Trade Plating Around England, Part Eight

Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash

This time, The only time I felt unsafe and down to the South West

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

I have a late start, 08.30, and the office staff are in when I arrive. It is a chance to ask a question that has been bugging me for a while. I head into the portacabin and go to the half door with a counter on top that is barrier between the drivers and the office staff. Alan the manager and Mark and Dean the planners are flicking between screens and paperwork starting to sort jobs as they come in. “Can I ask a question”, Alan looks up and nods. “Why do I get all the sh*t jobs with the rubbish transfers between them”. Slightly taken aback he just looked at me. He looked at the other two and then said, “You get the more complex jobs because we know that you can do them and won’t call in with every minor problem.”  “So, if I start to screw up and keep calling in, I will get easier jobs and good transfers” I replied. “Then you will be put on to the “Temp to Perm” program and transferred to self employed”. “Look”, he said, “there are three or four of you agency drivers we have left alone and not pushed to become self employed as we know that you can be relied on to turn up, do your work and not complain.” “That’s why you are still agency drivers. Whatever you get paid, we are charged double by the agency. You cost us more than any of the self employed drivers, but that’s a cost we are prepared to bare.” “ You now have two choices” he said with a smile, either get on with your work or come in the office and sign up for “Temp to Perm”. “Bye” I said as I went out. I left wondering if that was as near to a compliment as I would ever get.

I only had two jobs for the day, hence the late start and hopefully an early finish. Head to the local auctions to pick up a van that was going to Bootle docks for export to Ireland and then across Liverpool to pick up a car going to another auction site about five miles from the yard and a short bus journey back. Could be a 17.30 finish.

Usually there is someone else in the yard who can give you a lift locally, but today there was no one so it was a mile and a half walk to pick up the van. At the desk at the auctions, picking up the keys, along with the V5 there is another envelope containing all the export paperwork. This is to be handed over when I drop off the van at the docks. Inside is an invoice showing the purchase price and the transport cost to the docks. £190.00 for two hours driving and some diesel. I know there are additional costs including an amount for the office, but I think someone is making a good profit. Its an uneventful journey and the compound where I have to drop off was easy to find. Paperwork done and signed for I’m off to the next one.

Liverpool is a place where I have never felt comfortable, I have been to Anfield several times when my son was younger and followed the Reds and again to do work when I was on the tools and each time I have had a feeling of unease. This visit was no different. I had to make my way from Bootle docks over to Kirkby. I had looked on the map the previous evening and the address I was heading for was in the middle of a housing estate. I had sent a text to the lady whose car I was picking up but I had not had a reply.

It was a twenty minute walk to the bus stop then two buses and a fifteen minute walk to the address. Walking up to the bus stop was OK as it was along a main road, it was the walk at the other end I wasn’t looking forward to. The buses were fairly busy and still busy when I got off. Nobody else got off. I had tried to memorise the route from the bus stop so that I wasn’t constantly getting my phone out to check directions. As I walked along there was a garden with a settee in it, another with a large American fridge freezer on its side, several with cars on bricks or on ramps, but the best one was a Ford Sierra in the garden upside down. There was no glass in any of the windows and the doors were wedged open, I guess, to stop it spinning round. I could see up ahead a large open green area and I knew that when I got there I had to turn left to get to the house I wanted. On turning the corner it was like walking into a different place. Here the houses and gardens all looked neat. Nothing was dumped in the gardens and each one had a wall or a hedge. I could see the car I had come for and just hoped that someone would be in. I rang the door bell, I could hear someone moving inside and bolts on the door sliding back. When it opened, it could have been Lily Savage’s twin sister and I had to stifle the temptation to gasp. She spoke in that broad Liverpool accent mixed with 20 a day Capstan Full Strength. “Whada ya want” she asked. “Ive come for the lease car that’s going back” I said. “ ‘old on” and she disappeared coming back a few minutes later with the keys. “Jwanta drink”. “A cold drink would be nice”. She went off again and returned with a glass of cold orange squash. I hurried through the checks and knocked on the door with the empty glass and the paperwork to be signed. “Tarra” she called as I walked back down the path. I could hear the bolts being slid back across the closed door as I went through the gate. I had to do a three point turn as it was a dead end and drive back down the way I had walked. Off the estate and heading for the motorway I could hear myself sighing with relief, another trip into and out of Liverpool unscathed.

