SUPERMARKET delivery drivers were vital during the pandemic, delivering essential food and provisions to those who were vulnerable or isolating during lockdown.
And with their work comes a very unique glimpse into the lives of those who live around us.
Documentary cameraman Paul Lang, 54, has been a supermarket delivery driver sedert Julie 2020, after lockdown impacted his filming work.
He has written a book about his experiences called From Hollywood to Cricklewood: Delivering during a Pandemic.
Hier, he speaks to Fabulous about the touching and heart-warming moments he experiences on his rounds, the hilarious situations he has found himself in, and the scenarios every delivery driver dreads…
From Hollywood to Cricklewood
For Paul, the job is more varied and challenging than he ever imagined.
Hy sê: “The biggest thing I’ve learned from this job is that you don’t have to travel to remote locations in the world to find amazing experiences and people.
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“When I was working on films, I found myself in some extraordinary situations and witnessed some things that people wouldn’t believe, from filming in a minefield in Angola, being shot at in Iraq, witnessing brain surgery, to blowing up WW2 unexploded bombs at Dunkirk.
“Nou, not too many colleagues at work know what I did prior to driving Butternut Squash and Potato Waffles around London!
“You’d think delivering around London wouldn’t be as varied or stimulating as what I used to deal with, but sometimes it can.
“You have a unique window into someone’s life – it’s humbling, snaaks, hartseer, frustrating and a real privilege.
“I’ve also learned to respect all the people who do the jobs we all take for granted.”
A unique insight
The insight delivery drivers like Paul get into people’s lives is second to none.
Paul adds: “I think the most rewarding part of the job is knowing that you can make someone’s day.
“This can be just by taking the time to ask them how they are, or help them put the shopping in the kitchen.
“You may be the only person they see in days.”
‘I didn’t know where to look!’
There are some customers who really stick with Paul and make a lasting impression, for one reason or another.
Paul says: “One time a man in his eighties answered the door wearing rubber gloves, a face mask, a transparent apron and old flip flops held onto his feet by parcel tape – and nothing else.
I didn’t quite know where to look!
“Another time in lockdown one woman I met looked visibly upset, and told me her husband was dying, but she wasn’t allowed to go and see him.
“I wanted to give this complete stranger a hug – right in front of me was what the pandemic meant for thousands of people.
You watch the briefings, listen to the reports and read the stories. But at that moment on the landing of a flat in Northolt it hit home.
“People were alone with their grief and heartbreak without the simple gesture of human touch to comfort them.
“It was really hard.
“Another time in lockdown a person answered the door, which had a sheet of polythene over the entrance.
“I could make out his distorted figure behind it wearing an orange boiler suit with a full-face gas mask on with canisters on the side, thick rubber gloves and a hood.
“It was like an image from a 1970s Post-Apocalyptic film and his hallway was full of stacks of unopened bottled water and the walls were lined with packets of toilet roll.”
‘I dread the words ‘fourth floor, no lift’
There are of course some deliveries that are harder than others.
Paul says: “The hardest part of the job is pulling up outside a block of flats and looking at the customer’s delivery details.
“When you find it’s up four floors with no lift and you have 10 trays of food your heart sinks – I do dread the words, “4th Floor, No Lift”,
“The same thing happens with water – gallons of it. Opening the van and seeing I have lots of trays of water does make your head drop as it’s so heavy.
“Also dealing with London traffic and stressed-out drivers.
“I don’t rush around. I’m delivering groceries, not saving lives!
“Another big problem is that people have got out of the habit of actually putting numbers on their houses.
“At night you end up trying to look at the numbers painted on the bins to see if you are near the right place.”
Rude or lazy customers
Paul adds: “I’ve delivered to perfectly well people who live next door to the supermarket that I deliver for, and it’s taken me ages to get there and park.
“The width of my tray of food almost wider than the distance to the shop door!
I would always say ‘If you’ve forgotten anything, you can always pop next door.’
“For every rude or lazy customer who ignores you, for the people who walk out in front of you looking at their phones and shout abuse at you and for every driver who cuts you up there is someone who makes it better.
When a stranger you are not even delivering to walks up and shakes your hand and says ‘thank you”, or when you stop for a coffee and a croissant, and the owner says it’s on him, or when you finish a delivery, and an old lady brings you out a Tunnock’s Tea Cake on a plate to say thank you.
“That’s what it is about. Looking out and acknowledging each other.”