Last year I was employed by one of the biggest home improvement stores in the country, working ridiculous hours and being pushed to the limits by management who tried to convince us that the pay was great and that it was a prestigious job. It wasn’t, but I was damn good at it and I enjoyed it, rolling around southern England in 12-18 tonne lorries through streets and roads the vehicles weren’t fit for, but we were reminded that the goods had to be delivered no matter what. We dealt with shit customers who would be nice to your face but call up and complain about you the second you were gone. I quickly learned to have my voice recorder running on my phone in certain situations. I even took down one of the company’s middle management bosses who thought he could pull one on me and my workmate.
But this isn’t about that. This is about what happened at the end of the job.
My man JP (Jamie Parsons) and I were delivering all around the New Forest and Lymington, dropping off whole bathrooms and kitchens. It got to mid-morning and we turned up at a drop on a work site. This wasn’t uncommon as the company dealt with a lot of builders creating homes for customers. What was different about this job was that they hadn’t finished making the road to the house yet. It was just mud and dirt. And we had two tonnes of tiles to deliver.
Two tonnes, man. Two tonnes of 50kg packs of tiles to walk down from the truck to a half-built house over dirt and stones. We couldn’t even load them onto a trolley and wheel them down. It was brutal, even with JP and his freakish strength. Took us two hours to do the job, without any help from the twenty-odd builders on site watching us as they drank tea.
After unloading the tiles we both felt drained and our bodies ached. My arms and stomach hurt. One benefit about the job is it doesn’t matter if you can’t get to the gym for a session, because you wouldn’t need to. Although on the short work days you’d usually do around 12 hours anyway, so wouldn’t have time to go to the gym or anywhere. The job didn’t leave you much of a life.
We drove deeper into the beautiful New Forest. It took us ages to find the house we were delivering to but eventually we found the road it was on. Well, the start of the road it was on, because the big ol’ truck was too big to get down it. I reversed into the opening so we didn’t block the main road, and then JP and I walked down the lane to find the house. It was quite a walk, and the ground was so uneven it was going to be another nightmare delivery. My arms and stomach ached already and this promised to make it worse.
The house was hidden behind a large barn with a car parked right against the big barn doors. The owner opened the front door of the house and a huge cloud of weed smoke puffed out, covering us in its herbal essence. The owners paid the smoke no mind, so we checked out the room they wanted their delivery in and then walked back to the truck.
As I lifted a flat-packed wardrobe out of the truck and into JP’s hands, my stomach suddenly shot through with pain. I dropped the big box into JP’s hands and clutched my gut.
“Mate,” I said. “I gotta take a shit.”
JP looked over his shoulder down the lane. “Yeah, we can ask the customer—”
“No,” I said. “I gotta take a shit now.”
JP saw the urgency in his fellow man’s eyes and nodded. “Alright, mate. Go do your thing. I’ll unload the truck.”
I grabbed baby-wipes from my bag and looked around desperately for somewhere to go. It was a narrow lane lined with trees and bushes. There wasn’t a local pub I could go to in sight, let alone a public toilet. I was getting pretty desperate and wouldn’t have made the customer’s house if I tried.
So I went down the side of the truck on a grass verge, hoping the greenery would hide the brownery. Alas, I dropped a particularly big monster. Like, y’know when a kid does a dump and you wonder how something so big could come out of something so small? Yeah, it was like that.
I cleaned myself up and got back to helping JP.
“That was quick,” he said.
“That was close,” I said.
We finished the delivery and the rest of our round, not talking about the turd of events at the customer’s house. Sorry, turn of events. I’m here all week.
When we returned to base we were both asked to wait before we went home. The bosses needed to talk to us individually. We knew what this meant.
JP went in first. He’s a good lad and didn’t say a word when they asked him if ‘anything out of the ordinary’ had happened during our delivery. He came out of the office, giving me a small nod as he went by.
I went in. The bosses both asked me if anything had happened that day.
“Only if you count taking a shit down the side of the truck ‘out of the ordinary’,” I said.
They looked at each other and nodded.
“OK,” said the main boss. “We’ve had a complaint from the woman who owns the driveway.”
“Driveway?” I said. “No, I did it on the lane before her house.”
