Sitting on a bench in the sun and watching lorries rumble past might not seem like the most thrilling of lunchtime activities – indeed, a casual observer might suggest it was scraping the bottom of the barrel – but when you’ve been working in Dulltown for a while and have exhausted its more obviously cultural offerings, you learn to take pleasure from small things.
This outing was the idea of my colleague, “Laura”. Laura used to be a reporter on a trade magazine for the haulage industry and, like many journalists who have inexplicably found themselves working in the trade press instead of becoming editor of The Times, she has retained a certain fondness for her early subject matter.
For my own part, having worked on a magazine for the tableware industry, I can still be found at dinner parties surreptitiously turning over empty crockery to see where it was made and by whom, critically holding mugs up to the light to assess their translucence or tapping wineglasses with a fingernail to hear if they resonate correctly.
“Ah, nice bit of bone china….”
“Hm, average stoneware – probably Taiwanese – must’ve cost all of £14.99 for the set”
“Not crystal – just machine-made shite – look, you can see the join”
are among the sort of comments with which I bore my fellow guests and sometimes offend my hosts.
Laura’s like that, but with lorries. To me, every lorry (or the American English “truck” as she tells me they are known in the trade) looks the same other than being a different colour and of varying sizes (no doubt there are freaks out there who think the same about tableware, who couldn’t tell the difference between Saint-Louis crystal and an Ikea tumbler).
“Look!” Laura exclaimed at intervals, her eyes fixed on the passing traffic, “it’s an Eddie [Stobart]!… [or a MAN or a Mercedes or Scania or DAF or Iveco]”. She got particularly excited when a refrigerated unit (or “reefer”, as haulage aficionados apparently call them) went past. But she wasn’t fully satisfied until she finally spotted a “pallet network” truck – these are the vehicles whose owners club together to transport loads around the UK from various distribution centres. Apparently, Hilary Devey, one of the entrepreneurs off the Dragons’ Den TV show, made her fortune from setting up a pallet network and for Laura, seeing one of Hilary’s trucks trundle along the Dulltown bypass was just as thrilling as if Hilary herself had strolled up and offered her autograph.
It was an educational trip in its way, and made a change from the usual lunchtime routine of plodding around the charity shops. Among other things I learned that the vehicle I’d always thought was called an “arctic” lorry is in fact an “artic”, as in short for “articulated”. And there was me naively thinking these were vehicles built, for reasons I never understood, to withstand sub-zero temperatures.