Thursday, December 25, 2008

The truckstop before Christmas

A couple of episodes of Angel later we received news of a pile of sofas sitting in Tennessee awaiting our attention, so headed north to find them. It was dark by the time we located the factory and the little man in the guardhouse was tired and grumpy. He gave me a set of very precise instructions for dropping our empty trailer and proceeding back past his little domain with the full one. He had the demeanour of a man who chooses not to say things more than once. Fortunately I had the Amazing Dave by my side, who is a little more tuned in to the southern American accent. Left to my own devices I’d have driven round in circles all night. But, with sofas loaded, we eventually began the long trek north, hoping to be back the night before Christmas Eve. I drove until I was knackered, then Dave did the same. And where did we find ourselves stopping for the night? I’ll tell you where...Berea, Kentucky. This little spot in the middle of nowhere is about to become famous as the weirdest truckstop Dave has ever seen. Please bear in mind that we stopped at Jane Lew’s so that I could be shown the weirdest truckstop Dave had ever seen, I am delighted to have been present on the night he found an odder one.

It appeared to be just diesel pumps and a scruffy little shop but there was a sign that said ‘restaurant’ so we asked where it was. A young woman with the most impeccable makeup I have ever seen nodded towards a sort of annexe which sported a few plastic tables and chairs. We wandered in to find a long, thin room constructed from bits of trailer wall and floor. A sprinkling of people sat silently watching a huge flat screen TV in one corner, each person alone at a separate table. There was a row of electronic slot machines along one end wall and a sort of church screen thing along the other. Comparing notes later, we discovered that we’d both had a mental soundtrack of Duelling Banjos and expected that moment in the Western where you push through the swing doors and everybody turns to look at you as the atmosphere chills.

We sat at an empty table sporting crumbs and a bottle of Home Style Fancy Ketchup while makeup lady took our order. Nobody spoke. Nobody looked at us. We took in our surroundings. The screen was decorated with a selection of fabric objects; a hand-made quilt, a flour sack and a fleece blanket urging one and all to support the troops. Livening up the trailer wall was a small bookshelf full of apparently random knickknacks, and a small Christmas tree. A sign advised that the slot machines paid out tokens for use in the shop. The wall we hadn’t previously been able to see contained a peg board on which were hung a multitude of different sized bungee straps for sale. Across the doorway from the shop was hung a piece of string with some wooden clothes pegs on it. Hanging from a couple of the clothes pegs were brightly coloured triangular bandannas. They looked a little used. There was one piece of tinsel.

A chap turned to regard us. He addressed Dave. “Yumpiver?” Dave nodded. Chap gestured to me, “Shumpiver?’ Dave nodded. Chap turned back to regard the TV again. It’s difficult to look quizzical when you are trying not to laugh, but he twigged that I needed a translation. “He wants to know if we’re truck drivers.” Dave was also trying not to laugh. “I almost told him no, we come here for the atmosphere.”

In need of a fit of the giggles I wandered off to the loo but that just made things worse. Another bit of recycled trailer, where the plumbing had obviously been put in as an afterthought as the toilet was situated up a couple of steep and rickety steps, on a sort of dais, most throne-like, if a little wobbly. The inner wall had been painted but only in patches. There were a couple of sheets of fake tiling attached randomly here and there. It wasn’t terribly clean and I made an instant decision to forgo the opportunity of a shower. I wanted badly to pop back to the truck for my camera but thought behaving like a tourist might offend and I didn’t want to find out what happened when this silent roomful of people took offence. On my return, clearly the amusement was leaking out. Dave decided to check out the gents and came back almost bursting with mirth. He whispered “was yours up some steps?” I nodded and we both sought relief in the, remarkably tolerable, BLT and chips with remarkably yummy ketchup. I don’t much like ketchup but had decided against returning to the truck for my bottle of vinegar (for reason, see above) and this stuff, the Home Style Fancy Ketchup, was actually very nice. Tangy and not too sweet.

We compared notes when, back in the truck, we could finally give vent to the hysteria. There were several perplexing questions. Who buys all the bungee straps? Were the bandannas for sale or hanging up to dry? Who were the silent people? Why would anyone play slot machines when all they could buy with their winnings was more bungee straps? And why the perfect makeup? This wasn’t a bit of slap, this was Hollywood expertise, artfully applied and meticulously maintained. Was she waiting for the Johnny Depp of truckers to happen by in his beautifully tricked out Pete and whisk her off into the night?

