When you’re a young, fit trucker, you never think about growing old and the problems old age will bring. All the old truckers warned you about jumping off trailers and loading docks, “Your knees will give out if you keep doing that.”
We have truck stops and service stations in the UK, but if the need comes over you when you’ve just passed one, it could be another 15 or twenty miles to the next one. Working the night shift, I had a favourite place to stop and empty my bladder. It became such a habit that I didn’t know I needed to stop until I was a mile or so away. Usually, I was southbound, and rather than go into a busy truck stop for a five-minute stop, I pulled the truck off at junction 39 on the M6 motorway. The junction is at the top of Shap, 320 metres above sea level, and probably gave its name to the small village a few miles away. It’s one of the highest motorways in the UK network, and as that junction is above the main highway, you haven’t got trucks and other traffic rushing past.
As it’s nowhere near any towns, there’s no light pollution from street lamps and houses, what the people who like to star gaze call a dark sky area. It is a perfect place to stand and water the grass verge as you gaze up at the stars on a clear night, trying to make out the constellations. Although I almost got caught by the cops a couple of times, trying to work out if I was looking at Aquarius or the Great Bear, I didn’t notice a cop car had pulled in front of the truck.
Luckily, I was decent when they walked around to the side of the truck. I told them I was checking my tyres, load security and cleaning the mirrors.
I suspect that they were really checking to see if I was going to sleep there, as that would be illegal. Many foreign drivers like to do that rather than pay for truck stop parking. Especially those who ran with the same trailer all the time, the big toolboxes mounted on the trailers held their cooking equipment and enough food to last until they got back home.
But now I’m retired, my days of night driving are much reduced, so I need to put more thought into rest stops and not get caught short. Thankfully, the good old Scottish National Health Service (NHS) has come to the rescue.
I was issued a card that allows me to allegedly go into any store or house, flash my card and demand to use their facilities. I imagine it would go something like this: I’m an ex-trucker and bursting. Where’s your toilet?
My buddy Mick lives in London and has similar problems with his waterworks. When I told him about my card, he said, “That’s great, Colin, we don’t have anything like that down here. But I can’t see it working in London. First, it would need to be the size of an A4 sheet of paper to accommodate all the different languages and dialects.”
So, with my emergency card and good knees, the journey into older age holds no fears for me.