The ‘T’ Word Part 9 – The End of the Road – A long driving career is about to take a pause.

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Hi All.

Driving has been a big part of my adult life and like many people dealing with brain tumours, I am facing the prospect of giving up my driving licence.  I had thought that I was going to lose my licence because of Marty my Meningioma, however this turned out to be an unnecessary concern and as I write I am still driving. However I have been told that after my upcoming Craniotomy to remove Gary the Glioma, I will have to stop driving for at least a year and will only then regain my license if I have not had any seizures.  If I do have a seizure, the clock resets to another 12 months.

My first wheels

I passed my driving test in 1978 and started driving for work in 1985, so cars have been my office, dining room and occasionally a bedroom for a long time. I expect that we all have fond memories of our first car and the freedom that it gave us.  In my case this was a 10 year old (1968) dark green (or as my buddy Richard called it ‘vomit green’)  Hillman Hunter estate / station wagon.  A modern 10 year old car can still look almost new but this was definitely not the case for British built cars from the 1960’s! I can still remember her registration number, KAW207E.  She was battered and world weary but I loved that car.

So many stories, so little time.

With the possible end of my driving life in front of me, I’ve been giving a lot of thought about my past experiences and thought that I would share a few of the stories.

My driving career got off to an inauspicious start when in an attempt to take some mates to Blackpool, I got confused and headed south instead of north on the M6 and didn’t realise my mistake until I reached Milton Keynes on the M1, I still get reminded of this 44 years later!

I became a Sales Engineer in 1985 and very soon was doing 30,000 miles or more a year, so driving definitely became a lifestyle. When on the road that much you can’t avoid getting in to a few sticky situations, some through your own impatience or arrogance and some through the efforts of others. 

Due to my own youthful impatience I once nearly hit a roundabout at 125mph opposite which, down in a gully, was a Little Chef restaurant.  I reckon that at that speed and with the lift that the angle of roundabout would have given me, I could have ended up in the roof of the restaurant! What a prat but I was still in my 20’s and that’s my excuse!

I got into all sorts of daft situations including falling asleep one lunchtime in a lay-by in the middle of nowhere in the Derbyshire Hills with my lights on.  Of course when I woke my battery was dead and there was no one to be seen.  In desperation I concocted a plan to jump start the car by putting it in reverse and then pushing off whilst sitting in it and letting the car pick up speed backwards down the steep hill on which I was parked.

There were a few potential problems but the most pressing two were that with the engine off I had no power steering and no power assisted brakes so if the car didn’t start I would be hurtling backwards towards a very deep reservoir out of control! The fact that I am here to tell the tale gives away the fact that it did start and I’m very grateful that no-one witnessed my stupidity.

There was one occasion I remember when my colleague and friend, Mike and I were sent to our then employers offices in Ashford in Kent so we drove down in convoy as we needed our own separate cars for the journey back.  It is a long trip when you have to use the M25 so by the time that we reached the last leg of the A20, we were really bored and stressed and to add to this, we almost immediately got stuck behind a slow moving cattle truck full of cows.

The road had dragged on for miles with no chance of overtaking when suddenly we saw a sign saying ‘Dual Carriage Way’ in two miles.  I was behind Mike and saw him drop back to give himself room to accelerate and I did the same.  Finally the road widened and Mike & I hit the gas.  This is where things went wrong because the dual carriage way turned out to be only a few hundred feet long and the lane narrows sign had been put EXACTLY where the lane narrowed.  

By the time we realised that we couldn’t make it past, it was almost too late and Mike, the truck driver and I all hit the brakes at the same time filling the night air with the sound of screaming tyres. We all finally stopped and I’m not sure if Mike noticed but a wave of liquid manure poured out of the rear of the truck and over the cab.  Mike sped off and I followed him as I didn’t fancy a confrontation with an angry and quite possibly shite covered truck driver!

In the ‘near death’ category I guess my closest scrape was when following a colleague along the A14 in the early 2000’s.  We were doing at least 70 mph when from a truck heading the other way, a huge sheet of plywood about 8 feet by 5 feet (probably from the trucks trailer base) flew into the air and landed upright on its end right in front of my colleagues car just a few feet ahead of him, it bounced back up and he drove straight underneath it.  I remember thinking that it was going to hit me flat on and would probably have taken the roof of my car off and possibly my head with it but in a split second it seemed to land and be sucked flat to the road, so I barely even felt my wheels go over it.  That was bloody close.

As I think back I can recall so many tales, too many to tell here but the ones that really stick in my mind came from the three months when I went truck driving.

I like trucking and I like to truck!

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The industry that I was in went through a stage of being a bit “hire and fire’ and at the same time there was yet another truck driver shortage in the UK so I decided to get a truck drivers license so that I would always have work.  Oddly enough, within a few weeks of passing my HGV test I did lose my job.  

To be fair to that company my head was not in the best place when I joined them so I don’t hold any animosity it was just one of those things.  Anyway, my wife suggested that I take some time out of selling and go truck driving while I looked for the right job & get my head sorted out.  Anyone who knew me had always known me as a suit, so the concept of Mr Sales Pansy Hannah doing anything as macho as truck driving would have seemed ridiculous. 

I got myself a job driving for a now defunct Leicester bakery, on permanent nights delivering bread to Tesco stores in Central London and the East End.  How they made any money sending a truck all that way just loaded with bread is beyond me and possibly why they went out of business.

They definitely ran things on a shoestring as my truck was old and knackered.  It was also big as although not an articulated truck, it had a now illegal internal tail lift, which meant that the whole truck was as big as the trailer of an articulated truck but not as manoeuvrable. This I will come back to but the first big problem that I had was when delivering bread to a Tesco store on the Bethnal Green Road.  This is in deepest East End country, in fact the cafe that was a favourite haunt of The Kray Twins, was only a few hundred feet from the Tesco store.