Popping back later for a final wee, at least one those questions were answered. By the till in the shop was a huge CB setup so that makeup lady could chat to truckers all night. Presumably her siren call of 24 hour restaurant service might bring the right man within reach sometime. The mike was attached to the ceiling with a bungee strap. It had a jolly red bow on it. I should add that both makeup lady and her (admirably coiffed) sidekick were utterly charming, especially when the combination of exhaustion, ill-advised late-night BLT and grotty bathroom had me throwing up for quite some time the following morning. I probably looked the least likely trucker they had ever seen, especially after having turned green, but they refused payment for my reviving coffee with a “merry Christmas” that I actually managed to understand.

The blizzard began just south of Detroit. The roads deteriorated for hours as we took it in turns to fight our way home. The race to get Dave back to his loved ones in time for Christmas began to resemble a crummy country song with dead dogs in the next verse. But we made it. And he says I’m trained now. There will be a short blogging interval while I undergo a final test drive to see if I really can graduate from apprentice to real live trucker. In the meantime, Merry Christmas and thank you for reading, following and telling your pals. I promise there will be photos next year if they keep me.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hurry up and wait

Crackers. Just delivered a trailer full of the Ritz variety and was mightily disappointed that the border guard didn't ask what we were hauling. Sometimes they ask a few daft questions like 'where are you going?' and 'where do you live?' even though they have advance electronic notice of everything except possibly what you had for breakfast; just to observe your demeanour while answering stupid questions. I would have quite liked to have had to say 'crackers' to a customs official.

We are in Georgia now, having passed through West Virginia, Virginia, and North and South Carolina in the course of a day. To a Brit, whose last memory of driving in England was taking seven hours to cover the two hundred miles from London to Blackpool, managing that sort of distance in a single working day is just bizarre. We left several feet of snow and a blizzard. Here the grass is green, the sun is out and last evening's sunset was a whole hour and a half later than the day before. Changeable weather is one thing, but a movable sunset, we've shifted a bit of the globe here. Apparently a thousand miles due south will do that. The unruffleable Dave has taught me how to drive all day; the trick is to stop for a break every 2 hours without fail, whether you're tired or not. My previous technique of stopping when I was knackered wasn't working well, but yesterday I managed ten hours at the wheel and might have had another hour left in me if required. This is the standard; what is expected of long-haul drivers, effectively my first full day's work. Thanks to Dave and his sage advice I feel a bit more as though it might be achievable on a day to day basis. Mind you, there is time left today to rip that spot of optimism to bits.

Supper and showers were taken at a slightly more normal truckstop, almost generic in its ordinariness. I ought to add though that normal for Georgia involves an odd thing called chicken-fried steak (no idea, I'll investigate and report back) and a shop that chooses to juxtapose hand-made jewellery and crossbows in the same display case. Hmm, what would Mum prefer for Christmas, dangly earring or a killing machine? Clearly a tough one.

We are divested of crackers and await instructions for returning, where to go to pick up what for bringing back over the border. This is a little frustrating as Dave has given undertakings to various people-who-must-be-obeyed that he will be home the day before Christmas Eve without fail. The longer we wait now before setting off, the more of the thousand miles home will have to be driven in the dark. This could be the hiccup that sets my new-found confidence in my ability to drive for ever back a bit. Night driving just is generally more tiring. And heading north, we'll be barrelling back into later sunsets. Ah well, hanging around with coffee and laptop and Dave's beloved dvds of Angel on the telly has its compensations as a way to be at work. Might just have a snooze while I can.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jane Lew's truckstop.

Well, Dave has managed to teach me that it is entirely possible to drive from a, to b, to c and back to a, with nary a crisis; that getting enough sleep means that you can arrive home undishraglike and feel a bit more optimistic about going out again. The next enterprise, Georgia and back before Christmas.

It is Saturday as we set out. Yesterday brought the beginning of the much heralded 'snowmageddon', the series of blizzards which will pound most of the continent for the next few days. As we are heading south, we hope to get out of the snow belt between hits and then sneak back in similar fashion. Today began sunny and the roads have been freshly ploughed and salted, so the main issue facing us before we set off was how far to venture today and where to settle for the night.

A fifteen hour drive divided nicely into six hours today and nine tomorrow, enabling us to stop at one of Dave's all time fave truckstops; Jane Lew's in West Virginia. I am getting used to the assortment of different ways a truckstop can style itself; some are trying to be modern travel plazas, with food courts and computer games; others go for the down-homey feel of wood panelled walls and resident patrons who can wear cowboy hats unironically. There are chains, like the incomparable Flying J, where the person who cleans your shower before use leaves you a little choc or a peppermint on your clean towels; but Jane Lew's has to be a total one off.

