Lorry Lessons for Ladies – Day 4

“How are you this morning?” I greeted my fellow students, shuffling from foot to foot in their customary huddle at the training centre.

“Could be better,” replied Rob, who clutched a large can of Monster energy drink. “My car’s turbo blew up on the M25 on the way home. I was there nearly all night.”

Not what you want in the lead up to your penultimate day of training. He did look tired.

“At least you’re not taking your test today,” I said, by way of compensation.

Rob’s experience was a cautionary tale of procrastination.

“The worst thing is I knew the turbo was on its way out, and I have a new turbo back at the yard. I just hadn’t got around to fitting it!”

It was a great example of something we’ve experienced many times on our travels. Murphy’s Law: if it can go wrong it will – but only at the most inopportune moment.

My instructor, Ray, strolled over and greeted me, “Right, Jackie. What are we working on today?”

“I only need to do two things today,” I said. “Control my speed during manoeuvres, and use my left-hand mirror.”

“Come over here and say that again!” Ray said, and made me repeat myself to Rob and his fellow Class 1 artic. trainees.

Then, he asked their instructor, James,

“What do your guys need to work on today?”

Have a guess.

Controlling their speed and using their left-hand mirrors!

By now, I was very familiar with many of Ray’s instructional catch phrases. The one pertaining to speed was, “Would you run towards the cliff at Beachy Head and expect stop right on the edge?”

We all agreed we’d slow down WELL before the cliff edge.

“Would you run towards the cliff on Beachy Head and expect stop right on the edge?!”

Another was, “You control your left side with your mirrors, and your right side with your speed.” By this he meant if you couldn’t move over to the left because of obstructions, such as walls, hedges etc., you had to own the road to your right, slowly. I noticed how my positioning persuaded the oncoming traffic to use the space to their left. Almost subconsciously, they shifted over to gave me more room.

The driving challenge started straight away. I had to squeeze my truck, Grumpy, out of the yard from between two artics, while making a sharp right hand turn to avoid bins to my front. I had to watch I didn’t clip Grumpy’s rear on the offside truck.

My training truck, Grumpy, we had to squeeze out forwards without clipping the truck to her right or the bins to the front.

Then, as I was ‘Making Good Progress’ at the 50 mph speed limit on a main road near Guildford, an impatient Mini shot out of a side road directly in front of me. I’d observed the car waiting in the side road, but had gone way past the point where I thought anyone would stupid enough to pull out. After all, ten-tonnes of metal with ‘Training Vehicle’ and L plates emblazoned across the front was bearing down on them at 50 mph – or, to give it some context, 73.33 feet-per-second.

Grumpy’s nose nearly kissed the tarmac as I performed the emergency stop. The Mini’s rear end just cleared my offside wing. An utterance that rhymed with ‘Ducking Well’ slipped forth from my delicate rosebud mouth.

Ray unclenched his buttocks, and with a wry grin, assured me, “Don’t worry, the examiner can’t mark you down for language on your test.”

Once we’d got the drama out of the way, Ray asked, “What do you want to do today?”

“Country lanes and lots of left turns.” I replied. “I don’t want to stick to the test routes because I don’t want to get stale or complacent with them. I want to learn to drive. I own a ‘Go Anywhere’ truck. I want to be able to go anywhere in it!”

“What do you want to do today?” “Country lanes – and lots of them!”
Here’s a tricky corner on the A287 at Churt by David960, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

I considered the test routes we’d followed through the villages of West Clandon and Old Woking tight.

“Those are NOTHING!” Ray told me. From the corner of my eye, as I checked my inside mirror, I might have detected a smirk.

“Wait ‘til you see where I’m taking you,” he said. You’ll think those are like motorways…”

The great thing about the route was that it made me do exactly what I needed to do – control my speed and check my left mirror. Repeatedly. For three hours!

Welcome to Churt by Colin Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

On a dazzlingly beautiful spring morning, we wound around the emerald green lanes of the Surrey Hills AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Pink powder puffs of cherry blossom dangled over the white-flowering hawthorn and blackthorn hedges that lined our route, with the occasional stately magnolia tree resplendent in bloom.

We snaked through the stunning village of Albury, near Newlands Corner, and Abinger Roughs, two of my favourite places to walk. Newlands Corner is where Mark asked me to move in with him, a few weeks after we first met. (A short while later, he decided to make an honest woman of me and proposed after 37 days!)

The vista from Newlands Corner over the village of Albury and the South Downs, with layer upon layer of rolling hills marching down towards England’s south coast, is one of my favourite views in the world.

One of my favourite views in the world! From Newlands Corner over Albury and the South Downs
Albury visual services, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We drove past Frencham Ponds, through Frensham Village, and on to Churt. There, we passed houses the size of hotels set in magnificent, lush countryside.

“Damon Hill, the racing driver, used to live there,” Ray said as we drew alongside a large gated drive. “Brian May, the guitarist from Queen lives over there, as the crow flies. And that’s the house I want. There. With the granny flat and the tennis courts.”

