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A Shout From The Attic, A Shout From The Attic: The June Years - 11

"As I was wending my way between two gigantic piles of Russian timber, my faithful steed came to an abrupt stop and refused to start...''

Ronnie Bray recalls an encounter with a man who was finally forced to see sense.

During my sojourn in Ipswich, one of the tasks I undertook to put a crust on the table was that of wagon driver for the Johnson Group of Companies, Biscoe Transport. My mount was a Dodge ten-ton tipper. The company was eager to find a driver for this behemoth because it was the only one in their fleet that did not have power steering. Besides which, the steering it did have was the stiffest I have ever tussled with. However, never one to be outdone by a machine, I took it on and besides earning some faint praise for my foolhardiness I developed brawny shoulders.

The Johnson Group also owned Blacktop Ltd., an asphalt manufacturing plant located not too far from the transport yard, and much of my work was taking the hot stuff to various locations in the region. Besides loving the smell of hot asphalt, it was enjoyable swinging down Suffolk’s country lanes to drop a load in a farm yard, or driving along the burgeoning motorways and bypasses to back onto a Barber-Greene road-laying machine, enjoying sprightly badinage with the asphalters, and rolling into local towns and cities to join up with a road patching crew.

One of my favourite runs was into Felixstowe Docks that was undergoing transformation from a bit of a backwater into one of Europe’s major freight ports. Although I do not expect any credit for the construction of the sprawling site, I was proud to play a small part in its rise to eminence.

Of the hundreds of deliveries I made there, two things stand out. One was unbelievable, and the other was just plain fun. The first thing occurred after I had dropped my load and was wending my way out of the docks through the tortuous temporary routes that developed through custom and usage until they were well established and achieved a kind of unofficial official status.

Most of the smaller channels were convenient short cuts that lay between stacks of new timber that had been unloaded by crane and stacked by hand in piles eight or ten feet high, twenty feet long, and ten feet wide. When one of them collapsed from inadequate stacking, or by being run into by one of the thousands of vehicles that criss-crossed the place every minute, the timber was dragged off and burned. I digress only to disclose that corporate wastage is not a new phenomenon.

As I was wending my way between two gigantic piles of Russian timber, my faithful steed came to an abrupt stop and refused to start. I was stuck, well stuck, besides which I was blocking the alley. In my defence I solemnly declare that I had no intention of breaking down, and if I had I would not have chosen that exact spot. My discomfiture at being stranded was not assuaged by the appearance of a gentleman in an important looking car driving up behind me, halting, and in tones that announced a man used to being obeyed commanding that I should move my vehicle summarily.

His exact words were not, “Please move your vehicle, old boy, so I can be on my way, what!” although that was the gist of what he said. However, decency forbids me from quoting him directly, if you get my drift.

It is well to point out that at this time in my life that although I had not acquired full control over my passions, I was possessed of a solid sense of humour, and the humour of the situation had not escaped me, although it clearly escaped the bellower. To his imperative I replied in a simple, dispassionate but informative way that I was broken down. Meaning, of course, that my lorry was incapacitated.

His response to that intelligence I found stunning in its incomprehensible imbecility. This fellow informed me with the bellow of a blast that was unbeautiful that I could not break down there. I struggled to remember if Sir Patrick Hastings had ever addressed such a situation and, if so, what he had made in response. I came up empty.

Realising that I had not made myself sufficiently clear to the loud mouth, I leaned further out of my window, and distinct manner spelled out that my motor vehicle was defunct, was dead, had died, given up the ghost, expired, wast kaput, finito, gone to glory, would not go, stood in need of repair! I delivered the catalogue in the vain hope that something I said would register, and then he would calm down, become reasonable, and take the sensible option of reversing his automobile out of his trivial predicament and find his way home with no loss greater that twenty seconds.

But this fellow was dense to the bone and beyond. He proceeded to argue the case that I had no right to have a vehicular malfunction – not his words – in that particular spot because he always went home that way. By this time, the arteries on his neck were thrusting outwards like twisted ropes and his aspect almost matched the colour of his car, which was black and shiny.

The next part of his conversation is not recorded for posterity, but if any of my posterity ever enters military service and is within hearing when a Regimental Sergeant Major has his rear punctured by a raw recruit who has not yet got full control of his bayonet, then they might get close to what this star-crossed man was screeching.

Had there been a commissioner of lunacy in close proximity he would have had no legal difficulty in certifying this man and delivering him straight into one of the locked wards of Saint Audrey’s Hospital in nearby Woodbridge for treatment with major doses of a major tranquilliser.

At this point, I swung open the door of the cab and clambered onto the ground before explaining to him, mostly in Anglo Saxon terms, that not only had his education been overlooked, but that he was heading towards what Bruce Woodcock got from Joe Baxi.

He must have been old enough to remember that exchange and its outcome, for he wound his head in, wound his window up, and wound his car backwards out of the timber-lined canyon, doubtless to wind his way homeward o’er the lea, having heard the curfew toll the knell of parting day, and having been bested by a superior vocabularist, and peace reigned once more in the land of timber ravines.

My rig’s problem was eventually fixed when Bernard the interesting mechanic arrived and worked his nimble magic on my motor. Bernard was interesting because he walked around the workshop and yard at a snail’s pace looking like a question mark, but when he was on the badminton court he was a lightning fast athlete who was beaten at battledore and shuttlecock only by Olympians and foul weather.

Although the hot-head threatened condign vengeance against me and all other road users who, he said, deliberately broke down when he wanted to get past them, and promised to lodge a negative report, my company did not receive any report, and neither did the port authority impose penalties on me or my fellow tar runners. It might have been amusing if they had.

That was the unbelievable event. The enjoyable one was to do with Iolanthe and a pretty little church on the Felixstowe road a few miles before Felixstowe proper where it swung right over an arched bridge to plough through the town and make for the docks.

One of my all-time favourite songs is the Lord Chancellor’s ‘Nightmare Song’ from Iolanthe. You will know it well, so I shall not need to sing it for you here. I found that if I kept the lorry to a steady forty miles an hour and began singing the moment I reached Trimley St Martin’s church, I could just hit the final note as I turned my steaming load onto the bridge to navigate Felixstowe Dock Road.

I did experience some disappointments in the prodromal interval before I got my vehicle speed and song tempo synchronised, but once that was worked out, I was almost perfect every time. The greatest enemies of success in this undertaking were being delayed by slow traffic and singing too fast or too slow.

To this day whenever I hear that song, I see myself coursing towards Felixstowe with ten tons of the hot black stuff to make better, faster, less easily obstructed roadways and hard standing for an ill-tempered chap in a shiny black car and a streak of impatience and absurdity as big as the docks were destined to become. Now he was a nightmare!






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