Five Angry London Cabbies - A Terrible Sight!
My First Trip up to Liverpool.
A Lesson Well Learned.
The Suicidal Hare.
The 'Maggot Factory' Incident.
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This incident took place during 1964 and is a good example of how a disaster nearly occurred through larking about on the roads.
Occasionally, two lorries were sent to the same area and
the drivers would travel up together. On the day of this story,
while working for a waste-paper recycling company, another
driver, Colin, and myself had half each of the Bedford town
collection round. We decided to start early, travel up together,
get our loads, and meet in a café later that day so that
we could travel back together.
A lot of the paper we collected was in hessian sacks, and we always carried a few bundles of empty sacks to replace the full sacks.
At that time, if I recall right, the M1 motorway began at Bushey Heath, just north of London, and ended just above the Watford Gap Service Area near Rugby. The easiest way for us to get on the M1 in those days was via Slough and Watford (nothing to do with the 'Watford' Gap Service Area). Colin led the way up through Slough and Watford, and on to the M1 motorway.
My lorry was slightly faster than Colin’s and I overtook him as soon as we were on the first flat stretch of the Motorway. As I roared down a hill near Hemel Hempstead, Colin almost flashed past me (was he in ‘angel-gear’? - in neutral). Not only that, but he’d opened his passenger-side window and, as he passed, he leaned over and threw some orange-peel at me. Laughing at the fun of it (there wasn’t another vehicle in sight) I forced my foot down harder in an effort to catch him up.
On the next hill up, I began to overtake him and he flashed his indicator to the right to make me think he was moving out into my lane. I slowed down and dropped back in behind him. Then realising I’d been tricked, I began to move up again. This time he moved out and turned his side-lights on. Of course, I slowed down again when I saw the red tail-lights, thinking that they were his brake-lights and that he was stopping. For the third time I moved up. I could see that there was nothing in front that would cause him to be forced out into my lane, and this time I ignored him when his hand shot out of the side window to indicate that he was moving out to the right. Laughing like mad, I stuck two fingers up at him, poked my tongue out, and raced on by. As I looked through my rear-view mirrors, I could see his headlights flashing like mad, usually a sign to pull over and stop due to some problem, But I wasn’t going to fall for that one.
On the next hill down he passed me again, going like the clappers, with lights flashing and his indicators flicking from side to side. I just had time to see his two fingers sticking up at me and his grinning face, then he shot ahead and rapidly began to leave me behind.
Suddenly, I realised that there was blue smoke billowing off the deck of his lorry, and there was a red glow in amongst his bundles of sacks. It looked like the bundles were on fire. In my efforts to try and attract his attention to the fire just behind his headboard, I began flashing my own lights and waving my arm out of the window. Colin could see my lights flashing and my waving arm through his rear-view mirror, it was the signal for more fun and he weaved across the empty motorway lanes, flashing his indicators and lights. The hill was very long and soon his lorry was a dot in the distance which was leaving a weaving trail of blue smoke.
The road flattened out a bit just before the long downward hill past Luton. I knew that I had no chance of catching him up and resigned myself to seeing a blazing hulk beside the motorway on the north side of Luton. Then, all at once the trail of smoke changed course onto the hard shoulder and began to rise up into the sky. Colin had at last spied the fire that was now also beginning to take a hold on the deck and headboard of his lorry.
As I neared the stationary lorry, I saw Colin jump out of the cab and run around to the rear. Within minutes, I’d stopped (a bit of a distance away) and run up to help. We threw the burning sacks onto the verge and, with a couple of not so burned sacks, beat the fire out that had taken hold on the deck and headboard. Seconds later we were almost collapsing in breathless laughter as we spread the burning sacks around and stamped out the remaining fires.
Luckily the only damage to the lorry were the deep
burn-marks on the headboard and deck. We split up my bundles of
sacks so that Colin had at least a few sacks to give out, then
continued on our merry way with me still going into
uncontrollable fits of laughter - and Colin driving along a lot
more sensibly. We suspected that the fire had been caused by a
lighted cigarette-end that he had thrown out of the window.
A classic case of 'cry wolf' that could have ended in disaster!
The traffic was thick as I made my way back through East Central London towards the west, driving a TK-Series Bedford lorry with a light load of baled cardboard. Having gone over Holborn Viaduct, I was approaching Holborn Circus (a large roundabout) and there were half a dozen London taxis in front of me. As we neared the roundabout, the taxis stopped - but I kept going!
