[The contributor was born in 1946 in Norwich. His wife "M." contributed to the interview.]
I was 15 when I left school and my first job was at Tan Sad and Alwin which did wheelchairs and prams. They were actually in Sandy Lane. I started there as an assembler putting the chairs together and became an inspector. Such a boring job in the end. I had to inspect the work that other people had done which was easy in that respect but I had to stamp everyone's work off.
A lorry driver's life
It was so boring in the end that my mate, who had been long time, school mate actually, we'd been through all the schools together, the infant school, the junior school, senior school, his dad actually worked at British Road Services then in Surrey Street, when he left school he got taken on by British Road Services. I had always wanted to be a lorry driver ever since I was a little boy and I asked him if he could get me in Surrey Street. Unknown to me, my mum's friend's husband already worked there as well, V.G. his name was, and V. got me a job at Surrey Street, loading lorries and loading them up and eventually as I got older they actually put me on the road. They taught me how to drive a lorry and eventually as the years went by and I turned 21 I [got] my HGV class one licence which is an artic licence. I was there quite a long while, I really enjoyed it I ended up as shunter up there by the way.
What does that mean?
You didn't go out much but you put the trailers in for them to unload and when they were full you pulled them out and parked them outside ready for the trunkers to come at night time and take the trailers away to different destinations. They had hub depots all around Britain and I really liked that job, [it] was a promotion because when I first started there you're on what they call a C and D driver which was a collection and delivery driver. In them days you did several deliveries, about 50 deliveries a day, and several collections, you went back to the depot, you unloaded the lorry yourself with the people on the dock and then you loaded them up to different trailers to where the destinations were. I done that for several years but as I say in the end they actually put me in to paying for an artic licence. In those days if you had an artic licence you were king of the road sort of thing, good money, good rate of pay that was. I eventually passed it and they wanted a shunter in the yard which I just told you about, which was where you would be moving trailers in and out all day long for them to unload and then make sure you parked them inside. As well, if they had any what they called big bulk drops up to Yarmouth or Lowestoft and that I'd get them jobs as well. I'd go out and deliver for them as well. And what happened there was they had a bit of a union trouble when they moved to Burton Road they threatened us with taking the trunks away from Norwich and then come into Norwich and do the trunks for us and in the end that's what happened, that's how I lost my job up there, was made redundant.
How did you feel about that?
Well I had always been in the union and they actually did fight well for me, but they did say that I shouldn't have gone, I was on the borderline, they had to get rid of so many.
That I was just unlucky. And my mate, who was R. D., he stayed on because he started there just before me but that only lasted a couple of years after that and he got made redundant as well and they actually shut the place up. Actually ended up as Links Transport, yeah, it got turned into Links Transport now owned by UPS that's still up Hurricane Way.
In them days you worked a 10 hour day, it was a long day, there weren't no tachograph in the cab what they have nowadays, they had a driver's sheet which you filled in you know, but that was hard, that was a quite hard job. But as I say, I remember bringing home my first wage packet and my mum thought they had overpaid me, my mother did, she said you better take this back, there's too much money here you've earned more than your dad. I said to her, "Hang on I'm doing 10 hours a day when my dad is only doing 8". Though my dad was a skilled worker he was a jig maker and welder at Boulton and Pauls, really skilled while I was only a lorry driver, but because I done two hours extra a day I was earning more than my dad. She couldn't make that out my mum couldn't.
Did you find that hard at first?
Not really, no
Because you're young aren't you …
You're young but you're sort of obviously thinking about that I had a lot of friends who had taken on apprenticeships and their money was terrible for the first three or four years in an apprenticeship. And I went into there and I was making big money, more money than my dad was bringing home, so I thought I was King of the Road you know!. It was good money. Well, [my wife] M.'s dad is an ex-British Road Services driver. He was Hall Road I was Surrey Street, but her dad were a heavy goods driver from Hall Road.
[M] My dad he worked for the – P. worked for the green lorries, they were green-coloured lorries. And my dad worked for the red ones. And my dad used to do the long distance. When I was a little girl he worked Saturdays, well he worked Sundays as well. So he went to Norwich on a Sunday and he'd be gone all week simply because the lorries weren't able to go as fast as what they can today. And also once he'd got to his destination he then had to pick up another load and then that might not take him back to Norwich. He then had to go to wherever that load took him. So as a little girl I can honestly say that my dad had to travel thousands and thousands of miles but I only ever saw him … very very rarely did I ever see him.
In fact I used to go with her dad on a Sunday morning – for some reason I use to drive the lorry even though I didn't work for the heavy haulage ones, I worked for parcels, on a Sunday – after I'd passed my HGV licence with the parcels, her dad use to go on a Sunday up to … He used to let me drive up there and drive back, and that really helped me because though I was still on a rigid lorry then, even though I had a class one licence, an artic licence.
