Out on my own
Brief recap, I spent two and a half years trade plating round England with the occasional foray into Scotland and Wales. Part one is here.
I received a text on Friday morning from the agency asking me what days I am available for the following week, this was to become a routine thing and I picked the days I was free. This was usually Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I never knew which of these days if any I would actually be working until the day before. A text would come through late in the afternoon saying I was booked for the next day and the jobs would be emailed to me later.
On Monday night and email came through with my jobs. 5.45 am start. Take a minibus from the local auctions to a village near Stroud. Then get to Berkley, a village on the A38, pick up another van from a dealer and deliver to a customer in Chichester. The next job was a car from a dealership in Totton near Southampton to go to Blackburn. Against each job was the fuel allowance for each part of the journey. The basic minimum.
Five forty five start, in the yard, sign in and pick up my trade plates and a couple of fuel cards that had been left in an envelope for me, then cadge a lift from one of the other drivers to the local auctions to pick up the minibus, It had been “pulled” the night before and left in their customer car park The keys were with the security on site. Another driver who was also collecting showed me what to do and where to find the minibus. I thought that I should do a thorough vehicle inspection and took longer than the five minutes I was told it should take. Got a signature from the security guard, left him with a copy and went off to start my journey. I had looked the previous night and the satnav said I should arrive around 8-8.30am. There was around a quarter of fuel tank so I figured this would get me to Ashby de la Zouch to put in the amount as specified on the job sheet. Set up the satnav and off I went.
I was using TomTom for the satnav and Google Maps as a backup.
The previous night I had looked at how to get from each job to the next. Getting from the village near Stroud, into Stroud was going to be the issue on this leg, from Stroud to Berkley was two buses with not a long wait between them. I thought that when I dropped off the minibus then I would ask them how to get to Stroud.
The minibus was a 12 seater with a tail lift on the back. It had seen better days and was restricted to 56mph. However I’m not sure it would have gone much faster. It performed alright on the Motorway and the A roads but once onto the country lanes it turned into a bit of a beast. It struggled on the steeper hills and had to be dropped to first gear for some of the inclines. Brakes were of the spongy variety. This I was to soon learn was not a rare occurrence.
I found the address and parked up, It was a residential street and my first thought was that I was in the wrong place. I noted down on the paperwork the delivery mileage, put away my satnav, took off the trade plates and went to knock on the door of the address. Before I got to the door a jovial chap opened the door and welcomed me in. “you’re early” he said “they don’t usually get here until mid morning. Do you want a drink”. “No thanks” I replied as I wasn’t sure how long I would end up being there and where I would stop for a pee.
He signed for the minibus and I asked him how to get into Stroud as I wasn’t sure of the buses. “There are no buses, I’ll take you. I only have the vehicles dropped of here at home and then take them to my garage. Give me five minutes.” He drove, and chatted away, “where have you come from, where is your next job, what time will you finish.” The same sort of chatter that you would have with a stranger or a taxi driver.
He dropped me off around 09.00 at the bus station in Stroud. It took two buses and two and a half hours to travel around 15 miles.
The last time I had been on a bus was around 30 years ago and this was going to be a whole new experience. Travelling around little villages, watching people struggling on and off and listening but not hearing the chatter of the other passengers. The first bus was from Stroud to Dursley. Stupidly I asked for a ticket for the whole journey only to be told that this bus didn’t go there. “ I know” I explained “but that is my destination”, “You can only get a ticket to Dursley on this bus, you need to buy another ticket on the next bus”. This was my introduction to bus drivers, in general a surly bunch who don’t like their job, don’t like their customers and don’t want to help you if at all possible. Only once or twice did I come across bus drivers who were helpful.
I got to the next collection around 11.30, It was a Vauxhall Vivaro about three years old. I was given the sales pack to give to the customer and did my inspection and got it signed off. There was half a tank of diesel so no need to fill up on the way to Chichester. The satnav said arrival at around two thirty.
Joy oh joy no restrictions on this one and I was able to cruise along with the rest of the motorway traffic.
One thing I had forgotten to do was, after each job was completed, drivers were supposed to phone the office to let them know you had finished that job and let them know how much fuel you had used. This I learned allowed them to raise invoices within minutes of the job being done and to keep a check on where drivers were. I had earphones for my phone that also had a mike so rang through hands free as I went down the M5 towards Bristol.
The run to Chichester was an easy and pleasant one and I arrived bang on time. However the address was a building site, a house that was having major work done to it. I phoned the customer to make sure it was the correct address, he appeared from the house, covered in brick dust with hard hat and boots on. I gave him all the paperwork, walked round the van with him and got my gear out. I asked him if he knew where the railway station was. “Jump in I’ll take you, It will give me a chance to try out the van” Five minutes later I was dropped off outside the railway station. I thought to myself that this job is dead easy, just ask for a lift and people will always oblige. This was beginners luck and it was to be many months before I got another lift.