At first, I’d had plenty of room to stop, we weren’t going very fast and there was more than enough space between myself and the taxi immediately in front of me. But, as I'd begun to gently stab the brake-pedal to slow down, nothing happened. I’d quickly stabbed harder but the pedal had just flopped right down to the floor with no effect. The Bedford ‘TK Series’ lorry had a disc-brake fitted to the drive-shaft, which acted, not only as the handbrake, but as an independent emergency stopping brake. As I closed in on the rear of the taxi in front, I reached for the handbrake lever, pulled it on, and my vehicle juddered to a halt. Nevertheless, luck was still against me that day, and I unfortunately just barely touched the rear bumper of the taxi.
The taxi driver had obviously been ‘riding the clutch’ ready to move on, without having set his handbrake (I used to do the same). The gentle nudge from behind had been just enough to jolt his foot off the clutch-pedal and the taxi had jumped forward. But, in doing so it had hit the taxi in front and, being up close behind it, the collision had been worse. That second taxi had done exactly the same to a third taxi, but with even more force, which in turn did the same to a fourth taxi, which in turn smashed the rear of a fifth taxi.
To me, the sight of the five London taxis damaged by my gentle touch had been bad enough. But I can vouch to the fact that five angry London cabbies, having just had their beloved taxis damaged, and coming back towards you, is a much worse sight - especially when they are rolling their sleeves up at the same time!
Luckily for me, I was able to quickly explain about my loss of brakes and the taxi drivers soon calmed down. Addresses were exchanged, all the damaged taxis were still able roar off, and I, still shaking, was left to sort out my own problem. After ringing up the boss, my lorry was towed into a heavy-vehicle repair garage where the brakes were fixed and pronounced safe again. Once more I set off towards home - feeling very lucky to still be in one piece after the way those cabbies had approached me!
I enjoyed all the trips I did up around the Liverpool/Manchester area and can still vividly remember my first trip up to the city of Liverpool itself.
Although in the early 1960s I’d travelled around a bit in commercial vehicles, I had never been to any of the large and famous north-midland cities. I suppose Barnsley was the farthest I’d been up the east side of the UK, Birmingham in the centre, and Chester on the west side (not counting car trips to North Wales & The Lake District). But during early 1965 I was given a load up to the Liverpool Docks that would be the start of many memorable trips to that city.
In spite of having a 40ft refrigerated trailer full of frozen meat, the tractor unit was only a small Ford Thames Trader that was far too under-powered for the job. If I wasn’t careful and took off from stops a bit quickly, the cab almost leapt up into the air as it suddenly took up the strain to get the heavy trailer moving and would easily stall. Another problem with that tractor unit was that, due to being so under-powered for the job it was asked to do (all the company’s trailers were the same size) one or other of the injector pipes frequently blew out under the pressure. This problem caused us drivers to carry a huge bundle of spare injector pipes behind the passenger seat and, when a pipe blew (usually at the worst place possible like a narrow town road or city street), we’d have to replace the pipe, then ‘bleed’ the fuel system before we could get on our way again. The company eventually went over to the Commer (Maxiload series) after being a bit disappointed with 2 (newly-introduced at the time) Ford ‘Custom’ D800 tractor units.
But back to my first trip up to Liverpool and, through my adventurous nature and deep desire to see new places over the horizon, I couldn’t sleep at all the previous night due to my excitement. 3am in the morning had been planned for my original starting time, but I was at the depot by 1.30am and raring to get going. Having taken my time checking that all was working well (although I’d already done that the previous day before leaving the depot), and slowly writing out my log sheets, the time was near enough for me to take off towards the north. Once on my way I was happy and relaxed, content to sit back and enjoy the trip!
I recall that the first injector pipe failed just to the north of Banbury on the A41, the next one just south of Tamworth as I joined the A5, then another while travelling up the M6. But I eventually reached Liverpool and ‘found’ the docks where my trailer was unloaded.
Nevertheless, having finally reached that famous city there was no way that I was going to take off back down south without a bit of a quick look around. After finding a suitable side street, I parked up and caught a bus down to the waterfront just to see the River Mersey and the Royal Liver Building. That was another enjoyable bonus I liked about lorry driving - seeing many places and landmarks that I’d only read about in books before!
