Lorry Lessons for Ladies – Day 1

The 7 a.m. start wasn’t the first OMG moment of the day.

LGV Training – Day 1

Until I checked my paperwork, I thought I had to be at the training facility for 8 a.m. The thought of that was bad enough, but as a retired person, an alarm at 05:45 on a Monday morning was horrific!

Got the truck. Got the T-Shirt. Now it was time to learn how to drive it.

I’d got the truck. I’d got the T-Shirt. Now it was time to learn how to drive it, so I’d booked a four-day intensive lorry driving course, with my Class 2 (rigid) test on Day 5.

I always encourage ladies to learn how to drive their caravans and motorhomes. What if your regular driver is unwell, twists an ankle, or breaks it? If I’d been unable to tow our caravan, Mark and I would have been stuck in Budapest for six weeks when he tripped, fell on the corner of a box and broke a rib. He could barely breathe, never mind drive.

Our caravan/van combo was twelve metres long – the length of an articulated lorry, albeit around 38.5 tonnes lighter. Although my licence permitted me to drive it, I had never towed a vehicle that size. Just because I could drive something so big, I didn’t think I should, so I took a towing course. Plus, the spin off of making both me, our expensive caravan, and other road users safer meant lower insurance premiums.

(I recount my towing course experience in this blog, Livin’ the Dream Week 1.)

Big Blue & Caravan Kismet were the length of an artic – but I was permitted to drive them on my car licence!

My licence allows me to drive anything up to seven-and-a-half tonnes. Our Beast weighs sixteen tonnes, so I had no choice but to take my Class 2 LGV (Long Goods Vehicle) licence. (LGV is modern European parlance for what they used to call HGVs – Heavy Goods Vehicles. I find it confusing, since LGV used to distinguish Light Goods Vehicles from HGVs. Perhaps Brexit WAS a good idea after all. And I only said that to annoy Wendy!)

Fortunately, my commute to the training centre in Mark’s home town of Addlestone, Surrey, was a matter of crossing the road from where we’d parked up overnight on the quiet lane outside.

“Follow him!” Ami the security guard said, indicating a figure disappearing through rows of resting HGVs. I trotted along to catch up before I lost him in the sea of tractor units, and reached a concrete rectangle in a potholed cinder yard. I was, of course, the only one with ovaries. Accompanied by the sinister growl of a powerful truck engine ticking over, I swallowed hard and strolled nonchalantly over to join a group of beardy blokes in navy blue overalls and said, “Hi!” They were all shuffling from one foot to another.

Arriving at the training yard on Day One

A chap whose manner and gritty voice fell somewhere between gangster actor Ray Winstone and UK Masterchef judge Greg Wallace in a Hi-Vis jacket wandered over.

“You’re wiv me” Winstone/Wallace said. We’re in this,” he said nodding to a smart black MAN truck, with ‘Grumpy’ painted just beneath her grille.

Grumpy, my training truck!

“’Ave you got your reversing certificate?” he asked my ‘mate’, Ollie, a young lad who had already done four days of driver training in an artic, but decided it wasn’t for him. He nodded towards me and said, “You’ve got your test at 9 a.m., but first, we’re nipping out to get fuel.”

“A test?” I uttered in a rather high cadence. “You know I’ve never even sat in the driver’s seat of one of these before?! I wasn’t expecting a test today…”

I told you the early start wasn’t the first OMG moment.

“Yeh. We never told you because we didn’t want you to get worked up about it,” Ray said. “It’s no bother. You’ll knock it off in five minutes. First, though, we’ve got to get fuel.”

Most people say they wouldn’t mind driving a truck, but don’t fancy reversing one. Since I’m not licenced to drive our truck, I hadn’t driven a vehicle of any kind for months. Yet, here I was, about to break my truck duck backwards.

At the garage in Burpham, Ray asked,

“Right. Which one of you is going to drive back to the yard?”

Ollie and I both hesitated. When Ollie volunteered, I felt I should have been a bit more forward to get more experience, but it hadn’t escaped my notice that ‘back to the yard’ was via a narrow slip road with cars parked on either side, then up the A3 dual carriageway in London rush hour traffic. It reminded me of my first ever driving lesson, which started at my workplace on Lambeth Palace Road in central London and took me around the Elephant and Castle – a notorious multi-lane vehicular slalom. In a small car, that was a baptism of fire. I didn’t fancy repeating it in a truck.

Stacey Harris / Elephant and Castle via Wikimedia Commons

We arrived in one piece (well done Ollie!) for my reversing test. By now, the concrete rectangle was littered with traffic cones of various sizes.

