Friday, 16 September 2011

Friday 16th September - Delivery Day Two
An 8.30am start for us today for the last two deliveries of the convoy minus two of the drivers, Ted and Craig who due to a kamikaze kebab the night before, rather than sitting in a van all day had to sit close to a bathroom. Both were immensely disappointed.
Today we were delivering to two very different but both equally rewarding destinations but first of all we had to unload two dentist chairs off Chris & Alex’s vehicle.
The first home we visited was a childrens home where kids from the nearby gypsy camp live and receive schooling from Monday to Friday. A total of bespoke 80 beds, mattresses, duvets and pillows were delivered along with toys, clothes, toiletries and cleaning products after completing our delivery we went to meet the kids who were an absolute delight. It was clear that the director of the home cares deeply about all the children and we all enjoyed spending time enjoying their happy smiling faces. However, some of us having wandered around the camp where they go home to at the weekend a couple of years ago felt a tinge of sadness at the knowledge of the conditions they would be returning to tonight. Well done Chris Bennett, Steve Fishwick, Richard Tribe, Alex Pearson and Chris Keggie.
Our second destination was a home for some ninety physically and mentally disabled adults ranging in age from 30-90 years of age. Once again we received a very warm welcome from the staff and the conditions in the home were some of the best we have encountered in Bulgaria. The home was clean and well maintained and vastly improved from how it was a couple of years ago thanks to support from German charities. We delivered wheelchairs including an electric one, zimmer frames, clothes and boots for the residents.  
Well done Mandy Davis and Linda Stewart who both work for Simpson Millar ably assisted by Peter Watson who flew over to meet up with the convoy to assist with the unloading of all the wagons.   
An hour’s drive through the forested mountains took us back to the motorway for the final run back into Sofia.
This evening is traditionally a chance for everyone to let their hair down (well those who still have some) and enjoy a meal with our Bulgarian Partners ‘One Life Charity’ and ‘Lorna’s Foundation’.  Speeches thanking our partners in Bulgaria and all the people back in the UK and Ireland who helped make this convoy possible was the order of the day along with plenty of light hearted banter.

15th September – Delivery Day One!

15th September – Delivery Day One!
Orphanage in Purvomai
We travelled from Sofia early on Thursday morning to a town called Purvomai where we dropped aid of at an orphanage for children aged between 7 and 18.  The orphanage held 54 children and as soon as we arrived we had a good vibe about the place. The children were all very happy and interacted with the staff very naturally.
The children slept three to a room and although basic the rooms all had their own individual touch which the children had created.  On the tour we saw lots of pictures of the children receiving medals and for sports achievements. This through the orphanage adopting a sports program for the children.  The washing machines that the An post providing two industrial washing machines bought in country, this will save a lot of time and allow the staff to spend more time with the children.
They had a craft room for the children with dress making lessons and knitting lessons.  Metodi Popov was in the process of setting up an education room to ensure the children did their homework and if it was noticed that they were struggle give additional support.
The projects he did want help were the completion of the washing room which needed tiling and flooring.  In addition he wanted the grounds landscaped for football and running training for the kids.  It cannot be unstated how successful they had been with their sports program one fourteen year old girl had come second in the 800 metres in the national championships.  In addition the kids played in basketball, football and volleyball teams within the local municipality.
After the guided tour of the orphanage and a wonderful meal that they had provided we interacted with the kids and they could not have been more natural the hugged they and laughed with the staff.
It was the first time the orphanage had received aid and what the staff had achieved with so little was an inspiration to all of us.  We left feeling happy to have delivered our aid but even more happy that we were leaving the children in safe hands with such an amazing group of people.
Steve Albon – Peter Sharrocks – Steve Perry – Derclan O’Mara
Home for Children in Sladuk Kladenec
We arrived at our destination not sure what to expect we both had previous experience on convoy so it was wonderful to see the reaction the children and staff on our arrival they made us most welcome. To help such beautiful children is a pleasure. The smiling faces showed it was clear they were well looked after and very attached to the staff whose kindness was evident.
The new beds and lockers organised funded by CWU Ireland and CWUHA had arrived and were set up in brightly painted dorms, just before our departure it was great to see the kids hugging toys and riding around the yard on the bicycles we had supplied, with such delight.
Pat and Rory AKA Podge and Rodge
Steve and Ian AKA Red Barons

