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The secret life of a truck driver: at the sharp end of what the EU means, I want out


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Anonymous, The Guardian  /  September 5, 2016

I started truck-driving in the late 1970s, graduating from a dump truck on a Bavarian bypass to trips the length and breadth of Europe in a succession of rust buckets. After living and working in France, Germany and the Netherlands, in 2000 I sold up and emigrated to live in the tropics – where, believe it or not, I get bored.

These days I fly back to the UK in April, pick up the keys to a truck, hitch up a trailer and take off on a four-month European tour for a company that specialises in transporting equipment for bands. As a public school wide-boy, of whom there are many in the music business, with a taste for the open road, I’ve found my niche – where, as long as you do the job right, a certain degree of eccentricity isn’t a disadvantage.

I love waking up and pulling back the cab curtains, not knowing what the view will be and getting paid good money to go to places other people pay good money to go to. Norway is my favourite; I couldn’t afford to go there otherwise. Working in the music business also means I don’t have to tolerate the awful working conditions some UK drivers accept: horrible food, lack of parking, filthy toilets and showers, hanging around unpaid while waiting to load and unload. No wonder there’s such a shortage of drivers.

I have only met my boss once, very briefly. In the music business you’re left to get on with it and plan your own routes. I enjoy getting on with the crew and the musicians I work for. As humble diesel demons, we’re not really supposed to hang out with the talent, but I ignore that.

The EU may have made border transit delays a thing of the past, but English hauliers have had almost all their European work taken from them by eastern European hauliers, operating under EU rules, who have cut prices to an absurdly low level and driven firms from wealthier countries out of business.

The trucks you see lined up in Operation Stack on the motorway in Kent are almost all from eastern Europe, not the UK. The EU, as it applies to truck-driving, has meant flooding the market with cheap foreign labour, which is perceived to have forced down wages and worsened working conditions.

It’s not just a British problem. I noticed recently that even Spanish hauliers are now using Romanian-registered subcontractors.

One of my colleagues had a brick through his windscreen last week in Calais. It feels like only a matter of time before real trouble kicks off there. Around the “Jungle” is obviously a flashpoint but the people traffickers have now penetrated far further inland into France, with each gang “owning” a services centre, systematically assaulting English-bound vehicles, so nowhere within 300 miles of the Channel is safe. The French police don’t seem to care.

Quite a few of my fellow drivers are linguists; many live abroad too. Speaking a foreign language helps, and can open other doors. A few years ago I was driving the equipment around Europe for a heavy metal band from New Orleans. During the end-of-tour party in Bilbao, the tour manager found out I lived in Brazil, so she invited me to tour South America and Mexico with the band as a guitar tech and translator.

That’s not to say the job is all fun and games: it’s bloody hard work too. Last month I travelled 17,000 kilometres (10,563 miles), including a drive from the Arctic circle in northern Finland all the way to Lisbon, 24-hours off, then non-stop to Milan, Valencia, then back to London. Needless to say, it isn’t a line of work that allows much time for a work/life balance.

Sometimes I wish I’d got into the music business earlier, but had I not already paid my dues on general haulage I wouldn’t have been good enough. Just as every good production and tour manager I’ve met started pushing boxes at midnight for peanuts, every good tour driver learned their trade trying to do five collections in Milan on a Friday afternoon, or 25 deliveries inside the M25. Actual over-the-road driving skills are assumed: a tour driver’s real added value is experience, knowing whether a route is possible within the set time limit. That and people skills, being diplomatic enough to get any potential problem sorted in advance, without ruffling feathers.

A tour driver needs to be able to apply the planned tour schedule, set months in advance, to the EU truck and bus driving rules, which are, and this is a very short approximate summary of the basics: 90 hours’ driving time over two weeks; nine hours’ driving per day, 10 hours a day twice a week. Breaks: at least 11 hours per night, shortened twice a week to nine hours. Obligatory 24- and 45-hour breaks over a two-week period.

All trucks, thankfully, are equipped these days with digicards: credit card-sized chip gizmos which record our every movement and are impossible to falsify, so all transport businesses now run legally. Everyone operates on the same playing field, not only in the niche market of the music business but also in other types of transport. Efficient businesses make money.

I’m insured. The trucks are taxed. Bribery and other shenanigans are almost unheard-of. We drive top-of-the-range trucks with fridges and night heaters and get paid on time. In the old days, at least when I started, the opposite was true.

All in all I love my job. However, never having had one, a work contract would be nice. And it’s definitely a lifestyle choice, not a sensible career option. My take-home pay is only relatively high because catering is paid for by the artist’s production company, and I’m paid while away from base during my time off. Averaged out per year, there’s more money driving nights for a supermarket. But I’m not complaining.

The greatest pleasure is listening to good music. Hearing Tom Jones warm up backstage, for example – what a voice. I love the solitude of driving and the sense of reward of being good at what I do, trusted to go out alone on a four-month tour around Europe for famous artists, knowing that everyone relies on me to get to every show on time. For the record, I’ve never been late. In return I get paid to listen to good music and work with highly professional people.

I tend not to watch television, or read the papers. What happens in the UK doesn’t affect me. At least, it hasn’t until recently, with what has been going on around the French/English border. Like almost all of my colleagues I voted leave in the referendum. At the sharp end of what the EU really means, I want out.


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The only concert I've ever been to was Tom Jones, like you said "what a voice"! The most interesting person I've ever met was a little cockney British driver from Birmingham UK.Was a professional stunt man,Drove Sean Connery's Astin Martin between the two buildings in "Diamonds are Forever" Some fellow owed him some money for some stunts and gave him a couple of Tractor trailers,so he went into the trucking business! Ran mostly UK,France,and Italy.He told me there is an upgrade in the Alps,where you are pulling uphill for 8 hrs! Said you had your lunch on the dashboard,and a pee jug on the floor! He had a scrapbook of some of his stunts.We both drove for the same company. He couldn't get any stunt work in the UK because he had broken so many bones he couldn't get insurance! Last I heard he had a used car lot in Ocala Florida.

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