How did that help you?
[M] Gain experience and…
Yeah, though I passed my test on artic, I still weren't driving them at the parcel place, I was still on what you call a rigid lorry. And her dad use to take me to Whittlesea on a Sunday morning and he'd drive up the yard and park up the road and I'd get into the driver's seat, which I could do because I'd passed my test and that sort of thing you know, and he gave me a lot of experience your dad didn't he at the time. So that helped me as well.
When did you start?
What with her dad?
No just when…
When I started? I actually got the job as the yard shunter…
[M] No but the lady's asking you when you drove your artic and you took it out on the road line, where did you go?
Oh well we went anywhere to be honest with you, but that was local, what they call local, you got there and back in a day. There weren't no nights out, no not the in old days. I'd go wherever they wanted to send me, I went in the morning and that would be loaded, they'd give me the sheet and off you went.
[M] Unless you had a regular round, lots of the drivers on the C and D had regular rounds and R. he did a Kings Lynn run in the day. But because you did a lot of work in the yard, shunting. If there was an artic lorry driver off sick or on holiday they would get P. to do it…
Yeah I covered his run.
[M] So like that he would never know from one day to the other where he was going but that didn't bother you did it?
No I loved it. Well you're a young man, 40ft trailer, (Yorkie Bar Kid as they used to call it!). I thought I was King of the Road in them days, which you were really. I was sorry to see it shut up, but as they say that was just one of them things, unions again, they thought they were stronger than what they were and in the end they actually shut Norwich depot and I was out of work.
Farm collection for Dairy Crest – friendly people and narrow lanes
And that was the start of me joining Dairy Crest as I say. Well M.'s sister, her friend S., her dad J.M. was his name, he was already a transport manager down at Harford Bridges Dairy Crest and she told her friend about my situation and he phoned me up, he said there would be some jobs down Dairy Crest. They always use to take people on summer time, to help with holiday relief, but that wasn't permanent job, that was just for the 6 months of the summer period. He said would I be interested, and I said yeah not half! He said, I warn you now that won't be driving, that can be anywhere in the works down there. It could be on the bottling line, or the tanker bay or the cold store bay for doing yogurts and stuff like that. I said that would be lovely, went down there and had the interview and got the job. And I say the first time was in the tanker bay – used to have to pump them out of the raw milk. I quite enjoyed that but that was shift work as well.
So what did that actually involve?
Well, what were called collection from farms, all these dairy herds, these tankers would go round and pick up from the farms – raw milk, and then they would come back into Harford Bridges, and then you'd have to pump it out, backwards fuel pumps – they'd suck it out of the tanker. You'd have to put on a water sprayer to actually clean out all the tankers on the inside before they went out again. That was going on all day long. You had tankers coming at different times, so that was a full time job. That was a rota'd weekend, I worked Saturdays and Sundays. You always had two days off a week but that was rota'd in them days, you had Saturday, Sunday, then Monday,Tuesday…
At the weekend you had a long weekend, you had Friday, Saturday, Sunday. That was good. Yeah the job was brilliant, that really was brilliant. But I say I loved the tanker bay. Then they came along and said they were taking more drivers on and would I like to go driving for ‘em. And I already had the licences, so I thought, "Corr yeah, that would be nice, to get back on the road". And I went out with a couple of drivers to start with and I thought, "Well this isn't too bad", and then the week came when I was on my own – well blimey! I came home on the Friday night, I got in that bath and I couldn't move – my back, oh crikey!
Because you were loading these crates?
Yeah, well they use to be six high on a lorry.
So like milk crates?
Yeah milk crates, six high and all the way through the lorry, and you got the remember the lorry's that high off the floor, so six high would be up here – so you had to start getting it off there and you think a full load of milk …
[M] You had twenty bottles in a crate
Yeah twenty bottles in a crate and you have to remember what you took off, you had to fill that empty space with empty bottles and crates, so you went out with a full load of milk, but you came back with a full load of empties. So you had a full load out and a full load in, and you done two load a day, so I tell you, that took getting use to!
So did you have training for that? Did they oversee you?
No, no! You went out with a driver if he was having a week's holiday, you went out with a driver like a week before he went on his holiday, so you actually knew the run, where to go, and then you're on your own.
[M] And some of these little dairies they are in tiny little places.
Yeah I was going to say, where did you have to go? Was it all round farms?
Yeah farms, there were a lot of milk buyers who had farms.
