As per Stevel's request earlier, here's another diary from one of my European Jaunts from a few years ago...
I have quite a few more i will happily post, but they are thin on the ground with pictures, but if any one wants them posted, please let me know...
Here Goes, this was written in my early days of journalistic attempts, so grammar and punctuation are not of the highesat quality!
TUESDAY……. Having been stuck in the UK for the first few days of the week, it was music to my ears when Pete phoned me and told me to get back to the yard ASAP as there was a Low Loader with a Forklift on it, loaded for Marseille. It was due for delivery on Thursday Lunchtime in Marseille Docks, which I cant see being a problem, but you never can tell with the French. Once back in the yard I coupled up to the trailer, which was one of Kings Heavy Haulage from Bristol’s, having moved the fifth wheel forward due to it being a short pin trailer, I did the usual light check and made sure the fork truck was secure before working my way out of our small yard and out to the M4. Being the height of rush hour progress on the M4 was very slow, and it seemed to take forever to get to the A329M, which takes you down through Bracknell to the M3 and cuts out the M4 and the major roadworks on the M25. It was slow going through Bracknell but once out onto the M3 things picked up, and I only backed off the throttle to take the tight bend from the M3 onto the M25. As I was only grossing 30t, progress wasn’t slowed by the short climb at Leatherhead, and the Big Volvo went up it at 57mph on the cruise control. An uneventful trip round the M25 and down the M26/M20 followed and soon enough I was dropping down the hill into Dover. Now the Usual practice is to go into customs to clear as we are nearly always off to Switzerland, however this time I was off to France so there was no need to clear so I bypassed the FSA and headed straight for the Western Docks. Onto the weighbridge revealed the gross weight to be 30047kgs. Off the Weighbridge and round to the SeaFrance Kiosk to book myself onto the next available sailing to Calais, which turned out to be 0530!! Once clear of the kiosk, I made my way into one of the only empty lanes in the Western dock, were I bumped into another PTM driver, John Vousden. He was off to Switzerland, and had been hoping to ship across tonight but due to the horrendous queue’s it had put paid to his plan. A quick coffee with John and I decided to get my head down, we weren’t going anywhere for a quite a few hours so I figured take my legal break here, and then get as far down through France tomorrow as my 10 hours driving would allow me to.
Taking a break at Orange, France
WEDNESDAY……. A very loud banging on the door woke me at about 0230, I jumped out of bed to see a not too happy SeaFrance dockhand at my window. Opening the door hear what he had to say, I noticed the docks were nigh on empty, the no trucks in front of me, none either side, Just me, at the back of a lane on my own. “ The Cezanne has hit the dock wall at Calais, we’ve managed to get you on the NPC” said the dockhand. Pulling on a pair of Jeans in a hurry, I fired the Volvo up and drove across the deserted dock and onto the boat. They were obviously waiting for me, as no sooner was I on the boat, than the ramp was up and we were away, so quickly in fact by the time I had put a t-shirt and baseball cap on and sorted myself out from my rude awakening and started to make my way up to the drivers lounge, the boat was already clear of the dock wall and out to sea! The boat itself, the NPC (Nord Pas de Calais) is an old Tub, it is a freight only boat so you don’t get any screaming kids running round causing havoc in their wake, so there is an up side to it. I don’t like it a great deal, but it is the fastest boat in the Channel, it does the crossing nearly 10 minutes faster than any of the other vessels on the Channel. It was too early in the morning to have breakfast, so I helped myself to a free coffee or two from the machine and just sat and relaxed, well as much as you can do on a freight boat. Once safely in dock in