The last time I had been in a railway station, there was a booking office and staff standing about. Chichester station brought me right up to date. I was faced with a self service machine with a myriad of buttons and options. I eventually managed to get a single to Southampton out of the machine. The train arrived almost immediately and on I got. I used the time to eat my lunch and photograph my receipts from the buses and the train to claim back my expenses then I sat back and enjoyed the journey.
Off at Southampton and on to another bus for the trip to Totton. Totton is at the east end of Southampton and the bus takes you along past the cruise terminals and by the look of it a lot of freight areas. Found the dealership, It was one that was part of a nationwide company and the trade plate company had the contract for doing a lot of their inter branch transfers. This was one of those, From Southampton to Blackburn. The time was now around 4.00pm and I thought that there is no way that I would be going to Blackburn tonight. Did my checks and paperwork and off I set. Just out of Southampton my phone rings, It was the office asking me where I was. I told them and they said “go to Andover and pick up a driver who needs to be in Swindon before five thirty. We will text over the address and the drivers info.” I said that I will never get to Blackburn tonight. “That’s OK, we didn’t expect you to, just bring it back to the yard, someone else will complete the journey tomorrow. I soon learnt that this was normal practice and many of the drivers deliberately delayed journeys so that their jobs would be diverted to the yard and an early finish for them.
Reset the satnav for Andover and picked up the driver. Richard was a self employed driver and one who didn’t think too highly of agency drivers like myself. I didn’t know this at the time but was to find out later. Once I had set the satnav for his address it showed an ETA of about 17.40. Ten minutes after the business was due to close. I quickened the pace to try to see if we could make up time. Whilst I’m driving he is trying to phone the customer to explain that we are running ten minutes late. If he doesn’t make the collection he wont get paid for the job and will have to ride back with me earning nothing while I am being paid an hourly rate. That’s what irks the self employed.
He eventually finds the right person on the phone who agrees to wait ten minutes but no longer. Fortunately the run to Swindon is a steady one and the traffic going in is much less than the traffic coming out. We arrive with five minutes to spare. Richard asks me to wait to make sure the car runs and is OK to go. There is no thanks for picking him up or getting him to the job on time. Once he has done his checks, he gets in and drives off. No acknowledgement, no wave of thanks, nothing.
An uneventful drive back up round Oxford, M40, up to Coventry, M69 M1 and I am back by 8.15pm. Finish off my paperwork sitting in the car and sign out at 8.30pm.
Fourteen and three quarter hours, long day for a first day out on my own. Little did I know that my next work day would be even longer.
England Scotland and Wales all in one day
I received a text on Thursday saying I was booked for Friday. The job sheet arrived by email with only one job on it for the following day. Meet Jason in the yard at 04.00, he will take you to Shotts, deliver into Bridgend and someone will pick you up from there.
The sheet indicated that it was a ten year old Ford Transit to be collected from Manheim Auction in Shotts and delivered to a commercial vehicle dealer in Bridgend. Shotts is a small village between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Famous for The Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band and not much else.
Bridgend is not famous for anything that I have noticed.
Surprised to see quite a gathering when I arrived at 04.00. There were eight of us including Jason who was sitting in the driver’s seat of a hired minibus. “Who’re you” he asks. Once the pleasantries have been exchanged he announces that there are five for Shotts and he and the other two are off to Aberdeen. “Get in or you’re not going anywhere. One stop on the M6 for a piss and petrol. If you need a piss now best hurry” I quickly got my stuff from the keyshed including my trade plates and then climbed aboard. Jason is not a slow driver, The accelerator is either off or on. He said we would be there between 08.30 and 09.00. I don’t think many of you will know that the Mercedes Benz Vito Minibus will cruise at around 90 with no problem.
The seating in the minibus was as follows, Jason and a chap in his late fifties called Milko in the front. On the next row was the other driver off to Aberdeen Kenny. All three of them were self employed drivers. As was Harpreet (Harpie), he was on the Shotts run and nominally in charge of the four remaining drivers, and Tahir an agency driver. The back row had Alex, Kev2 and myself all agency drivers.
I decided to try to get some sleep on the way up and stuck my coat against the window, pulled my hat down over my eyes and tried to drift off. It sort of works until there is a pothole or a sharp manoeuvrer. I must have slept as I was woken by a dig in the ribs and a question about coffee and a piss.
