this time the Blackpool driver was phoning to say that he was waiting. “Around 15.30 – 15.45” I said for an arrival time. Georges was a Romanian driver, self employed, spoke excellent English and drove like a maniac. The speed limits meant nothing to him. To be a passenger with him was a scary trip. When he was picked up he offered to drive and I politely declined.

Traffic in Manchester is always heavy, I don’t think, other than very early in the morning there is a quiet time. You go through the city at a snails pace. The traffic always goes slower the nearer to a deadline you get. We arrived at BCA with fifteen minutes to spare. I dropped them off as near to the entrance door as I could get. Georges told the agency driver to follow him. I said I would meet them at the exit barrier to make sure everything was OK. Whilst waiting I rang the office as instructed hoping that there was nothing else they wanted me to do. There wasn’t. The two of them drove out through the barrier, a quick discussion on the best way out of Manchester, then I told the agency driver where the nearest petrol station was and we all left to head back. I’m not a slow driver and the drive back from Manchester is usually a two hour journey. Georges rang when he got back to say he had done it in an hour and forty. I’m definitely going to avoid being in a car with him.

Next time, We go digital and getting between jobs.

© 10210ken 2023