“That was her driveway,” he said.
“Jesus.” That country lane was her driveway? I shrugged. “My bad,” I said. “What happens now?”
“She’s put in a big complaint,” he said. “She says she caught you on her CCTV doing it.”
“What?” I said. “CCTV?” I thought for a moment. “It was a dirt-track lane without any lighting or electric. Why would you have a camera down there? And if she did, why was it hidden?”
Then it clicked. Big barn with a car parked against it’s doors to prevent access. House full of weed smoke. Stoned occupants.
“If I was an arsehole,” I said, “I’d suggest getting the police to look at that place, especially that big barn of theirs.”
My boss looked concerned.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “No need to make this bigger than it is.”
My boss breathed a sigh of relief. “Good,” he said. “Now, she wants it cleaned up.”
“Great,” I said. “Tell her I’ll go straight there now and—”
“No.” He shook his head firmly. “You’ve done enough. I’ll go there and sort it out.”
“Sort it out?”
“Sort it out. I’ll clean it up and speak to her. Calm things down.”
I was almost speechless. “You’re going to go and pick up my shit?”
“I’ll have to. You can’t do it.”
“You’re shitting me,” I said, pun intended. He didn’t laugh. “There’s no way I can let you go there and do that. That’s crazy.”
“You can’t go,” he said.
We stood there, looking at each other. I didn’t know what to say. He did.
A couple of weeks went by, filled with jokes and laughter from the other drivers and work-crews who had heard about my ‘mishap’. To a man they all said they’d have done the same, and each of them had their own story about being caught short at one time or another. You probably have a tale or two of your own along these lines!
My boss told me the woman withdrew her complaint. This was good news, so I forgot all about it. The bad news is that the actual job itself grew worse and worse. We expanded our delivery area but not the team. We were delivering into London when we were only supposed to be delivering within a 30-mile radius of Southampton. Then we started going out by Brighton. The hours were ridiculous. Everyone was unhappy. The job was so tough we’d have new drivers and porters starting on one morning, and not coming back the next. The agencies couldn’t supply us with enough temporary staff because the temps refused, so the permanent staff were loaded with more and more work. Temping companies labelled it as ‘the job from hell’.
It was shit. Pun not intended.
I’d just about had enough. I was offered jobs at different companies almost every day but I politely declined, staying with the company because, even though it was tough, I did enjoy working with the crews and customers.
Eventually someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I accepted a job at a tipper truck company. No more lifting complete bathrooms and kitchens up flights of stairs in blocks of flats in London where we weren’t supposed to be. Once I had this to look forward to I kinda checked out of my current job. So much so, I carried my letter of resignation into work every day. All I was waiting for was the start date with the tipper company and then I would be gone.
But on one particular shit day at my current job we’d been sent into ridiculously narrow streets in London in an 18 tonne lorry. Again. And I’d taken out a bollard. This would mean another investigation at work, and another hour of my time I wasn’t ready to give the company when I was so close to leaving them.
The boss called me into the office for what I thought was a dressing down over the bollard. He asked one of the office girls to attend the meeting as a witness. That should’ve been my first clue something was off.
“This is regarding you defecating on someone’s property a few weeks ago,” he said.
What? “You told me the woman withdrew her complaint,” I said.
He nodded. “Yes, but now it’s an internal investigation.”
“But there’s no complaint,” I said. “There’s nothing to investigate because there is no issue.”
“But there is internally,” he said. “It’s potentially an act of gross misconduct.”
This wasn’t going anywhere. “So now what?” I asked.
“You’re on suspension,” he said.
I put my hand in my pocket for my resignation letter.
“On full pay,” he added.
I left the letter in my pocket.
We exited the meeting. As I left the office girl who had been the witness stopped me.
“If I’d known that was going to happen I wouldn’t have agreed to attend the meeting,” she said. “That came out of nowhere. Are you gonna be okay?”
“Does a delivery driver shit in the woods?” I asked.
Oh well, I wasn’t too down. I got out of a back-breaking job and would be getting paid for the foreseeable future. Win win.
I spent my days sitting in the sun, in the gym, gaming or writing. I was content. Full pay for doing what I wanted? Ha! Money for nothing.