Although somehow classified as a manual, Grumpy had an automatic gearbox. The Beast has eight manual gears, and this was what worried me most. It relieved me to know that, at least, I didn’t have to deal with clutch control and gear changes as well as everything else during the training. However, my only experience with an automatic gearbox was an upholstered roller skate I hired to drive to Mount Cook in New Zealand a few years ago. Actually nearly thirty years ago, in 1996.

Ray Winstone ran through the automatic controls then said,

“Right. You need to pull forward and place your nearside (left) wheel next to this cone, reverse around that cone, between those cones, then stop with the rear of the truck in the hatched area without knocking over the barrier or any of the cones. Exactly like you’d do if you were going shopping.”

The hatched area was only around six inches deep.

Grumpy on the reversing course. I had to “pull up to them cones, reverse around that cone, then stop between those cones with your rear in the small hatched area”

While shopping, I’ve never been obliged to reverse around cones of any type.

I put Grumpy’s gearbox into ‘Rm’ (a damped reversing gear), released the air brake with a huge ‘shoosh’, and set off. Ray was on the ground outside, shouting through the open window, “Hard lock left. Don’t cross the yellow line. Run your front wheel down it, but don’t cross it.”

“Where are you going?” he yelled. “All you have to do is reverse around that cone with a pole in it.”

Three cones had poles in them – which one did he mean?!

I had no idea where I was going and failed miserably.

Then he instructed me to reverse somewhere to get near some other cones to set up the truck for another go.

“BANG! You’ve hit a wall!” Ray shouted, as I pulled between the starting cones. “You have to stop level with them. You can’t go through them!”

If only he’d said.

Of course, there was no pressure, because all my fellow male students were watching. Along with my examiner.

“Pete’s doing your test,” Ray told me. “He’s really grumpy.”

By the third attempt, I worked out which cones I was supposed to be reversing around and into, which bits to line up to make sure my rear ended up in the correct spot, and understood that if my wheels crossed any of the yellow lines, it was an instant fail.

“Do you want another practice?”

“You can never have too much practice…” I replied.

Then I did it perfectly, except for once, when Ray explained, “You’re allowed two shunts. Right. I’ll set it up for you now.”

Time for the test.

I’d just performed the manoeuvre successfully three times in a row, but as I walked towards Grumpy I couldn’t stop my heart racing. I felt my upper lip stick to my front teeth as I greeted the ‘grumpy’ examiner. Wearing a yellow Hi-Vis, he stood beside Grumpy, staring at his clipboard.

“Driving licence,” he demanded, without looking up.

He stabbed his index finger at a form on the clipboard and said, “And your signature there.”

He explained the test route using a laminated visual diagram, which would have been helpful for me in the first instance. As I hopped into the cab, Ray shot me some last-minute advice.

“Take it slowly. You’ve got half an hour to complete the test.”

“I’ve got half an hour to get from there to there?” I replied. It was a distance of about ten metres. It should have been a breeze.

I got into Grumpy, and turned the key, hoping the ignition was straightforward and not some strange modern fob/tab/card proximity thing. It was the first time I’d ever started up a truck, and, other than the gears and the brake, no one had run through Grumpy’s controls. Everyone was watching, incluing the huddle of male students and their instructors. For the dignity of womankind, and seniors everywhere, the least I needed to do was succeed in starting up the engine of my test vehicle.

To my immense relief, Grumpy roared into life. I put her into D (Drive) and pulled forward, stopped between cones A and A1 without demolishing the ‘wall’, got a bit close to the yellow line and did a slight shunt.

“Why’d you do that?” a gruff voice demanded through the open window.

“I’m allowed to, and I was close to the yellow line. I wanted to make sure I didn’t cross it.”

Then I reversed back into the bay, lined up my rear end, which was a little difficult because this time, the sun reflecting in a puddle dazzled me and obscured the marker. I put Grumpy into N (Neutral), applied the air brakes, turned off the ignition, and climbed out of the cab to check her bum was in the hatched area.

“Are you happy with that?” the expressionless examiner asked.

“Yes…” I replied with confidence I didn’t feel.

“That’s very good,” he said. “You’ve passed.”

I felt a warm glow of pride as he filled out my certificate.

“You must be into horses,” he said.

“Well. I do like horses, but I don’t ride much these days…”

“Oh. Why are you doing this, then?”

I think my answer rather surprised him.

“I own an expedition truck and want to drive it to Mongolia.”

“I own an expedition truck and want to drive it to Mongolia.”

