The last mile

Whenever I say that I am setting out on a career in truck driving people invariably say something like “you must be mad - that is all going to be automated soon”.

Err…no…

Maybe the long haul stuff between Regional Distribution Centres, maybe in American cities with their more regimented grid systems, but everything else? You must be kidding.

Most of my work is what is known as multi-drop. Up to eight or ten deliveries in a day, many of them in remote areas with windy country lanes, or in Central London with it’s gloriously random patterns of roads.

A lot of the firms I have worked for deliver into building sites. By definition building sites are new. They are often not reliably mapped yet and the Sat Nav often gets their location really wrong.

Once you get there navigating around the site is a nightmare, despite the Site Managers’ and Traffic Managers’ best efforts. Every time you visit the site there is a different combination of parked vehicles, skips, moving fork lifts, scaffolding extending beyond the perimeter of buildings. It’s a real challenge and changes day by day.

The thought of an AI system having enough information to not only get to the site but to manage entry and exit is a joke.

My guess is that most of the areas being eyed hungrily by the tech companies selling the benefits of automation and AI will have their own equivalents of “the last mile”. That gloriously messy and unpredictable junction between theory and practice, between order and chaos, where our best laid plans meet the real world and we have to grapple with that world to get anything to work!

A good start to any day

My current driving job starts at 5am each morning. This means getting up at 4am. This is a non-trivial challenge!

But…

I get to see the sun come up every day!

This morning as I was driving round the M25 towards Watford the mist was settling in the valleys around Rickmansworth and The River Colne. Trees were poking above the mist and the low sun was catching the hedgerows and field edges and glowing on the golden stubble left after the newly harvested crops.

Beautiful!

Why my brain hurts

Why my brain hurts.

In many ways the actual driving is the easiest bit of my truck driving day. Getting stuff on and off can be challenging and hard work but by far the hardest thing is the sums!

I have to keep so many rules about driving time, working time, time to next stop etc in my head that it really hurts. To get a sense of that complexity watch this video from KevTee which attempts to make things easier. Stick with it long enough to feel your brain aching like mine does every day!

Reality

The world we each live in is constructed in our brains. The stimuli that we experience through our sense organs get interpreted on the basis of previous experience, cultural conditioning, and the mechanics of differing biology. There is no such thing as a shared real world.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking solipsism. There is a real material world out there. When I snagged the truck I was driving on a weigh-bridge on Friday it caused real physical damage. But what the incident meant, my mixed emotions of regret, embarrassment, frustration, these were all mine and were all made up. Someone else’s reality would have been different. In some cases subtlety, in some radically.

It is as well to remember that the people around us are living in their own self constructed dream worlds. Their worlds will seem as real to them as ours does to us. When our worlds collide, and we feel inclined to defend our version of reality, we should bear in mind that it is all made up!

Destructive distractions

We fly around the world chasing a dream of fulfilment somewhere else.

We spend our lives putting up with boring pointless jobs to fill our houses with stuff that we are told will fill an imaginary void.

We pollute our silence with the endless noise of words from other people.

We expend so much energy running away from ourselves.

Global warming could be solved overnight if we increased our ability to "sit quietly in a room on our own". 

Life’s banksmen

Building sites of any size will have at least one banksman. Their job is to manage trucks off the public roads and onto the site safely. They wear specially marked high-vis jackets and carry an air of authority. They will stop traffic on the main road if necessary and then walk behind you as you reverse onto the site, normally waving their hand to give you directions.

You quickly learn that getting them to stand between you and oncoming traffic is useful, taking their arm waving seriously is dangerous! They don’t know what it is like to drive a truck, have no idea of its turning circle or the way the front tracks as you position the rear. They can’t see what you can in the many mirrors and cameras you have at your disposal, and it isn’t going to be their responsibility if you hit anything.

But life is full of banksmen, whether official or self appointed. Teachers, or bosses, or just well intentioned friends, people take it upon themselves to tell you what to do and how to do it. They too can have an air of authority and appear to be helpful but, just like with the truck, they can’t see what you see, don’t know what you know, and it isn’t their lives that will be affected if their advice turns out to be wrong.

