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About A Week: The Man From Bulgaria

Peter Hinchliffe sympathises with the loneliness of the long-distance lorry driver.

This huge lorry pulled to the kerbside in Wakefield Road, not far from where I live. A continental vehicle, with the driver in the left-hand seat.

A window opened. A voice came down from on high.

“Lip Ton?’’

“Yes this is Lepton,’’ said I. Regular walkers are often pressed into service as road maps. I get asked for directions at least once a week.

“Cak?’’ said the foreign driver with a troubled frown.

Oh dear. What am I getting involved in?

“Cak?’’ he said again, handing down a delivery note.

“Ah Cakes For The Connoisseur. Afraid you’ve missed it. You should have turned right quarter-of-a-mile back there.’’

“Miss Tit?” said the driver, puzzled.

“This thing is far too big to turn around in the road,’’ I said hurriedly. “You are going to have to detour through the village. Take the next right.’’ Much waving of my right arm. “Go down Rowley Lane then turn right again at the mini-roundabout by the Sun Inn.’’ Another demonstrative wave of the right upper limb.

“Sun?’’ said the driver, looking towards the sky in bewilderment.

“Is that other door unlocked?’’ I asked, despairing of my semaphoring skill. “I‘m coming round.’’

I went to the other side of the vehicle, tackled a climbing-frame sequence of hand- and foot-holds, heaved a case of mineral water out of the way, then took my seat in the cab. Off we went, turning right into Rowley Lane.

“Me Bulgar,’’ said the driver.

“Bulgarian?’’

He nodded and handed over a picture of a man and woman who looked to be in their 20s. “Children. Mine. They…English…talk. Me little.’’

“How long have you been on the road?’’ I asked.

A puzzled look.’’

“Two days?’’

“Ah… six days. London. Birmingham. Lip Ton. Middlesbrough.’’

Soon we arrived at Cakes For The Connoisseur. The driver studied the sign outside the firm, stared hard at his delivery note, then turned and gave me the warmest possible smile.

Leaving me to walk home musing about the loneliness of the long-distance driver and the stress of travelling alone in a foreign land with only the smallest pocketful of the local lingo at your command. How do they find their way, these continental lorry men? How do they cope with maps, diversions, road signs.

When I got home I picked up a motoring magazine and read the shocking news that 40 per cent of British drivers have no idea what basic traffic signs mean. There was a quiz involving 10 signs. I recognised them but only after some serious thought.

The signs of course are meant to be instantly recognisable. Prolonged thought could lead to an almighty bang, an encounter with crutches, an appearance in the dock of a law court.

A chance meeting with a Bulgarian lorry driver was an excellent reminder of the need to re-read the Highway Code.

And if ever I’m lost on the road to Asenovgrad, Bulgaria, let’s hope for someone who is patient with my Yorkshire accent.


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