Nights Away from Home...
The Little 'Blackmailers'.
Stealing from Loads.
Tips & 'Goodies' From Companies.
The New Motorways.
The 'Famous' Women.
Giving Lifts to Hitch-hikers.
Page 3 -
Recollections & Anecdotes from my UK Lorry Driving
Page 4 - More Recollections & Anecdotes from my UK Lorry Driving Days.
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The acceptance of spending nights away from home in other towns and cities was necessary if you wanted to drive lorries for a living. I eventually lost count of the hundreds of nights I spent away, and the many towns and cities I stayed at. At first I’d felt very uncomfortable at the thought of spending a night in somebody else’s home (shy I suppose!) and happily slept in my cab. But, as I began chatting to other drivers I gradually realised that I couldn’t always rely on getting away with sleeping in my cab. Finally (1965), and on the advice from some other drivers at a lorry park, I stayed in my first boarding house at Barnsley (Yorks) and soon realised that the boarding houses were a ‘home from home’ for us drivers - although some of them could be a bit dirty and cramped (four or five drivers sleeping in one small room!)
In the 1960s & early 1970s we didn’t have sleeper-cabs, nor were we allowed to sleep in our cabs - the law was that we had to spend our rest periods, including over-night, away from the vehicle, and the Ministry of Transport boys would turn up at all places and hours to keep a check on us. So companies paid us extra money on top of our wages for the cost of a night away from our home town.
As an example: The night-away money given by the company to us lorry drivers (for board and food) in the mid-1960s was around 20 shillings per night. Most of the recognised lorry-driver's night stops charged an average of 16 shillings per night. But, for instance, Arden House (a Salvation Army hostel up Scotland Road in those days) in Liverpool only charged 13 shillings per night, giving us a bit more to spend around the city, and I recall that the Coronation Café at Cannock Chase/Brownhills only charged ten shillings & sixpence per night around that time, although I didn’t like staying there much.
But many of us took a chance and slept in our cabs or, if we had an empty box-type body/trailer we’d sleep in that. There were a number of factors governing whether I stayed at transport boarding houses for the night or slept in my cab.
The first was money. Lorry drivers were not paid a very good wage (do any of us workers ever think we are?) so, if we slept in the cab, we saved the money given to us for nights away by the company and had more to spend on food, cigarettes, etc. Company transport managers knew this ‘fiddle’ went on, but as long as they gave us the money for nights away, they were absolved from any blame if us drivers were caught. But often we’d be away for more nights than expected and, although the company would guarantee to reimburse any money we paid out of our own pocket for nights away, we didn’t always have that extra amount of money on us if we’d already spent a few good nights ‘on the town’ while up country, so we were usually forced to sleep in the cabs. Of course, having spent a few ‘free’ extra nights away, it was good to get the extra money on top of wages, then spend it on a good weekend at home before heading away again. On the other hand, if we were working for a company such as British Road Services, who had depots in most towns around the UK, then we could just go into the nearest depot on our route and get an advance for extra nights away.
The second was early-morning starting time. Mostly I preferred to get away early, and it didn’t seem right to expect a landlady to get up (often at 4:00am), or to disturb other lorry drivers at that hour, just so that I could get an early start.
The third was whether I was reasonably sure if I could get away with sleeping in the cab or not. This only came from experience, or from chatting to other lorry drivers. For example: One lorry park just on the east side of Manchester was considered to be ‘safe’, but I wouldn’t take chances at any of the Liverpool lorry parks. A majority of the transport cafes turned a blind eye to the fact that we would spend the night in their parking area (especially if they were our personal ‘regular’ cafes where we were known and had meals if passing that way). But a few café-owners wouldn’t allow it, banging on the cab door and very quickly sending us on our way, even though we’d most likely buy evening meals and breakfast there. And we never dared to sleep in the cab at any motorway service areas because they were regularly patrolled by security personnel, the police, or the Ministry of Transport boys. Nevertheless, no matter where we ‘took a chance’ and slept in the cab, we could never be sure that we’d get away with it.