Calais the captain requested all drivers return to their trucks for disembarkation. As I was last on meant I was going be last off. This wasn’t a problem, the problem was finding the driver of the truck who had parked directly in front of me. After 10 minutes of waiting, I had enough and shunted back and forward until I had enough room to clear the driverless Iveco. As I exit the ship and came down the ramp, I could still see the Iveco sat there, minus its driver. Out into the bright sunshine of France, I was soon out onto the A26 heading for Reims, where I had been instructed to leave the Autoroute and take the national roads for 200kms, for what reason I was not too sure, but mine is not to question why, mine is just to do. About 40kms down the A26 you have the infamous Peage at St.Omer, infamous in the sense that the Gendarmes seem to congregate there and wait for inbound British trucks, then pull them in for the usual checks. As I was southbound and it was only Wednesday there were no Gendarmes in sight so it was just a matter of collecting the ticket from the right hand drive ticket machine and I was away. The Autoroute was surprisingly quiet for the time of the morning it was, but I was making good progress. At Arras the Autoroute splits, the A1 goes to Paris/Lille, or you can continue onward towards Reims and the South. Another 2 hours down the road sees me the topside of Reims, not long now until I’m off onto the Nationals . Soon enough I am onto the Ring Road round Reims, counting the signs down until I reach Junction 26, where I have to exit the A4, and pick up the N44, which runs parallel with the A4 until you Reach Chalon, then it sends you out into the countryside through little villages. A few of E M Rogers from Northampton Volvo’s pass me heading Northbound. We exchange pleasantries over the CB, along with road reports and any Police checks. When you get to Vitry, you have to pick up the N4 for St. Dizier. Roadworks slowed progress a little between Vitry and St. Diz I was fully aware that time was running low before I needed to take a 45 minute break, so I was trying to find a suitable place to stop. I arrived at St. Diz, still needing a break, and headed down the N67 towards Chaumont. Just as the timer started bleeping to say 4 ˝ hours were up, a sizeable layby came into view, and it was empty. Once stopped, I put the kettle on and while it was boiling I checked the straps on the Forktruck and did a light check on the trailer. Back into the cab, I completed some paperwork, drank my coffee and waited for 50 minutes to pass. The reason I took 50 minutes, is just to be sure that I have not shorted a break in anyway, and give a Gendarme the chance to fine me. Back out onto the N67 I head for Chaumont, which is some 80kms down the road, but it’s a good road and the Volvo eats up the kilometres without my noticing and I am soon on the outskirts of Chaumont. Now the idea at Chaumont is to cut through the town and make for Langres, then down to the A31 at Orville. However, there is a problem, all around the town of Chaumont there a 5t weight limit signs, and which ever way you try and go, it directs you to the Autoroute. After a few minutes of thought, I decide just to head for the motorway, after all a few extra Euro’s in tolls, is small change compared to a large fine for getting caught in a 5t weight limit. Back out onto the Autoroute, the cruise control gets set to 90k’s, the 460bhp making light of the hills due to the relatively light nature of the load. The Gendarmes were out at the Peage at Beaune, but they didn’t even give me a second glance as I pulled away from the toll booth. With time ticking away, I started thinking about where to park for the night, and decided as it would only be a 9 hour break that a service area would do. Once clear of Macon, I decided to call it a day, so as the next service area came into view, I pulled off and called it a day in the crowded truck park. With still no reload details from the office, I anticipated tomorrow being a long day, so after a quick coffee and some in cab soup, I pulled the curtains and got my head down.
