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Emergency driving course: when things go wrong
on the 19
March 2012 at 19:12
- Posted in
Yesterday hadnâ€™t gone so well. Iâ€™d suffered from the chronic condition with acute episodes known as boredom. Boredom lead to lack of concentration, which lead to stupid errors in my driving. Twos and threes littered the offending page on my daily driving record, accompanied by a less than glowing report punctuated with exclamation marks. Today was a demanding drive to Bexleytail on the coast, taking in some fast country lanes. We were expected to â€˜make progressâ€™ on these roads, which basically means drive as if you were on blue lights. â€˜Comon, happy signs ahead, woof and weâ€™re awayâ€™ Klippity would say with a wave of his hand as if pushing the DTU onwards. â€˜Happy signsâ€™ were Klippityâ€™s name for national speed limit signs. He was say the same thing whenever they came into view, it became a mantra which we would repeat every time we saw them.
Cruella, Derek and I had done our VDI [vehicle daily inspection] which was also marked and, believe me, Klippity was thorough. He strode up to the vehicle â€“ Cruella and I exchanged glances â€“ he was in a bad mood; we were in for a hard time. â€˜This windscreen in filthy, I can barely see out of itâ€™ he said one day when he found a smudge on it. He didnâ€™t let it rest all day. â€˜Did you see that car pull out? Or did the dirt caked on your windscreen prevent you from seeing itâ€™. He was being obtuse, which we came to expect, but he explained later on. â€˜I know and you know that in an every day environment there would be nothing wrong with the windscreen; but for a driving course, itâ€™s horrendous; but itâ€™s perfectly okay; except itâ€™s not; but it isâ€¦â€™ we understood what he meant. â€˜What Iâ€™m doing is being incredibly pedantic. These are the highest standards. What you do when youâ€™re on the road will be up to you. There are so many pressures from the job, from your peers; from inertia and so on, that are telling you to take the easy option. Not to clean the windscreen; to palm the steering wheel round rather than adopting the proper push pull method. Itâ€™s a tricky one.â€™ I think we all knew which path weâ€™d all be going down once we were on the road, the â€˜flexibleâ€™ one. The one of lived experience rather than manually dictated; described over prescribed.
I was first to drive. Klippity pulled me to one side before I jumped in the driving seat. â€˜Iâ€™m concerned Jerome. I understand you have a life outside the course, which is great, but I donâ€™t think youâ€™re taking the course seriously enough. Your theory test marks were average, you looked knackered on the night drive, you had a bad day yesterday. So itâ€™s time to switch onâ€™. Nothing like a caution from the course director to settle the nerves. I wasnâ€™t too concerned however, heâ€™d given a lot worse. Heâ€™s asked students to reconsider whether this is really the profession for them after particularly bad days driving. In comparison this was small fry. Most days he would ask what weâ€™d been up to the previous evening, as much to gauge our character and lifestyle as anything else. â€˜What time did you go to bed last night?â€™ Out of context it sounds incredibly inappropriate, but when you need to be on the ball it makes sense, although I do wonderâ€¦. I wasnâ€™t getting enough sleep, but there was no chance I was going to tell him that.
We pulled up at an exposed carpark next to a pub in Bexleytail where weâ€™d be having lunch â€“ Bexleytail that is, not the pub although I saw some of the DIs glancing at it wistfully. We were at a much frequented spot on the coast, well known for its beauty as well as for more sinister reasons. We sat on a convex slope high above the sea, the ground dropping from view just over the brow of the hump. It looked like if you ran down it you would fall to your almost certain death. It was an optical illusion, a false drop, I think.
Snaps were taken of the group, which will be shown to successors on courses to come, just as we saw our predecessors on the very first day of our course. They were good ones at that. In the second one, Gunther balanced it on a bag and put it on a timer. He sprinted and dived to the ground in front of the group. â€˜You look like youâ€™re quite accustomed to that positionâ€™ joked Paddy Safety. We were all frozen with ridiculous grins on our faces for about nine out of the ten of the seconds, not quite sure whether the shot had been taken. There was a click and a blink, and we all cheered. Those faces I had seen six months ago now gave an impression of confidence, well suited to their uniforms and looking the part. I, on the other hand, still felt terribly lacking in the confidence department. Change was occurring, but without hands on patient treatment, I felt more student than paramedic.