The fourth was the lateness of arriving at a particular town or city. Usually, if I knew which town or city I would end my working day at, and also knew of a ‘safe’ lorry park in that town or city, I’d plan to spend the night sleeping in my cab at that park. Or, if I’d decided to spend the night at an over-night boarding house, I’d ring up and book a night away at the over-night stop of my choice so that the landlady knew to expect me. Phoning the landladies in advance didn’t always guarantee that the boarding house of my choice wouldn’t be fully booked, and often, in the major cities, I might try three or four boarding houses before I could get somewhere to stay for the night. But, on hundreds of occasions, through my own desire to get loads to their destinations within the minimum of time, or to be ‘on the spot’ early to pick up loads, I’d ‘fiddle’ the log sheets so that I could drive on for more hours than was legal. Often, on those occasions, I’d drive on for as long as I dared, and I didn’t always know just where I’d end up for the night. I’d ‘sneak’ into a town or city far too late to have the cheek (as I saw it) to expect any landlady to get a late-evening meal prepared (even though there were many landladies who were quite willing to do just that for ‘their boys’). If I knew of a ‘safe’ lorry park wherever I ended up, then I’d just drive straight to it and happily settle down for the night. If I wasn’t sure whether a park was ‘safe’ or not, or if I was at a park for the first time, I’d sleep fitfully and wake up at every little sound worrying that the police or Ministry lads were checking the cabs for illegal sleepers.
But the worst thing was if I couldn’t find a lorry park for the night, and was forced to park down a side street. In those days we had to leave our side-lights (parking-lights) on all night if parked in a street. It wasn’t so bad if you could park in amongst other vehicles (which helped to ‘camouflage’ your lorry a bit), but if the street was fairly empty, the lorry lights could be clearly seen by any person who glanced down the side street where you were ‘hiding’.
I recall that the track called ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ on the Beatle’s ‘Abbey Road’ album (still one of my all-time favourite albums), had the words ‘Oh that magic feeling - Nowhere to go!’. And I always associate those words, and that song, with the many times I ‘crept’ into a town or city knowing that it was too late to ‘book in’ somewhere for the night, and wondering if I’d get ‘caught’ while either sneaking in, or sleeping in my cab at a lorry park or up some side-street - That WAS a ‘magic feeling’ to me!
Only on one occasion (April 1968) was I caught out for leaving my lorry parked down a side street, and not being content with just the one offense (dear Murphy’s law striking again here?), I also had the added offense of not displaying any parking lights at the time - right outside of my home in Reading. But then, if I hadn’t ‘fiddled’ the log sheets, I should have still been up country that night, so I only had myself to blame! Fortunately for myself (and my pocket-money) I was only given an official warning for ‘Causing unnecessary obstruction and parking without lights’.
The fifth factor (for a while) as to whether I’d sleep in my cab or not was when Cilla Black had her show, ‘Step Inside Love’, on TV. I enjoyed Cilla’s weekly show (Tuesday evenings) so much that I made a point of staying at a boarding house on Tuesday nights just so that I wouldn’t miss it.
As another example of our ‘fiddles’:
With the completion of the Severn Suspension Bridge during 1966, linking the southern counties of England to South Wales across the River Severn estuary as part of the London-South Wales M4 motorway system, a new ‘fiddle’ was presented to us southern counties lorry drivers who journeyed across to the South Wales areas.
Before the bridge was opened, we had to journey up to Gloucester where we’d easily cross over the upper reaches of the River Severn before heading back down the Welsh bank of that river into South Wales, usually via Chepstow and Newport.
After the bridge was completed and opened to traffic, it was
expected (by our companies) that we would use the bridge as a
more convenient and efficient route into South Wales. But we
still had to journey down on ‘A’ roads almost to
Bristol before joining the new section of the M4 that would
enable us to cross over the bridge, which was almost as
time/mileage/fuel -consuming as it was to go the old way (it
still took a few more years to complete the M4 motorway fully
from Maidenhead to just north-east of Bristol).
Even more important to us drivers was the fact that a toll was charged to cross over the new bridge.
It didn’t take long to realise that, as there were usually no serious time/mileage/fuel records kept by companies in those days, it would be just as easy (and almost as quick) to slip up the old way via Gloucester and pocket the toll-money given to us by the company.
The charge for crossing the bridge (for a lorry at least) in the early days was two shillings & sixpence one way, and the same to come back. That was a total of five shillings in our pocket if we could get away with using the old road via Gloucester in both directions - and five shillings would buy a packet of 20 cigarettes and a cup of coffee in those days!
But there were also other groups of folk around the country who had their own good ‘fiddle’ going on - at the expense of us lorry drivers!
Those folk were the little 'blackmailers' who were at the door of one's cab as soon as one pulled onto many lorry-parks - The Arden House (Liverpool) lorry-park was the most notorious for this in my mind, so I shall use it as an example.