This was for onward delivery to Tunisia
THURSDAY…… I was already awake when the alarm went off, so I ventured out of bed and put the kettle on, then got back into bed and turned the night heater on. Once coffee had been consumed and the cab was warm, I got up, and dressed. Pulling the curtains revealed a frosty morning and the on dash temperature gauge read –3. I started the engine, and whilst it was warming up, I did the mornings usual checks of lights and straps. I reckoned to be able to make Marseille in 4 ˝ hours traffic permitting, but it would be tight. Pulling out of the services, the Autoroute was already down to one lane due to an accident during the night, a Spanish truck had gone down an embankment and the recovery team were in the process of pulling it out. As previous diaries have said, when you get to Lyon, you have to go round the ring road due to a 5t weight limit on the shorter route through the middle, although this time of the morning everything is moving fine, but having experienced Lyon rush hour, I know how bad it can get. Once clear of Lyon, I pull into a Routiers, for diesel and a freshen up, due to the facilities at the overnight stop being closed for cleaning. The one thing European’s have to be commended on is the standard of their Truckstops, the British could learn a thing or two from these guys. With both truck and Driver suitably refreshed, I pulled back out onto the motorway, only to be overtaken by a driver from Carr Bros of Chelveston, he was heading for Barcelona, and we whiled away the next couple of hours chatting on the CB. When we got down to Orange, he split off for Montpellier and Spain, and I continued onwards for Marseille. Just after Avingnon I pulled into a service area for a break, this was for two reasons, Firstly I had been told only to stay in Marseille as long as you need to as its quite a dangerous town, and secondly, I needed a coffee and some breakfast. As far as Service Areas go this one was very picturesque, with palm trees and lots off grass areas with picnic tables, very nice for a summer day I’m sure, but not for a cold January morning. Whilst parked up, I took the opportunity to look up the delivery address on the Autoroute on my laptop, I had two locations to go to in Marseille. First I had to go to the shipping Agent to get the appropriate papers for the Forktruck, as it was due to be onward shipped to Tunisia, there was also a note saying phone the agent an hour before arrival so the papers would be ready. Now, here lay the problem, I can get by in French, but trying to have a conversation with someone over the phone in French was beyond my basic ability. Once out of the service area, it wasn’t long before I was dropping down the big hill into Marseille, and from a distance what an impressive place it looked. Upon closer inspection, it didn’t turn out to be any where near as nice as I’d earlier thought. Once off the Motorway, finding the Agents yard was no problem at all, and after finding a place to park in the hectic transport yard, I then had the unenviable task of finding the right agent. What seemed like forever of opening doors and getting a stern ‘ Non’ from almost everyone I spoke to, Just as I was about to give up, a German driver who spoke reasonable English asked who I was looking for, and as luck would have it, he was going to the same agent, so showed me where it was. It wouldn’t be the last time he helped me out. Once upstairs in the Agents office, I had to speak to a woman called Veronique. However, Veronique did not speak a word of English, and was gabbling away too fast in French for me to make head nor tail of what she was saying, cue the German. He stepped in and informed me that I needed to sign the relevant paperwork, to authorize shipment to Tunisia, and then I need to sign a dock gate pass, to allow me in and out of the docks. The agents then attempted to draw me a map of how to get to the docks from where I was, if I am honest it looked more reminiscent of a 3 year olds school drawing than a map, then once again the German driver stepped in, he was going to the docks too, so I could follow him. This made things a lot easier, as between the agents and the docks there were all manner of roadworks and diversions. Once safely in the dock, the English speaking security guard told me they were on tea break, but would be back in an hour (hour tea breaks, we wish!!!). Whilst I was waiting I gave the cab a spring clean, tidied out the side lockers, cleaned the lights and did all the little things I usually put off doing. About an hour and half passed and still no movement so I went back to see the security guard, who told me they were now in a meeting and would be an hour. Just as I was nodding off in the drivers seat, there was a knock at the door and the electric gates opened. I could see the shipping company I wanted at one end of the dock and the boat the forklift