My wife would often call me at around 18.00 just before she was about to eat asking me where I was. Whenever I said “Exeter” she knew that it was going to be a late finish. The west country was one of the regular longish days. The self employed didn’t like it as the transfers between jobs were too long. The furthest I ever went was Truro and that was a long trek back. The worst part about it was the M5. The more times you drive up and down it, the more you come to loathe it. It is a long boring motorway with no redeeming features. There is always a hold up, usually round Bristol and when the M5 is closed, the diversions are long and congested. My relationship with the M5 started years ago with travelling down on a Saturday in August for a weeks holiday in Woolacombe. Hours on the M5 with hold ups starting near Gloucester and carrying on all the way down. Kids in the back moaning, “I’m bored” and “when will we get there”. The worst part was knowing that it was going to be the same a week later on the way back.

Fortunately I was now going down and back during the week but it was still a slog. The office had contracts with several companies based around Exeter and Newton Abbott and I seemed to be there at least once a fortnight. Most of the times the jobs ran smoothly but occasionally the office liked to throw a spanner in the works.

Looking at the jobs the night before it was an easy straightforward day. Pick up a van from the nearby auctions take it to Newton Abbott, pick up a car in Exeter and drop it off back at the auctions from where I had started. There were to be three of us heading to the same place and then going our separate ways. I looked at the notes attached to the jobs which said, “can you take Kev to Cwmbran on your way back”. “That’s not on my way back” I thought. I looked at my maps and it was a forty mile detour.

In the yard the following morning the three of us had a discussion about how we were going to work things. The other driver was James, an agency driver. He hadn’t been before whereas Kev and I had been several times. The drop off was about five miles out of Newton Abbott with no public transport links and no pavements to walk on. If I was on my own it would be a taxi back to Exeter, but as there were three vehicles we worked out a plan. James and I were to take our vehicles straight in to be dropped off and Kev was to wait across the road in a lay-by. He would then take us to Exeter, James to the train station and me to collect my car for the return leg. I would then follow Kev back to drop of his vehicle and we would carry on to Cwmbran, with no need for a taxi. It was decided that once we had fuelled up we would stick together on the journey down the M5 to Exeter and then on to Newton Abbott. I was in the lead, James next and then Kev. All went well until we came off the M5 and onto the A38. Kev was no longer at the back. I gave him a call and he had taken the A380 turn instead of staying on the A38. “I was day dreaming and just went off the wrong way, I’ll soon catch up”.

James and I made the drop off and as we were heading back out the garage Kev is driving in. He stopped when he saw us. “What are you doing” I shouted at him, “You are supposed to wait across the road in the lay-by, if they see you we are in the sh*t.” While some customers don’t mind about a few extra miles being added onto deliveries, others complain and can get quite irate about it. “Don’t go any further and reverse back out onto the road, hopefully they won’t have seen you”.  Back on the main road and out of sight James and I climbed in and off we went to Exeter. Kev dropped me off at my collection and I reminded him to come back for me after he had dropped off James. He was back in about ten minutes, just as I was getting the keys for my car. He apologised again for the cock-up earlier, “I’m in holiday mode, off to Sunny Beach Bulgaria tomorrow, can’t really be arsed with work today.”

We drove back up to drop off his car and fortunately nothing was said. He was asked why he was later than the other drivers, he lied saying that he had started an hour later. Now we were off to Cwmbran, Kev’s pick up was at a hospital, another regular pick up place. Like any place in Wales, it’s on a hill, alright when you are in a car, but when you have to walk up from a bus stop…

The transport office is stuck away at the back of the hospital and it takes some finding if you have never been before, but with us both having been before there we were straight there. Kev could see his car and headed into reception to pick up the keys. I waited long enough for him to start the car and check the fuel. A quick wave and a shout to enjoy his holiday and I was off. Could I be back at a normal time tonight? No, not a chance, The phone rang and I could see it was the office. Some drivers will ignore the phone if they see the office calling as they know it usually means another job or a driver to be picked up. I can’t do that, if the phone is ringing, I am going to answer it. “Can you head to Gloucester and pick up Terry and take him to his next job”. Terry was in the wrong job, he was pedantic, slow and could be very very annoying. He was an agency driver and had been working for about eight weeks. The agency moved him onto a different contract before he went onto “Temp to Perm”. “No, not Terry” I exclaimed. “Yes, he doesn’t know how to get to his next job and it’s easier to send another driver than to try to work things out for him”. “Send me his location and I will head over to him”.