As soon as we’d parked up and the lorry-door was opened, a little voice from way down near the front steerer hub would squeak up the words "Mind yer wagon fer yer, Mister?". At that, one threw a shilling down (eventually a shilling extra was provided by some companies specifically for this when we headed off for a night away) and it was caught by two small dirty hands in front of a little round, grubby face. With a 'Fanks Mister!", face, hands, and shilling would vanish off in amongst the lorries, no doubt to wait for the next 'victim'!
I can tell many stories of what happened if the money wasn't passed over. Those little children were not always alone - many had big (sometimes VERY big) brothers who were behind the whole scheme, probably having been one of the ‘Little Ones’ (as I called those little children) themselves at one time, and who took a large portion of the money collected. Any driver that was foolish enough to lash out at the Little Ones was quickly surrounded and 'fixed' (I saw this on a number of occasions). And, if any driver refused to 'pay up', as sure as eggs is eggs, they wouldn't be going far the next morning. I saw many instances of what happened to those tight-fisted drivers - windscreens smashed, tyres slashed, ropes over loads cut, and even full lorries & loads burnt out - and it just wasn’t worth the trouble!
To give one instance:
Jock was a new driver on our company. We had 50ft box-trailers hooked up to AEC tractor units, and, on this particular occasion, there were two loads of little (empty) cigar-tins to go up to one of the Liverpool cigarette factories. There must have been a million of those tins, stacked on pallets to the roof and each pallet load being clad in clear plastic-covering for support. The pallets were loaded upon the back of the box-trailer by forklift, then pushed up towards the front using 'Jo-loaders' (wheeled devices that ran along slots in the floor of the trailer and enabled pallets to be lifted a fraction off the deck and pushed into place). As Jock had never been to Liverpool before, I led the way with plans to stay at Arden House when we reached that city, deliver the loads in the morning, then look around for loads to take back down south.
All went well and we eventually arrived at Arden House lorry park where the usual tiny voice squeaked up at me and I threw the shilling down. But Jock was greedy and, even though I suggested fiercely that he should pay up, he refused and told the Little One to 'b****r off'!
After tidying up, the pair of us headed off for a night on the town. Jock scoffed at me and my stories when we checked our lorries on the way out and found them still intact. He scoffed even more when he spied the Little Ones down in the city spending their share of the gains. This was usual and us drivers often had a joke with the youngsters - asking who was 'minding our wagons' while they were down in the city. Of course, those of us who knew the score also knew that nobody was minding the wagons at all - the money was a kind of insurance and the only people it was an insurance against were the very people who received the money. After seeing a movie and spending an hour at Yate’s Wine Lodge (for Jock - I didn't drink alcohol in those days), we took off back to Arden House where Jock scoffed even further when he saw that our lorries were still safe.
The next morning we walked out to the lorry-park and I collapsed in a fit of uncontrollable laughter at the sight of his lorry, and then his face! The seal & lock of his trailer doors had been broken and the whole load was piled in a huge heap over the cab of the lorry behind (that driver had obviously refused to pay up as well). The plastic covering that kept all the tins neat and tidy on the pallets had been ripped away and every single tin had been thrown out of the box-trailer, along with the boards that we used as partitions between each pallet, and the pallets as well. Jock's face went first deathly white, then purple with rage. Hardly able to see through the tears of laughter that were blinding me, I set off to deliver my load while Jock got stuck into reloading his trailer amid much sweating, cursing, and the promise of what he was going to do to those little kids.
Of course, as soon as I'd delivered my load I went back and helped him. Even so, we didn't finish until late that night. But I never knew Jock to refuse payment to those youngsters again - in spite of his threats!
I personally thought a lot of the ‘Little Ones’ and their 'brazen, though still innocent', attitude to life. Apart from when a lorry was set alight, and the fire brigade & police were called in (no doubt, causing police-patrols for a couple of nights), nobody seemed to complain, and I never knew of any security patrols at any lorry parks during those years.
As far as the greatest majority of us drivers were concerned, the ‘extra few bob (shillings)’ we earned from sleeping in our cabs, sneaking home, or detouring around the odd toll-bridge, was ‘legal’ - we were the only ones who suffered when caught - and we never thought that we could be convicted for fraud or some such crime! But gradually over the years I began to hear the saying “It fell off the back of a lorry!” when people spoke about ‘cheap goods’ being sold around the traps, which helped to give lorry drivers a bad reputation.
I can be honest (who cares now anyway?) and say that I very rarely saw any underhanded dealings amongst the lorry drivers I came into contact with (although I have mentioned one such chap (under another name) on page 3, and I've told the truth about him so that any reader can see that some were tempted, and even remotely involved).
