They visit you when you need them most, using their super strength and perhaps the odd fork-lift truck to deliver essential stock to you in the nick of time. They face early mornings and mammoth traffic jams every day to help keep your customers happy. They are the draymen, the unsung heroes of the pub trade.
OK, I'm being overly dramatic, but you get the point. Although the days of horses and a pint at every pub are long gone, there still seems to be a certain affection for the chaps doing this centuries-old job. Many licensees still treat their draymen to some grub and a splash of fizzy pop when they visit.
You perhaps only see these mysterious characters for 20 minutes or so every week, so we decided to find out what they get up to the rest of the time. I teamed up with a pair of draymen from drinks wholesaler WaverleyTBS to see what life on the road is like.
Hit the road
Meet Roy and Ricky. They've been working as a team for just over a year now. They get on very well, something they tell me is essential when your place of work is the confined cab of an HGV.
On the road, it's only each other and the radio for company. Pet peeves? Working with someone with body odour, and people who still think draymen drink a lot. They come across both quite often.
The day's rounds are to take us around London's Docklands and then on to Hornchurch, Essex. Today is a light load. The lorry is carrying 4.7 tonnes of drinks, from cask ales, champagnes and wines to various soft drinks and lots and lots of bottled water. A bad day is anything from eight to 10 tonnes.
Roy and Ricky work five days a week and have their own patch. They don't like to think about how much money the stock they are carrying is worth, they tell me - it just makes them more nervous about dropping it. This too can happen quite often.
At least one bottle gets broken per delivery, although on the odd occasion there are spectacular accidents where whole trolleys of bottles topple over and smash as the result of unsuccessfully navigating around a bump or groove in the pavement.
- I meet with Roy at 6.30am at Waverley's Dagenham depot. Once I've donned my high-visibility fluorescent jacket and just about managed to clamber aboard into the cab (not an easy task when you have short legs and you've been awake since 5am) we set off to pick up Ricky. I'm beginning to see what a potentially dangerous job this could be.
"Have you ever fallen off the wagon?" I ask Roy. "Yes, and it hurts. I stepped back onto a trolley, which span backwards and I ended up lying on the floor on my back. One guy tripped on a pallet rack and knocked himself out once." Ouch.
On the way to Canary Wharf Roy makes the most important stop of the day. It's time for coffee from a roadside caff in a Dagenham industrial park. "Coffee is essential," says Roy. "You never get used to the early mornings. Sometimes we'll stop off and get croissants, believe it or not." No trucker fry-ups here.
So do you have to be strong to be a drayman then? "Nah," says Roy. "Ricky is tiny." Right on cue, Ricky jumps into the cab. It's sunny but freezing out, but Ricky arrives in just a short-sleeved T-shirt. "This is nothing," he says, "the people in the opposite yard to us have been walking round in shorts and T-shirts all year round. I was thinking about shorts today but then I thought, no, give it time."
- It's about 7.20 by the time we reach Canary Wharf. As deliveries go, this is pretty easy. Waverley delivers to a number of restaurants and bars here. Most deliveries involve navigating the labyrinth of trade passages that run behind the main concourses of the shopping centres underneath the office tower blocks.
It's often possible to make a few deliveries in one run, and mostly there's no-one there to take the delivery. It's a case of dropping off the stock, checking the order form and noting what time it was delivered.
- At 8.01 we have to return to what would have been our first delivery - there was nowhere to park the truck on the first visit. Unfortunately we don't make it in time to beat the fishmonger. As the door shuts on the trade lift we all hold our noses to block out the lingering stench of raw fish.
Then it's on to the ExCeL exhibition centre in Docklands after passing through extensive security checks, then a nearby hotel, and then a boat that doubles as a function room, moored opposite the runway of London City Airport. With jet planes screeching over our heads, Roy and Ricky carefully unload cases of wine. It's the first customer we have seen all day.
- By now, it's about 9.10am. "Is it a bit depressing not seeing many customers?" I ask. The answer is no, it means the round gets done more quickly, although it's nice when customers make conversation. They've had licensees observe them, making sure they always lift with the knees, not the back, or even ask them to take the rubbish out. This doesn't go down too well.
- It's 9.46 and time for a compulsory half-hour break. The conversation turns to the weirdest pubs and bars they've ever delivered to. "I thought it was just a normal holiday camp," says Ricky. "They were everywhere, playing tennis, sunbathing, I even saw an old lady sat outside her caravan. I thought 'fair enough'. But then we got to the bar. Everyone was naked. It was packed and the guy who ran the club was laughing his face off at us. He came over and rested one leg on the cab steps. We didn't know where to look.
"Although another good one was where I used the loo, looked up and there was one-way glass through to the bar above the urinals. I was stood right next to a man eating his dinner. It was brilliant."
- It's 10.15 by the time we clear airport security. The trade entrance is next to the door where illegal immigrants are collected by the police, and the VIP exit. The French football team and Gareth Southgate are the best celeb spots so far.
- With just two deliveries to go, it's off to Hornchurch and the only pub cellar of the day, then a Chinese restaurant to drop off a large wine order. At 11.47am, that's it. Time to hang up the high-vis jacket, then the boys head home before another 5.30am start tomorrow.