Trade Plating Around England, Part Nine

Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash

This time, Grandad rights and the ultimate sin

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

After the 1st January 1997 the entitlement to drive certain types of vehicle changed for those passing their car driving test after that date. Prior to that date anyone who had passed their test could drive anything up to 7.5tons and minibuses up to 16 seats. They were also entitled to drive vehicles with trailers. These rights were called variously “grandad/grandfather rights” or “acquired rights”. This meant that drivers who had passed their test after 1996 could only drive cars, vans and smaller minibuses which restricted the  jobs they could be given.

Having passed my test in 1977 I was able to drive the larger vehicles. It happened that I had a 7.5ton truck and a sixteen seater minibus both on the same day. As usual the job sheet had come through the night before and I looked to see where I was going to plan out the day. There were only two jobs that day and a quick calculation made it look like an early finish. From the yard I was going to Manheim Gloucester, which is nowhere near Gloucester, then up to Quedgeley to pick up a minibus going to the auctions near the yard. On paper, the only issue was getting from Manheim to Quedgeley. There was no direct public transport so the only option would be a taxi. For that I would need approval from the office. That could be sorted out in the morning as it was a 07.30 start. I then looked at the vehicles to see what I was moving, it said “DAF” for the make and model. “I didn’t think DAF made vans”, I thought to myself but let it pass, the other vehicle was a Mercedes minibus.

Next morning in the yard having got my plates and the keys for the DAF I’m looking round  for the van, I completely ignore the three 7.5tonne trucks sitting in a row, nose into the perimeter fence. There is a group of drivers chatting and I ask if anyone has seen my van. They ask for the reg number and make. One of them points towards the three trucks parked together, “It’ll be one of them” he said. “Bloody hell, I haven’t driven one of those for years, it’s f*cking huge.” “You’ll be alright” they laughed, “just watch out for low bridges”. It wasn’t low bridges I was bothered about, it was huge compared to anything I had driven recently. The last time I had driven something that big was over twenty years ago helping a friend to move house and then only going forward. This was going to be an experience, whether it was going to be one I’d enjoy I wasn’t sure. The drivers for the other two trucks had arrived and they were both HGV drivers, so this wasn’t going to be anything out the ordinary for them. We were all going to the same place. I told them that it was a long time since I had driven anything this big and that I would need help getting out the yard. The first thing I was going to have to do was reverse and turn to allow me to drive out. The yard is usually a busy place with plenty of vehicles parked up and I didn’t fancy reversing without anyone guiding me. We all needed guiding out in turn as even the HGV drivers admitted it was a tight space to get out. I climbed into the cab and started the truck up, figured out as best I could where the controls were but I couldn’t find the handbrake. All the markings were worn off all the levers. I flicked what I thought was the handbrake and tried to reverse, nothing, flicked the lever back up again, still nothing. I was going to have to ask. I climbed up to one of the other cabs and told the driver what had happened. He said I had the right lever but if the air pressure is not high enough then the brakes won’t come off. Back in the cab and the engine has been running for five minutes and the brakes are working and I can move. I inch back while looking in my mirrors, one of the other drivers is guiding me back. I’m watching him for signals and turning at the same time, all of a sudden there is a loud bang on the passenger side. “Shit, I’ve hit something” goes through my mind. I stop, pull on the handbrake and jump out and head round to the nearside. I can’t see anything other than the dents and scores along the bodywork I saw during the inspection. There is no car or van close by that I could have hit. I look over to the group of drivers standing there and they are trying not to laugh. One of them had sneaked across when I started to move and whacked the side of the truck with his fist as hard as he could. “B*stards” I shouted at them relieved it was a joke and not a bump. Back in the cab all goes smoothly with the reversing this time although my driving is very juddery. We’re going forward now so hopefully things will get easier. Due to the length and the unfamiliarity with the truck, I am taking turns much wider than usual and watching in the mirrors to check I’m not going over the pavements or cutting corners. The three of us are in a convoy with me at the back and I’m trying to keep the truck in the same position on the road as the one in front. Driving through town is a challenge, the roads out of town are much easier. Once on to the M42 it’s the inside lane and 56mph all the way. Round the bottom of Birmingham and on to the M5. We only had to travel down to J13 and then on to the A38 to the auctions. It had taken two and a half hours and it was after 10.30 when we finished the paperwork and left the trucks. It had been agreed with the office earlier that we could get a taxi from the auctions and into Gloucester. It took half an hour for the taxi to arrive as we were in the middle of nowhere. The other two drivers were going to the station and on somewhere else for their next job. I was going to SMH Fleet Solutions Quedgeley to pick up a minibus. Quedgeley is on the south side of Gloucester about four miles from the centre and two miles from the motorway. I was dropped off first and having never been here before had a look round to get my bearings. There was a turnstile to get through first of all. Fixed to the fence at the side of the turnstile was a sign saying “No PPE, No Entry”. I was wearing safety boots and reached into my backpack for a high viz vest. I buzzed the intercom on the turnstile and I could see the security guard answering  in a hut about ten yards away. I said that I was here for a collection and I heard the lock on the turnstile release and I pushed my way through. I went over to the security office and said it was my first visit and where was I to go. He said the office was round the corner and in the door then go to the hatch.