I’d say that 99% of the UK lorry drivers I knew were extremely honest lads when it came to looking after the goods they transported.
Another saying that I gradually became aware of was ‘the hijacking of lorries’. But, throughout my years of driving commercial vehicles on UK roads, there was only one incident (1966) when I’d have any cause for concern regarding the hijacking of my lorry.
I was pulled up by the police in between Colchester and Ipswich (on my way to Great Yarmouth with a trailer-load of frozen meat) early one morning and warned not to stop for anything because there had been a hijacking along that road earlier.
Visions of desperate robbers behind every bush haunted me for the next hour or so, but I never saw anything, nor heard any more about the incident!
While mentioning the police:
As I recall, the police were always good to us lorry drivers and I never had any problems with them. They did their job well, but I always felt that they had a soft spot for us chaps. One incident I often think of when the not-so-good police/public relationship is brought up these days concerned my first encounter with the new (and unknown to me at the time - 1964?) radar speed traps.
I was travelling back down a dual carriageway towards Oxford from up north, and driving at exactly 40 miles an hour as I was allowed to in unrestricted areas (it hadn't been all that long before, when the max speed for HGVs had been raised from 30mph on unrestricted roads other than motorways). The only trouble was that, while passing another lorry I failed to notice that I’d entered a 30 miles per hour restricted area. Barely had I moved back into the nearside lane after passing the other lorry, when a policeman up ahead waved me into a lay-by where three or four cars were parked, each attended by, I suddenly began to notice, a policeman.
Soon I was also being attended to by a policeman. He explained that I’d been caught driving at 40 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour restricted area by a ‘radar speed trap’. The puzzlement that had obviously shown on my face caused the policeman to go into raptures of delighted laughter (later I could just imagine him thinking that, at last they had the ultimate weapon to catch the speedsters, and here was one lorry driver who would drive around the country at a lot slower rate). My puzzlement began to turn to amazement (then crafty curiosity) as I asked the policeman all about that new method of catching speeding motorists and he laughingly supplied all the answers.
At the time, with the idea still fairly new, it was relatively easy to see (if we knew what to look for) the radar box set up beside the road. As I recall, the box was about three feet long, by eight inches high (the part that faced towards us approaching motorists), by eight inches thick, with a ‘glass’ window in the front. Sometimes the box was placed on a stand beside the road with the operating vehicle hidden behind a nearby tree or building, and sometimes it sat in the back of a van parked beside the road with its rear doors open.
But, on that first encounter with a radar speed trap, and although I could see that all the car drivers in front of me were obviously being booked for speeding, my policeman let me go on my way with just a warning not to be caught by a radar speed trap again. With profuse and grateful thanks I carried on with my journey, still marvelling at that latest technological development for catching speedsters, and happy to have got away with being caught by it.
Nevertheless, I relied on my license, and keeping that license, for a living as did thousands of other drivers. The policeman’s eager answers had helped me to get an idea of what ‘radar speed traps’ were and how they were used. In spite of being kind enough to let me off, he’d given out valuable information that I could use for myself, and also to pass on to other lorry drivers. Soon most of the UK lorry drivers of the time could recognise a radar speed trap set up beside the road and were able to warn approaching drivers that it was up ahead. Due to this, I never got caught by another UK radar trap after that first encounter (although I would have no doubt been caught on the later updates of the old box - radar guns (just introduced when I left the UK), and cameras - as has happened on a few occasions in Australia!).
Personally myself, I've always found the police in all countries to be polite and fair if they are treated the same - And I don't think I'd be very happy either if I was treated like a 'pig' while doing my job!!
Another good thing about the job that helped to supplement the meagre wages were the tips we received from the customers. In those days, especially if the driver loaded or unloaded his own lorry, we’d be given a little ‘something’ for our efforts. There’d be a couple of bob here, a couple of bob there, and sometimes we were given samples of whatever was manufactured by the companies. The ‘Mars’ factory on the Slough Trading Estate was a good example.
After loading or unloading the lorry, we’d be given a bag of ‘Mars bars’, ‘Treets’, etc. which we’d dig into with relish as we continued on our journey. This was nearly spoiled, in later years, when it was discovered that some greedy drivers were abusing the system by going into the factory two or three times a day and delivering a part of the load at a time. I recall that in the end the Mars factory dispatcher used to get us to sign a form for our ‘goodies’, allowing one bag of goodies per driver per day. Us drivers who had done the right thing thought it was more fair, and we were jolly glad that we were still getting any goodies at all. Thanks to the greed of those few drivers, the Mars Company could have been well within their rights to have stopped giving us anything.
