After seven months of lockdown and with no parties in sight it was finally time. I needed to pull myself together and do something I hadn't attempted for 30 years. It was time to look for a job. I'll be honest with you, motivation has always been an issue with me. Getting the self employed grants and being at home, (so only spending money on food) had taken the urgency off me to find work. At the same time I had buried my head in the sand convincing myself that parties would start again soon and that everything would be ok.
Now though it was about giving me some purpose as well as earning some money. I've spent my whole adult life working but since my stint at the Gloucester Hotel (proper posh) as a chef in 1990 I had fallen into every single job I'd done. I'd either worked with friends and family or got the job through them.
So here's the last thirty years of my life: market researcher, car salesman. recruitment consultant (twice in succession), car salesman (again), finance manager, stripper, porn star, call centre manager, car salesman (for a 3rd and definitely the final time!), car salesman (don't even start!), travel bookings manager, children's entertainer. I know what you're thinking, there's two jobs there that I've made up, there's no way they're real. You're right of course, I could never be a recruitment consultant once, let alone two times. The other thing I'll admit is that I've never had any ambition or drive to do any of the jobs above. They came along and I thought, "Why not."
When I was younger I did have three dream jobs that I aspired to equally. They were stuntman, footballer and reptile keeper at London Zoo. Looking back each would have had their own challenges. As the clumsiest man alive I would have fallen over before I was meant to jump off a building so stuntman was out. There was one small thing stopping me becoming a footballer......I have always been completely useless at football. Seriously, I am absolutely pants. I'm so bad that I once shattered my ankle playing and required pins and plates to rebuild it. You might think that just sounds unlucky but the game hadn't actually started yet. Someone asked me the time and as I turned round to tell him my foot got stuck in the astro-turf and my ankle exploded. Freakiest......accident.......ever.
As for reptile keeper, by the time I left school at 16, another 5 years or so of study was about as appealing as eating my own colon. On top of that I would have probably fallen into the anaconda tank and ended up as a very tasty lunch.
I never dreamt of being a chef, car salesman, finance manager or children's entertainer. I have however always had the confidence and self belief to do anything and once in, I've always given it my all and been pretty decent at it. A job now would involve me actually searching and applying for it independently. Well, deciding what to do was the first step. I knew I'd be happy doing whatever was available, I'm not precious and hopefully it wouldn't be too long before I could stick my hand up a monkey's backside again and poke myself in the eye. Not with the same hand obviously, that would be grim. A delivery driver was the first thing that came to mind as something that would be in demand and wouldn't have anything to do with selling cars. Never, ever, ever again, (shudders at the memory).
Rachel and my sister-in-law had other ideas. "What's wrong with you, why not utilise your skills?" "Why wouldn't you want to work with children, you've got so much to offer them?" Both were good and valid points. I phoned Place2Be, a charity that offers therapy to children in primary schools and for whom I worked as a counsellor during a placement on my counselling course. I was told the recruitment team was working from home and that my message would be passed on. I didn't hear anything and typically didn't chase it up. I applied to Amazon as a delivery driver, went through all the steps, obtained the relevant DBS and was finally accepted. Only then was I told there were no local vacancies and to try another time.
I then heard through a friend about a well known delivery company that were looking for people. I applied online, had a group Zoom call followed by a telephone interview and I was in. The best part was that there was actually work available for me straight away. The first two days I went in and took a small number of parcels from someone else's round. The third day (that almost broke me) I had a round to myself, 70 parcels. Just to give you a flavour of how it all works I'll walk you through the process.
I arrive at the depot around 10am and find my cages which have my parcels in. I then lay them out on the floor in road order then scan them via the app on my phone. I then put them back in the cages last road first then load them into my car in a well thought out pattern so I can find them easily when delivering. With me so far? I then make any necessary adjustments in the order of deliveries on the app then finally set my ETA's. Everything has a two hour time slot which I set and need to adhere to. All sounds pretty straightforward right?
The first problem on the fateful November day was laying out the parcels. The person whose round I was covering had very kindly provided me with a list of the roads / flats in order of delivery. Unfortunately I got myself confused and laid them out and scanned them in a very random order. When it came to loading them into the car I was completely bamboozled and they were all over the place. I then set out amending the order of the deliveries on the app so they were correct. This took me 40 minutes at which point I somehow reset them back to the original order and spent another 40 mins redoing it. I was already close to losing it and I hadn't even left the depot yet! Setting the ETA's was confusing as I wasn't sure how quick I'd be but did my best. What this all meant is that including the five visits to the toilet and other bits and pieces it was now 1.30pm and it had taken me three hours to get ready.
