Trade Plating Around England, Part Ten

Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash

This time, Preston and Norwich and a nightmare in London

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

The jobs had come in for the next day and it looked like a good day. From the yard up to Preston, train into Manchester and a bus to British Car Auctions(BCA) Manchester. Car from there to Norwich and one from near Norwich airport back to the yard. Start time is 06.00, so I get to work planning my day. My phone rings and it’s one of the other drivers, a self employed driver, Sean. “We have nearly the same trip tomorrow so it makes sense to pair up” he says. “That’s OK by me” I say. “Can you be in the yard by 05.30 and we will leave as soon as we can”, It’s going to be a long day”, he replied. I thought it was a fairly good day. “OK, I’ll be there at 05.30.”

Sean treats everyone the same, if you can do your job he doesn’t care if you are agency or self employed. I had worked with him before and we had got on well. He wasn’t someone who hung about when driving.

The next morning, we compare our jobs and we are both have the same first two jobs, it’s only the third jobs that are different. We decide that once we are in Norwich, we will park up my car in a side road near the drop off and use Sean’s car to travel in to my third collection. Drive back to where we left the car, leave my third car and drive the two cars in from BCA together. When we come out, we have a car to drive to Sean’s third collection and no need for public transport.

We are on our way by 05.45 and Sean has said we need to get the 08.20 train from Preston to Manchester Piccadilly It’s 115 miles and the sat nav say 2 hours 25 minutes. It shouldn’t take that long, and if it does we will be tight for time. Sean sets off at a cracking pace and I try to keep up with him but decide not to. The route is, M1 to J24 then the A50 through Stoke then onto the M6. There are mobile speed cameras on A50 that don’t show up on TomTom, however having driven along there so often I know where they lurk and slow down in case they are there. Again in Stoke, there are speed cameras that measure your speed over a distance so you have to keep within the limit. I’m thinking as I’m driving along that there is no point in Sean racing away as his plan requires us to work together. I decide to tell him this when we get to Preston.

The drop off is about a half mile from the station so we need to factor in a fifteen minute walk. The run up to Preston is uneventful and the traffic is not too heavy. I arrive at 07.50 and see that Sean is already there doing his checks. “What kept you” he asked. “Nothing” was my reply. I said that it all looks closed up. Sean said “It doesn’t open until 08.30, but I have been here before and the manager is usually here at 08.00”. Sure enough, another car came onto the forecourt and park some distance away, we had parked as near to the front doors as we could get. “Two to drop off”, Sean called to the man walking towards us.  He nodded, carried on, unlocked the doors, put the lights on and came back out. A quick look round both cars and he signed us both off.

The time is now 08.00 and Sean is breaking into a trot as we leave the cars. He’s in his thirties, I’m in my sixties, there is no way I am going to be doing anything other than walking. I can walk briskly but there is no way I am running. He slows to my speed but I can see he is eager for me to pick up my pace. “We’ll make it I said to him” as we walked to the station. We did, with a few minutes to spare. The train was on time and once out of Manchester Piccadilly the bus stop is right next to the station. It’s only about ten minutes on the bus which stops across the road from BCA. There is a pedestrian side gate on to the site which if not open means a twenty minute walk round to the main entrance. Today the gate is open and it’s just a short walk up to main building. Once inside, we bypass the queues to the two windows that are open where people are asking questions, paying for cars or collecting keys. As we are contracted to BCA for this job we head directly to the transport office where in just a few minutes we have the keys, paperwork and the pass out to get us through the gates. The site is huge and we are only given a rough idea where the cars are. The solution is to head over to the area where the car is located and start unlocking and locking the car with the remote key, at the same time looking for indicators flashing to identify the car. Eventually we find the cars, do our checks , and put on our plates. Head to the exit gates and wait to be checked out and try to get our paperwork signed. If whoever is on the gate decides for whatever reason he isn’t going to sign, then it goes down as a refused to sign. Once through the gates we stop to plan the next phase. I had already told Sean while we were on the train that there was no point in him racing ahead. I told him I would keep up a good speed and it would be better if he followed me instead of the other way round. We were aiming to get to Norwich for around 15.00. The route was not great with only the A1 where we could get up a bit of speed. We cleared Manchester and put in our fuel allocation on route. They were both BMW 7 series about a year old and were going to be a comfortable drive.