One factory in Basingstoke used to leave a small box of perfume and talc on the top of bales (of cardboard) that we were to collect. Then, for a while there were no boxes and we thought that this practice had been stopped. Naturally, we didn’t go in and ask the reason, the company had every right to stop giving us ‘goodies’ and we still went there for the loads. Then the company discovered that one of their own employees was going out and stealing the goodies before we got there. As I have said, the company didn’t have to give us anything, but the management apologised to us drivers, and drivers of other companies, and the thief was sacked.
The variety of 'goodies' we received was amazing: Money, sweets, meat, fruit, vegetables, cordial, sacks of potatoes, pies, cakes, perfumes, biscuits, cigarettes, etc. And I recall one company (Jefferies Ice Cream Company of Launceston, Cornwall - how could I ever forget?) who even used to give us a large tin of delicious ice cream each time we delivered to their factory. In the winter we could usually get the ice cream home to our family if we left the cab heater off, but in the summer we’d have to eat it ourselves before the ice cream melted and became a sloppy mess (making me feel a bit guilty - I didn’t mention to my family that I’d been given a tin of ice cream on those days!).
We were always very grateful for those little ‘extras’, but, over the years, as things tightened up and even the big companies had to ‘watch every penny’, the tips gradually became less and less until they were almost a thing of the past.
Sections of the motorways were still being built in the UK during those years and, as many of the sections hadn’t been joined up, leaving long gaps where we’d have to go back on the old roads, the difference between racing along one minute, then almost crawling the next was often very acute, although at least it kept us alert! But as the sections were joined together and the lengths of motorways gradually became longer, we could move around the country a lot faster. As an example of this:
When I began driving, the M4 motorway was just a short by-pass around Maidenhead with two lanes either way. From Reading to London we’d use the A4 trunk road up to Maidenhead Thicket (junction 9b on the A423(M)), pop onto the M4 to get around Maidenhead, then re-join the A4 (junction 7a) through Slough, past Heathrow, and on into London. The next section to be opened was the continuation of the motorway on to the Colnebrook roundabout (junction 5) so that Slough could be by-passed. That section had the more-normal three lanes going each way. Then another section was opened that by-passed Heathrow, crossed over the Brentford flyover and ended at the Brentford roundabout. From there we could either use the North- or South Circular Roads to get around to the other side of London (no M25 in those days), or join the slow-moving traffic jams to drive into or through that city. Meanwhile, the M4 had gradually progressed in the other direction towards the west, finally continuing on past Reading, Swindon, Bristol and over the Severn Bridge into South Wales. But I recall that a large part of the first section of the motorway past Maidenhead had to be widened from the original two lanes each way to the three lanes each way system of all the newer sections.
Bad accidents around the country were a common sight to folks who drove for a living, but some of the multi-vehicle pile-ups on the motorways were horrific. I personally only saw the aftermath of two motorway pile-ups, one on the M1 at Luton, and the other on the M6 near Warrington, even so, that was enough for me. I could never understand why, in thick snow or foggy weather, when I’d be creeping along so that I could safely stop if something appeared out of the gloom in front, other vehicles went blindly racing by with no chance of stopping for themselves nor others!
But horrific accidents and foolish drivers aside, motorways were ‘here to stay’ and, as already mentioned, the longer lengths of the completed motorways enabled us to get around the country a lot faster. It was very satisfying to use them to quickly get up north, without the holdups of squeezing through towns and villages and the traffic jams that went with them - especially if there was a very urgent load to deliver! But, at the same time, some of the ‘hardships’ that made lorry driving so interesting and adventurous (to me anyway) were fast becoming just memories of ‘the good old days’ - even the notorious road (A6) over Shap Fell, scene of a few frozen-in holdups during winter months, had been ‘tamed’ by a motorway (M6) being built with separated carriageways to prevent the build-up of snow over the lanes!
It started up as just an old double-decker bus parked in a lay-by. The upper deck had been fitted out with half a dozen tables, and the original bus seats had been moved around to enable customers to sit at the tables. I can’t recall if there were any tables down on the lower deck, as I always went up on the upper deck while the bus was there, but I do recall that all the cooking was done downstairs.
The owner of that unusual café was a very hardworking chap who spent his day running up and down those stairs as he served his customers with their meals. It became a very popular stopping place for lorry-drivers, and I recall him telling me once that, if the lorry-drivers continued to use his café at the rate they were, he would give us one of the best cafes in the west.