[M] I mean some of these little dairies are hidden away. P.'s taken me to see some of these places- if we're out for a drive and he'd say I use to deliver down there, if you look down you'll see where I used to have to back down and you' think well however did he use to get a lorry down there?! Some really tight little lanes. But you met some marvellous people at these dairies. They use to offer you food and cups of tea …
Well there was a round I use to do, which wasn't my round it was done by a man called A.W., that was his run, I use to cover for him on his two days off. When I first started doing that, I went out on the Sunday morning, and my first call was out at Woodton. And I got outside this old farm and you'd park your lorry at the top of the drive and get a big old barrow, special barrow, wheel the milk down to the fridge – which would actually be in the building or cold store as they called it in them days – wheel the milk in, wheel the empties back to your lorry, so as you took a stack of milk off you put a stack of empties on. And I finished it all, shut the door and I went up to get back in my lorry and this woman come running out the farm house. She said, ‘oh you ‘int going yet are you?' I said ‘well I've finished' and she said ‘Well you haven't had your breakfast!' ‘What you mean breakfast?' She said A. always stopped for breakfast on a Sunday morning! ‘Ooh' I said, ‘ooh yeah.' She said ‘I cooked it are you going to come in' I said ‘Yeah alright thanks very much.' I did think I was going to get a bowl of cornflakes or something like that like you do, I went in and there was the family sitting in the farm kitchen, it was her husband and three children and there was my place, and she was frying eggs, bacon, fried bread, tomatoes and that. So I had to sit there and have breakfast with them and that's how friendly it was, that's really how friendly it was. And most of the buyers would probably be on their runs, when you went round to deliver their milk. They'd still be out doing their deliveries and they use to say to me if it was a hot day ‘you help yourself to whatever you want, you take whatever you want.' Because they use to do Corona, we use to take fizzy drinks there, yogurts, the same old thing, whatever you want, if you're sweating and it's a hot day you help yourself to a bottle of drink – they were all like that. You helped yourself to whatever you wanted.
So you worked hard but you still got …
Oh you did work hard. It sounds silly now but I couldn't go get a bottle of milk and take the top off and drink that. No matters how hot or dry I was I couldn't drink raw milk.
No. So when they started doing these fizzy drinks and stuff like that.
[M] And bottles of orange juice
Yeah bottles of orange juice, they used to do orange fruit juice in a pint bottle, glass bottle. And coo when they done that yeah it was lovely.
[M] Because all your milk was really really cold, weren't it.
Yeah that was a chilled delivery but I just couldn't fancy milk. The customers were brilliant, I never met a bad one yet. Say, the milk buyers who used to own their own rounds and were all out in what we called the sticks, all the country little areas and stuff like that. But they were brilliant, they really were, and Christmas time, blimey. I use to get some money oh blimey I used to get some really good tips.
[M] And you always got something from Dairy Crest didn't you.
Well Dairy Crest, they use to make you like a hamper up, they wouldn't give you money but at the cold store they would go in there and you could have like four bottles of fizzy drink, a couple of pints of double cream or a pint of single cream, yogurts, cheese. They'd make you a little bag up, that was brilliant that really was wasn't it M.? That really was. The management were brilliant they really were, I got to say that. That's right. And that was hard work on a bottle run. Later on when you got on the artics down there, which I got on eventually in the end down there, that was forklift work. If you were on an artic you went to a depot you forklifted the milk off on forks which was a lot easier than trying to lift them down, you remember what it was like about your back. But they use to have a laugh at me, well not me, every new driver, because there is a knack of lifting them off the lorry – you don't stand there and just go ‘ah I can't move it' there's a knack to it and in the end you find that knack and that's a lot easier, tons easier.
[M] But there was one chap down there who could lift the whole 5 or 6 crates off there.
B., oh yeah a man called B.A., he could lift five off in one go, he was a big bloke. And also J.B., he was another driver down there, another big old boy and he could do that. But they were built for it, not like me.
[M] And they had years of experience as well, they'd been there a lot longer than you.
They had yeah.
So you learnt the hard way because your back went first.
[M] But I must say you didn't really suffer with your back that much – you were doing all that work.
And then once you'd recovered from that…
Oh yeah, and they made sure that I'd recover from it, they'd say ‘don't you come back until you're fit.' Another interesting story from down there with J.M., on a Saturday I'd been to my dentist, and he'd taken two teeth out, if I remember rightly, this was years ago and he had to stitch the gum where he had taken them out – they couldn't stop the bleeding. And I came home from that. I went to work the Sunday when I was in the yard shunting the load and because I went in at 6, you used to leave off at 12 or something, that was your day done. I come home and I felt that bad, didn't I, in my mouth I took a couple of aspirin I went to bed and M. said go to bed you took terrible. I said, "That's my mouth, it's playing me up". When I was in bed the phone went and M. answered it and it was J.M. and he said can I have a word with P. and she said, "You can't really, he's abed." "In bed! – he only left off a couple of hours ago." She said, "Well he had two teeth out, they've stitched his gum." He said, "Well tell him I don't wanna see him back at work until Thursday at the earliest" – and this was Sunday, that's how they looked after you.