In the great building site of life, don’t take the banksmen too seriously.

Just enough…

Being a commercial lorry driver allows me to experience management from the sharp end. Most of the businesses I work for are really impressive, not only in terms of the systems and processes it takes to do my job, but also in terms of focussing effectively on the key importance of safety.

There is a real skill in giving me just enough information, delivered in the right way to encourage me to take notice. Too much information, delivered too frequently, and to be honest trying too hard to "grab" my attention, has the opposite effect.

As with so many things, intent matters. If your intention is to give me enough information to help me do my job I will hear what you are saying, if your intention is to show off the latest corporate communications fad - I won't.

Old dogs, new tricks, and competence.

I don't want to go into too much detail online about my driving jobs but some days are hard. They test my limits both in terms of skill and psychology.

I know that I will pass through the feelings of incompetence that something new brings, I almost always do, but the feelings are nonetheless uncomfortable while they are there. It may have been easier when I was younger, when everything was new and you were learning constantly, but I am not sure.

Maybe it is to do with pride, with not wanting to look a chump, even to myself let alone anyone else. The hardest thing is shutting up the voice in my head that is constantly telling me how useless I am, how I will never master this new challenge, how daft I am for trying.

But the feeling of not running away is satisfying. In fact I always remember reading somewhere that it's not that brave people don't feel fear - it's just that they keep going despite it.

Managing my fears and getting better at ignoring that negative voice in the back of my head are the real skills that I am sharpening with my new adventures. And that has to be a good thing.

Half full

On a good day I believe that we are seeing a great falling apart of old ways of looking at the world and our place in it. Ideas like "the establishment", isms like Capitalism and Socialism, Nation States, "the media", assumptions about consumerism and even materialism, all past their sell by dates and struggling to maintain relevance.

All developed nations will face the challenge of building a new world out of the debri.

I also believe that Britain, or more exactly the people who inhabit these islands, with their rich mix of cultures, tradition of muddling along, and deeply held skepticism about grand ideologies and messianic leadership, is uniquely placed to deal with these challenges and, despite current signs to the contrary, will pull together to work this out.

On a bad day...

Giving up on LInkedIn

I've been in there pretty much from the start (user number 1400 and something) but it always felt like a chore, something I "should" be doing rather than a pleasure. A combination of the design of the site and the people who tend to spend more time there than on the rest of the web.

In recent years I have re-posted my blog posts there in an attempt to stimulate conversations and drum up business but to little effect in either regard. I may lose out on the odd connection who relied on LinkedIn to keep up with my ideas and my activity but, to be honest, I am drifting away from that sort of work anyway.

It will still be useful as a big, self maintained, contact list but that's it.

Being heard

I try very hard when I write my blog posts to be as accurate as I can; to express the ideas that I hope to get across as simply and clearly as I know how.

Over the years I have had a lot of practice at this, and have often been commended for my ability to get complex topics across simply.

And yet sometimes when I read the comments on my posts I wonder why I bother. It is as if a superficial glance at my post was enough to trigger a fully formed opinion that had been waiting to be expressed by the commenter - whether it was related to my post or not!

Especially if this is the first comment it often triggers a full on debate which could have bugger all to do with what I actually said in the first place. This invariably leaves me feeling like I'm trying to stop a runaway train with my futile attempts fueling the erroneous debate rather than successfully pulling it back on track.

This happens all the time all over the Internet and appears to be getting worse rather than better.

Clearly much of the responsibility lies with those of us who choose to write a post in the first place. The onus is on us to make our best efforts to be understandable and hopefully add some value to our readers.

But we all share a responsibility as to how we respond to other people's posts. Have we taken the time to properly read them, have we fully understood their meaning, will our contribution support a relevant discussion or simply satisfy our desire to get on our latest hobbyhorse?

We can learn to do better and when we do we may be able to hear each other for the first time. 

Body Politic

Each day we get the bus along the packed beach here in Poetto. People board that bus in all sorts of beach wear. Never having had a problem with her attire before Hannah got on the bus in shorts and her bikini top. In front of the whole bus the driver decided to berate her and insist that she cover up.