The final result of that man’s hard work, and dedication to his customers, was, as he had promised, indeed one of the best cafes in the west, ‘The Frying Pan’. The old double-decker bus was retired, a large modern café was built on the spot, with every convenience for lorry-drivers and general travellers alike, including fuel pumps and accommodation, and a large staff was taken on.
But that man never forgot the support he’d had from his early lorry-driving customers. If there was a rush on (which soon became often, especially during the summer holiday period), he’d always shout for us lorry-drivers to go to the front of the queue at the counter. As I’d witness on a couple of occasions, if any of the general travellers (holiday-makers?) complained about that, he’d soon let them know where his loyalties lay, and why!
And so, from an empty lay-by where very few vehicles stopped, the site was transformed into a large and busy amenities area for the tired and hungry traveller, and I never failed to stop at ‘The Frying Pan’ if I was heading down that way.
While on the subject: The Frying Pan was the first café where I personally was called to the front of a long queue. But, with the ever increasing volumes of holiday traffic on the roads in the summer, and probably through the realization that very good meals could be bought cheaply at transport cafés, the queues at café counters during the summer months became longer, and gradually cafés all around the country began to allow us lorry drivers to ‘jump’ the queues. As the motorways became longer, we were forced to stop at the motorway service areas now and again (if only to stretch the legs while having a cuppa), and it wasn’t long before the staff in the service area cafes were calling lorry drivers to the front of the busy queues just as in the ordinary cafés.
In my memory I think that the most ‘famous’ UK café had to be the Haven Café at (if I recall right) Scotch Corner on the A1 trunk road near Darlington, with The Ace Cafe on the North Circular Road around London as a close second. But my personal all-time favourite (probably because I travelled through that way such a lot) was the Lincoln Farm Café just south of the Stonebridge roundabout on the A452 near Hampton-in-Arden.
While tramping around the country and staying away from home at nights, many of us lorry drivers (if parked up early enough) would go to a dance, club or pub for something to do in the evenings. Sometimes we’d have a few drinks and dances with the local woman then happily go on our way with no other expectations (much as that might amaze some of those folk who thought that all lorry drivers were ‘womanizers’!). Most of the women just wanted an evening out with no complications (that’s how I saw it anyway), and most of us lorry drivers only wanted the same with no pressures either way.
As far as I was concerned, most of the women I encountered while travelling around the country were just a memory of a face and body without a name, but there were a few ‘famous’ ladies that nearly every lorry driver seemed to have had some experience of.
I heard stories of those ‘famous’ women, and the funny names that had been bestowed on them, from drivers that had been their way, or were ‘in the know’. Over the years, I’d hear about such ‘famous’ (to the lorry-drivers of that time) ladies as ‘Ethel Anyway’, ‘Manchester Maggie’, ‘Desperate Diane’, ‘Maul ‘em Maud’, ‘Floppy Flo’, etc. All those women were obviously a lively lot and gave us lorry drivers many a laugh as we told the stories, at over-night stops, of any ‘encounters’ with, or what we’d heard about, those ladies.
‘Getaway Gertie’, one of our locally-known women, has the dubious distinction of being my first introduction to these ‘famous’ women, and you can read about my encounter with her in chapter 21 of my life story.
Then there was ‘Paraffin Lil’. She served behind the counter of a large transport café, just north of Oxford, through the night during the late 1960s. Fancying a bit to eat after a long drive down through the night, I pulled into the café very early one morning on the way back from up north. Nodding a ‘hello’ over at the only two other drivers that were in the café at the time, I wandered up to the counter and asked for a sausage sandwich and cup of tea. In those days, if we knew the staff of some cafes and they were busy, we’d be told to make our own cup of tea, so I wasn’t really surprised when the woman behind the counter asked me to come through a side door into the kitchen - although the café was almost empty, she wasn’t busy, and I was hardly known there (it was rare for me to stop at the cafes so close to home - 30 miles in this case). But, no sooner was I through the door when she struck, pushing me off-balance up against the wall as she (almost in a frenzy it seemed) grappled with the buckle of my belt to undo it, and saying at the same time (I’ll never forget) “Sausage sandwich, me dear? I’ll give ‘ee a sausage sandwich! Yer can put yer sausage into my sandwich, me dear!!” To this day I don’t know if a joke had been played on me that morning or not, but within seconds I’d fought the woman off and was making a bee-line out of the café with the woman calling me back in a hurt voice, while the other two lorry drivers roared with laughter. I never went into that café again (it only took a small incident, even in fun, to make me wonder what the general hygiene standards were like in such a café), but when I asked around later, most of my driving friends seemed to know the woman, Paraffin Lil as they called her, quite well!