[M] Well people don't operate like that, firms don't operate like that anymore do they.
Well you see the thing is if you want cooperation off your workers that's how to treat it and you'll do anything for them.
[M] And they were always grateful for the work you did for them weren't they.
Oh yeah not half, they really really were. That were the best job I ever had in my life, Dairy Crest.
Milk processing and delivery Milk processing and delivery times
Can you describe how the whole process worked?
Well ,I didn't work on that bit but I can describe it for you. When they got pumped out in the tanker bay they went to the storage tanks. That would go into different storage tanks because if you go to a farm that's got Guernsey cattle that's called Channel Island milk, that's how they get Channel Island milk, which is a creamier milk than normal cattle, so that went in a special tank. Then the ordinary milk as I called it went in a different bit. And then you had different types of milk you had fresh skimmed milk, semi-skimmed milk and ordinary milk – whole milk. Sterilised.
As I say they were put in different vats and then pasteurised – they were put through a heat treatment – and then when it comes out that's the milk that you want, that they bottle up. Then that goes onto the bottling line, and that's bottled up into milk bottles, and the machine picks up 24 bottles at a time and puts them into the milk crate and the crate comes down an assembly line, and they've got what is called a stacker, which stacks the milk as high as you want it; four high, five high, six high, seven high, eight high. And then that comes down the line again to the end and that comes to a loading spot where it gets 9 racks of milk. A fork truck comes in with 6 prongs on it, goes in between the milk, that's marvellous how it's done, lifts the milk off the line and puts it straight on the lorry. But that takes some doing. Them forklift drivers down there were brilliant. I've never seen fork lift drivers like them. They were really skilled blokes they really were. So they'd load your lorries up for you. There was a bloke there called M.C. who was the actual final bloke to load the lorry up because he checked everything on the lorry, that was his job he was what we called the checker, he was in charge of everything in that yard and good old boy he was. They were all good old boys, I gotta say that. That's like one big family. The management were not frightened to ask any of the drivers for anything because they knew that they'd do it – because they were treated brilliant.
Yeah we were respected, we really were. If they could help you out they'd help you out, if you needed something done… I mean blokes used to move house, and if they wanted a lorry on a Saturday morning, they'd let them take one of the lorries. They helped one another and that's what you don't get nowadays. People can't give a damn nowadays, they've got no time for anyone.
So when you were driving out, what were you picking up delivery bottles…
No. They were what we call milk buyers they had their own little milk floats and we use to supply, they were like depots, but they weren't Dairy Crest depots they were private milk buyers and they use to buy the milk off Dairy Crest and you would deliver it to their warehouse or their farm, most of them were farms. They just had a little place built on the side of the farm which was a cold store and there was no one there during the day, by the time you went there was no one about. You had to put all of the milk in the fridge for them and check the order off, was right and then you picked the empties up which they stacked beside it and put them back on your lorry. So like I said before, you went out with a full load and came back with a full load. Some of them were Dairy Crest depots. We had depots at Heartsease, we had a depot at Mile Cross – they're all gone now. A depot at Eye, near Ipswich, Halesworth … Yeah, they were Dairy Crest Depots which had their own milk floats and drivers. But by the time of the day you got there they were out on their rounds so you were normally on your own. So you had to take it all off on your own, pick all the empties up on your own. But you didn't mind – as I say, that was up to you – because that was a guaranteed 10 hour day job so it was up to you whether you went there and went mad and got back quicker so you could go home because you'd done – or you took your time. But it never did take 10 hours even if you took your time, you'd get back early enough.
[M] Ah but there was another side to it as well weren't there [- if something was wrong to plant or things didn't run according to plan like on a Friday because you doubled your milk up on a Friday, sometimes you could get out on your round later as you'd be late home again.
Yeah you'd be duty bound to do that milk run for that day. Because that was food the police couldn't pull you over for doing over your hours, because that was perishable food, you had to deliver it. So I'd been there eight o'clock on a Friday morning and I still hadn't gone out on my first run by 2 o'clock Friday afternoon. And you got to remember we used to do two loads a day. So I've got back here something like half past eleven/twelve o'clock.
[M] If something went wrong.
But if you did, the canteen staff had gone home by, say, 6 o'clock at night, they'd send out for fish and chips for you. They'd go out to the fish and chip shop and order everyone fish and chips, bring them back, you had your evening meal there as well as your dinner…
[M] But you'd never have your full recruitment of staff at that time.
No, no the dairy would be gone by then because they'd done their day's work, but you were duty bound to get that load out, you had to do it.
But were you only supposed to drive for so many hours?
Yeah, but you can extend those hours, well you could in them days, I don't know if you could now, but in them days you could because it was called perishables, perishable food.