was supposed to be on at the other end of the dock. I went into the office and showed them my CMR and paperwork and was directed under the canopy to unload. This is where things got a little bit uneasy. After unstrapping to forklift, the driver of another forklift came and lifted it off and took it into the warehouse. I went in to get my paperwork signed, but the warehouse men were insistent that I had to drive the forklift down the to quayside where the boat was being loaded. Having been warned not to let your truck out of your site in Marseille, I refused, stating I was ‘Chauffer de Camion, not Chauffer de Elevatuer’. They were not impressed and they were starting to get a little P**** of with my blunt refusal to do as they asked. Now it may well have been the case that it was my duty to drive the forklift to the boat, I don’t know, but what happened as I was putting my straps away reassured me I had done the right thing. A French driver, behind me in the queue had seen the whole thing going off, and had watched and listened intently. Once I was back at my truck, he approached me and gave me a half hearted congratulation ‘ Englishmen, you did good, had you left your truck, they would have robbed it while you were away, and no-one would have seen anything’. It left me feeling a bit better knowing that someone else thought I had done the right thing to. With all my straps packed away, it was time to find out about a reload. Just as I picked up the Satellite Tracking keyboard to type a message, one came through from the office ‘ WHEN TIPPED HEAD FOR DIJON’. I knew I wouldn’t make Dijon tonight so replied ‘ WONT MAKE DIJON TONIGHT,GET AS FAR AS I CAN’. Knowing that it took me 6 minutes short of 5 hours to get here from Macon area this morning, I decided to try and make the same services tonight as last night, only on the Northbound side, rather than southbound. An uneventful run up was only slowed by a minor collision between two cars just before Lyon. Although it was rush hour by the time I hit the Lyon ring road it was flowing well and soon enough I was clear of Lyon and heading for Macon. I quick look at the timer told me I had 14 minutes driving left before I needed a break so I pulled in to the next services for my compulsory 45 minutes. I was in two minds if I should use a 10 hour driving day, or not, but I decided that I would, as the weather was okay, albeit ****** cold and traffic was light. Back out onto the motorway for the final hour and ten minutes of the day put me just south of Chalon, and I was pleased I had done so, Just how pleased I would be when I pulled the curtains tomorrow morning I didn’t yet know..
In the snow, en route to Arc Les Gray, nr Dijon.
FRIDAY…….. The alarm went off at half three, and it was ****** freezing, so I flicked the night heater on and lay in bed for 15 minutes while it warmed the cab. Reload details had come through during the night, so while the night heater was doings it job, I looked up the reload on a map. I was to load agricultural equipment from John Deere at Arc Les Gray on behalf of Denby Transport from Grantham. Looking at the map revealed I wasn’t to far away, probably an hour and a half or so at most. Or so I thought!. Having got dressed and ready for the day I pulled the curtains to reveal a decent covering of snow, my heart sunk. I could probably put another hour on that estimated time to Arc, but I was so thankful I had run the extra hour last night. Once outside the cab, doing the usual morning checks, the snow was actually deeper than I had first thought, but nothing ventured nothing gained, so i headed so I tiptoed my way out to the motorway, although the snow was deep and still falling, it was quite wet and the weight of the lorry pushed down through it so I didn’t make bad progress up to Dijon. Just north of Dijon, I had to come off the motorway onto the National roads to Arc, and although they were not bad roads, they had not had much traffic on them so were slippery in the best of places. The snow made it slow going across the D70 towards Arc, and at times I wondered weather or not I should be on this road at all. Coming into a Village called Mirebeau Sur Beze, the road all of a sudden went into a very sharp right hand bend, then immediately into a sharp left, and I found myself on the high street of a tiny little French village with a distinct feeling of ‘ I should not be here’. It turned out that the village has a one way system so lorries don’t come head to head in the tight sections and cause traffic chaos. I almost caused traffic chaos on my own, let alone with two lorries! Once clear of that minor early morning wake up call, it was an easy run to Arc les Gray, and once in the town the John Deere Factory is easy to find, as it sits right on the main road through Arc. Once I had parked in the small lorry park, I made my way into the traffic office to announce my arrival. This