Fortunately for me I never came across many of those 'famous' ladies, but I have included the story of a close encounter with one other 'famous' lady on page 3 of this section.
Without radios, cassette-players, CB-radios, or mobile phones to help keep us amused, lorry driving could be a fairly lonely job in those early days, and it was easy to get bored with one’s own company - and singing-voice!! But there was one way that we could get a bit of company to help pass the miles, and that was to pick up hitch-hikers.
In my teen years, when I’d often had no money to buy petrol for my car (or even had no car), I had used hitch-hiking as a means to get around the country. Other drivers were always very good and I have some wonderful memories from my ‘hitch-hiking’ days. Although finally settling down with a decent car and money for petrol to go where I wanted to, I never forgot how I was helped by all those good drivers while I was hitch-hiking (and the fun of getting around the country in such a way). I rarely went past any hitch-hikers when driving my car around if there was room to squeeze them in and I was going their way - it was like some sort of repayment for what had been done for me! It was also only natural that I should eventually do the same while driving lorries - seizing the opportunity, not only to help somebody on their way, but to have a bit of company at the same time.
Sometimes this helped me in more ways than I’d expect. On one occasion I stopped to help a motorcyclist whose motorcycle had broken down on the M4 just by Heathrow Airport. Having a bit of space on the back-end of my trailer, and the rider wanting to get to Reading, we hoisted his bike up on the trailer, tied it down, and headed home. While chatting, my passenger mentioned that he (like myself) was an avid rock climber and mountaineer. And so began another memorable period in my life when the motorcyclist, Sean Wood, and myself took off up to the hills together on many occasions for some great climbing trips.
Apart from giving a lift to two girls, which had first given me the idea that hitch-hiking was a great way of getting around the country, I never gave lifts to females unless they were accompanied by a male. I’d heard about the ‘Circuit', where, apparently, prostitutes from all over the UK moved from town to town, quietly plying their wares in each town until a local pimp, or the Police, became annoying enough to cause a move to the next town. Many of the girls were said to use hitch-hiking as a cheap form of transport, and some lorry drivers were apparently willing to pick them up. Whether this was true or not, I don’t know because I never picked up any girls that I saw beside the road. To me it wasn’t worth the bother - I was too scared of what I might 'catch'!
But I do recall one example of the above, that was talked about for a long time, when one of the girls had her revenge on a lorry driver who’d done the wrong thing - this story was in one of the mid-60's issues of the UK lorry-driver's magazine, 'Headlight'.
Apparently the lorry driver, after picking up one of the girls
at Ipswich, pulled into the first lay-by he came across and had
his 'payment' for the help he was giving her. After the said
'payment', he chucked her out of his cab and drove off.
Less than a year later, so the story went, the same young lady was picked up, just outside of London, by the same lorry driver. He didn't recognise her, but she recognised him.
The driver came up with the 'usual'(?) request for payment - “A ride for a ride?” - and the young lady had agreed. Minutes later the lorry driver had pulled into a lay-by. But, so the story continued, the young girl wasn't going to be beaten this time (and fair-go to her!).
As soon as the lorry stopped, the young lady, using all the experience she had gained through her 'profession', told the driver what a lovely body he had and how she would like to see it in all its glory. The lorry driver, obviously flattered, ripped off his clothes, laid back, and the young lady got on with her work.
But, while the lorry driver lapped up the attention that was being lavished on him, the young lady had quietly used her other hand to gently pull the lorry keys out of the ignition, then to gather up the driver's clothes. Suddenly, with the clothes under her arm and the keys in her hand, she opened the passenger door and jumped out - leaving the lorry driver naked, and with no way of starting his truck so that he could get someplace to obtain other clothes.
His plight, as he was forced to stay in his cab while trying to wave down other lorry drivers in an effort to get more clothes or help, can well be imagined!
Another occasion when I saw a young lady ‘get one over on a lorry driver’ was on the northern section of the Oxford by-pass (very near Paraffin Lil’s café).
Jock, the same driver who’d refused to give the ‘Little One’ money at the Arden House lorry park in Liverpool, was in front of me as we negotiated a roundabout, and I could see a blonde-haired young lady up ahead hitch-hiking beside the continuation of the duel-carriageway off the roundabout. Blue smoke billowed from Jock’s tyres as he screeched to a halt beside the girl, I just had time to see the road was clear behind and swerve out to pass his stopped lorry, before I saw him sticking two fingers up at me out of his cab window, as if to say that he’d have a good time with the girl and I’d missed out, as I passed on by.