September 14th – On the Road To Sofia

September 14th – On the Road To Sofia
Up at 6am to complete the final leg to Sofia (300K) but before we can get there we need to cross the Danube on a barge. Hopefully when they finally open the bridge they are building over the river this will not only safe us time but also money.
Another beautiful day and we are making good progress, no major road works and some new motorway to drive on. We arrive at Calufat at the Romanian border to catch the ferry over to Bulgaria were we are met by our dear friend Florin who works at the port. Florin has kindly arranged so that we don’t need to pay the customary taxes and ensures that we are on the first available ferry.
We are making excellent time!
After getting off the ferry we are now in Bulgaria, we park in a TIR car park nearby and wait for our escort, Niki from ‘One Life Charity. The convoy leaders decide that it would be a good time to have a break and some drivers decide to eat in the café, big mistake. Over an hour later some of us are still waiting for our meals, in fact we still are.
We then set off through some of the finest countryside in Europe and arrive at the compound organised by ‘One Life’ for gratis.
It’s now 9pm and the minibuses pick us up and take us to our hotel for a well-deserved beer and an early night as we all know we have a very long day ahead of us tomorrow.

September 13th – Buzz Off

September 13th – Buzz Off
We left the Owl Hotel and picked the new by-pass, Carl then began to struggle pronouncing the towns and villages we were traveling through and quickly road numbers were the order of the day.
Whilst chugging along nicely we were all suddenly woken by Chris and Steve telling us that they would have to do an emergency stop due to a Hungarian wasp hitchhiking in their cab. After evicting their unwanted passenger they re-joined the convoy when Steve radioed that Peter had been stung, a minutes silence was held for the wasp!
Once again, the temperature was in the later 30c causing many right arms to resembling a lobster!
We reached the Hungarian/Romanian border in plenty of time, as we rolled up to the border we found are selves behind a queue of about 60 vehicles. Steve and Youngie pulled out into the Bus lane and made their way towards the border, passing all the waiting vehicles. Youngie then went to speak to passport control hoping that the customs officer was a sympathetic local United fan leaving Steve to watch their vehicle. Steve soon realised to his surprise that he had passed the border without any problems and called the convoy through.
We all drove through ignoring the queue of trucks – saving us hours, well done Youngie & Steve!
Some of this time was then wasted by Ted and Carl who for some reason decided to pull in to the smallest petrol station in Europe.  
After purchasing our Romanian Vignettes the good roads quickly disappeared along with road signs causing a few trips around Romanian roundabouts.
Now it was time to find somewhere to stay the night and past experience told us this would not be as straight forward as the rest of Europe. Ted and Carl decided to send Ian & Steve ahead to find accommodation and after approx. 80km and the fifth hotel – we got a result and found some digs at 20 euro a room! Not the Ritz, but a bed to lay your head, though the Cement factory behind the hotel kept those awake without the ear plugs!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Monday September 12 - Sat Nav Youngie Strikes Again

Monday September 12  - Sat Nav Youngie Strikes Again  
Here we are again and its off through Austria and a steady plod toward Hungary – 442 kilometres as a rough estimate according to Sat Nav Youngy – 275 miles in my book – all lined up and ready to go at 0900 having had a hearty breakfast – all healthy of course as our figures will bear testament to!
We stop after a couple of hours for a re-fuel and coffee break after a superb run without any hitches – caffeine loaded we set off into the sun and Hungary bound – all buoyant at the progress made to date and camaraderie between the ten crews that is beginning to evolve.
At the border post of Hegyshalom we stopped for luncheon – served from various tailgates and rustled up on camping stoves, makeshift dining areas and waiters!! A blast from the past for a couple of guys, using their memories of their mis-spent youth to gain access to a vehicle which had experienced a traditional union busting measure – a lockout!! Well done to Max and Paddy!!!
Would you believe this – an ex Royal Mail Sherpa 150cf van passed us (just) as we sped through Hungary – we thought they had started a Sat Nav trial on collections!! English plates too! 32.5 degrees warm today – splendid! The roads are much better this year, any problems we potentially foresaw did not materialise – the crossing of the Danube though as spectacular ever – either side of the city of Budapest – or the ancient cities of Buda and Pest!
We arrive at The Owl – some 34km beyond Budapest on the M5 – and not the A5 as the alternative leaders would have us believe as they shot off on their own! A great little venue – previously sought out and booked in advance – the infamous Stella Artois met us at 17.00 for an appetiser – what a welcome sight x 20!!
Our illustrious El Presidente’ (Ted) was none too pleased that he had to share bathing facilities with a number of other drivers – although when reminded that the title of President was an honoured one and not a real position with all the trimmings of State he was fine and duly shared his co-drivers (Carl) mosquito spray in an attempt to atone for his show of petulance!!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Friday 9th September – Day of Departure