It appears to have been constructed from a combination of church hall and several outhouses. Someone has gone to infinite pains to decorate the interior with individuality and panache; leading to an imaginative mix of lilac and green colour scheme, gilt chandeliers, a huge mural along one wall depicting the truckstop and environs, a real fireplace topped with triptych stained glass windows...and lace curtains. There is also an aquarium. The ladies loo sports a fabric potted geranium. It's all disconcertingly charming. Oh, and of course the festive season is in full swing so add to your mental picture rather a lot of home-made felt Christmas stockings and one (yes one) string of red tinsel.

The food is on the imaginative side too. I was almost tempted to the battered and deep fried macaroni cheese, just to find out how you can manage to stop it falling to bits, but settled for a sandwich in the interests of overnight digestive comfort. All I really need to add is that the adjacent shop displayed a range of Christian T-shirts in one corner ("My Lifeguard walks on water") and an equally wide range of blow-up dolls in another. I may discover tomorrow that parts of West Virginia are quite normal, but dear Jane Lew (not sure if she is a place or a person) has amused me enough to be a permanent mental State mascot.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pennsylvania Dutch

A new truck and a new trainer this week. The truck; a Peterbilt which is, I’m told, the ultimate in truck driving luxury. “Everybody wants to drive a Pete” is a refrain that began in trucking school and I’m busy investigating why. It’s certainly very nice and feels easier to drive although I’m not entirely sure I understand the explanation of automatic centreing mechanisms. The mirrors and corners are in friendlier places, which will do for now. You’d only laugh if I suddenly came over all technical and anyway, that way becoming a trucking bore lies. The trainer - Dave - is into classic rock, Monty Python and being less neurotic about people’s shoes. Nothing much has gone wrong yet, which leaves less to write about, or it would if we weren’t in the middle of Mennonite Pennsylvania.

We have delivered a load of beer, are awaiting a pile of tyres and are sitting about musing on the oddness of the highway we have just travelled to get here. On the right side of the road are little washing lines strung by hard shoulders with hand-made quilts hung on them for sale, and on the left, a string of ‘adult entertainment’ establishments. This odd mix begs at least two questions of course; firstly, who in their right mind, even if they suddenly developed an urge to impulse buy a handmade quilt, would buy one that was already full of dust and diesel fumes? The second question has to be, where do the customers, and in fact the staff, of all these exotic establishments appear from?

Reasons to be cheerful; it’s warmer this week, we are better equipped with sleep and manageable timelines and I have learned that it is, in fact, possible to cross the border without incident. Will we manage a whole unpearshaped trip? It’s looking surprisingly likely.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The end of the first run.

I did my best, it snowed a bit, the roads were icy and I am still a little hesitant in less-than-perfect conditions. Terry took over for a while when the visibility dropped. When we stopped for the night we were just about on target to arrive in time, but only if there were no customs delays at the border. The papers we’d received from the shipper had to be faxed to a customs broker for preprocessing so that we could sail merrily through. But the paperwork didn’t look quite right. Terry decided to call the broker and ask what to do. His end of the conversation went along the lines of; “I’m calling you before we send the fax to find out exactly what we need to, I’m calling you, because I’m not sure what to fax yet, that’s why I’m calling...can I tell you what I have here, then you can tell me what to send...may I speak with your, I’m calling you before I send the fax...” Well, you get the idea.

Eventually, after several more “I’d like to tell you exactly what I have here so that you can tell me exactly what you need” type exchanges, we hit the road, and got to the border bang on target. “Your preprocessing has failed” advised the customs officer in the little booth. Apparently this makes us instantly suspicious. “You’ll have to be x-rayed.” Now I do understand that all manner of dodgy things can be carried over the border in a truck, but we were hauling a visible collection of open tractors. Where were we likely to be hiding the contraband? Anyway, Terry ran through the rules, quickly and sotto voce, for behaving well while being x-rayed. Step out of the truck immediately and back away from it with your hands visible. Stand where you’re told, say nothing and make no sudden movements. It was a bit cold. I shivered, is that a forbidden movement? Apparently not.
“We have to make a cab search now” said a chap with a gun. “Do you want to get your coat?”
“Um, no it’s ok thanks, it’s way up on the bed and I don’t want to delay you.” I guessed it was ok to answer direct questions. While I’m trying to be polite and helpful, Terry is asking the other chap with a gun to take his shoes off. Terry is fanatical about no-one wearing outdoor shoes in his cab, but I’m not sure if this is the time or the place.

