It is a long time since the A38 was the main route from the Midlands to the West Country, but its lay bys between Worcester and Tewkesbury still provide overnight parking for lorry drivers taking their statutory rest. The drivers find safety in numbers, two or three stopping in each spot. The distances in England are not great, but sufficient to exhaust the hours available to a driver in a single day.
Stops elsewhere can punctuate journeys of a different scale. A service station on the autoroute south of Bordeaux can have ranks of lorries, their registration plates an alphabet of European nations. The drivers are seasoned travellers and shrewd with money. Tables and camping stools will appear and meals will be prepared from stores in the trucks. One afternoon a greying middle aged Portuguese driver worked at checking his lorry while his grey-haired female companion set the table for their meal; a scene of domestic tranquility in a car park beside a motorway.
Driving deep in south-west France one Sunday morning, the autoroute was open and clear. A Co Wexford truck headed southward, brisk and steady in its progress. The Dublin registration caught the driver’s eye as he passed in the August sunshine and the headlights flashed a greeting; the wave back seemed a gesture worthy of a meeting with a neighbour on a country road in rural Ireland.
The lorry driver’s life must be filled with hassle. Traffic problems; mechanical faults; incorrect paperwork; the constant fear of stowaways, or of illegal substances, being hidden in loads; the times of loneliness and isolation; but among it all there must be another side.
To be driving southward through France on an August Sunday morning seemed not to be such a bad way of earning one’s living, but there’s more than that. The long distance drivers, not those who drive up and down Britain, but those who drive from the Baltic states down to Iberia, or from Turkey up to the North Sea, must watch a landscape constantly changing, seasons advancing and receding at differential speeds.
What could be most attractive to drivers, however, is the hours when there is no-one to annoy you; when the engine is running smoothly and the road is open and the forms are in order and when the nearest border is hundreds of miles away. There is no one phoning and no-one looking for you and no deadline to meet other than driving the hours permitted. Such moments would allow time for thinking and listening to the radio and playing favourite CDs and listening to audiobooks and, at the end of the day, being able to rest in the knowledge that there is nothing else to be done.
For such moments, the odd lay by might be tolerable.