[M] And also even though you started work at whatever time it was and that varied didn't it, but say you started at 8 but didn't go out of the depot until later you still got all your driving hours.
Yeah you still had all your driving hours because you hadn't driven between 8 till 2 have you? You see what I mean?
Ah I see.
You had to sit there why they tried to get the plant going again.
[M] You had a good canteen there as well didn't you?
Yeah we had a beautiful canteen, that was out of this world, that was.
[M] Because you didn't use to have any breakfast before you went to work did you.
No, I just use to have breakfast at work. But I mean that's why I put so much weight on! I've lost it all now thank God. But you would go in Sunday morning you think, ah blimey, I'll just have a bit of cheese on toast today, but they'd come along with these trays, like Marks & Spencers used to be, or Woollies … you remember you used to go along with the tray and pick things up in little glass things …
[M] Do you remember Woolworths cafeteria?
They had these little plastic windows where they would put a desert or, you would just pick a plate out…
Same as that. I'd go in on a Sunday morning and I would think I will just have cheese on toast today, that would be ideal – then the chap in front he'd say "I'll have eggs, bacon, fried bread, tomato, beans" – and you'd think "yeah I'll have the same." The times I done that! That's why I got so blinking big. But that was a lovely canteen that really was. You could have a proper cooked dinner and everything. I never had a cooked dinner because that was too heavy. If you were unloading two loads I couldn't eat like that and then go out.
[M] At least you had a good breakfast inside you when you were lifting and working hard, you had something to work on didn't you.
But I must emphasise that was hard labour work, you had to be fit to do it, put it that way. But they looked after you, I have to say.
But it suited you, the different driving and meeting new people
Yeah. I loved it.
[M] The people used to have time for you, the people used to talk to you and that, used to have a yarn.
Well I'll give you a for instance to show you how funny it was. I was in the shunting yard at Harford Bridges and I was there with a bloke called T.H., I don't know if you've gone to see T.H., he lives on Hall Road… 6 o'clock start in the morning. I'd always get there 20 to 6, I liked to be there early. And first job was go and get a pail, we used to have an old pail, steel pail, go inside the cold store, get out six bottles of milk – and they use to have a steam pipe come down, put the steam pipe in the bucket, turn the valve on slow so you got hot steam going through for about 20 minutes and you'd have hot boiling milk. Take that into the hut, we had our own little transport hut, and put coffee in, and you'd have hot milky coffee or hot chocolate. Every morning we use to do that, have a hot drink before we'd start, that was brilliant. But that particular morning I'd got there at 20 to 6, and by 25 past 6, T.H. -who should have been in the yard with me at 6 o'clock – still weren't in. I thought well this is good in on my own, because you had to move a bit to get the lorries in and unloaded and out again. And in the meantime J.M. had come in who was the manager and he come in said where's T.? I said he in't in yet – and just as I looked up T.H. come walking down the yard with his hat and his bag. "Mornin'", he said. "You're bloody late again" he said. He say, "You'll be going home on time again today…" He said, "Yeah, well, I don't want to be late twice in one day." (Laughs) And I remember that, I just couldn't stop laughing. It's true, he's a good old character. A lot of them were characters.
[M] And he was there a long while.
But yeah, I use to work with him in the yard. He was a good old boy. Dry old stick, but good old boy. We had some laughs down there, and that's why I loved it. It was a good old place to work.
[M] And there was also the social side of it as well and we used to have the bonfires down on there on W.'s farm. [November 5th]
I mean I work with some nice blokes now, but I gotta say they don't come up to scratch like the blokes down there, I gotta say that. They were brilliant.
Who was W.?
Oh well he's dead and gone now. W.B. was his name. His father-in-law Smith, of Smith's potatoes I think it was, have you heard of Smith's potatoes?
Well I tell you what might ring a bell about his name is, he bought a lightship that was berthed on Riverside Road, can you remember that houseboat that was parked on Riverside Road?
What the Sea Scouts had for a little while … well he bought that for them. W.'s father in law. That was an old a lightship. Near Foundry Bridge.
I remember that yeah. Is it still there?
No. They got a grey one now. They got a motor torpedo boat there now for the Sea Scouts. But that was W.'s father in law, Smith's who done potatoes.
What position did W. hold then?
