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Emergency driving course: the skid pan
on the 10
March 2012 at 18:44
- Posted in
The city is an uncanny place before the sun has risen in the morning. I cycle the same streets to get to Bethleham, the cohortâ€™s promised land of paramedic knowledge, but these are not the same streets as the previous afternoon. I think they slumber during the day to numb the pounding they receive from foot and tyre, awakening at night under the unholy orange glow emitted from street lamps. Few bear witness to their stare: delivery drivers; shift workers; the more sober night-clubbers. Fewer are awake enough to feel it.. They goggle silently, ambivalent to the little humanâ€™s pressing matters. As the darkness subsided back into the west, the streets give a yawn and bed down for another day of ritualistic pounding. No? Iâ€™m on my own then.
I was more than wide awake cycling through the darkness on a cold March morning, and I felt the stare from every crack and corner. They might not have cared that I was on my way to the skid pan, but I did. A day that had been marked in the cohortâ€™s dairy since day one when Geoffrey Hot-Eyre introduced us to the course. We were to make an early start to beat the traffic over Dabblebrook. We made a late departure from the ambulance education centre in the end, but the traffic was forgiving.
â€˜Itâ€™s going to be windy there. And cold. And pretty grimâ€™ said Ketoe Klop, who was taking us in Klippityâ€™s absence. And by jove she was right. It was windy, cold and grim. An expanse of scrappy open land that made for an airfield, its borders ringed by motorways. It was a thankless, miserable place, industrial, neglected and arthritic. When we arrived before the door was even opened I could smell the grease of the nearby burger van. That warm, oily smell that clings to everything no matter how minimal the exposure. This place was fuelled by diesel and deep-fried food.
There was a large huddle of people, all hands in pockets staring at the same dull track where three supercars were being driven round and round and round, very badly. Every few laps they would stop by the huddle, one grey figure would exit and another enter. It would then do a few laps before repeating the process. â€˜They do a lot of red-letter days here. Experience track racing days and the likeâ€™ said Ketoe. A conveyer belt of internal combustion engine pleasure. I wondered how much these suckers were paying for the â€˜experienceâ€™: it looked as boring as hell.
We laid out a number of cones on a bare strip of runway. A slalom was made which we negotiated, finishing in a garage park. It was then done in reverse. Not wanting to brag, but Cruella, Derek and I were rocking the slow speed manoeuvres like no-oneâ€™s business. I struck up a conversation with the cafÃ© owner later: â€˜one of â€˜em was tipped on its side a coupla years agoâ€™. An ambulance this was, and I learned later that a group of student paramedics had been doing the slalom but managed to topple the vehicle on its side. Apparently it had been going at about 15mph and the side-to-side frequency had rocked it enough to bring it to its side. Oh how I wish I had born witness to such a failure. Itâ€™s funny how these stories become weaved into the narrative of a location. It becomes folklore, alongside the hundreds of other accidents, chance events and bizarre occurrences that cling to such places.
An ambulance on its side. Like an ambulance on its wheels, but not, obviously.
For those who were dying to see underneath an ambulance
The other two crews had finished had had their fun in the skid car. We had been eyeing them from the side as they span figure-of-eights. The car slid and jerked like a thing possessed. Hesitant at times, stopping after just a few yards; fast and angry at others, squealing tyres smearing rubber streaks on the tarmac. It was a strange site indeed, made more so by the window reflections creating the appearance of a driverless car. I was just a little surprised to see four figures jump out, three in high-vis jackets, one in a polo shirt and cargo trousers. We were next.
Kermit, Chat and Del Boy take a bow
It was with some relief on our behalf when he gave us free licence with our steering: â€˜Youâ€™ve been doing the push pull method during your course. Well, you can forget all that in here, because itâ€™s not fast enough for the type of driving weâ€™re doing. Crossing overâ€™s fineâ€™. Thank the lord. It still felt like I was doing something forbidden when I reverted back to my old habits.
It felt like a rally car, low seats, and the rugged interior had seen years of abuse I noticed it had done 189,000 miles on the clock. â€˜In reality, itâ€™s a lot less than thatâ€™ replied our instructor. â€˜Itâ€™s because of itâ€™s counted off the rear wheels, which spin in the skids. You can get through a pair of rear wheels in a dayâ€™. He demoed under-steer (front wheel) and over-steer skids (rear wheel) skids, manipulating the wheel with a deft hand. He spoke as if we were on a pleasant Sunday drive through the country whilst performing stomach churning rotations in the car. The instructor simulated loss of rear wheel traction by pressing a button which made the frame take the weight off the back end. As soon as we felt it we had to press the clutch and steer in the direction you want the car to go. The Ambulance driving manual says to â€˜steer in the direction of the skidâ€™, but I find this really unhelpful. If youâ€™re turning left and you lose the back end, my interpretation of the manual would be to turn the wheel to the left, making the skid much worse. In fact what you want to do is counter the skid by steering right.
With Cruella and Derek. Heroes.
After 15 minutes, Cruella had had enough of my driving. The centrifugal force at the back is much worse than at the front, something we have to be very aware of driving ambulances with long wheel bases. â€˜Iâ€™ve got to get out of here, Iâ€™ve got hot spitâ€™ she said, making a rapid departure. â€˜I love it when they talk dirtyâ€™ chuckled the instructor when she had got out. She had progressively been turning the colour of her uniform throughout the drive. â€˜Well one out of twelve of you, thatâ€™s not a bad kill rateâ€™.
After Derekâ€™s drive, Cruella had finished dry retching at the side of the track and was ready to have a turn. At the end of each drive the instructor made back wheel traction really bad, simulating black ice on the road. â€˜Silky smooth movements then, so youâ€™re catching the skid before it even happensâ€™. Cruella was having none of it, stepping on the accelerator and over-compensating her steering in the skid, sending us into another straight away. The vehicle came to a stand still facing backwards. She threw her head back and cackled uncontrollably: â€˜I had no idea what I was doing there, I just wanted you guys to feel what it was like for meâ€™. Evil, evil woman.
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