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My friend, Chris, had already told me what a ghastly mess ShiteFreight was in, so, when I arrived there on Wednesday morning, I was prepared for the surprise or shock at what a state the place was in.

Wednesday – Friday: bedlam

I introduced myself to Darren, the supervisor, who was off-handed and avoided any sort of genuine eye contact; okaaaaay, not a good start.
I was about to grab my wallet out of my pocket to show him my Driving Licence, surely a minimum requirement for your first day on any driving job, but he just handed me the lorry keys, vehicle condition check sheet and delivery list, and directed me to the loading platform. After an all too brief vehicle check, I began loading up.

Oh dear, disorganized bedlam is found to be the order of the day, here.
All the consignments, of whatever size, weight and shape, were strewn around in as haphazard manner as could ever be imagined.
Everything you wanted to load was buried under or behind heaps of parcels, mattresses, boxes, pallets.
Never-the-less, I got on with it as much as I could, and was assisted by the warehouse staff after they had finished loading the others. My lorry was loaded in the same way as the warehouse platform, ie thrown in with no regard as to what order they would be needed, as quickly as possible, AMs last for quicker access, though.

After closing and locking the shutter, I went up to the Traffic Office for Darren to print off the Manifest which, AMs apart, bore no resemblance to the order in which they were loaded. Upon return to the lorry, I made a few quick adjustments to the load, but this was still going to be messy, I thought, and so it proved to be.

I finished that first day tired, frustrated and thoroughly pissed-off, in two minds as to whether or not to return the next day.
Maybe the next day would be better . . .

It wasn’t; despite better organising the load, it was still a bloody mess. There wasn’t much point in my loading-up much of it on my own, until I could get some help, as there were several heavy items and we had to de-pallet some of it and handball it aboard.
Of course, when Darren printed-out the manifest, it was all arse-about-tit, so I decided to ignore the order it was printed in, but still managed to group deliveries by area, where possible, and sorted the load as I unloaded.
Maybe Multi-drop isn’t for me, I told Kate the Admin, during one of our frequent “Where the hell are you?” phone calls.

On the Friday, they gave me the heavier stuff, which was easier to load but more difficult to unload. It took an eternity to get around the Dockyard and some of the other drops were rather awkward or too busy, so I had to return later, or not in.
When I finished, Kate asked if I will be working the next week, to which I half-heartedly agreed, thinking that the weekend was upon us, so maybe I could relax and, hopefully, catch-up on my sleep and come back in a fresher, healthier frame of mind.

Monday: farce

I arrived at the depot early, good & positive and was told that I was on the heavy stuff again: four deliveries around deepest darkest Cornwall, then re-fuel on the way back to depot, load-up again for Plymouth and Ivybridge.
I did my vehicle checks and loaded up on bay. The cab was that filthy I’d have to drive with my gloves on!
There was: a huge, heavy consignment of farming equipment, on a broken pallet, which would have to go in last; another pallet-load, which was strapped-in to the front; some long, heavy kitchen equipment; and a consignment of 25 loose parcels, packages, bundles and rolls. After we loaded, we struggled to drop and lock the rear shutter; the spring was really tight, the shutter had come off a runner; and the catch was missing, replaced by a flimsy-looking chain.
Not ideal, but I could see that it had been driven like that for a while, so it MUST be ok, yes?

After obtaining the manifest, in the wrong order, of course, I departed. However, when I was on the A30 dual-carriageway, an overtaking van driver beeped his horn and his passenger shouted to me that the back was open. I turned off at the next exit, the A391, not realising then that there was a Parking layby a mile up the road. I stopped on the roundabout up the slip road and tried to close the shutter. Over and over again, I tried, but to no avail; I could only manage to drop it about a foot from the bottom. The spring at the top was over-tightened and I didn’t have enough weight on me for it.
No choice; I had to phone the depot.

“It’s been like that for ages. Nobody else has complained, they’ve just got on with it,” Darren said, as if that justifies sending people out in vehicles of such a dangerous state.
“Really? Well, I’m not everybody else,” I said. “It’s my driving licence and livelihood that’s at risk if I get caught or have an accident.”
I thought, If something falls off, maybe killing somebody, I could go to prison, so I’m not driving it like this, just so he meets his targets and gets his bonus!