An incident occurred while I was wandering beside the River Mersey that first time which had me chuckling to myself on the way home. A little girl approached and asked me, in her distinctive Liverpool accent, if I could lend her tuppence for her bus fare home. I gave her the two pennies then went on my way. It wasn’t until I’d gone about a hundred yards on that the thought suddenly came to me that the little girl had asked if I could ‘lend’ her tuppence, not ‘give’ her tuppence. She didn’t know me from Adam so there was no way that she was going to repay a ‘loan’. I smiled to myself at her ‘cheek’ and glanced around, but the little girl was already out of sight - no doubt lining up her next ‘victim’. (Two pennies was still a lot of money to a youngster in those days - especially if they could find half a dozen ‘victims’ who’d give them tuppence each day!) I often thought of that little girl when I was being ‘blackmailed’ (see previous page) by the little ones at the lorry parks around the country - wish I’d been able to think up such rackets when I was a youngster with no pocket-money to spare!
Finally I went back to my lorry and headed down to home, well content with the trip and the new horizons I’d ‘discovered’. And, probably due to the fact that the trailer was empty, I only had to replace one injector pipe during the whole return journey!
While still on the subject of Liverpool trips, I can recall about the 5th or 6th trip I did up to that city when I learned another valuable lesson concerning the job of driving lorries, which helps to point out that it’s not all ‘get in the cab and happily drive off for an enjoyable ride through the countryside’!
On this particular occasion I had an open flat-bed trailer and, having delivered my load in the Liverpool area (load and destination now forgotten) I’d hunted around and found a return load for South Wales. The load consisted of six huge earthmover (scraper) tyres which had to be collected from the Liverpool Docks. Unknown to myself at the time of collecting the load, that’s where a problem, and the valuable lesson, began.
The tyres were lifted on to my trailer one at a time using a dockside crane, but, instead of using a canvass strap wrapped around the tyres, the dockers used a wire cable which damaged the beading on the inside edge of the tyres. I pointed the damage out to the loading foreman but he said not to worry as they always loaded the tyres in that manner and nobody else had complained.
Feeling a bit uneasy under the glowering looks I suddenly began to get from those dockers (which almost seemed to ask how I dared to question their vast experience at unloading ships and loading lorries!!) I said no more. Nevertheless, due to the bouncing nature of the tyres, I sheeted the load to help hold it secure, and also to protect the outer edges of the tyres from damage caused by the ropes, before tying down. Then I headed south.
But the destination company’s receiving foreman spied the damage to the inside beading of the tyres and called on one of his managers to take a look. Although the manager accepted the tyres, he instructed the receiving foreman to sign my delivery-docket to the fact that the tyres were badly damaged. I had to be content with that and went on my way.
It was three or four more days before I eventually returned to my own company’s depot (having found other loads which had me wandering to further destinations until I could find something that would get me back home), and I was asked to report to the transport manager immediately. Fortunately for me he was a decent chap who, instead of ‘sounding off’, quietly explained that a claim for over two thousand pounds (a real lot of money to any company in those days) had been made against our insurance company for the damage to the tyres I’d delivered to South Wales from the Liverpool Docks. I explained (and wrote a statement on) my side of the story, but the South Wales company won due to the fact that they’d signed for ‘damaged’ goods received from myself, whereas I hadn’t covered myself in the same manner when signing for the damaged tyres up at the Liverpool Docks.
At the time it was another lesson learned and I never allowed the dockers, nor any other company, to do that to me again, even refusing some loads (due to the badly-damaged nature of goods) at docks on a few occasions - much to the sneering and jeering aimed at myself and my company at the times!
One afternoon, in May 1966, the devoted love of a male animal for his family was shown to me in the most dramatic of actions.
On that particular occasion, I was driving my lorry (a Seddon Model 13, 6x2, with a Perkins engine) towards home after delivering a load at Ewelme, in the county of Oxfordshire, and was passing down the east side of the famous WW2 Aerodrome at Benson, also in the county of Oxfordshire. The aerodrome had been used as a wartime base by the PRU (Photo Reconnaissance Unit) but, at the time of this story I recall that only the occasional Hawker Siddeley Argosy could be seen landing or taking off there.
The road was narrow - almost a metalled country lane - going slightly down-hill between two large fields towards Crowmarsh Gifford on the A423 that would enable me to slip across to the small town of Wallingford and on down the A329 to Reading. Being the type of person who is fascinated by aircraft, and with, what I thought was, a clear road up front, my eyes kept slipping across to the aerodrome of Benson on my right in the hope of seeing an aircraft land or take off. Then suddenly my eyes were drawn to the movement of grey and white forms on the left of the road, near the grass verge a short distance ahead.
