Today was even more retro than normal – we were taking Manuel out, our affectionately named manual DTU [driver training unit] out. It made the ‘gear’ section of our driving plan actually mean something. In the automatics, which all ambulances are these days, I felt ridiculous saying ‘gear’ in our system drives without a gear to change down into. The route for the day was to Catherine Castle, pleasant drive along some cracking bendy roads. Cuthbert’s vehicle was a few miles ahead and I got a text from him saying ‘wait until you see the roads!’. It was a nod, from one biker to another, that some serious fun is to be had. For a biker the series of bends sign actually means speed up, just like sharp deviation chevrons mean get your knee down.
My two drives that morning went reasonably well. The roads were clean strips of unadulterated grey tarmac that narrowed into the distance. Gorse bushes flecked with yellow skirted it on either side, shivering like springs as the DTU blew past. The sun was shining and the cohort’s shades were out. ‘System on the bend then Jerome’ Klippity would say, and I would deliver a system based approach of the bend. ‘Information up ahead there is a left bend; checking my mirrors one two; adopting a P3 position; reducing my speed; speed is good; gear is good for speed; A1 around hazard; A2 away; looking ahead to the next hazard’. Bend followed beautiful bend, my mouth drying up because the speed with which we had to reel off each system. ‘Louder Jerome I can’t hear you. Say it so everyone can hear!’
I was kicking myself that I wasn’t in the driving seat – it was now Derek’s turn – but watching Derek squirm under Klippity’s relentless pressure was second best. ‘No no get it down to third for this bend or we’ll have what we had yesterday, wipe-out, won’t we Jerome?’ He looked back, barely able to keep a straight face. The incident he was referring to was the time I had taken the wing mirror off, just yesterday in fact, which was still a sore spot in my memory. He just couldn’t help himself.
Reading the angle of the bend was the order of the day. ‘Look at that limit point, it zooms into oblivion, off you go’. There was an urgency in Klippity’s voice. On these types of roads he expected emergency driving, as if we were on lights and sirens. ‘Happy signs ahead, wallop’ he would say every time we came to unrestricted roads, pushing us on with a wave of his hand. He fluctuated between ‘woof’ and ‘wallop’, but I never did work out whether there was logic behind his choice of wording. We were approaching a bend: ‘you’re slowing down – why are you slowing down?’ ‘because of the speed signs’ came Derek’s indignant reply. ‘They’re advisory – fuck’em’. And with that Derek stamped on the accelerator, little Manuel giving everything he had. ‘You see that vehicle half a mile ahead? That’s the target vehicle, common we’ll have ‘im’ – Klippity has such a way with words. ‘But in all seriousness’ he added later, ‘we can consider advisory signs but when we’re on an emergency code we’re going to be breaking them, as long as it’s safe to do so.’ A caveat was always put on the end such as ‘safe to do so’ or ‘if reasonably practicable’ to cover his back.
Throughout the drive we were expected to give general commentary on our drive, formulating a driving plan when Klippity asked. ‘Tell me what your driving plan is on the overtake of this lorry’ he would demand. ‘I can see a lorry, I can’t see what’s in front of the lorry or around the corner. What I can reasonably expect is a car to appear around the corner, so that takes priority in terms of danger. My contingency plan is to establish an overtaking distance and execute as soon as I can see the road ahead is clear.’ It took me a while to get m head around the idea of the driving plan. Cruella was particularly good at them, knowing instinctively what to say. By the time I reached what I could reasonably expect to happen, we were usually well passed the hazard. ‘Not quick enough Jerome, not quick enough. This is how it should be…’ and what followed was a slick delivery of a driving plan, as if he had spent his life rehearsing and reciting this one little speech, which of course was impossible since it was unique to the hazard. ‘But remember, I only got to this stage after a five week course. I don’t expect it to be perfect. There’s no such thing as a perfect drive anyway. There is always a way of improving it. But this far in I expect you to be able to formulate a plan’.
At the beginning of the course I warned Klippity of my shocking inability to multi-task. Speaking whilst doing is something I struggle with at the best of times, especially whilst trying to constantly improve your drives. Klippity wasn’t as understanding as I’d hoped. ‘What we need to do now is match what you’re saying with what you’re doing. You often make the right decisions, taking the correct positions round the bends and holding back when you need to. But you need to know why you’re doing it. So, why are you in the middle lane here?’ We had moved onto a motorway. ‘Because we’re making progress and will soon overtake the vehicle on the inside’. ‘And?’ ‘It’s a left hand bend, we want maximum vision through the corner.’ ‘And?’ I saw a blue parking road sign on the side: ‘we’re approaching a layby, we don’t know if it’s active or not’. Klippity nodded. ‘See Jerome, you do know your stuff, you just need to justify why you are where you are’. He says that, but I still often feel like I know bugger all.