was met with shaking heads and I was told there would be a 3 hour wait to be loaded. While I was making coffee, the Dutchman parked next to me asked where I was loading for and we struck up a conversation that passed the time for a couple of hours. I was very conscious that I needed to be into England tonight and back to Reading as early as possible in the morning to be home in Leighton Buzzard by lunchtime. I went back into the traffic office to find out what was happening, and got told I would wait another 2-3 hours. As I was leaving I just happened to mention Denby Transport, who the job was through. Well, the transformation in John Deere’s attitude was unreal. All of a sudden I was treated like royalty and within 5 minutes I was waved into a siding to be loaded. Loading took only half an hour, but then took another half an hour to strap down and make secure for the return journey home. Once the load was all secure, I had to get a security pass to go into the main John Deere building, and I only just got my paperwork before they all went to lunch. With that all sorted, I did one final check of the straps, then made my out onto the D67 then onto the N74 heading for Langres. Once in Langres you pick up the N19 which takes you up to the A31, which in turn leads you up to Nancy and Metz. The motorway to Nancy was exceptionally quiet in both directions and for prolonged periods I was the only vehicle in view in either direction. Once at Nancy the motorway splits off, and I beared to the left for Metz and Luxembourg. As I dropped down the big hill from Nancy, the engine brake was working hard to keep the Volvo below 90km’h, mindful of the fact the Gendarmes would take great pleasure in relieving me of hard earned cash for speeding. Back onto the flat and with the cruise set at 90k’s it was easy driving to Metz, where I pulled off at the service at La Maxe for my Belgian Euro Vignette and to check the straps. Checking the straps revealed a frightening surprise. The strap holding the two rear most lawnmowers had somehow come loose and departed of its duties somewhere between Arc and La Maxe. This was a small problem as I had used all my straps strapping down the load back in Arc. Now, on a service area I had to completely unstrap the load and start again, this time trying to use one less strap, but making sure everything was still secure. Half an hour later everything was back in order, and I was back on the road up into Luxembourg. Whenever we come through Lux we always fill up with diesel as its so cheap when compared to the rest of Europe. Some people might say it does not make much difference, but when you truck holds 1400 litres and its half the price of the UK, it makes a hell of a difference to making money on a job or losing money. I pulled into the Shell station at Aire de Berchem, the first fuel station in Lux, and to my sheer surprise it was very quiet and I pulled straight onto the pumps. The Volvo swallowed 1194 litres of Diesel and once the card had been swiped and paid for, I parked up in the large truck park for 15 minutes while I went and claimed my free coffee. Whatever garage you fill up at in Lux, they give you a freebie, Some give you a free coffee, others give you a snack size Mars bar. It’s a nice touch to show they appreciate your custom. With my break now complete, I headed off into the early afternoon sunshine, knowing that 4 and half hours would put me within a stones throw of Calais, but if I had a break on the way up, and a clear run with the traffic I might just be able to make it into the UK tonight. It was going to be tight but I’ll give it my best shot.. The E411 up through the Ardennes is a good test of truck running at full weight, but as I only had an 8 tonne payload, the 460 made mincemeat of the hills, and within an hour and half I was approaching the last decision point of the day. At Namur you can split off for Lille and go up via Charleroi and Mons and on to Lille. This way is a little bit shorter, but there is a long stretch of no overtaking bans for trucks. Also the road surface is pretty bad in places, not what I need with the load I have on, so opt for the slightly longer, but easier route up to Brussels and then onto Brugge and Calais. The Brussels ring road can be a nightmare in Rush hour, but tonight I seemed to have missed the start of it and sailed round the Ring road without some much of a thought of slowing down. Once clear of Brussels I pulled in the the Shell garage at Wetterin for my final break of the day. This was to make sure I could make it back into the UK tonight. 