Every make of car is different, the indicators and the windscreen wipers swap from side to side depending on the manufacturer, some have electric handbrakes that are just a switch. You never know what way the controls are until you are behind the wheel.

There was plenty of slow traffic with few opportunities to pass and it was 15.30 when we got to Norwich. I found a side street near the drop off and parked up, removing my plates so it didn’t stand out. I jumped in with Sean and we were off to my third car. The keys were with the receptionist and it was a quick check and a signature from the lady behind the desk and back across Norwich to park up the new car and drop off the two BMW’s. The guy checking in the cars is doing a detailed inspection, taking pictures and making notes as he goes over each car. He is checking the boot, the leather seats, the wheels and then he pops the bonnet to check the oil and water levels. He has spent around twenty minutes on each car and I can see that Sean is about tearing his hair out. There is nothing we can do but wait. Eventually he is happy and signs off our paperwork.

It’s 17.30 before we are back at the car and off to pick up Sean’s car. It is in a small village just to the north of Norwich. Once there I park just off the village green and Sean goes in to get the keys, It is an old house with big wooden gates, a gravel courtyard and loads of outbuildings including a stable. I can see the car through the gates sitting on the gravel. Sean is in conversation with the lady who answered the door and she is pointing to the car. He comes back out to me shaking his head, “She’s lost the f*cking keys, she can’t find them anywhere. She says she had them this morning but can’t find them now”. He’s angry  because he knows that if he doesn’t get the car he wont be paid, he’s also not happy about the delay as she tries to find them. The lady has gone into the house to search for the keys. He goes back to look round by the car and under it. She reappears shaking her head and I can hear Sean talking to her but can’t make out what is being said. I decide to get out to see if I can help in any way. The daughter, a girl about 14 or 15 has also joined the search and is checking in the outbuildings. I start to look between the house and the car. The daughter comes out and starts to walk back when the car unlocks. Sean and I stop and look, no one is shouting here they are, the daughter is carrying on towards the house. The lady in nowhere to be seen. “Can you call your mum” Sean says to the girl. She goes inside, Sean opens the car door in case it decides to lock itself again. The lady and the daughter return, neither of them with keys. We go back over what just happened and the daughter walks back towards the outbuilding and suddenly squeals “there here” and bends down and picks them up off the gravel. She must have stood on them when she came out from the outbuilding. Sean takes the keys and thanks the girl for finding them. He gets on and does his checks, I return to my car outside. He starts up and comes out to join me. “What a f*cking nightmare, thanks for waiting, I’m not hanging about, see you next time.” It’s now 19.30 and I’m not hanging about either. It’s nearly three hours back to the yard, I fuel up the car and myself at the first garage I come to. The A47 has very little dual carriageway and not an easy road to pass on but it’s quite and I make good time. Driving round Peterborough the phone rings, It’s the night phone and it’s one of the planners who is on standby that night. “Where are you,” he asks, he knows exactly where I am because he has logged in and checked on the system where I am. “Peterborough” I replied. “Can you go to Southend and pick up a driver who has an FTC (failed to collect).” I quickly work out that it is two hours to Southend and another three back to the yard putting a finish time at around 02.00. “No, I say, I’m tired now and another five hours will make twenty two hours since I got up, It’s not safe.” Mentioning safety and tiredness stops them from pushing you to do the extra work. I later found out that the driver got a train into London and then out to Luton where another driver diverted to pick him up. No more calls and I was back at around 22.30. Another long day.