Well he was a supervisor, like a transport supervisor. Like J.M., I told you wrong when I said manager, J.M. was a supervisor. The manager was J.P. Very nice chap he was. As I say the management was brilliant down there. Even P. when I was there, he was the general manager of Dairy Crest down there and he was a very nice chap. He come up to me one morning when I was on the wash – because if you were on what they called a spare driver you got the job of washing the lorries down before they came in to load up – because it doesn't matters how careful forklift drivers are, they break some bottles in the racks they come off that leave broken glass on the back of the lorry. So you use to get in there in the mornings and hose down all the lorry floors down, wash all the glass off and they'd come along with a big scoop and just scoop it all off. And I was doing that one morning and he came to me and said ‘P.' they knew your name there, even if you'd only been there about a week, they knew you straight away. And he said ‘I've got a little job for you today' he said ‘you can forget what you're doing, I want you to go and get my car…' (I thought, blimey you don't know me from Adam) ‘and go down to Thorpe Station and pick up one of the directors from Dairy Crest who's coming down to see Harford Bridges.' And I thought ah blimey in them days he had a Van Der Plas which in those days was a big old motor and I thought, Crikey I'm going to look the bee's knees in this! But they just trusted you, you know what I mean? That was like Joe next door say, you can borrow my car for the afternoon … But they were brilliant, I know I keep going over this but they were brilliant. Wherever I've worked, I've had some good jobs and got on with most people but down there they were brilliant.
[M] And also you were awarded … there were special awards every year, certificates and medal type things for safety.
Did it change a lot with hygiene and things like that?
They were immaculate clean things, they had to be. Because if you have a milk bottle on a farm they were often rancid looking and stuff like that. I use to carry round a bottle of body spray because if you're talking to them, you'd go like that! That's rancid isn't it? That really stinks, like sick, I used to hate that bit of it. But yeah they were clean, they use to hose the yard out at the end of every day…
So that didn't change from when you started?
No, no. That was always done. They always had enough drivers so that they could have two spare washing vehicles down every day before they came in, because as I say, that's food isn't it. Even farm tankers, when they came back at the end of the day and pumped out the milk, they'd go to the wash because mud round farms … and wash all the vehicles down, you had to do that as part of your job.
Moving the bottling plant
Well yeah, they were going to move the whole bottling plant out to the other side of Cambridge [Fenstanton] – I can't think what the place was called now, that was only a little village, I've been there myself several times. I'd take some milk they couldn't bottle out that way, they used to bottle it at Norwich. I just can't think of the name of the place…oh Fenstanton! That's what it was called, Fenstanton.
Oh, I know that.
So, when they shut Norwich, they bottled it at Fenstanton. I don't really know why Norwich shut, I did hear afterwards, whether it was true or not, that the managers who authorised the sale of Norwich themselves got the sack several months later. I don't think Norwich should have shut. Well it would have shut now what with supermarkets and that but I don't think they should have shut to be honest. There were a lot of good blokes there, they were really gutted – well I was one of them. I really was. I thought I had a job for life down there.
You went in one day and found out that that was going to close?
Yeah, well it didn't shut straight away because I stayed there until the very end, what they said there, I'll give Dairy Crest their due, that if anyone had any interviews for other jobs during the run-down time until closing they said you could take the day off, go and have the interview, come back and they would still get paid. So they were really fair on that side on it. They also made it so that if you stayed until the very end, they would give you a bit more money. So that's what I done, I stayed till the end, the only problem with staying to the end is you then didn't have a job to go to. Other blokes had gone and got other jobs, I was one who stayed to the end, so I had to look round for a job at the end that which was quite hard then.
It's a shame isn't it.
It is a shame.
I wonder why, what the reason was.
I really don't know.
So they just decided that they were going to close down so many factories, so many places in Norwich.
Well I s'pose it's like you know yourself it was supermarkets that killed the milk trade and door step delivery – that's all supermarkets now, and that's cheaper isn't it – supermarkets.
I still get my milk in bottles, I just like the taste and also I don't have to lug it home.
Well that's a good thing, isn't it? That's a good thing. But even that got a bit silly, milk floats got a bit silly in the end. To keep milk floats going they were then selling everything.
Yeah, that's what they're doing now.
They sell potatoes, butter, and all sorts and I think well that's silly, you might be a grocery man with milk on board if you know what I mean!
Exactly, that seems to be what they are trying to be now.
It's got too commercialised hasn't it?
But that true they have to keep up with making money, and if they can do more deliveries with…
Yeah, and for old people who can't get out and they want a bag of potatoes or butter or whatever else they do. But that's nothing like it used to be.
So, when you finished, what did you do?
Well I was house husband for a little while, I used to do the ironing …
[M] P. couldn't get a job.
No, I couldn't get a job straight away.
A new job with coffee!
So we're talking about what 1980 or so?
[M] Well that was the end of the building boom; I mean I worked but you couldn't get a job, there weren't nothing about was there.
No. that was the only time in my life when I had to go down to the unemployment office and sign on and I hated it. There were people down there that treated it like a social club ‘come on we got our cheque, let's go and get a drink.' That was demoralising for me, but the problem for me was I used to work full time so I couldn't get much. My dole money was terrible. I could hardly pay for anything. And I sat there one night and one of my old school pals, I don't know how he knew I didn't have a job, G. weren't it, he came round and knocked on my door. He said ‘I hear you're looking for a job' I said ‘yeah well what's the matter' ‘One of the blokes left where I work' he said, ‘but that's a funny sort of job.' I said well I'll do anything in order to get a job. You'll never guess what it was, bearing in mind I was I was a lorry driver most of my life, that was roasting coffee beans! Yeah, for Fresh Co. I don't know if you remember that company.
