Trade Plating Around England, Part Thirteen

Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash

This time,  Covid, furlough and enough is enough.

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

March 23rd 2020, my jobs have come through for the next day, I have two jobs, a car from the yard to Northwich then pick up a van in Telford going to Haydock. There is no third job but hopefully that will come through during the day. I have to drop off two drivers in Stoke  before going to Northwich. I had worked out the public transport transfers between the two jobs and it looked like a good day.

Watching the news earlier while eating, they said there is to be a statement by Boris at 20.00 regarding this new flu that is spreading across the country. Boris announces that there is to be a lockdown from tonight and only essential workers can go to work from tomorrow. Mrs 10210 and I are, like millions of other people, sitting discussing what all this means. No work and no money are the main things that come to mind. My phone rings, the office, telling me that tomorrow’s work is cancelled and they will let the agency know what is happening as soon as they know themselves. About ten minutes later, Chris from the agency is calling to say exactly the same thing. Nothing happens the next day and on the 25th, I call the agency to find out if they have any news. It’s not good. All agency work has been cancelled by the company. They are still working as a couple of the contracts they have are connected to the NHS, but they are only using there own drivers and then only on a rota basis to spread the work around. There has been an announcement about furlough payments by the government but I am not sure if that applies to agency workers. I call the agency and they tell me that they are trying to get clarification from the government. We are all employed on a zero hours contract with no minimum hours. The government furlough payment should be 80% of normal pay. It’s two weeks before the agency is able to tell us that we will be getting furlough money. It will be backdated to the start date announced by the government. When I get my first payment, it comes through the same way as normal pay, it looks too much. I’m not going to say anything, but I try to work out how they arrived at the amount. Trying various calculations, I can’t get anywhere near the sum in my wages. It takes ages before I figure out that they have taken my previous week’s pay and also included the expenses I had claimed and then paid 80% of that total. Happy days. I had never not worked since leaving school at seventeen and having nothing to do all day can become quite depressing. We were ordering groceries online and having them delivered as we couldn’t go into town shopping. I did go out every day walking round our village for at least an hour, picking up fresh bread and milk from the supermarket. It’s strange to walk down the pavement and have people step out onto the road to avoid you. I said hello to many of the people I passed and this made some of them walk further into the road. The only saving grace was that the weather was good and there was plenty of opportunities to spend time in the garden. At the beginning of June, I was doing my normal daily walk when I spotted one of the self employed drivers waiting for a lift outside one of the local car dealers. I stopped to chat, at the regulation 2m distance, and asked him how it was. “Sh*t” was his reply, “we are doing mostly NHS and chemist work, we have to wear masks, latex gloves and have to sanitize every vehicle we get into.” He went on to say that it was getting busier and they may need more drivers soon. “All the eastern Europeans have gone, they couldn’t get any payments as they avoided paying tax by not registering so they got no money. They all f*cked off back home” he said.

He was right about needing drivers as on Friday 12th June I had a call to see if I was available for work on the Monday. “Yes I was”, and later that day the email with the jobs for Monday arrived. A van down to Newton Abbott and a car from Oakhampton to be taken to Stoke. I also had a separate email with the new rules regarding Covid, masks and latex gloves were to be worn whenever anyone was nearby and all the time when on customers premises. Every vehicle had to be cleaned on all contact points with sanitizing wipes. Anyone found not to be doing this would not get any further work. Back at work on the Monday, there were only a couple of agency drivers, everyone was masked up and the atmosphere was much more muted than previous. The government had put the fear of God into everyone with their Covid warnings and dire predictions. We were told that masks, gloves and wipes would not be supplied by the company and we had to buy our own if we wanted to work. Over the next few weeks, work gradually began to pick up again, on-site Covid rules varied from site to site and you always had to be prepared for unexpected changes. In the minibus used to transfer us from job to job there could now only be five people plus the driver, everyone masked up and a seat between people on each row. We were all randomly checked with one of these digital thermometers when coming into work. Several companies also did this before you got on site. Over a certain temperature and you were refused entry. Other sites would only let one driver in at a time. Everything took so much longer. On the plus side, the roads were much quieter. I settled into the routine of mask, gloves and social distancing but the atmosphere was not the same, Mrs 10210 and I discussed what to do and I said that if I can stick it out until April 2022 then I will collect my state pension and that together with my private pension would see us financially OK.