The hatch was a hole in a corridor wall that opened into an office. The hatch was closed, it had frosted glass and a bell on a ledge. I gave the bell a quick press and the hatch was opened. A woman in her early twenties looked up at me. I said I had come for a collection and gave her the registration number. She said to wait outside and it would be brought round to me. I think that I had interrupted whatever she had been doing and I was to find out on later visits that she was permanently like that. Twenty minutes passed before the minibus arrived. It was huge, a sixteen seater with a tail lift on the back. I knew I could drive 12 seaters but I had to ring the office to check on this one. They said it was on the limit for seating and weight for my licence and I was good to go. The woman from the office came out and she said that she had checks to do as well. I jokingly said that we could do them together, “You do your checks, I’ll do mine,” was the frosty reply. My checks were done including a photo of the dashboard showing the fuel level which showed half full. This was to prove vital later.

We signed each others paperwork and she gave me a pass out to give to security who would then let me leave. This done it was about two miles back to the M5 and hopefully two hours back to drop the minibus off. Driving it was a bit like the truck earlier on, in that I was taking corners much wider and relying on my mirrors to check my clearance. Once on the M5 it was a steady drive at around 50mph. I had just passed the next junction when the minibus engine started to misfire. It was like there was no fuel getting through to the engine. The engine cut out and I coasted on to the hard shoulder. Hazard lights on, I tried to restart the engine but it would turn over but not start. I rang the office and got one of the girls, I told them what had happened and they put me through to Alan. I explained again what had happened. The first thing he asked was if I had run out of fuel. “What are you in”, he asked, I said I was in a Mercedes minibus. “Where from” was the next question. I said “SMH Quedgeley”. “Did you fill up when you left as stated on your job sheet.” “No, It was half full of diesel and there were no instructions to fuel up on departure.”  “You’ve run out of fuel and it’s your fault” he said angrily. “There were no instructions to fuel up, check the job sheet sent out to me.” “There should have been an instruction to fuel up” he said. “Did you take a picture of the dashboard and the fuel gauge”. “Yes I did, check the pics uploaded” I said. “How can I run out of fuel when the gauge says half full”. “They drain the tanks on every vehicle, on Mercedes it doesn’t register when the tanks are syphoned. That’s why it says to fuel up”, he replied curtly. “But not on my paperwork.” I said. On checking he had to admit that I was right and he said the usual, “Give me ten minutes and I’ll call you back.”

The hard shoulder on a motorway is not a nice place to be, trucks are hurtling past at 56mph a few feet away. I had made the call from inside the minibus and was desperate to get out of it and up the embankment. I climbed about three or four feet up the embankment and sat down on the grass. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining. Half an hour passed before I heard my phone ring and I got back to the door of the minibus to shelter me from the noise. A breakdown truck was on its way to me. The pic of the dashboard had been sent over to the auction company to confirm that the issue had not been caused by the driver not fuelling up. This meant that the cost of the breakdown would be charged back to the auction company, who in turn would charge it back to their client.

Running out of fuel is the worst thing you can do. According to the office it is totally preventable. If there is no garage nearby or if you are on a motorway the cost burden falls on the company. The minimum you will get is a major bollocking, the maximum for repeatedly doing it is no work.

The fuel allowance is based on the mileage between pickup and delivery. There are three different allowances, cars, vans and trucks and buses. The amount for cars is based on a standard car, if you are moving a Fiat 500 or a Jaguar F Pace the allowance is the same. If additional fuel is needed then prior approval is needed from the office. They will only authorise a maximum of 5ltr at any one time. Sometimes they will only authorise 2ltr if you are near your destination. The cost agreed by the company and their customer includes the fuel for the journey, if you have to use more then it eats into the profit on the job. If the vehicle has plenty of fuel then the company makes more money.

If any of the drivers puts in extra fuel without contacting the office then they have been known to deduct it from their payments, in the case of agency drivers it is taken from your wages. Whether that is legal I’m not sure. I thought that it was only the taxman who could take money from your wages.