This is it after months of fund raising, planning and organising with Royal Mail, BT, AN Post and Air Com, emails galore to and from our friends in Bulgaria’s One Life and Lora’s Foundation charities we are ready and eager to go, now where did I put my passport?    
Thursday 8th September 
Seven of the vehicles decided to travel to Hull the day before we departed and park in the Hull Mail Centre which was organised by Mick Whiting the CWU Branch Secretary of the Hull & East Riding Branch. Mick also arranged for us to fuel up at the Mail Centre with the kind agreement of the mail centre manager Steve Stockdale.
Friday 9th September – Day of Departure
By 1pm all 10 vehicles had arrived safely at the Hull Mail Centre all keen to head off to the port, but first we had a few more things to do…
Royal Mail in Hull did us proud letting us fuel up and allowing all 10 vehicles to park in the yard so that the drivers could do their final rejigging of loads. RM also allowed us to hold the final drivers’ briefing in their boardroom and in conjunction with the local CWU Branch provided a fantastic buffet for the drivers. Paul Clays, CWU NE Regional Secretary and Trustee, also attended the briefing and wished the convoy bon voyage.   The NE Region under Paul’s leadership has sent a vehicle on the September Convoy for the last 6 years.
The local managers also arranged for two of the vehicles to be repaired when one was clipped by a car and another had a problem with the passenger door. Both faults were soon sorted to the relief of the drivers.
Billy Hayes CWU (UK) General Secretary and Steve Fitzpatrick CWU (Ireland) General Secretary both sent personal letters with their best wishes. Tony Kearns (CWU Senior DGS) also sent his best regards. Next year Tony is embarking on a sponsored cycle ride from John O’Groats to Lands-End to raise money for CWUHA.
After filling our bellies we then went back down to the yard to meet up with Rt. Hon. Alan Johnson MP who is a dear friend and patron of CWUHA. Alan was instrumental in the setting up of CWUHA when he was the CWU General Secretary.  Alan gave a rousing sending off speech in which he said the CWUHA was a credit to the CWU and the trade union movement as a whole and wished us all good luck.  Alan and Paul then posed for pictures with the drivers, all wearing their new CWUHA t-shirts and yellow high viz jackets. XXXL was the order of the day except for Linda and Mandy the only two female drivers who had asked for ‘medium ‘ as did Steve Fishwick who was just deluding himself.
Alan, Ted Stead, Ian Young and Carl Webb all veteran convoy drivers, then gave radio interviews, spoke to newspaper reporters including from the RM Courier whose NE Regional Officer kindly looked after the media and us. Carl had already carried out a number of interviews that week to promote the charity and the CWU. Sian Jones, CWU Press Officer and to be honest, CWUHA’s unpaid Press Officer (please don’t tell her) put out a number of press releases to promote the convoy which resulted in a fair bit of media interest.   One thing we all agreed on; Ian Young has the face for radio!!
We would sincerely like to thank Royal Mail Managers, Postmen and Women in Hull; the local CWU Branch, Mick Whiting, Paul Clays and Rt. Hon. Alan Johnson for making this the best send-off ever for CWUHA.
Mick’s work still wasn’t finished; he had to escort us to the ferry which turned out to be no easy task. Three lorries arrived effortlessly at the correct dock while the others followed Skippy & Dippy (aka Linda & Mandy) round and round the final roundabout; all 14 sets of eyes peeled for the elusive “ALL FREIGHT” sign. Attempts from Steve Rowlands to ‘talk them in’ via CB radio initially proved fruitless until Skippy got her nose to the ground and took the second exit. We boarded at 17.15 and proceeded to our cupboards cabins, then onto the bar for a swift one or two before an early night. We all knew we had a long drive ahead of us the following day.
Saturday 10 September 2011 – First Day On the wrong-side of the Road?
Up, fed and off the ferry by 09.30 - EU time, we were soon Rockin’ n Rollin’ on tarmac and, with over 300 miles to cover before sunset we were keen to get going. Stops for comfort, tea and bickies, fuel and the occasional fuse-replacement surgery were kept to a minimum. It had just gone 19.00 when we pulled into the Guest House at List in Germany.   The sleepy village of List hardly batted an eye as 10 lorries hurtled up a side road and proceeded to manoeuvre themselves into a car-park of postage stamp proportions. On entering the car park Max n Paddy (aka Craig and Jonny) demonstrated for the benefit of the group their signpost preservation skills and one of the Lost Boys (Steve A) almost lost his dignity as convoy co-leader Carl called us together for a convoy conflab, delaying the much-needed comfort break by a further 10 minutes. 
Well, it was all worth waiting for – the Guest House was clean, spacious and very welcoming. The hot water system didn’t so much as flinch as 20 drivers proceeded to wash away the remnants of a 30 degree day spent behind the wheel.