On a Friday on October, I had the standard text from the agency booking me for the following Monday, however by 17.30 no jobs had come through so I called the office before they closed. They said that there was a delay on my jobs and they would be sent through on Sunday afternoon. Sure enough, the email arrived with two jobs, A van down to Harlow and a disability car from Luton back up to the local auctions.  It was an easy transfer, bus to Epping, tube into London and train out to Luton, except when checking the address in Luton, it turned out to be in Dunstable. That meant getting a train that stopped at Leagrave.

The following morning I was up at 04.45 for a 06.00 start and felt like I had a hangover. I’d had nothing to drink so knew it wasn’t that. I took three paracetamol and thought it will go off as the day goes on. It didn’t, by the time I had got my van, done my checks and got to a garage to fuel up, it was worse. I bought a packet of Panedol, the only headache tablets the garage had and took another three. I got to Harlow and the headache was still there, dropped off the van and made my way to Dunstable. Just before I got off the train I took another three Panedol and swallowed them with the remains of a coffee I bought in London. I don’t remember much about the drive back up to the drop off or walking back to the yard. I do remember telling them in the office that if they had work for me the next day, I wouldn’t be available. I got home about 16.00 and Mrs 10210 said “You don’t look very well”, “I’m not, I’m going to bed.” The headache hadn’t budged all day and if anything it felt worse. More paracetamol and into bed. I went straight to sleep and didn’t waken until the next morning. Headache still there, I went to the bathroom, looked at myself and then went back to bed. I slept most of the day and only had cups of tea and water to drink. I ate nothing, Mrs 10210 thought that I was overtired and that after a couple of days rest I would start to feel better. On Wednesday before she went out she said that when I got up could I do a few jobs around the house. On her return in the afternoon I was still in bed and I was now feeling even worse. I was aching all over. She brought me more tea and water and I was now taking paracetamol like they were Smarties. For the next three or four days this carried on, I was sleeping for most of the time and feeling weaker by the day, I had to be helped to the bathroom. I’m not sure at what point or what day the paramedics were called but I was woken to see two ladies in green uniforms at the end of the bed. They were fully masked up and talking to Mrs 10210. I could only hear snippets of the conversation and heard “Covid” and “hospital” mentioned. They were discussing whether I should be taken to hospital and wanted to know if I had taken a test to see if I had Covid, I hadn’t. They did say that if I didn’t have Covid, I would certainly get it if I went to hospital. They did some checks on me, temperature, breathing, pulse and possibly some others that I can’t remember. Mrs 10210, bless her, said that I was staying put. The paramedics said that she was not to come into the bedroom again and that any food or drink had to be left outside the bedroom door for me to collect once she was away from the door. They also said that she was to sleep in the spare room. She told them that that wasn’t going to happen, she said that if she left the food outside the bedroom it would still be there hours later as I couldn’t get out of bed. Covid test kits were ordered and in due course they arrived. I think they were the ones where you have to send them off for analysis and you were informed by email. By week two I was now starting to have fits of shivers and I later found out that Mrs 10210 was beginning to have real concerns for my welfare. Another pair of paramedics arrived again and offered the option of going to hospital. They did suggest that I should only be sleeping with a sheet over me to keep me cool, despite the fact that I was shivering. I would wake up at times soaked in sweat but shivering. By week three the Covid test results had come back, mine was positive and Mrs10210 negative. The shivering was lessening and I was eating little bits of food, mostly toast and Hartleys Jelly Pots. At the end of week three I was able to get up and walk to the bathroom unaided, I was incredibly weak and having to hold onto the walls and doors to get there. My strength gradually started to come back. I was able to walk to the bathroom without holding on. I could walk around upstairs and go from room to room. I even managed to stand on the scales to find that I had lost over a stone and a half. I hadn’t had a shower or a shave or got dressed for over three weeks. This was to be my next challenge. I desperately wanted to be clean, I sat on the side of the bath next to the hand basin and had a shave, it took ages and it wasn’t a good one but it was a start. It was to be another few days before I had a shower. I had still not managed to go downstairs, this was to be a major step on the road to recovery. My brain was beginning to start to work again as well, I still cannot remember large parts of what happened during the first two weeks. To get downstairs I slid down on my backside wearing only my dressing gown. Once at the bottom I sat for a minute before I tried to stand up. I had done it, I was downstairs. I hadn’t thought about going back up the stairs again but we could sort that out later. I sat/lay on the sofa watching the TV and Mrs 10210 brought me tea and a sandwich, still not had a hot meal. After about half an hour, I wanted to go back upstairs, I went back up the way I had come down, sitting on a step and pulling my self up one step at a time. Straight back into bed and I slept through until the next day. Everything I did was exhausting and required me to rest after the least bit of exertion. A shower was the next achievement I aimed for. I was going to have to go for it and went into the bathroom and turned the shower on, while waiting for the water to warm up Mrs 10210 had come up stairs to see what I was doing. She wasn’t too happy, she was worried that if I fell over in the shower there was no way she could have got me out. Fortunately I was OK and once showered I decided that the next step was to put some clothes on. It took what seemed like an age to get dressed but I persevered and was eventually fully dressed. Having lost so much weight my clothes felt quite baggy. Another shuffle downstairs on my bum and I was sitting on the sofa. That night I had my first hot food, tomato soup. Over the next few day I started to get quite adventurous, I could walk downstairs if I held on tight to the banister. I was able to walk round downstairs and my appetite was returning. During this time I had contacted my surgery to ask to speak to a doctor and was booked in for a video consultation. I wanted them to know I was Ill, what had happened and to let them know I had also lost the feeling in my little finger on my right hand. After listening to my tale, he offered me some tablets that he said would help restore the numbness in my finger. I declined his offer and decided that once I started to use it more then the feeling would return which it mostly did.