Back on the embankment I have been sitting waiting for over an hour. I have seen two “Highway Traffic Officer” cars go past. Neither of them stopped to see if I was OK. Another half an hour and the breakdown truck arrives. It’s a large car transporter. I said to the driver that all I needed was a gallon of diesel. “We’re not allowed to carry fuel, I have to put you on the back”. I stand well back and let him get on with loading up. There is no way I would want to do their job, standing near to the motorway is scary, working next to it must be terrifying. Loaded up I climb into the cab and he says there is a garage off the next junction. We pull in to the garage and he says to just put 5ltrs in to check it is out of fuel. I jumped in while it is still on the back of the breakdown truck and start cranking the engine, it takes a couple of minutes for the fuel to get through and it kicks into life. I pay for the fuel and we move away from the pumps and he unloads the minibus off his truck. I sign for the work done, drive back to the pumps to put the rest of the fuel allowance in and I am on the road hours late. Having dropped the minibus off, I get back to the office to discuss what had happened. I wanted them to know that there was no instruction to fuel up before leaving. I see Hilary, who is Alan’s assistant, I show her my copy of the job sheet and she says that it should have been put on but it was forgotten. She said that for future jobs for any of the drivers it had been now built into the template for that site. Happy that no one is blaming me I drop off my plates and head for home.

I went to Quedgeley many times after that and made sure that regardless of what the fuel gauge said, I put the fuel in. One driver however thought he knew better. Six drivers including myself had been dropped off by the minibus to pick up vans from Quedgeley. It was about 16.00 and it was going to be the last job of the day with the vans going back to the yard for onward delivery the next day. The six of us had been picked up from various jobs around the area with a couple of the drivers having been aboard for around two hours while other were collected. All of us were agency drivers most fairly new starters and one I hadn’t seen before. I was the only one who had been here before and Mark the minibus driver said to me to sort everything out so he didn’t have to hang about. As I said earlier, once you were through the turnstile you went through the door to the hatch to give them the registration number. As there were six of us and it’s a narrow corridor I got all the reg numbers, wrote them down on a single sheet and I went to the hatch. Once handed over Cheryl, whose name I now knew, said the usual “Wait outside and the vans will be brought round”. I went back outside and relayed the news to the others. I said that we will just have to wait and it could be a long wait. The new driver, Clive, had done plating for another company and was saying to no one in particular that the vans should have been sorted out and waiting for us. I explained that it didn’t work like that here and they would appear as and when they did. He was saying that this wasn’t right and something needed to be done. After about ten minutes another driver told me that Clive had gone into the office. I waited for him to return. “I’ve told her that she needs to get the vans sorted and brought round to us now,” he announced. “That’s not the smart thing to do here”, I said. “They do things at their own pace and having a go at them won’t hurry them up.” He then started saying that they needed to get their fingers out their arses and get a move on. “You’re being paid while you stand here, calm down” I said. It was now about 16.45 and nothing had arrived, Clive was ready to go back into the office again. I said I would go back in. I knocked gently on the hatch and Cheryl opened it up. “Cheryl, is there an issue with the vans” I asked quietly. “Which van is for that tosser who came in shouting his mouth off earlier”, quickly trying to work out whose van was which, I said the fourth one down. “That will be the last one out, I might leave it until 5.30pm to have it brought round.” I apologised for him and she said the vans will be round shortly, she said they had been sorting out the vehicles for their own drivers in the morning. I went back out and let everyone know that they were on the way round. True to her word, three vans arrived, none of which were for Clive. Their drivers then walked back to get the next three. The last three then came round but two of the drivers got back into the last van for a lift back. It then came back, the last van, which was for Clive. Cheryl then came out to do her checks and to give out the pass outs for each van. She left Clive’s until last. Once through the gates we stopped in the entrance and I told each driver that their job sheet said to fuel up regardless of what the fuel gauge said. The nearest garage was a mile and a half down the road, just before the motorway and we would go in a convoy in case anyone ran out on the way to the garage. Clive decided to ignore my instruction and said he had plenty of fuel and would make it back OK. I explained that the tanks had been drained and that his job sheet said to fuel up. “I know what I’m doing, I’ve done this job before” were his parting words. We all set off to fuel up and everyone got there OK except Clive, he carried on towards the motorway. Leaving the garage we stuck together on the way back doing around 60 -70mph, up the M5 and onto the M42. About two miles along the M42 there is a van on the hard shoulder, hazard lights flashing and a trade plate on the back, I could see Clive waving at us, so I peeped my horn, waved back and carried on. I don’t know when he got back as I never saw him again.

There is no excuse for being rude to people who are only doing there job. Had Clive been a nicer person there isn’t a driver who wouldn’t have stopped to help him, but when you’re an “I know better, arse” then you get what you deserve.

Next time, Preston and Norwich and a nightmare in London.

© 10210ken 2023