One guard takes his shoes off as the other fetches my coat. Why are they being so nice? And what are they looking for? Did my Swiss Army knife show up on the x-ray? Will they confiscate my vitamins for women over 50? Does this always happen when a broker screws up? After a couple of minutes, during which nothing much could have been looked at, they emerge and wave us away. While we park and walk across to the broker’s office to find out what went wrong with the paperwork Terry’s grin begins. He deals with my perplexity; “the cab search was to save face, they knew they shouldn’t have sent an open flatbed for x-ray so to cover for the first guy’s stupid mistake they pretended to find something of interest inside.”

“You faxed the wrong paperwork,” began the conversation with the broker. I’ll gloss over the next few minutes as the pressure cooker that was Terry’s frustration level began to do what pressure cookers inevitably must, but will add a note of admiration that it waited for someone who couldn’t arrest us and didn’t wear a gun. The hours passed, papers were shuffled, stamps were stamped and we were finally back in Canada. Too late to deliver any tractors.
We drove to a truckstop an hour from our first delivery address and settled in for the night. The plan was to be outside their gate for eight o’clock on Saturday morning. Then, with both of the next stops open until twelve, we should just be able to drop the other two, each 100 miles apart, and start for home by the afternoon. Home by Sunday. Hooray.

Saturday began well. A truckstop with beautifully clean showers (oh joy) an early start, two tractors dropped as per orders from the shipper and on to the second drop. Nice weather, daylight, good roads, this was trucking. My sunglasses were on, the scenery was nice, it was almost a Yorkie bar moment. The traffic in downtown Montreal was a little hairy but I only had to do it one more time and then we would be on clear roads again and on the way home to tell of adventures.
Drop two; we unloaded tractor number three, got the paperwork signed and sent our satellite message to dispatch that we were on our way to the last drop when a worried looking chap came back out of the farming supplies shop to speak with us. It was the wrong type of tractor, not the one they’d ordered. Much shuffling of papers ensued. We read and reread the bills of lading, trying to interpret which catalogue numbers related to actual tractors and which to accessories. We matched weights to items and worked out that the drop expecting two tractors was the last one, not the first one. So, we had left 100 miles behind us the tractor destined for where we were now...the one we had just offloaded was destined for the next port of call.

Back onto the trailer it went. It was re-secured and we settled down for a planning meeting. We could still deliver the last two tractors if the third destination would stay open. Then we could be back at drop one first thing Monday morning, bring tractor two back to drop two early and set off for home before lunchtime. We’d have to do downtown Montreal traffic again twice in a Monday rush-hour (aargh) but that wouldn’t be as bad as getting nothing done today. Terry called drop three and begged. They agreed to take delivery after twelve and gave him a mobile phone number to call when we arrived. Someone would be with us within ten minutes of a call to say we were in town. Great. And why the hell had the idiot who wanted one tractor signed for two?

More Montreal traffic, the French clearly drive the same the world over, and we made it to drop three with the right tractors. The place was locked and in darkness. The mobile phone number was non-existent. We were stuck for the weekend, with no chance now of getting home before Tuesday. I was running out of clean clothes and energy reserves.

Sunday passed in a blur of sleep and blogging and all of a sudden it was Monday. Monday began at six, entailed the Montreal rush hour three times and ended at home at two Tuesday morning. Everyone now has their tractors.
What have I learned this week? Two big lessons and a shameful little secret one. Never trust anyone to know their job; if you are leaving Ontario, stick a bottle of vinegar in your handbag for the chips...and, I might just be a bit too old for all this.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Here's last Thursday.

We arrived at the yellow slip trailer bright and early. We waved yesterday’s yellow slips hopefully at the security guard, saying “look, you approved us yesterday” but the implication that this might mean we were still non-terrorists today was clearly lost in translation. Yesterday’s slips were discarded and our driving licences re-collected. We waited. Lots of other people arrived, handed in their licences and waited. The lots of other people all received yellow slips. We waited. Ontario drivers are clearly still too foreign and un-American for rapid processing, even though they were ultimately ok yesterday.