On a separate occasion I had been in the front seat with Terry driving and two self employed drivers in the back. Terry was taking us all across to the local auctions to pick up our vehicles. It was around 05.00 in the morning and Terry was driving through town at between 20 and 25 mph. Jason in the back shouts to Terry, “Oi Terry, We’re not the f*cking Royal Family you know, you can drive a bit faster than this”. I turned round to see Jason looking out the window waving like the Queen to no-one. We all laughed except Terry who carried on at the same speed. As we were being dropped off the other driver in the back got out and ran round to Jason’s door and opened it for him, Jason then went to the drivers window and knocked on it. Terry wound it down a bit and Jason said in a Queenly voice, “Thank you my man” and walked off.

Into Gloucester and I pick up Terry. He’s not saying much and I ask him for the address. He gives me the post code and it’s a village called Cobberley. I ask him if he has called the customer to say he is on his way. He nods. “Have you got the exact address for the collection” again he nods, “well, we are not going to find it if you don’t give it to me”. It’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. “This is your job, not mine” I said, “A little bit of help wouldn’t go amiss” He finally gets the job sheet out of his bag and gives me a street name. When we get to the address I stay with him to make sure that everything is OK. “There’s not much fuel in it”. “What range does it say on the screen” I ask. “I’m not sure”. I ask to swap places with him and flick through the display to find the range, “Twenty nine miles, plenty to get you to a petrol station.” With that, I bid him farewell knowing that I will be home and have eaten my meal long before he is back in the yard.

I was at home on a Wednesday having already had a text message to say that I was booked for the next day. Around 17.00 the phone rang and it was the office. What had I done wrong was the first thing that went through my mind. They had never phoned me on a non working day. It was Alan the manager, “Not disturbing you am I”. “No”. “You’re booked for tomorrow and I need to give you some special instructions”. “The last job you have must be collected by 13.30, we cannot afford to fail with this collection”. “Why” I asked. “He has been let down once already, tomorrow until 13.30 is the only time he is available.” “It’s a Motability end of lease and it is booked into the auction to be sold on Friday.”

No pressure then I thought. I said that I hadn’t seen tomorrow’s work sheet yet to know if it would work out. He said he would email it over now for me to look at and to call him back once I had checked it out.

It was to be a 05.00 start and I had to take eight drivers in a hired minibus, drop them off in Lingfield. Go to Totton near Southampton to de-hire the minibus and make my way to pick up the car in Shaftsbury, Dorset.

I set to work with Google maps to work out the feasibility of the day and the timings needed to make the collection.

From the yard to Lingfield is around three hours. Lingfield to Totton is another two hours. Barring any hold ups I should be in Totton at 10.00. Public transport would get me near to the collection point at 13.15. A bus, two trains, another bus and then a half mile walk.

There was some leeway at Totton as the bus left at 10.40, however the rest of the transfer had to run on time.

I rang Alan back and said that it was doable but there was very little margin for error. All the drivers needed to be there on time in the morning and those late would be left behind. I also said that whoever drops off the minibus in the yard the night before needs to make sure it is fuelled up. He assured me that all this would be done. He had one more request for me. “Can I give the customer your phone number as he has asked for the drivers number so that he can check on your progress.” I reluctantly agreed but said to not give him my number until tomorrow.

The next morning I was in at 04.45 and had the minibus ready to drive out the yard by 04.55. A couple of drivers were there already and the others arrived in due course. 05.00 arrived and there was still one driver to come. “Too late” I said to the rest “we’re off and Gary, (the missing driver), can explain to Alan why he hasn’t made it.” As I’m pulling out on to the main road, I can see someone running and waiving his arms about. It’s Gary, I stop and he gets in. “Can you wait while I go to get my plates”, he pleads. “No chance” I replied, “you will have to hope that the car you are picking up is taxed”.

The Gods must have been smiling on me that morning as the run down to Lingfield went smoothly. Even the M25 round by Heathrow kept moving. We arrived in Lingfield at 07.50. The garage didn’t open until 08.30 so they all asked to be dropped off at a nearby MacDonalds. This done and the sat nav reprogrammed for Totton it was off on the next leg. Back on to the M25 which was now much busier and down to 20mph at points. The overhead gantries had a 50mph limit lit up. “I wish” I thought. The M3 was much better with the queues heading into London as I was heading away. The sat nav was now saying 10.15 as an arrival time. I quickened the pace but it still stayed at 10.15. Going round Southampton and the run in to Totton was slower and it was now telling me that the ETA was 10.20.

The phone rang and it was the customer asking me what time I was going to arrive. 13.15 I said to him. “That’s cutting it a bit fine isn’t it”, he replied. “It gives me fifteen minutes” I replied. “I need to go out at 1.30” he emphasised. “Sorry, I have to go, I’m arriving at my next stop” I lied. “I can’t be doing with this sh*t” I thought.