I looked at the ostentatious pile of bricks and thought, I’d much rather live in my truck…

Then Ray asked, “Do you want to go the easy way or the difficult way?”

“The difficult way, of course,” I replied.

I felt there was nothing to be learned by driving in a straight line on wide roads. Anyone can do that, so I might as well challenge myself. Particularly while I had the benefit of an instructor.

A287 at Frensham by David960, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ray took me through an industrial estate, and instructed me to make a hard, blind right turn into a narrow road. I spotted the problem as soon as I could see around the corner. An articulated car transporter parked to the left, a car parked opposite on the right, and a 4×4 towing a caravan-sized trailer coming towards me.

“I’m not sure I can get even get through that gap,” I said. I’m not sure Ray was convinced, either.

“Stay where you are,” he advised me. “If YOU stop, the oncoming vehicle has to do all the work. Plus, if he can get through there, you’ll know you can.”

I did. With a centimetre to spare on each side.

“I’m ready for a cup of tea after that,” I said, so we stopped at the Hog’s Back café again. The Class 1 boys were there. James, their instructor, asked me how I was getting on.

“I’m bossing it!” I replied. I see no reason for false modesty! He shot a glance over to Ray, the master of understatement, who sort-of agreed,

“Yeah. She’s doing okay.”

Despite the challenging route we’d taken, I’d done everything in control, hadn’t clipped a single kerb, and Ray hadn’t had to shout at me once for my mirror work or forgetting to indicate because I hadn’t given myself enough time.

He hadn’t mentioned Beachy Head once.

“If you drive like this tomorrow for your test, you’ll pass. I can tell you you’re driving better than the chap who passed last Friday.”

From Ray, a compliment like this was praise indeed.

A gratuitous shot of The Pawsome Foursome at St. Martha’s Hill, near Guildford, on a walk in the beautiful Surrey Hills AONB

I really wanted to pass, obviously, but passing was by no means a foregone conclusion. My husband, Mark, had warned me that there was no shame if I didn’t, because the test was really tough. One silly mistake and it was game over. But Mark passed both his Class 2 (rigid) and Class 1 (artic.) first time. I felt the need to uphold my corner!

Ray agreed when I said, “This will be my best shot at passing – straight after four full days of training.”

In the afternoon, we did more country lanes, and Ray tried to scare me by making me reverse around a corner to perform a U-turn on a narrow, busy side road. One of my major dilemmas was that on the one hand, I had to ‘Make Good Progress’ and go appropriately quickly when the road was clear, then approach hazards and perform manoeuvres at ‘less than slow walking pace’. I felt that at last, I’d got the balance right and had cracked the speed thing. Now, I had to concentrate on only one thing – my left hand mirror on left turns.

During the day’s lesson, I had got close to kerbs, but fewer than half a dozen times. I could give myself more of a safety margin on my turns, but I knew I had definitely improved.

Albury Street by Colin Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Ray and I chatted as we drove. One of the subjects we discussed was the merits of lady drivers.

“I couldn’t beat Usain Bolt in a 100-metre sprint, but driving is not a feat of physical strength. There’s no reason why women can’t drive equally as well as men,” I ventured.

“Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Just As Well – Unless it’s a feat of strength!
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

“I agree,” Ray said. “I like training women, because they listen. I had a bloke once who didn’t check his mirrors. He insisted that he did. I told him again and again, but he still wasn’t doing it, and wouldn’t believe me when I said he wasn’t.

“So, while we were driving, I filmed him on my phone. When I asked him to pull over and showed him the footage that proved he wasn’t checking his mirrors, he said I’d doctored it somehow, while we were driving! Guess what happened when he went for his test?”

“He failed for not checking his mirrors?”

“Correct. Then he claimed the examiner was wrong, and was victimising him…!”

As we pulled up back at the training yard, Ray ran through the format of the test with me.

“At the start, the examiner will ask you five Show Me/Tell Me questions about the truck. When you answer, KEEP IT SIMPLE,” he said.

“If he asks whether you’ve checked the load is secure, just say ‘Yes’! If he asks you to show him how to check the tyres, don’t start discussing wheel nuts and spray suppression, because then you’ve answered three questions in one, and still have four more to go!”

Ray gave me a link to EP Training’s YouTube video, which runs through examples of Show Me/Tell Me questions.

I’d been bathed in beautiful spring sunshine all week, but when I checked, the forecast predicted rain for my test, which was at 09:33 the following day.

I’d been bathed in beautiful spring sunshine all week, but rain was forecast for test day!
Albury in Bloom by Colin Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Even so, I knew that I had the skills and knowledge I needed. If I didn’t pass, it would be entirely down to a silly mistake by me.

Ray left me with a thought to meditate on.

“If you fail your test tomorrow for not checking your mirrors, you’ll kick yourself.”

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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!

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