On the road south
At eight o’clock on a November evening, with John Creedon on the radio, driving northward on the M50 was an almost pleasant experience. Heading southward on the other carriageway, there was a convoy of three lorries with an escort vehicle in front of them. The loads on the low trailers seemed to be huge cubes of metal, perhaps electrical transformers.
Perhaps they were moving in the evening because the roads were free-flowing, perhaps their permits only allowed them to travel in the night hours. It was impossible to guess where they might be bound, the loads were possibly from Dublin port, their destination some new development in the south-east of the country.
Their progress was slow. It was difficult to imagine the deliveries being made and the lorries making their return journey before the drivers had completed the maximum hours they were permitted. Where would they spend the night? Ireland is not a place with a plentiful supply of places to stop overnight. There are few service stations to compare with those in France.
There is a service station on the autoroute south of Bordeaux that can have rank upon rank 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. It was a scene of domestic tranquillity 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 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. There must be times of loneliness and isolation, but also among it all there must be another side.
To be driving southward through France on an August Sunday morning would not 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 or back and forth across Ireland, 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 seems really attractive, 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. 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, enduring service station car parks would not seem such a bad price.
They passed a degree of responsibility to the truck drivers totally divorced from the pay level. And then had the gall to pass the cost of certification to them as well.
And then complained when the logic of market economics came back to bite them on the backside.