Blending company. Yeah, so he said they want someone to roast coffee, I said I can't roast coffee beans! I don't know anything about coffee he say you'll be alright. Well the money was terrible, wasn't it M.? Used to subsidise my wages.
[M] He used to bring home £105 a week.
And I used to subsidise that with my redundancy money that I got from Dairy Crest. We had a living, didn't we?
[M] We rented this house at the time.
So was that actually in a coffee shop then?
No it was like a warehouse, warehouse unit.
Grinding coffee. What a change!
[M] You used to mix it…
Yeah, I used to mix it, different blends, Columbian blends and espresso, stuff like that. Well it was something new! but to be honest with you Friday was my worst day, because I use to do a lot of roasting on a Friday to get ready for next week's deliveries, and when you took the coffee beans out into the old cooler, the smoke would go up to the roof, hit the roof – there were no vents in the roof, and come down again, and you'd be in smoke, working in smoke. Well that was alright, but I used to get these really bad headaches. Well you know why, I'd to get a big intake of caffeine.
[M] And when he go to the toilets to spend a penny, you went in there after and all you good smell was coffee! It was all through your skin and everything.
Ah that was terrible!
[M] But as you say you used to mix it, you used to roast it,
Sometimes I'd deliver it as well. I'll give the man the due there, the bloke who owned it – there were a couple of brothers, I can't remember their names now, but they taught me everything they knew. How to grade different coffee beans, where they came from and that and jacked my notice in, crikey that was our worst day. They were devastated. They said but we've taught you everything we know. And I said, I know you've taught me everything you know but at the end of the day, you work for financial reasons and I just can't afford to work here anymore.
Working at Norwich Airport
I got this job at, it was Air UK then, M.'s dad worked there. That's where I work now, KLM as it's been renamed.
And what do they do?
[M] They're aircraft, work at the airport.
Yeah, aircraft fitters and engineers.
[M] My dad he went up to Air UK, what they call a driver cleaner up there. So he cleaned aircraft and driving duties which they wanted him to do. But dad never drove the tug at the airport…
He did, the little one behind the bigger one.
[M] Yeah, well as I say my dad went up to Air UK, a driver cleaner up there and so he found out there was a job going as a driver cleaner, told P. about it – you applied for it didn't you.
[M] And started at the end of the month.
Yeah and I've been there 20 years.
[M] 1990 he started, yeah, late 1990. 20 years ago that you started
It is 20 years ago this May.
So what were you cleaning?
What inside like the passenger…?
Inside, outside, everything.
[M] You use to change all the seat covers didn't you?
Yeah. I mean you do have a crew on you, it ‘int just you. You got a team, but that is, that was shift work. I worked Saturday, Sunday and nights and days. Used to do two days, two nights then four days off. Well you don't know where you are!
Well I tell you one of the worst things up there, you know we were talking about Dairy Crest, they used to do ghosters, what they'd call a ghoster. That is, when you come on nights on your last night, you can work the day as well and the night again. Well how on earth do you do that because your hours must be up? Well they call it a ghoster. And I done one of them one week and that killed me. I come home for my four days off and I was dead. I was so tired, so you know, I just couldn't get over it. I said don't ask me to do any more of them, because they are killers. You'd do your two days and two nights, and then go through another day and night.
Without any sleep?
Yeah without any sleep, because you haven't come home, you've worked all the way through. How they use to get away with that I don't know.
[M] But you didn't do the cleaning for very long because you started driving that big tug.
Tug driving yeah, engine runs. Use to take them up to do engine runs and tow em back to the hangars for other people to clean, that sort of thing. Tug, a big tug, you know what you get on the front of an aircraft, put the bar on…
[M] You've seen them on the television, where they're pulling the aircraft in and out of the airports.
[M] A man sitting there in this little sort of jeep type thing, with the long pole on.
I done that. And when I went up there they said to me what did you use to do before you come here, boy? I said well I used to be a heavy goods driver, lorries. Well, you'll be ideal then, because you can drive big sort of…and I got started on that. Now I loved that, that was alright. But then in the end they made the shifts bigger so that they had too many drivers on each shift and they could of rid of several on us up there, but in the end they put us where they thought we should go and I ended up the in stores. Now I hate stores, so that's why I glad I'm coming to retirement.
[M] So every parcel that comes in, you get propellers, aircraft engines, all different sorts of things come in that need to be signed for open it,
Unload it …
[M] Make sure it's all there, check it.