“Here’s your reversing certificate. Don’t lose it, you’ll need it AND your licence to take your test on Friday.”

As I walked back over to the group, one of the guys gave me a huge grin and a thumbs up. Then, the pressure was on them. If a girl could do it, they had no excuses…


Now that I could take Grumpy anywhere I wanted backwards, I was deemed fit to be let loose forwards. I hopped back in with Ray and Ollie in the passenger and mate’s seats, and drove out of the yard, down a narrow lane, with parked cars on either side.

“This is a 30 mph limit” Mr. Winstone growled. You’re doing about five. Speed it up!”

Ray sat with one stockinged foot on the dashboard and chewed his way through a carrier bag of sandwiches and crisps. “I can’t travel with shoes on,” he explained. Then poured himself a cup of tea from a flask, and rolled a cigarette. All the while, he explained how to position Grumpy to get around corners without mounting the kerb, how not to accelerate towards danger, and check my mirrors, mirrors, mirrors. Then check my mirrors again.

“Your head needs to be moving from side to side ALL the time. Otherwise, how do you know where your vehicle is in relation to the road?”

The key thing to remember when driving a large vehicle is that, due to the length, the rear end cuts across corners and can mount the kerb – unless you keep an eye on it and don’t try to corner like you were driving a Go Kart.

Diagram showing how the rear of a long vehicle can cut a bend when cornering

Checking your left hand mirror to ensure you’ve steered clear is key, but so easy to forget when you’re busy keeping an eye on your front to make sure you don’t unleash carnage upon oncoming vehicles!

Then Ray critiqued my general driving technique. I passed my car test in 1985, which meant nearly forty years of bad habits to unpick.

“You’re like Michael Flatley. Car drivers always have to have their foot on something. Accelerator or brake. Take your foot off everything and just let it roll around the corners. That way you’ve time to do everything: check your mirrors and indicate.

“Don’t slow down in places you wouldn’t slow down in a car, but in places would slow down in a car, you need to slow down TWICE AS MUCH in a truck.”

I felt like Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz. I had to “Speed it up!” when the road was clear, because I’d fail if I went too slow. Then I had to “Slow it down!” because, “You don’t accelerate towards danger” – be that tight turns, lights that may change, roundabouts, junctions, or narrow roads. I had to take corners and roundabouts at less than a slow walking pace, which is easier said than done when you’re used to whipping around them in a car.

“Mirror. Signal. Left,” was obligatory when exiting every roundabout.

“Give yourself TIME by going SLOWLY!” Ray urged, as I cut another corner and mounted the kerb. “That’s an instant fail. And what if there was a pedestrian there? Or a baby in a pram?”

We wound our way through every back street and narrow lane in Surrey, before pulling into the Guildford test centre. Thankfully, not for another test, but for a comfort break – and for Ollie to take the wheel. As I nipped to the Ladies’, a chap asked,

We wound our way through every back street & narrow lane in Surrey. This is the village of West Clandon: one of the test routes.

“Who are you with?”

“EP Training.”

“I know that!” he laughed. “I mean who is your instructor?!”

“Ray” I replied rather foolishly.

“Oh. You need ear plugs with Ray,” he said. “He never stops talking.”

Indeed, Ray reminded me of a windsurfing friend whom we christened ‘Radio John’.

Radio John – Always On!

Ray never stopped eating, either, which reminded me that breakfast had been at silly o’clock and my tum was starting to grumble like the truck. At least my anticipation and forward planning were on form in some regards. I could tell when we were due another break, because Ray rolled a cigarette.

We returned to base to change to Daffy the DAF, because Grumpy was having a camera fitted, then set out again. I spotted some male students shunting forwards on the reversing course, and felt a little smug. By now, I had gained a bit of confidence, and managed to reach dizzying velocities way in excess of 5 mph. I even approached 30 mph speed limits once or twice, mindful that you can fail your test for going too slowly. In such a large vehicle, anything near or above 30 mph still felt recklessly fast.

Daffy the DAF – slightly shorter than Grumpy the MAN

At 2 p.m., I was relieved when Ray directed me to stop at a garage to grab coffee and a sandwich.

I confided in Ollie. “Usually, I would have had about ten cups of tea by this time. I didn’t even bring a bottle of water. My husband has done this course, and he told me we’d be stopping at truckers’ cafés.”

It was a squeeze getting into the rather busy petrol station. It was a right turn from the road into the entrance, then I had to come back on myself, before making a sharp left to squeeze Daffy in between the pumps.