We were now well into November and I hadn’t been out the house since my last day at work. It was decided that if I wrapped up well then I could walk to the top of the street and back again. For someone who is used to walking five or six miles a day then it was quite humbling to think that 100 yards was all I was capable of doing. I walked up the street, (we live in a cul de sac) thinking everyone was watching me walk up and return going at a snails pace. I did it and each day after I was able to go a little further, sometimes too far, but you have to push yourself. All through this time Tesco had been delivering our food orders with our daughter leaving fresh milk and bread as required on our doorstep. Mrs 10210 had hardly been out. I had not been out in the car since I was ill and my first trip out was to Tesco to collect an order, unable to get a delivery slot a “click and collect” had been booked. As we left the house I went to get in the drivers side only to be told I was to be a passenger and Mrs 10210 would decide when I could drive.

The agency had called many times, but Mrs 10210 was now my answering service as well as my nurse and had told them I was still not able to return to work. “Sick notes” had been sent in and the agency was paying me the statutory sick pay of around £95.00 per week. Whilst not enough to live on, it helped. Christmas came and went and I was now feeling stronger and at the start of January I had been allowed to drive, so life was returning to normal. We had talked about the future and I had decided that I wasn’t going back to work. However I still had around fourteen months before the state pension would kick in. I have a private pension and phoned my advisor who is also an acquaintance for some advice. On checking it turned out that I had two pensions. His advice was to consolidate the pensions and move them to another company where I could then withdraw up to 25% which would be sufficient to tide me over until my sixty sixth birthday. With the finances sorted I was then able to stop working, I rang the agency to tell them I wouldn’t be returning and I went over to the company offices to take back my keys, my pass, fuel cards and some unworn uniform that they could re-use. They said that if I ever wanted to come back, there would be a job for me.

Mrs 10210 and I have talked about what had actually been wrong with me. The doctors were sticking to the Covid diagnosis as the test had come back positive but it was nothing like the Covid symptoms. I didn’t lose my sense of smell or taste and I had no breathing difficulties. Our best guess was that I had pneumonia in some form.

Being very ill makes you think, it makes you re evaluate what your priorities are. For me, it is now family and not work. After a life of working, nearly fifty years of constant working, I think I have earned the right to take it easy, to lay in bed until 08.00, to have a holiday when I want to and to see more of our grandchildren.

I probably wouldn’t be here writing this without the care and love of Mrs 10210. The time she spent looking after me is something that I can never repay her for and I will be eternally grateful.

In conclusion, did I enjoy my time trade plating, yes I did. Would I do it again, yes I would if I was younger. I would never have seen parts of the UK that I saw in my travels, I met some genuinely lovely people and I also met some others I wasn’t too keen on. I learned about an industry that I had no idea about. I must have driven near to 1000 cars in two and a half years. Do I have a favourite, no, they eventually become just a part of the job. You get in them and drive from A to B. It was always the challenge of organising your day and the unexpected events that gave me the fun in the job.

Some people cannot and will not stop working, after a good long break, I have another job, I work two 5 hour shifts a week at a car auction site near Donington Race Track. I am a sale day driver which means I drive cars through the auction. I am not there for the money, it is the banter and the laughs among the 10 – 15 drivers. We are mostly of a similar age and outlook and it is a social as well as work thing.

There are many more tales, but for now I will leave it where it is.

Thank you for reading and when you see a car or a van with a red and white number plate on it I hope it reminds you of my tales.

© 10210ken 2023