My name is Darren Caine, a delivery driver by trade and a fortunate son of Liverpool 6 – but more than that, I’m a musician, an actor, a family man and a dab hand with a tyre change.
“Where to, mate?”
For the past eight years I’ve worked as a delivery driver and, for five years prior to that, I worked as Liverpool City cabbie. During this time I’ve been involved with the public and engaging in one to one conversation has been a daily occurrence. During my time on the cabs, I’d make a conscious choice to avoid partaking in certain conversations, mainly as most took place after dark and came, barely audible, in the form of some sort of drunken language. The whispered directions home were often drowned out by the many expletives aimed my way – an experience which can wear even the most emotionally balanced individual down to the nub.
“Sign there please – have a nice day”
In 2012, I needed a change in direction and decided to up sticks again by moving to Kent for a second stint; here I started work delivering parcels. This was an example of me taking ownership for my own situation and changing course – not easy, especially in the face of uncertainty. Not many people can say they have met millions of people, but I can and I have - I’ve covered almost every inch of the UK and engaged in conversation with people from all walks of life. I’ve spoken to members of every race and religion; those with disabilities or those who are just differently abled; as well as each and every one of the wonderful LGBTQ community. I’ve even spoken to Manchester United fans! The truth is that I will listen to anyone who has a story.
Fast forward to 2020 (The year of the lock-down)
Continuing to work as a delivery driver I was working alongside a company who rely on their manufactured goods being imported from China. In early 2020, we received news that COVID-19 had broken out and the global pandemic was soon to be announced. The shipments we had expected were delayed massively due to the virus, as a consequence the business became vulnerable and its future was placed into uncertainty – I feared for my job and the security of my family. The weeks past and the virus arrived on the shores of the UK, lock-down hit the nation, but business, surprisingly, went through the roof. The shops were closed to all, but online business continued giving people who are digitally literate the power to shop – could this be more of an opportunity, rather than a threat?
Our shipments from China were given the green light from border control and released from port, resulting in our delivery schedule expanding massively. Life was an unpredictable roller-coaster; it went from little old me covering the whole of the UK one week, to not knowing if I had a job the next, to eventually employing five drivers to work the full week. My role changed within the company and I had a more of an administrative role, this entailed the collation of routes and customer liaison. Almost immediately, in a defiance of conventional wisdom, the sales began to soar and with each sale our role became more certain. Lock-down was not stopping the people from shopping, clearly - but what about the people without computer skills? What about the people who have been deemed vulnerable and have to shield? What about the people who can’t receive the support of their loved ones because of not being allowed to mix? The reality of selfish preservation versus selfless and empathic understanding of others became a conflicting tangled web – what would you do in the same situation? How would you feel?
Family first, each and every time – working to live, not living to work
In May 2020, I decided to leave my role as the responsibility became too much and consistent twenty hour days are not healthy, especially with a family and responsibilities. I returned to multi-drop parcel delivery and even though it seemed like walking into more chaos in terms of the volume, it was organised chaos and the responsibility wasn’t solely my own. My hours became more family friendly, plus it was nice to actually see customers again.
In the beginning people were treating the virus with a lot of caution, with some wearing PPE from top to toe when answering the door. One woman answered the door with a litter picker in each hand and what looked like a welder’s mask just to retrieve a parcel. I thought it was a Dalek at first and I had to laugh when I got back in the van, but then realised that some of these people were living an absolute nightmare and were scared to cross the threshold to mix with society. They were being fed all sorts of statistics and all media outlets were oozing COVID-19 stories – it reminded me of a great quote, “if you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed”. The impact that this was having upon the mental health of society was incredible, with each passing day and with each distorted instruction, people were becoming more socially isolated and alone.
The times they are a-changin’ – focusing upon what is strong, not what is wrong!
Our delivery process had changed from signature-based assurance to contact free – in real terms, meaning that we would place the parcel on the doorstep, step back and take a photo with customer’s door open.
I delivered to a man in June who seemed happy to see me and he told me he hadn’t moved out of his house since March. He had recently lost his mother and his dog. The COVID-19 situation had left him house bound. He told me he had never ordered online prior to being stuck at home and once he started he never looked back. His complete supply line came via delivery. Food, drink and even his new socks! He discovered that you can buy anything online and have it the very next day or sometimes on the same day. He became familiar with all the regular drivers that he would see, he took my name too, which he would share with my colleagues. I concluded that people, like myself, are the only signs of life that he sees – was this man ordering things on a regular basis just to engage in conversation with someone, even if it is only for two minutes?
Another time I went to flat to deliver a rug, it had a man’s name on the label. After knocking on the door and switching off the auto pilot, I realised that on the grass behind me were funeral flowers. One read “Dad” and another read “Grandad”. My head was all over the place and my heart was racing as anything death related sends me into a mess. An elderly woman answered the door and looked very upset, confirming my suspicions that this was the wife of the deceased. She asked me if I would take the rug into the house and I tentatively agreed. Although I was in fear of the situation I asked her if she was ok, she then broke down in front of me and told me of her husband’s passing. Instead of bolting for the door I spoke to her for a while to make sure that she was ok. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one and I found great comfort in speaking to a complete stranger who had been in the same boat. The lady seemed grateful and I think the aftermath of a funeral is the real battle. To have someone who is not family take just five minutes to reflect on things you have both experienced may help greatly.
In November, I delivered to a lady who informed me that she retired last year. Her husband is vulnerable and they have been locked up since the pandemic started. Despite retirement, this lady takes calls at home on behalf of Macmillan cancer support. She is going through a really tough time at home but takes satisfaction in helping others. I spent 10 minutes on her doorstep and I like to think I gave her some good conversation and helped take her mind off her struggles. I was actually rewarded for my efforts with a box of celebrations – gold star for me, I thought :)
Special delivery – some final thoughts
I have witnessed the attitude change in a percentage of people as the months have passed and with Xmas looming more and more people are deciding not to follow the guidelines. That’s their choice, I suppose, but when you are seeing care homes still banning families to visit loved ones or even watching them try and engage in conversation through a closed window, it really becomes upsetting and very real. The struggles of some people are obvious and can be seen, there are many others who put on a brave face, but in reality are actually dying inside.
Communities are full of endless resources, assets and capabilities. We all need professional support from time to time, however there are many occasions when the power of neighbourliness can make a greater impact than any well-trained professional, even if they are well-intentioned.
We have no idea what goes on behind someone’s door but lending an ear from time to time may just help them. It helps me.
Thank you for reading
"It's like everything in football - and life. You need to look, you need to think, you need to move, you need to find space, you need to help others. It's very simple in the end."