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The Van Lad

I had to be sure and take my Van Lad's hat, the status symbol that proved I was part of the team.


When I was coming to work this morning, I saw a big delivery van and in the passenger seat was a little boy, looking very proud and serious as his dad drove the van.  This reminded me of the times when I acted as the Van Lad for my father, in the early 1960s, when there was still a complex network of railway lines in the North East.

Dad worked for British Railways and it was his job to deliver goods and parcels from the station to wherever they had to go.  His route often changed depending on what station he was based at.  I remember the Forth Goods Yard in Newcastle, and Tynemouth Station when it had a big goods yard and lots of staff to load the goods onto vans that went to people’s houses.  However, the rides I really remember were the ones starting at Morpeth, and other Northumberland stations that I can’t remember the names of.

The day started very early as we had to get from our house in Wallsend to Morpeth; electric train to the Central and then on from there.  I had to be sure and put the bait that my mum had put up for me into my dad’s haversack, and take my Van Lad’s hat, the status symbol that proved I was part of the team.

On arrival at Morpeth our three-wheeler, flat-bed Scammel lorry had to be loaded for the round.  It was nearly always cattle feed in heavy sacks and had to be properly loaded so we could get the right order off at the right farm.  There was a delivery sheet with all the addresses on, attached to a clipboard with a stubby pencil tied to it.  It was my job to get the signatures, showing that the right load had been delivered.

Once loaded, we were off into the most beautiful countryside you could imagine.  Of course, it was the summer holidays, so the sun always shone, and we went to places that were well off the beaten track.  The lorry was noisy and badly sprung and lots of dust came off the cattle feed, but I loved every minute of it.

When we got to a farm my dad would unload the sacks, and I sorted out the paper-work with the farmer.  Such responsibility for a 10-year-old!  I often remember getting a tip of some description and that added to the attraction of the trip.

Often, we used to eat our bait in an isolated spot on someone’s farm.  The farmer never objected.  However, the times I remember best were those when we were back at the goods yard and we had bait with all the other railway porters.  You could see the trains coming through and listen to the men talking.  I always took a ribbing because I was a girl, but it was good-natured.

One thing that always fascinated me then was the way dad made his tea, sweet and strong.  He had a white pint pot and a little tin with tea leaves in one end and sugar in the other, that my mother filled up every day.  The milk he used was condensed, cream coloured and gloopy.  It was a real performance, my dad making his tea.  Of course, my tea had to be made in exactly the same way, but thinking back now I don’t know how I drank it.

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