I have not driven on UK motorways much in recent years. I spend very little time outside the M25, London’s orbital motorway. In the early years of this century I went beyond its confines most weeks, on the M1, M11 and M40 in particular, travelling to places like Leeds, Cambridge, Oxford and Stratford-on-Avon.
Soon after my wife and I returned from honeymoon, 21 years ago this month (September 2001), we spent much of the next year commuting to the same town (Redhill in Surrey) for work. It was not something that we planned to do but I started a contract at a firm that had an office two doors away from the place where she had started working in January. Depending on traffic reports and the time we left home our route would involve either A-roads or motorways. If we left before 7am the A-roads were quicker. After that the M4 / M25 route was usually the better option, unless there was a specific problem on the latter, somewhere between junctions 14 and 8.
As you will know if you use the motorway network, most of the UK’s freight travels by road. On our journeys to and from Redhill my wife and I started to notice trucks from three haulage companies in particular: Norbert Dentressengle, Willi Betz and Eddie Stobart. The last of these had something of a cult following at the time. Maybe it still does. Their trucks were all give women’s names and fans of the brand would look out for them in a similar way to trainspotters keeping a record of engines numbers.
As the months went by, we started to count how many of each firm’s trucks we saw on our commute, calling out the first name of each as we passed them. Norbert Dentressengle was always the winner. A typical scoreline would read: Norbert 11 Willi 8 Eddie 4. Occasionally Willi would look like he was going to snatch a rare victory but Norbert always prevailed.
Within a year my wife was no longer working in Redhill and I commuted alone most days. On my arrival I would text her the morning’s scores, with occasional comments about the trio’s performances, for example: “Not even close: Norbert 17 (!) Willi 6 Eddie 3”.
All these years later I can’t remember the last time I saw the Norbert Dentressengle livery, white lettering on a bright red background, the initials ND followed by his full name. Do his trucks still rule the motorways of south east England or has Brexit done for him? Next time I take the M25 I’ll be looking out for him, and Willi, and Eddie.