But the management we got there now are nothing like the managers at Dairy Crest.
Has that changed during the time you've been there?
At the airport? Ah yeah that's got too political now. You got youngsters there which are a lot younger than me trying to tell me how to do the job, and they never done the job, things like that and I'd just go, yes sir, no sir, three bags full. I just want to do my day and get on with it. In other words, they ‘int got a clue.
[M] The only good thing about it is they have given you plenty of training.
Oh yeah, they have.
[M] In the way that you've been able to use different types of forklifts and different types of vehicle.
Well yeah, I've actually got an airside licence now so I could go to Gatwick or Heathrow and go out on the airside now because I've been trained for that side of it. You don't get that from just doing nothing, but I'll never use it because I'm nearly retired now.
[M] And also they do give you medicals, don't they? Because of the hazardous stuff that you touch and they make sure that you that you get a full medical – is it every year?
Every 6 months.
[M] A full medical up there.
Yeah that's the good thing about it.
[M] That's just to make sure there's nothing wrong with his eyes and things like that. You get that sort of thing off it.
Well as I said to you, I've been working here nearly 20 years at KLM but … It's got a lot harder in bodily sense, lifting and that sort of thing but no, that was the best job I had in my life. And when they have a do, they phone me up and say we're having a do. That's getting less and less now, but I suppose a lot of them have died – I mean I'm 65 and I was a boy down there. But they are good old boys, aren't they M., they really really are. I've never met a firm like that where they've been so friendly and they help you out. I mean the Dairy Crest garage down there, if you were on your way to work and your car broke down and you walked in, they would come on get your car while you were on the road during the day when you were doing deliveries and put your car right for you. And if that was an expensive bill, three or four hundred pounds, and that was a lot of money years ago, they'd deduct some out of your wages each month, they wouldn't take it all in one go. ‘How much do you want to pay back?' – they asked you. You wouldn't get that nowadays would you?! No way.
[M] No you won't because about 5 years ago at KLA at the time, the firm weren't doing very well, what they did is, they told all you workers that you were going to contribute so much money per month
Out your wage, they just took it.
[M] So they could boost the company up. And I think you were paying something like £80 a month.
Yeah back to them.
Just for working for them.
[M] And they didn't get your consent they just done it. And that's a lot of money if you think about it. And you never got it back did you, P..
No, no, we never got it back.
[M] There's several nice workers but they're not…
They're not mates mates.
[M] P. don't associate with people outside of work. You did at Dairy Crest, and you always go to the reunions. But it's never been your thing here.
No, no. Because some people you just put up with at work, but I can honestly say they were all my mates down at Dairy Crest. They'd do anything for you, any of them. They really really would.
Yeah never had a medical standard at Dairy Crest. When I came there, they do do a medical, as I said I have one every 6 months because I've got angina now, I've got heart trouble anyhow, so they keep a check on that for me which is good. Eyesight, hearing, because when I used to do the tug driving they used to do engine runs and when you got a jet engine going full blast and all you've got on is a pair of ear defenders on well I found out that some of the old drivers had gone a bit deaf and things like that so I think that's a good thing that they have their own nurse who does these medicals. And when you have to go for an airside pass, which I've got now, they check for colour blindness, lots of safety things that you have to go through. You have to pass them before you get an airside pass.
So it's like a sort of health MOT.
Yeah, it really is. That's the good thing about this company, they are quite stringent on that.
[M] About 18 months ago, before you went on your heel …
I got the hospital to sign me off, they won't accept me until the nurse has seen me to say I'm OK. That's the good thing about KLM. They do have a lot of training at KLM. That's the one good thing about this firm, well it's a Dutch firm so I suppose they are pretty up on that sort of thing aren't they. Dairy Crest was different, you didn't get much training – you learnt it as you went along. But that made it more, in a way, easier.
You said that's what made it friendly really, you learnt off other people.
Yeah, you did. They passed their knowledge onto you. I mean I told you before for weeks I would be getting the top crate off the lorry it would hurt my back and I thought oh I can't stick this, and that's when they say ‘well you don't lift the top one' you just flick it. That knack, that's the knack of doing it.
But you do it for anyone else, when you get another new driver coming in, you don't tell him you know! But that was a knack.
[M] But driving has always been your first love.
Yeah, I love driving. Well, when I got angina they took my HGV away from me, even though I got it back, and I was paying for my own medical at the doctor every time and I thought, oh what the hell are you doing it for P., you don't drive no more and you're getting older so I let it lapse in the end.
[M] But then a couple of years ago now [recording jumps] driving job at Wilson's. They offered you the job but the only thing was
That was Manchester.
[M] They wanted him to be away from home four nights a week. And I said no way. No way, not now that you're getting older and I don't really want to be on my own. I mean it's different if circumstances mean you have to be on your own but not by choice.