I had my lunch in the car, went for one final visit to the toilet but unfortunately the depot was now closed. Somehow I was desperate to go AGAIN even though I'd already spent half the morning in there. This was all number ones by the way, I hadn't eaten a dodgy curry the night before. I don't have any known bladder issues by the way, just one that can't make its mind up what it wants. Sometimes I can go hours between and other times it's every 30 mins. I think being stressed or anxious can affect it, it certainly was today. I managed to go at a friend's house round the corner and finally I was ready.
The round I was doing was Napsbury Park, a housing estate in London Colney. To give you an idea of what its like, imagine you're completing a maze where every ten seconds you have to spin round, attempt a handstand and slap yourself in the face with a large haddock. All this without having slept for a week. Basically, it's very confusing to get around, for me anyway. I had a party there once and got so lost I'd grown a two feet beard by the time I finally made it out. It was fine though, I had my order set and I was positive, energised and ready for the first road.
Unfortunately, and you really couldn't make it up it was closed! The road had a gated entrance and the approach to it was being re-laid. I asked one of the contractors if there was another way in as I had parcels to deliver. The answer, a curt, "No, park somewhere else and walk in." I parked a little way down to be shouted at by the same charming person, "So you're happy to be hit by the truck when it turns round then?" This was passive aggressiveness taken to championship level. I saw a road opposite that had spaces so I drove there. This time she's almost screaming, "You'll need a new set of tyres now and you won't be insured." I didn't realise they were relaying here as well and as a cone had been removed I thought it was fine to drive through. My tyres were coated with a nice tar sheen and I was taking very deep breaths in order to stay calm.
After a seventeen point turn I drove slowly past her whilst politely using a classic, (and slightly re-worded) Derek Trotter line. "If you went to charm school I suggest you sue them." My razor sharp wit fell on deaf ears and her, "Just go, get outs" were matched by my, "It's been a pleasure" and "How delightful to have met you." Sarcasm may be considered the lowest form of wit but it made me feel much better. I eventually found a road that wasn't being resurfaced and ended up carrying the twelve parcels by hand for what seemed like an eternity. I was already behind on my ETAs, feeling stressed and exhausted. I hadn't worked since March or done anything other than being a big Banana Head for ten years. Give me some slack here.
What followed were blocks of flats I couldn't get into easily, roads that had numbering systems devised to test contestants on the Krypton Factor and a growing need for the toilet again. I'd started the round by greeting customers with a cheerful, "good afternoon" and flashing them a friendly smile. It was now 4.30 and starting to get dark, oh and it was raining. I was finding it very difficult to see some of the house numbers and clearly would have failed the Krypton Factor challenge as I had no idea how the numbering system worked on the last three roads.
Customers were opening their doors and making the mistake of asking how I was. "Well, I'm tired, cold, a little wet and really want to go home and cry in a corner. This is my 2nd day and it's not going well." I had someone recognise me from parties so we eulogised together about the days of Mr Banana Head parties and how much fun the children had. These final conversations were mainly carried out with my legs crossed as I was now absolutely desperate for the toilet.
By the time I finally finished the round and got home it was 6pm. It had taken me eight hours and I was physically, emotionally and spiritually wrecked. After my dinner I did sit down in the corner. I didn't cry but I did gently rock back and forth whilst mumbling incoherently. The last time I felt like this was when I had two big parties and a wedding the same day and got to bed at 2am. I swear the parents of the parties the following day must have thought I was on drugs of some description. I kept laughing manically and talking to myself all the way through I was so delirious. Never again.
As I lay in bed, trying to switch my brain off I reflected on the day. I had learnt lessons and had new awareness I'd never forget. Here's my top five takeaways from 'Parcel Gate.'
There is thankfully a happy ending to this tale of woe. I've done the route eight times now and got it down to a tee. My average working day including sorting, loading and delivering is around four hours. I don't need the list of roads and would make it through to the final of the Krypton Factor with flying colours. I have some much needed renewed purpose in my life and the only thing missing is a friend with a toilet. My legs are still firmly crossed at various times each day.
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