45 minutes up and I was out the services like a shot, I had 2 hours 23 min minutes driving left, and reckoned I could make Calais with time to spare, traffic pending. Once clear of Gent, the last point that could cause any real hold up, and I set the cruise to 90km/h. When you get to Jabekke you have to move into the centre lane to go to Calais, or else you go straight on to Oostende. I have been guilty on one occasion of not paying attention and going the wrong way. Safely onto the A18, I always keep a check on the speed as the Police tuck themselves away with speed guns. Also its Friday night so they may well be on the lookout for homeward bound brits, not as bad as St. Omer, but still a pain none the less. Passed Adinkerke, a popular place with the British Day tripper for cut price booze and cigarettes, and France looms ahead. The signs tell you that the border is 300m ahead, and in the blink of an eye you are there. Once back into France the signs tell you Calais is 64km away. By my reckoning its about 40 minutes and I have 58 minutes left on the clock. Past Dunkerque, one of our most common ways across the channel, I press on for Calais, fully aware that time is running out. As the Truckstop at Transmarck comes into view, and seeing I have 14 minutes left, I head into the docks at Calais, as I have enough time left to find parking in the UK. Now bearing in mind I have an open backed trailer, and you can see every detail of the load, what happens next is almost unbelievable. I am waved into the heartbeat moniter, which checks for illegal immigrants hidden amongst your load. As I pull into the shed, and the door went down, the guy in charge took one look at it and waved me on my way out of the shed. But it wasn’t over yet. Up to the window at P&O and I handed the young French Girl my P&O swipe card. She looked at the trailer and then proceeded to ask me what I was loaded with. The sarcastic side of me almost took over, but I refrained and was told if I am quick I can get onto the waiting boat. Down to the British Customs and passport control and I was waved through. The Pride of Calais was waiting for me, and I was waved straight onto the upper deck. As happened on the outward leg, I was the last vehicle on the boat, and as I making my way up to the driver’s restaurant the boat made its way into the channel headed for the UK. I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry so just helped myself to coffee throughout the 90 minute crossing. Once safely within the Dover harbour wall, the captain announced that all drivers could return to their vehicles. As I was last on, again I would be last off, or so I thought, but for some reason they waved my lane off first and I was one of the first vehicles out of the docks, mainly due to a large number of eastern Europeans slowing down to wait for the mates. Out onto the A20, I had 6 minutes to find a suitable parking place. Because people could see what I was loaded with, I didn’t have to concern myself with getting curtains cut. As I came over the top of the big climb out of Dover on the A20, I noticed a gap at the back of the big layby, usually filled with foreigners. Parking behind a Dutch fridge, I called it a day, knowing that I only had a 2 hour drive back to Reading in the morning. If I left at 0530, that’d put me back in the yard by 0730 and back home by 10. Pulling the curtains for the final time this week, I looked forward to a weekend in my own bed for a change.
Waiting to load, John Deere, Arc..
SATURDAY…… I was up and waiting to go when the alarm went off to tell me my 9 hours off had finished. I had already done the morning checks so fired up the Volvo ready for the final Journey of the week. I had to reverse out of the lay-by onto a quiet A20, due to the inconsiderate parking of some Polish Trucks. Once that slight problem had been overcome, I gunned the Volvo up through the gears until she reached 57mph and set the cruise control. Judging by the amount of lorries coming onto the motorway at the Tunnel junction, I took it that a train must have just come in. The M20/M26 were running lovely and smoothly, until I hit the M25, It slowed down a bit towards Clackett Lane, which was due to a lorry fire, but once clear it was back onto the speed limiter all the way to the M3. I always go down the M3 and cut up through Bracknell when heading back to Reading, as it’s quicker, and this time of the morning relatively traffic free. Apart from getting caught at two sets of traffic lights it was plain sailing all the way through to the M4. I only had to go 3 Junctions up the M4, and with very little traffic, I was pulling off at Junction 12 within 20 minutes. I worked my way back into the tight trading estate we are based from, and then have the task of finding a place to park the lorry in the crowded yard. In the end, I slot it in between to dropped trailers in front of the roller shutter and switch the engine off. That’s it for this week now, But on Monday I have to deliver the load of Lawn Mowers to Bedford, Gonerby Moor and the rest to Denby’s main place at Lincoln. After that, who knows, but it’ll just be another week in the life of an International Truck Driver.
Not exactly Lawn Mowers as we know them...