I finally got clear of the drop off at 10.35. The bus stop was just across the road. The bus arrived on time and I’m just sitting down when it’s the office on the phone wanting an update. I tell them everything is going alright and that I have spoken to the customer. “Just the once?” Alan asked, “He’s rung here three times already”. From the bus stop in to Southampton station is only a few minutes walk and I’m straight up to the ticket machine. I type in Gillingham as the destination. There are two, One in Kent and the one I want in Dorset. I select the correct one and get my ticket. The train for Cardiff leaves almost immediately. I have to change at Salisbury and then get the Exeter train. There is a 10 minute wait between trains so I grab a coffee and sit and wait. The next train is on time and as I get on board my phone is ringing again. “How are you progressing”, asks the customer. “Fine”, and I say nothing else. “Where are you now”. “Sitting on a train looking out of the window at the countryside”. I’m determined not to tell him where I am. “Are you on time”. I would love to say “no, I’m on a train” but stop. “Yes”, and I press the “end call” button. Just outside Gillingham the train slows down and eventually stops. I have a twenty minute buffer between the train arriving in Gillingham and the bus leaving. We are stopped for ten minutes before moving off again. A train passes us in the other direction and I suspect that we had to wait for him to clear a section of track before we could pass. Into the station with five minutes to spare. The bus is there waiting and I’m quickly on board. The time is now 12.35 and I am on board for twenty five minutes. About ten minutes on the bus and the phone is ringing again. I ignore it, it rings again, I ignore it. Off the bus just before 13.00 and as I look at my phone for walking directions to the address it rings again. This time I answer it to be told that he had tried to call me twice and I didn’t answer. “I must have been in a poor signal area” I said. “Where are you now” he demanded to know. “I’m walking up to your address and will be there as agreed at 13.15.”

Again I pressed the “end call” button. As I’m on the final approach to the address I can see a mobility scooter coming towards me on the pavement. It stops in front blocking the way, I walk on to the road to go past when the occupant says “hold on there, are you the driver”. I look around to see if there is anyone else he might have been speaking to. “Pardon”, “are you the driver who has come for my car”. “I might be, it depends if you are the owner of the car I have come to collect”. “Stop playing silly buggers, are you the one who is here for my car”. “I don’t know, what is your name”. He is getting more and more wound up. “Under data protection”, I say, “I can only discuss this with the owner of the car”. He then tells me his name and I agree that I am indeed here for his car. “It’s up there”, nodding his head backwards. He tries to do a three point turn on the pavement and realises he is going to have to go down the street until he finds a dropped kerb to turn round. I walk on up to where the car is and start to do my checks. “I’m going to report you, I’m going to phone up your firm and tell them you have been rude to me”. I carried on checking the outside of the car and asked him for the keys to open it up. “How do I know who you are”. I took my ID from around my neck and passed it to him. “I’m going to make a note of your name”. “Well please spell it correctly, I hate it when people get my name wrong”. He produced the keys from his pocket and I did all the checks inside. I photographed the outside including all the dents. This produced more questions which I answered as politely as I could. The time was now approaching 13.45. I said that I thought he had to be gone by 13.30. “I only said that to make sure you were here early”. I thought of all the pressure I had been under earlier in the day to make this collection. I so wanted to tell him exactly what I thought of him. He carried on talking at me, not to me, and I said nothing. Again he said I was very rude and he was calling my office as soon as I left. I asked him if he would like to do it now as I have the number programmed into my phone. This infuriated him even more and I now wasn’t bothered. I asked him to sign the paperwork. “Do I get a copy” he wanted to know. “If we have your email address then a copy will be emailed to you automatically.” He told me under no circumstances was I getting his email address. “Then when you phone the office to complain about me, ask them for a copy of the paperwork and they will put one in the post”.

With that I put my trade plates on the car, set up the sat nav and bid farewell to the gentleman.

Before I had got ten minutes into the journey back, the office were on the phone. Alan wanted to know what had happened. I told him the tale and the fact that there was no deadline as he wasn’t going anywhere. He said he would call me back. Within a few minutes he was back on. “I just rang the customer to ask him why he told us there was a strict deadline that had to be met when this wasn’t the case. He didn’t deny it but insisted you were rude to him.” “I wasn’t rude, He was very insistent and kept phoning to find out where I was”, I then told him of the encounter in the street to which he laughed. Nothing more was said about the job except that Alan said to book an extra hour on my time sheet for the work done on Wednesday afternoon when he first called.

Thankfully there aren’t too many awkward old buggers to deal with.

Next time, Grandad rights and the ultimate sin.

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