Out on the road again

I was beginning to miss the experience of being out on the road. Typically my truck and van driving career has consisted of a mix of middle-distance (ie. around the south-east of England) and urban driving. I much prefer the out of town driving, because it’s vastly less stressful and requires fewer stops, and there’s the obvious fact of the scenery. When Ramadan started I was hoping to get quite a few such jobs because almost everywhere on the south coast is outside the 48-mile limit from here (except Brighton), but I got only one, and on that occasion I chose to fast anyway. This is the first week I got several long runs in a row.

The job is for a company which hires out tools, including heavy tools like generators (“jennies”) and cement mixers. I first got called up last week, only to be sent away on arrival for the lack of safety boots. I’ve been working with many different types of gear over my three years as a driver, including timber and heavy ceramic tiles, and nobody has ever objected to my wearing normal shoes. The only pair of such boots I’ve got I bought a few years ago for a building site job. I have an automatic negative reaction to this sort of thing, though, because the last time I had people telling me what I could or couldn’t do “for my own good” or “safety” was at school. I’m also far more worried about my back than my feet.

Anyway, I took the job when it was offered to me again, and took the boots along in a plastic bag. I’ve been there two days and haven’t worn the boots, and nobody’s noticed. Then again, I saw why, because I had to transport two heavy “Pango” drills which are mounted on a special trolley. They had not been mounted properly when they had been loaded, and when they got to their destination and the trolleys were lifted, the drills fell to the floor with a bang.

The job is a stock transfer job, which requires driving out from the firm’s depot in south London (Mitcham), via Woodham (west Surrey), Farnborough (in Hampshire), Camberley (back in Surrey), Basingstoke and Winchester (both Hampshire), then back via Guildford and Woking (both Surrey). This morning I though it would be a relatively light job, but this impression changed when I got to Camberley and saw that I had to transport a massive generator and an even bigger cement mixer. We first loaded the wrong mixer - the one I really had to carry was the heavy one, with cement in it. As it turned out, it didn’t slow the van down too much, but I’m still sort of surprised they had me take this on a Ford Transit, rather than a proper lorry.

After Camberley I stopped at the Fleet service area on the M3 motorway for an expensive and rather small latte. (This is the first time I’ve heard of regular and small coffees, rather than regular and large.) Basingstoke to Winchester is the really interesting bit, because the company gave me a circuitous route to Winchester via the M3, up the A34 and then back into Winchester along a minor road. There is, in fact, a better way: straight down the old A33 via Micheldever which was once part of the main London-Southampton highway. I think there was once a wish to make the highways of England into solid blue lines on the map, to which end they found roads like the A33, parts of it dual carriageway, and built motorways alongside them. Thus, you get eight to ten lanes of road, four of them used by motorway traffic, two of them the shoulder of the M3, and the other two or four virtually empty along the more-or-less disused A33. They could just have built an extra two lanes along the narrower bits of the A33, but that wouldn’t make the solid blue line. The advantage, of course, is that it leaves a virtually empty, straight road.

(They’ve duplicated this stupidity in Cambridgeshire, building an eight-lane (plus shoulders) motorway alongside the old A1. They grassed over two of the old four lanes, but ten lanes of traffic instead of the previous four between a small city (Peterborough) and a small town (Huntingdon) just doesn’t make sense. And they bypassed the truck stop and, no doubt, other roadside businesses also - a common by-product of blue-lining schemes.)

The way back from Winchester, the furthest point out, was pretty uncomplicated - straight along the A31 and the A3, with a detour to Woking. I’ve had a pretty easy couple of days apart from the really heavy gear. Alhamdu lillah, no traffic jams; I hate traffic jams (and other forms of enforced idleness) far more than I hate hard work.

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