The shutter door-latch, showing the chain and missing door catch

About an hour later, DAF Trucks turns up and loosens the shutter springs, making it marginally easier. While waiting, I had a few more goes and got the shutter down to about 3” from the base, but couldn’t quite make it. He had a go at closing the shutter and managed to get it down, but couldn’t close the lever as both hands were needed just to keep the shutter down.

I got under way again but it wasn’t long before more drivers began tooting their horns at me and pointing to the rear. This happened again and again, until I arrived at DAF Trucks, finding that the shutter doors had flung open, yet again. They didn’t have any catches in stock, so would have to adapt something, but the engineers didn’t have a decent, working plan, as they weren’t shutter specialists, and were thinking about welding the lock-arm to its hook, as its spring was missing, allowing the arm to flap about and cause the hook to jump out.
I suggested using the flimsy chain, which had a hook on the end and drilling a hole through the steel base of the truck bed and the chain could hook around the latch arm; this seemed to work fine, for now.

Hurray! I could now begin delivering my consignments! I’d only lost about two and a half hours, by now, because somebody could be arsed maintaining his fleet!
To be honest, though, I was considering leaving the lorry there and catching the train, and billing ShiteFreight for the train ticket; if Darren can’t be bothered, why should I?

After the day’s numerous phone calls, and using the satnav system, the iphone battery was running low and my adapter was no longer working, but I managed to find my way to the first couple of drops ok before it died.
I got directions for the third from the customers and staff at St Keverne PO. This was the BIG one, the half-ton of farming equipment on the broken pallet. It took about an hour to get it unloaded, in two parts, slung from a forklift truck. Separating it was the biggest problem, as it was heavy and bulky, and all staff but one had gone home.
Eventually, I left, both of us forgetting that there was also a pick-up from there, and not realising until I got to Helston.

I got some directions from him for the next drop, but arrived there shortly after five pm, by which time everybody had gone home, and that was on my mind too, so I headed for home.
I’d long decided, that day, that it would be my last day there; it was far too disorganized, messy, clumsy, frustrating, stressful and angering to continue, and should be two-handed with those size/weight consignments.

When I got back, that Darren was there straight away, as I was reversing in, fretting about his target and his bonus, and whether I’d made all my deliveries and collection. I handed him his manifest, checking for signatures, however both pens had run out of ink so one signature was missing. I didn’t care though; it was my last minutes there.
After parking the rotten wreck, I climbed the steps up to the Traffic Office and plonked the rest of the stuff in a tray on a desk; it had gone beyond half-past seven, by now.
“Right, I’m going home, now,” I said, without stopping.
“See you,” Darren said.
“I don’t think so,” I replied, closing the door behind me.


With that sort of disorganized operation and piss-poor attitude, it’s no wonder ShiteFreight have had so many on-the-spot driver walk-out, and very few last there very long, as I was informed by staff there.

It’s also no wonder they are changing the name; the sooner they disassociate with their present name, the better, but I suspect it’ll still be just as crap.


Embrace My Fears And Fix The Bike!

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In February this year, I took the decision to cycle-camp from Santander in Spain to Roscoff in France, a distance of 702 miles (1142km) in nine days. The decision to buy or borrow a road-bike is very tempting but, after not-so-careful consideration and thought, I have decided to fire-up the V1 for, what may turn-out be, one last jaunt before buying a road flyer. This was, after all, the very same mountain-bike that had taken me the through lanes and trails in the Yorkshire Dales, the Trough of Bowland in Lancashire, the Lake District, the Peak District, Dartmoor, the South Hams (part of south Devon) and parts of Cornwall. This was the very same mountain-bike that had resided on the roof of the narrowboat, on the canals of Central England, that I had lived aboard and helped me further explore those beautiful areas of countryside in the counties of Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire. This bike, if any bike ever did, deserved a good and proper re-birth and, by ‘eck, it was about to get one!