Nevertheless, I didn’t care one tiny bit about what Jock might get up to with that young lady. I’d been away for almost two weeks as I recall, I had my own beautiful young lady who, I knew, would be waiting longingly for my return, and that’s all I was caring about as I left Jock, his lorry, and the blonde-haired young lady back in the distance.
But, as I was walking towards the company office to hand in all my delivery-notes after parking up at our yard, Jock arrived and pulled up beside my lorry. I turned and walked back towards his lorry, shouting sarcastically to say that I hadn’t expected to see him so soon after the way he’d leered at me out of his cab window when I’d passed by as he’d picked up the young lady. Probably still in shock that such a thing had happened to himself, he immediately blurted out the whole truth of what had happened after I’d roared on past his lorry.
His passenger door had opened and the young lady had asked if Jock was going to Reading. Jock had replied to the affirmative, whereupon the young lady had moved away, and a man, who proceeded to climb up into the cab, had taken her place. In total surprise, Jock had looked past the man, wondering what had happened to the blonde-haired young lady, just in time to see her pick up a bicycle from behind a bank, wave to the man, then ride off. It turned out that the man was the young lady’s boyfriend who wanted a lift back to Reading after visiting her. Working out that it was easy for young ladies to get a lift, he and the bicycle had been hidden behind the bank while the young lady tried to get a lift until a lorry stopped. By the time the driver had realised what was going on, the man was sitting in the cab, the young lady had ridden off, and it was rare that any driver threw the man out. As a fuming Jock drove on down to Reading, the man had explained all this - probably delighted at how his lady-friend had so easily managed to get him another lift back home!
But, as already mentioned, I didn’t give females a lift unless they were accompanied by a male. It wasn’t always easy for two people (even with a female being one of them) to get a lift in a lorry, so I suppose that fact helped me to get a couple of extremely nice hitch-hikers who quite happily stayed with me for a whole working week.
the French couple had their UK tour.
As I was required to first deliver the load up to Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland, then cut west across country to Glasgow and pick up a pre-arranged return load at that city to take back down to London, those young folk had a fairly good trip around the UK.
of the Lincoln Farm Cafe on another trip.
The young couple were full of thanks for the ‘round tour’ I’d given them, but I feel that I’d enjoyed that week’s trip as much as they had! I’ve forgotten many of the hundreds of people that I gave lifts to in return for the lifts I had, but I’ve never forgotten that young French couple, and I often wonder if they married and told their children about the wonderful time they’d spent riding around the UK in a Lorry.
Often I’d take my friends or their youngsters out for trips. On one occasion I took my girlfriend up to a ‘maggot’ (for fishing bait) factory near Litchfield - she became ill and refused to go with me again after seeing one the employees eating his lunch while maggots crawled through his beard!! (You can read the full story in Part 3 of these pages.) On another trip, a young lad with me named Eric opened a tin of shaken Coke in my face as a game - fortunately there were no other vehicles around as I screeched to an emergency stop with both eyes full!!
And that’s where we came in at the start of this section - screeching to a halt through some mishap while happily driving along in my lorry - although you can read further recollections & anecdotes from my UK lorry driving days on pages 3 & 4 of this section if you wish.
I have memories of all the above recollections because I went for the type of work that suited my 'wanderlust & rebelistic' nature instead of giving in to doing any type of hum-drum work that would cause me to get very frustrated & bored.
Don’t waste your precious life on following the paths to drugs, crime, boredom, frustration, and useless exploits. Be determined, get out, meet good people, and channel your energy towards worthwhile & more interesting causes so that you can have some real-life adventures of your own to remember and write about - even if they are only simple adventures like mine!
Bygone Browsings......Fascinating stories by an ex-UK lorry
driver now living in Canada.
UK Truck Drivers..................A good site for UK truck drivers - with some world links.
UK Driving On-Line..............UK driving in general - with a lorry-driving related page.
The AEC (UK) Society...........Everything about AEC Buses & Trucks.
The Central Garage...............An interesting site on truck accidents in Scotland - with many pics.
Steve Forsyth's Home Page....Some good AEC pictures.
HGVWEB..............................A good-fun tongue-in-cheek look at UK truck driving.
Kingsley Foreman's Site.........Check this one out for Aussie trucker-related pages.
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