The tipper job was still on but getting a start date became a drag. I wasn’t sure what we were waiting for (I already had the licence and was free to work) but days became weeks. Good thing I’m suspended on FULL PAY, right?
Wrong. Pay day came and I got half of what I was entitled to. I called up my boss straight away and asked what was going on.
“You didn’t attend the hearing,” he said.
“What hearing?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“We sent you letters,” he said. “To your address on the Isle of Wight.”
“You know I don’t live there,” I said. “You gave me the job on the condition I moved off of the island in case I missed a boat in the morning. Why didn’t you call me?”
“We tried,” he said. “The number was out of order.”
“You tried ringing my old number?” I asked him. “Why? You’ve got my new number on the fucking work phone that you called me off of twenty times a day when I was in the truck!”
That stopped him cold.
“Uh,” he gathered his thoughts. “All I can say is that we went through the proper channels and tried to communicate with you using your details on record.”
“But not your common sense?”
“We used the proper channels.”
He’d gone into middle-management mode. This conversation was dead.
I was fucked. I’d got half the money I thought I’d get and I had no work. I was angry. Angry enough to start tribunal proceedings. So I did. But while that was underway I had to join a couple of agencies to get money coming in. I signed up to an agency who asked me if I could go and work for a home improvement company. It was the job I’d just been suspended for. I laughed and told them exactly what had happened. They understood, telling me that everyone on their books refused to work there.
During the next few weeks while I was driving container trucks, garbage trucks, tyre trucks and all kinds of other trucks, I was busy gathering information to represent myself at a tribunal to get what I was owed. This, too, dragged on.
You only have three months in which to get your tribunal done and things kept getting held up. Eventually I managed to arrange a meeting with an adjudicator who would decide if my case was worthy of going to a tribunal or not.
I sat down with him, telling him my story in detail, and if there’s one thing I can do well, it’s tell a story.
“Wow,” he said, sitting back. “If you can prove they definitely had your new phone number and address then their argument about not being able to contact you is worthless.”
I showed him the call log on my phone. It proved the company had called me while I was working with them, several times a day. He nodded. “Any correspondence with your address on it?”
I pulled out a copy of my rental agreement at my new home, complete with a ‘manager’s work reference’ attached to it.
He nodded again, pushing his glasses further up his nose. “I don’t see any problems with this case at all,” he said. He paused, rummaging through more paperwork I had underneath my rental agreement.
“What… what is this?” he asked, reading it all carefully.
“It’s copies of conversations through text and Messenger between some of the office staff and some drivers,” I said.
“I can see that. But this looks like… is it drugs? Threats of violence?”
“Yep. You don’t think half the crews can do over twelve hours a day of back-breaking work without a little help, do you?” I said.
“Were you involved in this?” he asked.
“Funnily enough, no.” I reached over to pull out a sheet of paper at the bottom of the pile. He read it. “Routine drink and drug tests,” I said, tapping the report. “I’m prone to regular checks because of a… chequered past. I’m now clean as a whistle.”
“There’s a message here about… ‘getting your details’.”
I nodded. “One of the work crews needed somewhere to stay so he was bunking on my sofa. The office staff knew this, which is why I copied that message. It states that they are going to get my address out of the records and send the boys round to collect from my mate. Proof they had my new address.”
He read the pages thoroughly. More than once. When he finished he lay them flat on the table, removing his glasses.
“Well?” I said.
“I can’t help you,” he said.
I was stunned. And broke. This was supposed to bail me out of a big hole.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He held the paperwork up. “This isn’t a matter for us,” he said. “This is a legal matter. Extortion, drug dealing, threats… This is a police matter. You need to take it to them.”
“You don’t understand,” I said. “I need that money. I’m owed it.”
“I’m sorry.” He actually did look sorry. “You need legal help first, then maybe we could push a tribunal through after this is settled.”
“But the cut off for the tribunal is… what… three days?” I said
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. There was no way a police investigation would be complete in three days. Besides, why would I ever want to get the police involved? I’ve uprooted my whole life to keep me away from any trouble.
I stood on the pavement outside the adjudicator’s office, the folder of papers hanging limply from my hand.
I ditched the paperwork in a bin and went home.