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Tales from the road – part 2

The second part of my literal and figurative journey as a delivery driver in the COVID-19 pandemic, exploring the roads, lanes, tracks and hedges of Surrey and Hampshire.

Tales from the road – part 2

2nd September 2020
Sometimes I’m Edvald – Norse god of the road, akin to a lion with my silver mane.

And sometimes I’m Ted – akin to a nervous spaniel.

For much of yesterday, I was Ted. This was in part due to the fact that I was driving a Mercedes Sprinter – which turns about as well as Margaret Thatcher.

Having had my masculinity questioned by my first delivery of the day (“Oh, the other drivers drive in”), my day was marked by badly parked cars, narrow lanes, long gravel drives, fast roads and other random shit that left me carrying groceries long distances.

Arriving at Pone Hose (ala Allo Allo), I did the usual maths on delivery, and opted to walk the first 2 trays, and see if I could drive in and out (reversing onto the road would be bonkers).

Ted: Hello Mrs Tuekineuk Mrs T: Oh hello, you funny little man. You’re carrying my shopping one at a time? How quaint. T: Well, reversing onto the road would be difficult, as it’s so fast and busy. Mrs T: But our drive is an in-out.

I assessed the drive. There was a race prepared Subaru Impreza and an Aston Martin languishing casually on it, and the guttering of their magnificent pile framed the other side. It presented a tantalising chicane. If there’s one thing a delivery van likes, it’s guttering. They peel off a treat – hanging behind a van like beer cans on a just-married car.

With my male ego disappearing back inside me like I’d jumped into a frozen lake, I declined the offer of an insurance claim and an angry husband.

Mrs T: Gosh, the other drivers do it. Never mind, I’ll lend you the remote for the gates. T: Thanks! I had dinner with friends last night, so I need to work off the calories.

I popped the blipper next to where my masculinity used to be, and went about the delivery.
7th July 2020 Frogger To some people, it’s an arcade game from 1981. To me, it’s delivering groceries to 221B Upper Hale Hill. Mrs Adler does like her shopping, easily being 8 trays and 80kg+. With parking directly opposite her flat, or at some distant point down the hill, there’s a choice to be made: Burn 2,000 calories and 15 minutes OR trust the tabard of invincibility, unload groceries into the angry traffic, dash lots, and ride the adrenalin wave. Me? I’m practicing my log and crocodile jumping skills. Upper Hale Hill is a magnet for angry motorists. I don’t know why, but there is little forgiveness. It’s the Mount Crumpit for car drivers.
8th September 2020 This is Lightfoot. Lightfoot is my in-cab wife, though instead of judging my ability with a paintbrush (6/10) or romance (9/10), she measures my driving. Until recently, her scale was:
  • 90% “Elite driving”, said with an enthusiastic tone of supportive approval
  • 80% “Great driving”, said with gusto
  • 70% “Good work”, said with a more neutral tone, but warm nonetheless
Last week, she changed, and become more polarised:
  • 90% “Outstanding driving!!” which is reminiscent of Meg Ryan in “When Harry met Sally”, and there’s a distinct sexual overtone. With the cab window down, arriving at a customers house with breathless panting coming from within is a touch embarrassing
  • 80% “Great work” is more subdued, but I still feel complimented. A bit of proud parent about it
  • 70% has real whiff of contempt “You call that driving?” with the icy tone reserved for the doorstep, late at night, when you’ve arrived home without your keys, and you have kebab sauce dribbling down your jeans
She’s a tough audience, but I like the new Meg.
Longley Road Farnham

10th September 2020

There are few things quite so dispiriting, and occasionally perplexing, as having a door shut in your face. Especially when you’re chatting to the customer, or at least you think you are.

If I’m returning to a property, and this happens about 1/100 drops, and something stands out in my mind from the first visit, I’ll reference it.

So, I had quite the horticultural chat about everlasting sweet-peas with one lady, and then I commented on how well they were doing when I returned. If I recall the overpowering smell of urine from within, I tend to internalise my recollection.

Visiting one property, they were having paving done on their new build. On my second visit, the work had been completed, and it looked magnificent. Capability Brown would have been chuffed.

As I finished popping the shopping onto the customers doormat, I commented:

“I was here when your paving was being done. Your property looks wonderful, now it’s been completed. You must both be very pleased.”

Well, I would have. Part way through my “chat” the door shut in my face. I was a little put out, and more so when it was locked 1/2 a second later.

I’ll return.