“Careful going in there. If you f*** anything now, it will be a petrol pump,” Ray said.

“Nothing is going to get f******,” I assured him confidently, as I checked my left hand mirror and pulled up neatly between the pumps. I switched off the engine, and salivated at the sight of sustenance.

That was my driving done for the day, but even listening and observing Ollie’s tuition for the last hour was still very intense.

When the lesson ended at 3 p.m., Ollie came back to The Beast for a cup of tea and a debrief. As he filled up the kettle, Mark bragged,

“I didn’t get out of bed until 9 o’clock.”

“I’d done two hours’ training and a blind-side reversing test by then!” I retorted.

Then Mark told me,  

“I didn’t do my reversing test until the end of the week, and that was after hours of training on Dunsfold airfield.

Ollie seemed a bit despondent. Ray had been stern with us both, but particularly with Ollie because he’d already done four days’ training on a Class 1 articulated unit, and had his Class 2 test on Thursday. I reassured him,

“Ray is like a sergeant major. He has to be firm with us because the examiner will be. The only difference is that the examiner won’t say a word. He’ll just fail you.”

Once Ollie had gone, I had to have a lie down.

Still, drained and utterly exhausted, I enjoyed the driving and, despite the relentless unpicking of my bad habits, am looking forward to tomorrow.

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Published by Jacqueline Lambert @WorldWideWalkies

AD (After Dogs) - We retired early to tour Europe in a caravan with four dogs. "To boldly go where no van has gone before". Since 2021, we've been at large in a 24.5-tonne self-converted ex-army truck called The Beast. BC (Before Canines) - we had adventures on every continent other than Antarctica!

27 thoughts on “Lorry Lessons for Ladies – Day 1

  1. I feel exhausted just reading this blog! No wonder you needed a lie down! Congrats on the reversing test, the pressure of everyone watching must have been awful. Nearly fell out of bed when I read the sentence beginning “Perhaps Brexit…”. You got me there! I can calm down now! 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. English is a very confusing language, and I can’t imagine trying to learn it when you’re not a native speaker. There are so many ways of saying the same thing.

      Lorry is probably more British English, truck is perhaps more American, but they mean pretty much the same thing.


    1. Thank you so much, Sally, I’m really pleased it gave an insight. That was very much what I was hoping to do – to show exactly how it was. Particularly for ladies, who are often reticent to get involved with driving large vehicles, even though there is no reason why men and women can’t drive equally well.
      I am thrilled that you’re thinking of taking your C1 licence. Do you want to drive professionally, or do you have a strange reason, like me?
      Best of luck with that and do let me know how you get on!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess it’s the strange reason as we have a 8.8m 6.7tonne motorhome and like you I want to be able to support with driving or taking it on when needed. Your tale gave some great insight and I have to admit if I had to reverse with no instructions at all I would struggle… although pleased to hear you managed it so well.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. To be honest, the reversing WAS a piece of cake, once I knew where I was going! The view in the mirrors is very clear, and it’s easy to see the rear wheels, which are the pivot point. I found it much easier reversing a rigid vehicle, rather than a caravan, which is articulated, and requires you to steer in the opposite direction to the one you want it to go, which can be confusing until you get the hang of it.
    I think there was method in Ray’s madness when he forced me into making mistakes. Once you’ve been told you’ve crashed into a wall, albeit an imaginary one, you don’t do it again!
    It really is a great idea to learn to drive your motorhome. Once you gain confidence, you will probably enjoy it and have to be prised off the wheel!
    If you go to the Caravan and Motorhome Show at the NEC, you can book on motorhome manouevring taster. You would have to book early, as spaces fill up rapidly, but it would give you an idea of what to expect in a motorhome manoeuvring course. The lorry training is expensive, and it might be overkill for what you want, but it’s very comprehensive – and LGV drivers are in great demand if you need a bit of extra income at any time!
    I had no choice but to do the Class 2, because my licence simply doesn’t allow me to drive our Beast.
    Watch out to see how I get on tomorrow! 🙂 I hope it will give you more insight.


  3. Your adventures (both the good parts and the less-than-good) just astonish me! What a fantastic life you lead, even when the Unexpected throws you for a loop or requires more of you than your typical days of retirement do. It all makes for some truly mind-boggling tales to share! 😁❤️😁

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a firm believer in women driving their RV’s and caravans and often. And good navigation should be enforced for the passenger…..not “I reckon you should have turned left there” as we sail past with no where wide enough to do a U turn! Great story, can’t wait for the next instalment and the bloke in socks.

    Liked by 1 person

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