I had quickly realised that the movement was obviously a group of animals beside the road and my feet immediately went for the brake and clutch pedals in an effort to slow the vehicle down so that the animals would have time to vanish off into the long grass and out of harms way. What happened next has remained etched as a movie sequence in my memory ever since.
One of the grey forms detached itself from the main group and began to bound up along the road towards the direction from which I was approaching. Even so, before my eyes started to focus on that lone animal racing towards the front of my lorry, I could see that the other animals were running off into the long grass, that they were mostly little animals, and obviously mother and youngsters - I was already that close!
There was no time to dwell on that fact. My right foot stamped hard up and down on the brake pedal, causing a series of low-sounding skid noises, and my left foot stabbed at the clutch pedal while I fought to change down a gear or two. But, even as I fought to stop the forward rush of my lorry, already realising that I would stop before reaching the spot where the ‘family’ of animals had vanished into the long grass, I knew that the fast-approaching lone animal wasn’t going to deviate from its ‘suicide’ course.
The animal was a large hare. Over the sound of the engine and skidding tyres, I suddenly began to hear a most defiant, though despairing, squealing scream. As I looked at its wild approach with horror, I could see that the animal’s ears were thrown back, its teeth were bared as in grim determination, and its eyes were wide open as if with fanatical rage - Those eyes were looking straight into mine! With one last final bound the hare launched itself at the windscreen behind which I sat.
But, possibly through it’s rage and determination to save its family, the unfortunate hare had misjudged its courageous attack on such a large adversary. For one fleeting moment I had an astounding glimpse of the raging and squealing animal full in my windscreen, then it dropped below out of my sight and crashed into the front of my lorry with a finalizing bang.
By that time the low speed of my vehicle had enabled me to stop almost immediately. But, due to the violence of its approach, the hare had been killed instantly.
There was nothing more that I could do. With a bewildering, though suddenly respectful feeling of what even a ‘lowly’ hare will do to protect its family, I scooped out a grave with my jack-handle and buried the courageous animal beside that road.
Having briefly mentioned, in Part 1 of these pages, about taking my girlfriend, Lisa, to a ‘maggot factory’, I thought the story would be worth telling in more detail.
Lisa often went on a day trip with me if I was sure of getting back the same night, and even slept in a box-trailer on one occasion when we were diverted further north to pick up a load. But she never went with me again after the ‘maggot factory’ incident!
I had a load of large empty biscuit tins in a box trailer for delivery up to the ‘maggot factory’ (as I came to call the place), which, if I recall right, was just off the north side of the A5 trunk road near Lichfield in the Midlands. Lisa lived with her parents in a small village just to the west of Reading, and I’d often sleep on their lounge if she and I wanted to get an early start to anywhere. There was also a handy lay-by on the housing estate just nearby where I could safely leave my car or lorry for the night. With a nice early start, and a pleasant drive up, we finally reached the ‘maggot factory’ near Lichfield. Lisa wasn’t all that keen to hear the place referred to as a ‘maggot factory’ and decided to stay in the cab while the load of tins was taken off. But even I felt a bit squeamish when I entered the building looking for somebody to receive the load!!
The main building as I recall was a huge shed. On the floor, and tables lined down each side, were many oval galvanized-tin bathtubs, the sort with a handle sticking up at each end. What I saw in those tubs didn’t look very healthy to me, especially as there seemed to be a lot of flies swarming around. Before I had a chance to investigate further , a little grey-bearded old man appeared.
As the man approached me up the shed, I could see that he
was wearing a long dirty apron that reached down almost to the
floor where the toes of a pair of gum-boots could just be seen
sticking out, and the apron seemed to be covered in lumps and
smears of red sawdust. Then my attention was taken up by the man
himself. As we walked back out the door towards the lorry I
glanced across at the man’s face, feeling sure that
I’d seen something ‘odd’ moving in his beard.
At first, even after another couple of furtive looks, I
couldn’t believe what my own eyes were telling me.
There was a maggot crawling around in that man’s beard!!
But that was nothing. As we unloaded the trailer I began to notice that the man seemed to have maggots crawling all over him. I saw at least a dozen in his beard, a couple were crawling up over his cap, and many others were wriggling and crawling in and out of his clothes. I’d never seen such a sight in my life and could only stare in fascinated disgust each time the man came to the rear of my trailer for another bundle of tins. He seemed to be oblivious to all those maggots crawling about his person, and to the disgust that had obviously shown on my face. Nevertheless, he was a very nice old man and we chatted happily about the ‘factory’ each time he came to the trailer. Then, with the trailer finally empty, he took me back into the large shed where he explained all about the art of ‘rearing’ maggots.
