Do you know what a helper docket is? If you’re not a courier, you probably won’t.
Most courier companies employ vans and cars, as well as pushbikes and motorbikes, and sometimes a van driver will be given a job he can’t load on his own. It might be 20 chairs up three flights of stairs, or just one very heavy box. So the controller will send a pushbike courier over to help, and often to ride in the van to the delivery address, and help with the unloading there. It’s good pay, and a bit of a change of scene. And I get on well with most of the van drivers, so wouldn’t mine spending half an hour relaxing and gossiping in their cab.
But girls don’t get given helper dockets. This isn’t official policy – it’s just the inevitable conclusion I reached, having been on the road for two years and not been given a single one. And I’m not alone.
M. (an exenger I know) was once sent to help a van driver unload some boxes. The driver was ridiculously gentlemanly and attentive – “let me get that for you … no no, allow me” – and afterwards complained to the company about the controller sending a girl. M. was more than capable of carrying the boxes he wouldn’t let her touch, but she never got any more helper dockets after that.
And when I mentioned this to K. (another exenger, who spent nearly ten years on the road, and was renowned for her toughness), she told me about the time she was passing through the control room, overheard them discussing a helper docket just down the road from her house the following morning, and offered her services.
There was a long, awkward silence.
The two controllers exchanged glances.
Finally one of them spoke up.
“Erm, well, K., I’m not being sexist, but…”
More awkward silence.
“Ummm, you don’t want to be carting great heavy boxes around, do you?”
K. indicated that she’d really quite like to.
“…well, the thing is… I really want you out there on circuit. It’s going to be crazy busy tomorrow…”
It was the second week of a very quiet August, so this was distinctly unlikely.
“…and besides, ummm, I’ve already put you down for an EC2 pre-book tomorrow morning…”
Rather illogical, since K. lives in SW6 and the helper docket was in Hammersmith. So was another pushbike going to be sent all the way out from Hackney (where everyone else lives), while she crossed town in the opposite direction to pick up the EC2 job?
“…and …and, you know, you’re one of my best riders – I want you out there on the road…”
This was just getting ridiculous. He clearly didn’t want to give her the docket, and K. had an urgent appointment with a pint of ale, so decided to leave it at that.
To put things into perspective, K. isn’t one of those 5-foot 7-stone female couriers you see around – she’s taller than lots of the guys, and definitely stronger-looking. Have you seen how weedy some of the male couriers are?
I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about this for ages. I can’t stand the thought that my controller might think I was incapable of any part of the job. And I really quite like lugging heavy boxes around. (Something to prove? Moi?)
So the other day I went in and tackled him directly.
To his credit, he didn’t try and pull the whole “I’m not being sexist, but…” act. He admitted that there’s no company policy that says you can’t make girls do heavy lifting, but – well, he wouldn’t want his daughter doing that sort of thing. And when I flexed my muscles at him, and insisted that I’d really rather like the odd helper docket occasionally, he saw my point completely, and gave me the very next helper docket that hit his screen, about two hours later.
Sometimes you only have to ask!