Thursday, 19 August 2010


Since I left my job at the builders merchant, I have been trying to build up experience of both teaching in rigid trucks and driving articulated ones. One company in this area that takes agency drivers without Class 1 (artic) experience is The Royal Mail. It's a lovely company to work for, especially after the harsh world of the construction industry. A lot of the workers there are committed postal workers and would never have worked anywhere else. The company looks after the staff and the vehicles and I have been given training and support to get started driving artics, even though I am only an agency driver. So all in all, I like The Royal Mail.

Post moves at night. Nearly all the shifts involve a majority of driving during the hours of darkness and the canteens in a lot of the depots I visit are staffed all night.

Last night I did a shift which started here on the South coast around midday and finished back here 12 hours later. The bit in the middle was mainly spent driving around large mail centres in West London. I got to London around 5pm and left about 10.30pm. As I drove around these streets and junctions I knew solely from traffic reports - the Hangar Lane gyratory, the Polish war memorial roundabout - the traffic gradually died down as the sun set, and I gradually relaxed.

Yes, it is easier to drive an artic when the streets are empty, because artics are huge and there are lots of places around them where small vehicles like cars and bikes cannot be seen, and can easily get squashed. But it is also because as it gets dark, the population on the roads changes. The proportion of people driving for a living grows in relation to those who are just going about their daily lives and that feels safer, like you are part of a club, a club that looks out for its members. Let the self-absorbed car driver drive like they own the road in the day, they'll be gone soon enough, and we know we own the road at night.

There is a whole secret world out there of the night worker, the moles who burrow away when the rest of the world is sleeping. There is, as in any outsider community, a cameraderie among those whose working day is the wrong way up. The radio presenters, especially Alex Lester on Radio 2, cater to this peculiar bunch of truckers, shift workers and occasionally insomniacs or nursing mothers. The show is far too eccentric to be aired in the daytime.

The A roads are lined with parked up lorries with their curtains drawn, the driver sleeping inside. This lends an even more restful air to the night. I do have to be careful about taking naps whenever I can and making sure I have enough water and tea with me to keep me awake on the drive back from wherever I've been. But although I end up having less sleep than I would on day shifts and I haven't yet worked out a routine of what to eat when, I like it. I like the standing against the norm. I like the secret world.