On one occasion I arrived just as rush hour was getting going, and because I was not a Tesco owned truck I didn’t have the privilege of driving forward through the delivery yard ‘In’ gate, no, I had to reverse into the ‘Out’ gate.  As I normally did, I put my hazard lights on, moved to the right side of the road and swung my truck across to the left to try and get her as aligned as possible for the reverse.  I then found I couldn’t get her into reverse, or forward for that matter, I was completely blocking the road and if you’ve ever been in London at that time of day you will understand when I say that within a couple of minutes it was chaos.  

I frantically pumped the clutch and tugged and pulled at the gear stick but nothing would work, then with one desperate heave it went into gear.  The trouble with trucks is that the engines are so powerful that they will move when idling and that’s what happened, the old girl shot off backwards with me shouting something along the lines of ‘oh cluck’ and with the truck racing backwards between two lines of parked cars I somehow managed to miss everything and get her under control.  What a bitch, she did that on purpose!

I mentioned that my old lady of the road was hard to manoeuvre and this became a big issue one day at another Tesco store.  The road past the yard entrance could not take a truck so you had to turn around in the yard after delivering and leave the way that you came.  The entrance was also narrow as was the road leading to it (the planning office have questions to answer I think) and there was a big sign say ‘truck access required at all times, strictly no parking’.

On this particular morning I arrived and some clown had parked their Mercedes saloon right on the corner (in front of the ‘no parking at any time’ sign) and I found my self unable to make the turn into the yard, unable to go forwards because of the road and definitely unable to go back or turn around.  The traffic stacked up in what seemed like seconds and this being London a chorus of horns began!  On one of several aborted attempts to make the turn a cyclist banged on my door to warn me that one of the trucks rubber loading bay bumpers was now pressing against someones windscreen.

There was nothing for it, the only way was into the yard, so I put the old girl in second gear and began to slowly make the turn.  Inevitably after a few seconds there was the unmistakable sound of metal on metal, as the side safety bars of my truck hit the Merc’, which I could see in my nearside wing mirror was now gently twitching as I continued forward.  My truck didn’t even react, she just plodded on, happily taking the paint off of the car and as a finale, ripping the wing mirror off too.

She finally broke free and carried on into the goods yard as if nothing had happened and of course hadn’t even picked up a scratch!  Being a newbie to this truck driving lark, I was mortified at what I had done, however I was followed into the yard by another trucker that I had started to get to know who thought that the whole thing was hysterical.

“If you’re going to make it as a truck driver Stu, you are going to have to toughen up mate” he said before advising me that the car owner hadn’t got a legal leg to stand on and I should do what all seasoned truck drivers would do……off load and sod off (sod is not the word that he used of course) and never give it another thought.

I took his advice and left, although I did give it another thought and I didn’t make it as a truck driver.

Life not behind the wheel

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Yes, I’ve had a lot of both funny and frightening experiences on the road but I don’t have any choice but to stop driving so I have been trying to apply a bit of Stoicism to the problem.  I can’t change the circumstances but I can control how I react.  With this in mind we have been readjusting our lives towards managing without a car as much as possible and in the process have started to really enjoy train travel.

Being retired helps in that we do not have to suffer the pain of commuting by train, that said we have been coming away from assessments at Leeds General Infirmary at busy times and given the choice between a busy train or joining the long lines of traffic misery, I choose the train every time.  We have armed ourselves with a travel pass which keeps the cost down and the Trainline app is a must as not only does it make it easy to buy your ticket, it is your e-ticket and also tells you what your next platform will be if changing trains, and that can save a lot of stress if your change over time is short.

We love walking and are lucky enough to live in a town where pretty much anything is within walking distance.  I have found that I don’t miss having to drive but I think I will miss having the choice and I still haven’t managed to get my first electric car which is a little frustrating but one day maybe.

Giving up driving after all these years falls in with the other sacrifices that are worth making to get as much time with family as possible and not risk long term catastrophe just for a short term benefit and pretending everything is fine.  After my next operation I look forward to the walks together with my wife, train journeys to places that we haven’t visited or to see family and eventually back out on our bikes and running together.  

These are the things that I am focussed on to keep up my determination and positivity.  Car’s are convenient but life can go on without them it just takes a little mental adjustment but it is the end of a long relationship with driving and although if I remain seizure free for a year after my operation I should be able to get my driving license back, I don’t feel like it will ever quite feel the same.

Stu

The Brain Tumour charity has been a great help to me since my diagnosis. They have a podcast which is always of interest to people with tumours and their families and also have the ‘Brian App’ ( yep that is spelt correctly, it is ‘Brian’) which offers advice and the ability to track your symptoms, appointments and treatments.

Since my diagnosis I have found myself looking at life differently including reflecting on my past life. Music has always been important to me so I decided to put together a playlist that includes songs that I love, songs that remind me of places and times in my life, and tracks that I have discovered more recently that help me to keep positive. I hope it’s something that you might enjoy too and always play in ‘Shuffle’ mode.

Featured Track: Enter The Angel – John Foxx. This track takes me back to my apprenticeship back in the late 1970’s & Early 1980’s. When I left school most of my music collection was made up of classical music, especially the musical comic operas of Gilbert & Sullivan or movie soundtracks. My buddy Richard, who I met as an apprentice, is responsible for introducing me to a lot of new music and this is one of my favourite John Foxx tracks of that era. Take from the terrific album ‘In Mysterious Ways’. It is track #1 on the playlist.

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