I was first to drive from Bexleytail after lunch. We were into our third week and, as he promised in the course introduction, Klippity sat in the back with Cruella navigating in the front. It was a sign that he trusted us a little more, but also he wanted to get us away from the idea of always having an instructor to hold our hand. It was a relief to have him not gawping at the speedo , but somehow also felt like more of a burden as if distance from him would make us drive worse. There were some sharp switchbacks that I misjudged and took a little fast, at least the group felt like I had. I was just curious about traction in the wheels and the DTUâ€™s grip performance, honest. We continued away from the coast, slowing down as we passed through quaint rural villages on our back to the city. â€˜I could live hereâ€™ was Klippityâ€™s wistful comment with every new place.
We were approaching a blind right hand bend and the high sided hedgerows on either side narrowed acutely. I approached it a little quickly, not taking into account the slight downward slope of the road. In the apex of the bend a Landrover approached, also a little on the wrong side of slow. â€˜In in in!â€™ was Klippityâ€™s urgent command and I swerved to the left. The sound of brushing leaves was punctuated by an almighty thwack on the front passengerâ€™s window. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cruella flinch noticeably. We passed the car and I came back into the middle of the road. â€˜What on earth was that?â€™ I asked, or words to that extent. Doing my mirror checks, something was missing but I couldnâ€™t quite put my finger on it. Then it dawned on me. Bugger. The mirror that we had polished every morning for the past two weeks was absent, replaced by a shattered stem, wires hanging sorrowfully from the wound. The bang had been from the impact of the mirror on the passenger window, a few small scratches the only sign of the trauma that had just occurred. I braced for the onslaught I was about to receive. â€˜Itâ€™s fine, donâ€™t worry, drive onâ€™ came Klippityâ€™s measured response. Surely not. â€˜Everyone does one at some point, Iâ€™m surprised there wasnâ€™t one beforeâ€™. I offered to stop to retrieve it. â€˜No itâ€™s gone, I saw it smash to pieces, weâ€™d just be a hazard on the roadâ€™. The first opportunity to stop was a layby a mile down the road. Cruella jumped out and Klippity settled back on his thrown in the front. â€˜Iâ€™m really, really sorryâ€™ I repeated, but he would have none of it. â€˜Really itâ€™s fine. And if we get back first weâ€™ll sneak it into the fitters so the others wonâ€™t have to know â€“ whatâ€™s good is that you havenâ€™t let it get to your driving. In fact, youâ€™re driving much better than you were before, maybe thatâ€™s the missing linkâ€™. All I had to do now was take a mirror off on the way to my first drive and Iâ€™d be fine. I found out later that the damage was in excess of Â£1000 â€“ maybe not then. â€˜I think Iâ€™d be a gibbering wreck if that was meâ€™ said Cruella. As flattering as it was, I had so much else to focus on, the wing mirror was relatively small on my radar. Staying alive was enough of a concern for me, so it didnâ€™t really get to me.
Despite Klippityâ€™s best efforts to restrain himself, the temptation to rinse me at every opportunity overwhelmed his iron will. Yeah right, it was like pushing against an open door with a favourable wind. Derek did his mirror checks. â€˜Itâ€™s not thereâ€™ was Klippityâ€™s comment. â€˜Nope, still not thereâ€™. He looked back at me and gave a silent chuckle. â€˜Sorry, I musnâ€™t mention the wing mirrorâ€™ he said. After about the twentieth time, somehow I didnâ€™t believe him.
'It weren't me, honest guv': the damage report diagram
We got back to station and guess what, I got away with it! Yeah, and bears are Catholic. I mentioned it to the few who had returned and sure enough by the evening, everyone knew. It seems I set a trend, because the very next day two others were taken out. They werenâ€™t, however, done in such spectacular fashion. But as my grandmother never used to say, if youâ€™re going to go, go big.
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