The maggots, to be eventually used as bait by fishermen all over the country, were ‘reared’ in the bathtubs. The old man led me over to the nearest bathtub and I could see that it was filled with sawdust and, what looked like, lumps of old meat, all covered in a writhing mass of maggots. Shooing the cloud of flies away from around the tub, the man reached in with his bare hands and pulled out one of the maggot-covered lumps of meat, explaining (as I backed away towards the door) that the lump of meat was a sheep’s head. Apparently the sheep’s heads were cheap, and ideal for ‘rearing’ the maggots in. The tins that I had delivered were for packing the maggots into for distribution around the factory’s retail outlets. Still holding the sheep’s head in his hand, he began to proudly tell me how different-coloured dyes were used to get the various colours that helped to attract the fish, but I could only stare in further disgust at the maggots that were beginning to crawl and wriggle from the sheep’s head and up the man’s arm. Thinking it was about time I got out of there, and beginning to get a terrible feeling that maggots were also crawling in amongst my own clothes, I took off around to my cab to get the delivery-docket for signing.
During the time that the old man and myself were unloading the tins, Lisa had stayed happily in the cab, unaware of what had been going on behind her, and at first I was content to leave it at that. But, as I walked back around the rear of the trailer, I was further disgusted to see that the man had settled down on a chair in front of the shed - still with maggots from the sheep’s head crawling on his hand and arm, and without having had time to wash his hands - and was eating a sandwich!!
That was too much! Nobody would believe me if I related the story of this man and his ‘maggot factory’ unless I had a reliable witness - and the only other person around was Lisa!
As personal-secretary to a managing director at one of the big local companies, Lisa mostly ‘looked and dressed’ as expected for such a position. She was a beautiful woman. She had a lovely figure. She could cook and sew. And she was also a very loving and homely person. To myself she was perfect and at first I’d wondered what she saw in me, a scruffy lorry driver, that was attractive.
But Lisa had other qualities that made her even more perfect for a chap such as myself - She also had an adventurous nature, and didn’t mind ‘roughing it’ when the occasions arose! She was quite happy to let me drag her up mountains and rock-faces. She eagerly grovelled about in wet and muddy caves. She slept in cold, wet & icy tents with no complaints. She humped large rucksacks around. And she didn’t mind getting covered in grease & oil while lending a hand to maintain the car. In other words, besides her ‘womanly’ assets she was also an all-round good sport. But I think I had tested her ‘good sportsmanship’ to the limit that day!
I went back to the cab of the lorry and asked Lisa to come and meet the old man. Already knowing that the place involved something to do with maggots, she was a bit reluctant at first, but I managed to persuade her that all was well, and that she’d see ‘something amazing’. Looking a bit apprehensive, she climbed down from the cab and allowed me to steer her back along the trailer towards the front of the large shed where the old man was sitting. As we approached, the chap beamed a huge smile and stood up to welcome Lisa, and at the same time I put my arm around her shoulder in a protective manner. The man’s hand reached out towards a handshake greeting, and I saw Lisa’s hand go forward to take the proffered hand - but the hands never touched!
Seeing that maggots were still crawling over the old man’s hand and arm, my eyes had flicked across at Lisa’s face as I saw her hand stretch out to receive the welcome. At first she’d beamed a welcoming smile back at the old man. Then, for a split second her face had registered an unbelieving amazement (hadn’t I promised ‘something amazing’ anyway?), which quickly turned to a look of pure horror, and finally a mixture of horror and downright disgust. With a sudden retching scream of nausea and repugnance, the poor girl took off back to the cab like a scalded rabbit, leaving the old man’s outstretched hand untouched.
I could only apologize to the old man, who hadn’t batted an eye-lid at Lisa’s flight and was even laughing as if it was the normal thing, before climbing into the lorry and setting off back down south. Lisa quickly got over her nausea and we were soon chatting about the incident, still hardly able to believe that anybody could work in such a place, let alone become so blasé to the fact that maggots were crawling all over one’s person.
But, although Lisa and I would be friends for another two years, she never went on a trip out in a lorry with me again!
More recollections & anecdotes to be added soon!
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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