And their Haribos won’t be in the tray (they LIKE Haribos a lot)

They don’t live on Longley Road – I was just happy to be delivering at my namesake address.

Parental advisory

15th September 2020

Explicit content warning:

Up to now, I’ve had 2 “Fuck me’s” in my driving vocabulary:

“Fuck me, where did that come from?”. Usually uttered under the breath, but not always, when some structure or vehicle of size or value appears suddenly in view. The adrenalin surge follows momentarily after.

“Fuck me, that was close.” Uttered in heart-stopping fashion when a manoeuvre conducted with flourish, or ill-judged speed, results in a gap of a cm or 2 between the van and a structure or object of size or value. Quickly followed by euphoria regarding the acquired skill that prevented a claim.

I added a new one recently:

“Fuck me, that’s green”

Having parked at a delivery, I chose to reverse my van up a hill and around a corner. We’re often confronted with changes in road surface – kerbs, prams, inclines and other things that mean a little more gusto is needed to move.

So, as I reversed, I was aware that progress was, at best, faltering. Putting this down to the known (and quite considerable) incline, and possible kerb, I hoofed it more, with no effect. Hmmm.

A glance in my mirror revealed a substantial tree that was in no mood to acquiesce to my parking needs. As the tree bent and quivered behind me, and the cab filled with the smell of clutch, I was going nowhere.

“Fuck me, that’s green” I mused.

I abandoned the move, parked where I’d started, and inspected both van and tree. Whilst in the middle of my damage assessment, a member of the public walked over.

Random: “Would you like some help?”
Me: “Help with what? Parking? Carrying my shopping? Tips for a successful love life? No, sir. Unless you’re a panel beater or tree surgeon, your skills are of no use to me.”

A score draw in Van v Tree.

Low bridge

16th September 2020

I’m not sure how I managed to get under this, and it definitely wasn’t helped by the in-cab alarm shrieking “STOP”.

As I threaded the needle, and needing my concentration on the road at its pinnacle, I was distracted by the near hysterical electronic instruction. Not massively helpful.

I’ve never made the news, and I don’t know I want to by taking the top off my van, and closing Ash Vale and the railway line to Aldershot.

Man 1 v Bridge 0

22nd September 2020

My clown shoes.

I love that they keep me planted on the ground, whatever the weather.

I love them less so when switching from the Mercedes to the Iveco – where the brake and accelerator pedals are much closer together.

This morning, while executing a reasonably tight manoeuvre, rather than feathering the brake, I gave the accelerator a hearty nudge.

No need for red bull this morning after that…

Unsuitable for motor vehicles
23rd September 2020 Not the sign you want when you know with confidence that your property is on this road, and that completing the delivery is the only option. About a mile onto a rutted track, I had an internal conversation:
  • Edvald: “Go on, it will make a great story – you wuss”
  • Ted: “It would be exciting, but if you get stuck, this will never leave you”
A local on a horse confirmed that the track did indeed go to Geronemo Cottage, but that I was surely lost? Ted prevailed. Reversing back to tarmac, some miles later I found the other end of the road, and made my way along a dispiritingly small, pot-holed and muddy “road”. At one point, I involuntarily left the road, and had a lively bowel moment as I fought to get OGN (my ride) back on “terra firma”. 4 miles further into my green-lane odyssey, I cork-screwed deeply down and to the right, into a gully. My now straining bladder erupted through my forehead, as panic started to wash over me. If the house wasn’t here, there was f..k all chance of turning, as the track was about 2 feet wider than my van. Rounding a stupidly angled corner, a structure hove into view – through deep undergrowth. Relief almost immediately turned to fear. I’d entered the boon-docks – with smoke wisping from a chimney, a rocking chair on the porch, and the sound of banjos duelling inside. Hike down to Geronemo Cottage in the Devil’s Punchbowl, and see if you’d take anything less than a land-rover out there. And the inhabitant? An absolute charmer who works for the National Trust. Not a whiff of red-neck psycho about him.
Towel dispenser
27th September 2020 This Tesco towel dispenser was distraught that I was finishing my 13 weeks with Tesco. By the numbers:
  • About 1,170 deliveries
  • Over 120 tonnes of groceries lifted and shifted
  • About 1,950 miles driven
  • 300+ hours worked
  • 1 recalcitrant tree
  • 1 lucky bridge
  • 1 immovable school
  • 0 insurable incidents
  • Lots of genuinely lovely customers
  • 1 customer compliment
  • 1 huge life experience
It’s been a blast. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The full account of Diary of an Accidental Delivery Driver is here.