NINE TO FIVE: KAREN WILLIAMS

Name

Karen Williams, 42

Occupation

HGV driver

Salary

pounds 200 per week plus night allowance

Address

Swansea

Why lorry driving?

My husband David has always been a lorry drive and I used to go away with him as a passenger. I've always ridden a motorcycle and a car so three years ago I passed my HGV test. For the first five months I went out with him learning the drops.

What does it involve?

I load up my lorry with steel coils or plastic and drive it all over the Continent: France, Rome, Slovakia, Barcelona. I'm off to Spain tomorrow. They try to double us up so that David and I run together in our separate lorries, but it's not always possible. The driving is the easy bit. Sometimes the language barrier is a problem so you show people the address and they will draw you a map.

Do you get hassled as a female truckie?

You get stared at a lot. I'm only five foot two and people expect a big strapping man. The work can be physical - loading and unloading. You get lots of comments, usually jokey but sometimes things are like "If she wants to do a man's job, let her get on with it". I'm very quiet and shy; I will never go into a restaurant on my own. I'll go to a transport cafe only when I'm with my husband because they're full of men. I've gone from one extreme to another - from being a full-time mother to full-time HGV driver. Sometimes there aren't women's toilets in factories and somebody has to be posted outside the men's one when I use it. Other places will take pity and allow me to use the office ladies. I'm quite a feminine woman and don't want to lose this.

So you wear skirts and sexy tops?

No way! I wear the company's polo shirt, cotton trousers and steel toe- capped boots.

How does your day start?

I wake early. If I'm in the cab I use my watch which has an alarm. No breakfast, only orange juice; I don't drink a lot of tea and coffee. I will have breakfast on the ferry but not in the cab. You can get a shower on the ferries, which are catering for women more.

And your lorry's parked outside your house?

No! The lorry yard is a 50-mile journey, one way. I leave the car, a Rover 820 series, there. I have my own lorry, a Skania. The cab is quite small inside. I'm huffing and puffing getting into my bunk, and it must be hard for a six foot two man. It has a single gas cooker. I like to listen to a bit of rock so I play Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. The cab is fitted with a CB radio so when we are driving together David and I can talk about things we have seen and have a chat.

Ah, sweet. Is there anything you don't like about your job?

Problems with other drivers. Earlier this week I was nearly run off the road by a French lorry. We were approaching some roadworks and the road was narrowing to one lane and he overtook me, making me swerve on to the hard shoulder. He could have killed me, himself, and a road worker who had to jump out the way. Couldn't believe somebody could be so stupid.

So why do it?

I get to see different countries, people and cultures. Look at the scenery and enjoy it.

Is it hard work?

Thirteen hours a day, five or six days a week. You don't drive all that time - you could be waiting to load for two hours, loading up or having a meal break. There's no such thing as regular hours in lorry driving. I could be eating in the middle of the night.

Hope you get decent holidays

I'm not sure as it's my first year with the company but I'm hoping to go to Tenerife with my husband and son this year.

There's more to life than work though

Yeah, but there's so much to do when you get home that you don't get to relax much at weekends. I have a horse, Rip, who is a hunter that we have kept since he was a foal 17 years ago. He's kept in a stable about three miles from here.

What's the first thing you do when you get home?

Put all the dirty washing in the machine!

How do you feel on a Sunday night?

I have to psyche myself up and usually have a restless night's sleep. I'm always the same before a big trip - it's difficult to pull myself away from my family and home.

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