As today, 23rd March 2012, was a beautiful day, I decided to do some stuff to the old mountain bike, a 1999 Haro Vector V1, that I had been promising/threatening to do for weeks (well, it takes me ages to work-up the gumption to do anything remotely technical), in the garden. For the first five or so years, I had kept up with the maintenance of this rather heavy bike, but I had rather neglected it for the last four or five.

A few weeks ago, I had re-fitted the rear derailleur cable, but the list of jobs required is now quite long and all-encompassing:

  1. Bottom bracket clean-up and bearing replacement
  2. Remove and replace bearings to the headset
  3. New brakepads, noodles and cables
  4. Front derailleur cables and positioning reset
  5. Front suspension forks service and replace elastomers
  6. Unseize seatpost and fit new saddle
  7. Fit new pannier rack
  8. Fit new SPD pedals (possibly)
  9. True wheels
  10. General rust blemish (the handlebars resembled a leopard) removal and paint touch-up.

Yes, it is in a bit of a sorry state, but I shall persist, even if it drives me mad (or I give up and get a roady).

Today I decided to remove the old headset bearings and fit new ones; nothing elaborate (or so I thought), the maintenance section of my cycling book calls it a “moderate” task, lasting three-quarters of an hour, at most. I removed the stem top-pin and remove the bars using a 5mm Allen key and dropped the stem through the frame, and began removing the bearings (something that I hadn’t re-greased ONCE since I bought it), placing all the components neatly on the bench as they were removed.

Perhaps I should point out here and now that it is not so much a workbench but more of a seatbench. Ok, it’s a garden seatbench. Anyway, had I disconnected all the cables, I would not have had the problem of all the parts getting knocked off the bench, via the slats and onto the floor, by the wayward handlebars that were still attached by the cables to both the frame and fork. Nnngh! I swore! Titchika, the Alsatian dog, cowered! A time out was called; I had a brew and a Mars bar and reassure Titchika, stroking her head, neck and back, then playing ball on the lawn.

But I still had problems: after I cleaned every part, and Lithium-greased the new bearings, I could not remember which order the parts went back on. Trial and error was now the order of the day and, after several inept attempts, a breakthrough was made! I did it! And it ONLY took me an hour and a half!

Satisfied with my clumsy handy work, I set about cleaning the bike up a bit, utilising ubiquitous wonderspray WD40 (I was out of GT85), a Parktools gearbrush, a scouring pad and some kitchen roll. The bike was ming-ing but I managed to clean most of the muck off and sprayed just about everything with the WD40. It was now a big, green, gleaming dream-machine.

Fired on with my new-found technical competence and self-confidence, I decided it was high-time I fitted that new pannier-rack that had been slouching in the box on-top of a bedroom wardrobe for the last two months. Was there anything that could stop my progress now?.

Well, yes, actually, there was and it was in the form of two rusty seat-stay Allen-bolts, that wouldn’t budge because my 5mm Allen-key was so worn and chamfered. However, I managed to assemble and loosely fit the pannier rack to the frame, except for the two new, rust-free bolts the pannier rack manufacturer provided. Frustrating? Yes, after the work that went before it. But, as Meatloaf once sang, two out of three ain’t bad.

2. Over the following months, it was decided that I’d borrow a friend’s bike for the the Santander – Roscoff trip, but that didn’t stop the Rolling Maintenance Program. I have since, with the assistance of a couple of friends,:

cleaned out the bottom bracket and replace the bearings, which had deteriorated to such an extent that the bearings had disintegrated and the cages/cradles were rusted skeletons of their former selves. The new bearings didn’t last very long as the journals were worn, so I bought and fitted a sealed unit instead, job done;

Removed and replaced headset bearings;

Removed and replaced brakes and brake cables;

Removed and replaced all derailleur cables and reset all gears (constantly on-going as rear derailleur needs fixing or replacing);

Fitted new pannier rack;

De-rusted handlebars (again, ongoing as rust seems to grow at hint of a shower).

I have taken to washing, greasing, lubing and waterproofing the bike, as required, and it has seen some decent extra mileage  this year, the most since about 2001!