With slips in hand we were finally allowed, a mere 36 hours late, to venture onto Baltimore docks with our container full of bits of dumper truck, bound for Australia. There is a telephone arrangement at the first barrier you get to. It is not easy to hear the disembodied voice for all the other noise, but through the crackling and the accent barrier I heard “What are you doing today Challenger?” I would have thought it was obvious that, since I was sitting at the barrier to their dockyard with a container behind me, I was probably delivering a container for shipping. But you are not allowed to be facetious with these people, we learned that yesterday. “I’m delivering a container.” I advised, as sincerely as I could muster in the circumstances.
“What are you delivering?” Well, that made more sense as a question.
“Dump truck parts for Hitachi, going to Australia.”
“What’s your booking number?”
“Um, I don’t know, where will I find it?”
“It’s in the top right hand corner of your crackle, mumble, rhubarb.”
“Didn’t quite catch that? Which document is it on?” (We were in possession of half a tree of paperwork and booking numbers were a new one on Terry, who generally knows everything.)
“The crackle, mumble, rhubarb.”
I read her a few numbers off the top right hand corners of various documents. None of them were right.
“Can you tell me how many numbers it’s supposed to have?”

Terry and I swapped seats at this point, clearly my English ear was costing us valuable time. He couldn’t hear well either and none of the numbers either of us read off to the disembodied voice would satisfy. We were instructed to proceed to Customer Services. But not told where they were. On to the next barrier. A person this time. Who wanted our driving licences. We’d got yellow slips, but no, presumably we could have been hijacked between the trailer and the gate by someone who stole our yellow slips but not our driving licences. Exasperations began. The second-barrier-driving-licence-person did direct us to Customer Services though, which was about the most helpful thing that happened all day. The Customer Services person took our driving licences (it's an obsession) showed us the errant number on the paperwork, wrote it down and sent us off to Customs with the cheery words “come back here when you’ve cleared Customs.”

Paperwork, messing about, identifications, little stamps on more paperwork and finally we were clear to find a numbered bay among rows of little mountains of containers and await the crane which would unload our trailer. A third trip to Customer Services, who forgot to return a signed receipt, one more driving licence check on the way out and we appeared to have escaped Baltimore docks unarrested.

With relief we called in to tell despatch we were empty. A new load would be a new start. This one could begin on time and not go even remotely pear-shaped. That would be nice. But despatch had had a job ready for us since that morning. What with all the messing about, by the time we received it, refuelled and got across Baltimore to collect four tractors - bound for three different destinations in Quebec - time was pressing on. We arrived just before five, when the manufacturer closed. The quickest of handovers went “two for the first stop, one each for the next.” Various people drove the tractors onto our flatbed trailer and we then had to pull out of the yard to chain up in the dark while they went home.

Terry does all this stuff. I have no intention of working on flatbed loads, way too much heavy work, and thankfully, trainees who happen to find themselves learning on them are not expected to chain, strap or tarp anything. It’s interesting to watch, and I know enough now to hand a few things up, hook the right bit of this in that, but Terry is effectively on his own trying to work out how to secure four tractors safely and legally for being driven about by an amateur.

This all took a while.
We had been messing about with driving licences all day and now the drive would begin in the dark. I am learning that this is a pattern. It’s rough having to start a long journey when you’re already tired but we had to get some miles behind us if we were to make the first delivery by close of business on Friday. If all went well, if the weather didn’t close in, if I managed to keep my speed up and there were no delays at customs we would just make it. Tight but doable.

The next bit, despite Rogers and their peculiar ways.

Bugs. For some reason best known to themselves Rogers have been protecting me from the evils of while using their natty new wifi stick. So, the stories can only now be told. Here is last Wednesday’s blog...

Well here we are, after a week of delays, confusions and alarums. I am finally ensconced in new truck, with new trainer and all settled in for a night ‘on the road’ for real. It all took longer than expected, mainly because the trainer who was supposed to haul me along in addition to his trailer last week got as far as Quebec before looking around the cab and twigging that something was missing. In the meantime, I had been sitting eagerly by the phone, with my little bags all packed and sitting eagerly by the door, wondering whether I still had a job. I called the company once or twice, got put through to various voicemail machines and finally found a live voice to whom I could confess that I didn’t seem to have gone anywhere yet and hoped it wasn’t my fault.

They were very sweet about it all and called the truck I should have been in, at about the time that the trainer who got away was feeling a certain emptiness around him. It was difficult not to take it personally at the time, but since he has neither met me nor seen me reverse I am minded to take the incident as just one more cue that my career in trucking might be destined to resemble more of a Jacques Tati film than a day at the office.

