Although current shortages have highlighted poor pay and conditions for goods vehicle drivers, it is not a new problem (“Food, beer, toys, medical kit… why are we running out of everything?”, Focus). In the 1990s, after a career in road transport management, I briefly went to live in the US. On returning to Britain, I dusted off my commercial driving licence and signed up with a driver agency.
My first experience of being on the other side of the transport office desk was that as a driver you become invisible – spoken over and around and ignored. Major national companies who specify a narrow time slot for their delivery will turn you away if you arrive outside that window but keep you waiting in their yard sometimes for hours once you have checked in, not permitting you to even use their toilet facilities.
Trying to keep to a delivery schedule while complying with the very prescriptive drivers’ hours regulations and the often divergent working time directive would challenge a chess grandmaster.
When compulsory in-service training was introduced a few years ago, instead of embracing it as an opportunity to improve the status of their drivers, many operators decried it as an unnecessary imposition. I suspect that many of these are now being hardest hit by the driver shortage and that those who thoroughly train and support their drivers, as well as offering decent pay and conditions, have a much better retention rate.
As one operator said to me: “To the public and to many drivers themselves, they are seen as just manual workers, but this is now a very highly skilled profession.” It’s taken Brexit and a pandemic to see commercial drivers start to get the recognition that they deserve.
Ripon, North Yorkshire
What sort of society do we live in that allows lorry drivers and supply chain workers to work in such appalling conditions? What sort of society denies hardworking people a living wage, decent working conditions and humane hours? I would pay more for food and goods if it meant that workers in the supply chain were being treated like human beings. Government, supermarket chains, employers and the public who pay for food and goods need to acknowledge the value of those who keep the supply chain going.
I was grateful to Rebecca Nicholson for informing us of the sad deaths of two of my favourite “Goggleboxers” – the all-wise and sensible Andrew Michael and the lovely little Mary Cook (“Marvellous malapropisms and a genius for comedy made for true televisual therapy”, Comment). Bless them both. My favourite Mary saying came when her friend Marina told her that the latest satellite had been sent up and was as big as a bus. “How’d they get a bus up there?” Mary asked.
But my very favourite malapropism came from David from south Wales. On seeing a skinny, starving polar bear, he exclaimed: “Look at him! He’s proper emancipated!”
Both Robin McKie’s special report on deep-sea mining (“Deep-sea mining – cure or curse?”) and your editorial on the same subject (“Net-zero ambition should not drive us to new sins against the environment”) fail to challenge the assumption that is the root cause of the climate and ecological crises we have created: that we are entitled to consume the planet’s resources in the name of economic growth. McKie even reports that, laughably, proponents of the mining claim it could “save the world”. What they mean is it will allow humanity to keep consuming at unsustainable levels. What that means is organisms that have taken millions of years to form will be grabbed and devoured by one generation of humanity, trashing marine ecosystems in the process.
The phrase “it’s the economy, stupid” is now relevant to identifying both the cause of our problems and the easiest way to address them – if we can be honest with ourselves and one another. The economy is a human construct, open for us to redesign at any time. The ecology of the planet is way more complex, operates in aeons not decades and is being primed, by our actions, to wreak devastation on us. How we respond to the prospect of the world’s oceans being strip-mined for minerals will tell us all we need to know about whether this generation is prepared to change its ways in the interests of its descendants – or condemn them to living on an inhospitable planet.
The story of Faaiz Ghulam and his family (“‘I can’t risk my children’s lives’: the families who were left behind at mercy of the Taliban”, News) left me ashamed of being British, of being part of a nation that gave power to this heartless, self-interested government and above all of the way we have behaved to people who trusted us. It’s not always about doing the politically expedient thing; sometimes it’s about doing the right thing. What we have done to the Afghans is just plain wrong.
Nick Cohen’s assertion that “the Queen will be dead soon” made me smile (“Behind the glitz of the Sussexes lies a simple truth: our aristocracy is dead”, Comment). Does he know something we don’t? At 95, her majesty looks in rude health. Indeed, she has rarely been ill, has the best medical care, an excellent diet, moderate exercise and plenty of mental stimulation. Her mother lived to 101, so we can presume she has inherited the genes for longevity.
Perhaps her only real stresses come from the activities of certain members of her family, but she has ridden above so many crises I doubt they will cause her to succumb prematurely. I see no reason why she should not live another 10 years or more. Is that “soon” enough?
While it may indeed be the case that the illusion of Joe Biden being a wise and safe pair of hands on US foreign policy has been “shattered” by the disastrous military exit from Afghanistan (“Vanquished and humbled, we can’t avoid bitter truths”, Editorial), the president’s decision to extricate America from interventions based on nation-building objectives without considering exit strategies may ultimately help America and its allies avoid becoming embroiled in further unending land conflicts. This lesson was thought to have been learned after the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 but the end of the Cold War and America’s humiliation during the Iranian hostage crises prompted Ronald Reagan to embark on another cycle of foreign adventures.
Biden has so far presided over an impressive set of progressive domestic reforms, and returned America to robust economic health while leading the climate change challenge. It would be tragic if his great social programmes were cancelled out by a major foreign policy failure.
To answer the question posed at the start of your article about the potential introduction of a natural history GCSE (“Is this a weasel or a stoat? New nature exam could mean that schoolchildren know the answer”, News), my father always taught me that a weasel is weasily recognised but a stoat is stoatally different.
Carluke, South Lanarkshire