One of the times I did have to divert to pick up drivers was an afternoon when in north London I got the call. I had a late start, a car down to Brighton, then a train into London and the tube to pick up a car from a kitchen design showroom. The showroom was one of these futuristic brightly lit places with loads of different kitchens and a couple of draughtsman boards with kitchen designs done in pencil. It was on a busy main road with no parking outside so I supposed the car was out the back. No, the car was parked two streets away in a permit holders spot. They gave me directions, I found the car, did my checks and then had to walk back again to get a signature. I returned to the car, put on my plates and set up the sat nav. It was around 16.00 and I should be back for 18.00. The phone rings, “I need you to do me a favour,” it’s Haley in the office. “I’ve got three drivers stuck in Sheerness and you are the closest.” “I’m in a Corsa, I can’t get three more drivers in here”. “Oh, they will bunch up and get in, they won’t mind, and can you drop one of them off in Dartford on the way back.”

“Will you prepay the Dartford Crossing” I ask, she says she will and I then get a text with the names of the drivers and their phone numbers. Dale, Simon and Roger all HGV drivers. I ring Simon as I have worked with him before to get their location. He gives me the postcode and asks what time I will be there. “I don’t know, I’m in north London just now. Give me five minutes and I will call you back.” I put the postcode in and it says two and a half hours. That seems too long and I look at the route, It’s avoiding the North Circular and sending me across London. I check on Google Maps and it has a red mark along a large part of the North Circular and the roads around it. I ring Simon back and give him the news that it will be 18.30 before I get there because of the traffic jam. There’s nothing he can do other than curse and just says, “as soon as you can then mate”. The traffic is horrendous, even by London standards, I know a lot of the major routes but TomTom was sending me down side streets and narrow lanes. Eventually I got on to some decent main roads and things began to speed up. I can fully understand it when people say that the average road speed in London has hardly changed in a hundred years. The roads remain busy until I turn off on to the road for the Isle of Sheppey. Simon had rung me back and said they were now in MacDonalds and did I want anything. I said I would get something when I arrived. It was 18.45 when I drove into MacDonalds car park. On entering I looked round and saw three very bored drivers with all the rubbish from their food on the table. I waived and went to the counter and ordered some food and a tea. The others were up and ready to go. I said before we went out that I was in a Corsa and it was going to be tight for space. Dale and Roger are big lads, coats and backpacks were stowed in the boot and Dale and Simon got in the back, Roger sat next to me in the front. It was very cosy. Sheerness back to Dartford was forty minutes and Roger gave me the address. He was picking up a van that another driver had “pulled” for him earlier. Vehicles are “pulled” when the collecting driver is not going to make before the site closes. Another nearby driver will be asked to go in and collect the vehicle as if it was his own collection except that instead of using the app to complete the process he would use the old paperwork method. He would then park up the vehicle a short way away out of site of the collection point. He would leave a copy of the paperwork in the vehicle then hide the key on the car and let the delayed driver know where the car was and location of the key. There are several places the keys can be hidden on a car and each driver has their own preference, Mine was inside the wheel rim on the rear passenger side.

By the time we got there it was dark and the van had been parked at the side of an industrial unit. The key had been put up the exhaust pipe. Roger went to get the key and succeeded in pushing it further up the exhaust. He then spent a frantic few minutes looking round to find something that would get the key out. He tried his pen but that didn’t work. Simon pulled a branch down out a nearby tree and snapped a bit off, he pulled  the leaves off and told Roger to get out of the way. He carefully put the twig up the exhaust and inched the key out bit by bit. When it was close enough he used his much thinner finger to pull the key out. Disaster averted, Roger then transferred all the information from the paperwork left in the van onto the app, took the pictures and was ready to go. He got his stuff out the boot and Simon got his as well. He was going to ride back with Roger and Dale with me, it made more sense. Dale got in the back, lay across the seats as best he could and went to sleep. It was another two hours before we arrived back at the yard. Roger and Simon arrived back just as I was walking out the yard having done my paperwork and dropped off my plates.

Next time, Breathalysers & security, Southampton and tracked vehicles.

© 10210ken 2023