Seeking a riposte which would express my irritation the first word that came out of my mouth was fascist.

Sign of the times I guess...

Getting about a bit

I use a wonderful app called Day One to maintain a number of different journals. In one of them I dictate entries on my watch to keep a log of the various deliveries I do in my driving work. Day One records the time and location of each entry which allows me to see on a map all the places I have been. Fun to look back on.

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To see a world in a grain of sand

Yesterday as I was filling my truck with diesel at the end of the day I looked down at the ground and started noticing the concrete surface of the petrol station forecourt. It wasn't just concrete, there were tiny flecks of stone in it. Differently shaped bits, varying in colour and likely origin.

It was raining heavily so the surface was wet. It was glistening under the bright lights of the canopy above me. I was crouching down and the stretch of my thighs must have triggered a recollection of climbing. The hard surface, the rain, the stretch - I suddenly got the same feeling of physical connection to the world that I get through being on mountains. The same rush of excitement that has more to do with being real and physical than with adrenaline.

This feeling of connectedness is there all the time, but we hide it. We hide in our heads, we get lost in our thoughts, we label the world around us and divide it all up into pleasant and unpleasant, right and wrong, good and bad.

But the world doesn't care about our labelling. It is just as it is, still there, waiting patiently.

Zen and the art of truck driving.

"I am lost, I am useless, I will never be able to do this."

Sound familiar? This is what goes round and round in my head every time I fail to find a building site that I am meant to be delivering to. The locations are not always obvious, even with a sat nav, and they are often in busy and crowded parts of towns. So the pressure builds, the feeling of incompetence increases, you get tired, you get frightened. The feeling of failure and the overwhelming urge to give up becomes irresistible. You want to call it a day, to run away.

But this is all a story. The reality is that I am in a truck. I know where I am. I can solve this puzzle. It's a game. I am getting good at it. One move at a time. Micro moves. Well executed gear changes, deftly handled turns. The feel of the wheel in my hands, the height, the weight, the intense physicality of it all. This helps to ground me. The stories stop, the chattering monkey eventually shuts up.

We all get bent out of shape by all sorts of things all of the time. Learning to notice this, accept it, step back from it, and piece by piece reconnect with the world around us is so important. It's worth practicing.

Happiness is...

I know it is not everyone's cup of tea but as I negotiated my fully laden 32 tonne truck along the Chelsea embankment, into the centre of London and south to Elephant and Castle, negotiating tight narrow lanes, cyclists, pedestrians, everything London could throw at me, listening to my particularly good collection of bangin' house music on the truck's half decent speakers, I could not have been happier.

As the world turns

Doing a night shift on New Years' Eve at the World Service was always fun as you got to celebrate on the hour each hour as the various time zones passed into the new year.

Having as many friends as I do around the world these days means that birthday wishes on social media afford the same pleasure. First Australia, then Europe, then the US.

Thanks everyone for your kind wishes.

Perception is reality

Fake news is good news. It is making us question truth. It is making us less lazy.

We are learning that we need to take responsibility for our perceptions. They are the only reality we will ever know.

All you need is...

Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege to be amongst Chinese families, indigenous Australian families, even half a village worth of Turkish families on the flight from Melbourne to Doha. All bantering amongst themselves, telling jokes, smiling at each other. Pretty much the same behaviours the world over.

We have so much more in common with each other than we are led to believe and it is a tragedy that we are currently electing leaders who emphasise difference and antagonism over shared experience and love.

Mutual aid

The main focus of my workshops over the last couple of weeks for Jobs Australia has been helping people to catch up with the impact of technology on how we live and work. In our conversations I was reminded yet again how people have varying levels of comfort and ability in even the most basic use of technology. There is a very real risk of an emerging digital "underclass" if we don't do something about it.

But we don't need big, expensive, government or workplace training initiatives to deal with this. We could do so much more to help each other than we do.

Instead of making someone feel stupid because they don't know how to use a piece of technology, instead of sneering at them, be kind. Take the time to show them, answer their questions, and do so in a respectful way.

We could do so much more to help each other to keep up than we do.