My new trainer is Terry. He is not even remotely intimidating (although the truck is remarkably so, with corners in new places and lots of shiny chrome bits that get in the way of being able to see things out of the window). He is patient and encouraging and doesn’t mind driving when I am too fatigued, stressed or confused to be able to focus. Which is, to be honest, at least once a day just now. He is less patient with uniformed jobsworths, but we have evaded arrest so far. Possibly only just.

Our cab is a relatively snug home from home. Fridge, microwave, little oven, TV, you name it. Add a cat and it would be indistinguishable from the real thing. And this evening, finally, there is time to settle. Night one, after a short trip to Michigan and back consisted of a few hours of desperate exhaustion after finishing at four-thirty in the morning. Night two, somewhat similar. We have spent a lot of time driving up and down hills, in the dark, on icy roads, with very little visibility due to snow and the like. The romance of crossing mountains and deserts hasn’t quite kicked in yet, especially since we have spent the better part of the last two days (and by better part I really mean the daylight bit when you might be able to see where you are going) hanging around waiting for interminable faxes related to customs paperwork to not be sent, not be received, not be sent again and...

Why are we a little more leisured tonight? Well, the load for Baltimore which was due to leave at ten o’clock yesterday morning and arrive between eight and three today has become one of those tasks which, once a tad pear-shaped, just keep on getting pearier. Yesterday’s wait for faxes and paperwork took until threeish, which rather snookered leaving at ten and meant that we would be arriving closer to three than to eight today, without any further disasters. Getting lost for an hour and a half trying to find Baltimore docks brought us to the security checkpoint with twenty minutes to go. Phew, just in time. But we had reckoned without Homeland Security. There is a yellow slip of paper to be had before you can drive onto the dockyard premises. Said yellow slip of paper must be obtained from a mobile checkpoint that we had allegedly already driven past. It was about two miles back. Just past the blue underpass there would be a police car, “look to the right, you’ll see the light,” advised today’s uniformed jobsworth. Terry attempted some pleading, but the uniforms bristled. These were clearly The Rules.

We went back, found the underpass, looked not only to the right but in every direction. No police car with lights on, no mobile security point. Back to the docks. Same policeman, same directions, “everyone else has found it.” The smirk rankled a little.
“Past the underpass is just a concrete wall” Terry protested, a little irritated.
“Look for the light.”
“Are you saying light, or lot?”
“In the light.”
“A parking lot?”
“Yes, like I said, look for the light.” He regarded us in amused manner, as though we are a little simple. Or it could have been the amusement of enjoying giving us the runaround. Difficult to tell. We concluded that we were looking for a parking lot and not a police car with lights on and tried again.

The mobile security point was indeed in a car park, but just before the underpass, not just past it. No lights at all. It was a trailer, no police car. Normally I’d blame my English ear for the language barrier but Terry heard it all that way too. We waited in the freezing cold for half an hour or so while a guard took our driving licences into the, oddly scruffy, trailer with a Homeland Security logo on the side. There was, allegedly, a policeman on the inside who would peruse our driving licences at his leisure and then scribble some nonsense on, yes, a yellow slip of paper.

Now, all this is undoubtedly a worthy attempt to prevent terrorists from depositing unauthorised goods in a container bound for Australia, but Terry and I both already have identity cards which allow us to move freight across borders. Unlike our driving licences, they prove that we have been assessed within an inch of our lives for terrorist tendencies. Homeland Security have already interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted us for goodness sake; so quite how a chap in a caravan who doesn’t even pop his head out side to see if we match the licence he has on his desk is providing an additional layer of safety for innocent US citizens who wish to sleep safely in their beds is beyond me.

People came and went. Yellow slips flew in all directions but ours. Clearly foreign driving licences are extra difficult to process. We arrived back at the docks with our vital little bits of paper a few minutes after four o’clock. Customs close at four. The uniformed jobsworth who gave us the wrong directions twice is beside himself with glee. Terry’s body language alters slightly “Shame on you, do you realise that by doing this you are costing the country money?” he begins. The body language among the jobsworths alters slightly. These people have guns. Will I be able to write about getting arrested in my first blog from the road? Somebody is about to explode with something. Our jobsworth thinks about it, makes his decision and wanders off laughing. Clearly there is less paperwork that way.

Our load is not just an hour late, it will have to wait for tomorrow morning. Which is why, if you are still reading, I am settled on the top bunk bed, all warm and fed with truckstop food, playing with my favourite new toy, the usb wifi modem, which means I can email people from anywhere.

Will tomorrow's encounter with customs be any less tortuous? Unlikely.