No idea which services we were at but there was a Greggs open and a cup of tea was welcome. A quick pee and we we’re back in the minibus this time with Kenny driving. No difference to the style of driving though. Slurping hot tea in a minibus was a skill I was going to have to learn fairly quickly if I wasn’t to end up soaked. I got talking to Kev2 who was an ex Londoner who had spent sometime in Australia with his wife and kids and then they had decided it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be and returned back to the UK and ended up back in Leicestershire. He had been with the agency for about six months and gave me a piece of advice. During my interview “Temp to Perm” had been mentioned as something to attain after a qualifying period. I had no idea what it was. Kev2 said whatever you do, do not agree to “Temp to Perm”. He said he would explain later when it was less noisy.
Jason was true to his words and we arrived just after 09.00am. The five of us were dropped off outside the auction site. They quickly changed drivers to Milko and they were off.
Hoping it might be an auction day and the cafe open our hopes were dashed when we walked through the doors, it was like a ghost town. No one on the counter and no one around. We walked back outside and found the keyroom. Again no one around. At last we spotted someone in a Manheim Hi Viz jacket and called him. Back to the offices we had just left and he found one of the people who could issue pass outs. We got these and then the keys and it was off to their compound to try to locate the vans. We had been told that the vans would be at the back of the site. Sure enough there were Five Transits all in a row. However they weren’t vans, they were ex council flat bed tippers based on a Transit cab and chassis. They were all well worn had been driven hard and the inside of the cabs looked like they had just come off site. To add insult to injury one of the tyres on my van was as flat a flat thing. Tahir and Alex had been in deep conversation and they had decided that they didn’t want to have to drive the vans to Wales and that it was too far and that we should only have to drive them back to our yard today for someone to finish the job tomorrow. Harpie shouted at them to “shut the f*ck up and start getting the vans inspected”. I went off to find the mobile tyre inflator to sort out my tyre. Job done and I hoped it would stay inflated. It was just gone 10.00 when we eventually got off site and headed to Shotts village for fuel. Filled to the max. we decided that we would meet up again at first services we got to on the M6 south. Phone numbers were exchanged to allow us keep in touch if needed. It was nearly 10.30 when we left the Shell petrol station in Shotts. Five knackered, dirty vans heading up the hill chugging away. It was only when we got on the M8 that we realised that it would be 56mph all the way. Almost 400miles at 56mph. There was no way we would make the delivery before they would shut. It would be more like 7.00pm before we get there. Harpie phoned the office to let them know, and for a decision to be made. Splitting the job as Tahir and Alex had said sounded the best option, however I wasn’t bothered either way.
Decision made. We are to continue to Wales, there will be mechanics working until 10.30pm and the vans can be handed over to them. A driver will be waiting for the five of us to bring us back.
We arrived at Tebay to fuel up, have a break and to discuss the rest of the journey. I got one of their monster sausage rolls to eat. Absolutely delicious. Tahir said his engine was struggling on the hills and he didn’t think that he would make it. Alex said he had had to pump up one of his tyres a couple of times on the way down. My tyre had stayed pumped up and although the vans were knackered mine was OK once you got used to the engine noises. Harpie said for us to press on and to drive in a convoy so no one rushed off, hard to do when we are all stuck at 56mph. We had just got back on to the M6 when Tahir started flashing his lights and pulled over on to the hard shoulder. We had no option but to carry on. I guess Harpie phoned to see what was happening as he then phoned us to let us know that Tahir had said his engine had gone into “limp mode” and that there was no way he would get to Wales in time. Alex disappeared off at the next services. He phoned Harpie to say he had a puncture and couldn’t continue until it was repaired.
Two down, Three left, we were determined to make it to Wales to show the other two that it could be done. When we next stopped for fuel Kev2 phoned Tahir out of earshot of anyone else to ask him if he OK. He later told me that Tahir had no intention of going to Wales when he saw the vehicles. Alex said the same to Tahir and decided that he would have a “puncture”.
There was no “limp mode” and no puncture. Tahir had driven down to the next services, met Alex, changed his wheel, in case anyone checked, spent an hour or so sitting in the services then drove slowly back to the yard, making sure they arrived after the office staff had gone home. Kev2 asked him what he would say when it was discovered that the van wasn’t in “limp home” mode the next day. “I’ll just say it must only come on after it has been driven a while”
The rest of the journey was pretty boring, chugging along at 56mph and we arrived in Bridgend at around 7.30pm. We left the vans and let them know the other two would arrive tomorrow. One of the company minibuses was waiting for us, Mark the driver had been waiting for us since 5.00pm and was fast asleep. Roused and ready, he set off and we arrived back at 11.00pm. I slept a lot of the way back.
Sixteen hours plus the fourteen and three quarters from the other day makes thirty and three quarters for two days. I thought I was looking for less intense work, not more.
Next time, how the logistics of it all hangs together and how it can go pear shaped very quickly.
© 10210ken 2023