Friday, 11 February 2011

Back To Bus Driver School

The British love certificates.

It was like a light bulb going on in one's head, as I sat in the leviathan bus company's portakabin which had been turned into a classroom for bus drivers. "There's tea and coffee over there for you to make yourself a brew," said the instructor, "but don't all go at once." That wouldn't have caused many problems if we had all gone at once as we were only three.

Around the wall were many certificates for various training aspects to do with bus driving. I never knew there were so many. I started to wander off and thought how many certificates I had piled up in a drawer back at home. There's one for pattern cutting, one for sewing machine skills, pr in marketing or was it marketing in pr - I forget which, one for driving minibuses, one for first aid; even one for nose picking and a dodgy degree from the University of Diddlysquat in America.

Today I got another one.

Safe and Skilled driving. Ha ha. From what I've written - safety? I've been pretty safe so far. Skilled? Debatable. I was dreading this course. I thought it would firstly, be boring. Secondly it would go through the dross I knew anyway, and like a typical bus driver, I was sure to know everything as a result of so much experience. Thirdly and more worryingly, that it would highlight my weaknesses and show me up to be a rotten driver, as the end of the 7 hours of training, there was a drive round the town in a service bus with the instructor putting you under a microscopic assessment.

"I don't mind crossing hands occasionally, but both hands must be on the steering wheel," said the instructor,"but I will not tolerate palming with one hand."

"Watch the curbs. Treat them like an imaginary fantasy woman on a first date," said another driver. "Gently brush them. Don't mount them."

My driving was not so good.

"What's the speed limit along this road?" shouted the instructor from the back of the bus. He had to shout because the rattles and noises of the bus made it possible to hear very little.

"Observational question."

At the time I was struggling to get used to the bus, which was totally different from the buses I usually drive. By the passenger entry door, there was a very small mirror. So small that it is difficult to see anything at all. The sun was getting low and was bright. I had just missed hitting a woman who had ran across the road at the last minute and the lights had turned to red, quicker than I expected meaning hard braking was needed. So I missed seeing the speed sign as I struggled to negotiate the parked car on the corner of the smaller road I was turning into.

I suspected it was a trick question and for a millisecond considered giving a bus driver-ly 'either or' bullshit answer, but instead blurted out:

"30 miles an hour."

"No - 20 - it's 20 - 20 miles an hour," the instructor corrected. I could hear the disappointment in his voice. he had asked my other two fellow drivers who were sitting in the back with him, waiting their turn to drive, and they had infuriatingly answered 20 mph.

"Well I was only doing 20," I said lamely in an attempt to restore a modicum of dignity.

"Not the question I asked. Besides you were a bit too close to those parked cars too," he added. The other drivers did far better. In the past some of our drivers had viewed this assessment as a competition and source of personal pride and esteem. The last time drivers were sent down on the course, one went into a deep depression when he was marked down more for making more errors than a (in his view)less experienced driver. Months later, it still hurts him.

But I'm over it. Being marked down from excellent to good on observation and safety margins, is not so bad. I enjoyed myself. It is a course all bus drivers must do. Car drivers could benefit too. I know I can get complacent and be a Mr Know All, having experienced so many things on the buses.

One thing which fascinated me at the depot was the way in which the drivers deposited the day's takings in huge machines come safes. It was slightly more advanced than our method of counting the change on our knees in the driver's seat of the bus and folding it up in a waybill, hoping that the paper did not rip and all the coins would scatter across the floor.

"Not like the bus driver when we were on holiday in Greece," said the mechanic on our way home. "He looked at the note I was offering him, slammed the cash tin closed and said......

.....'I am a bus - not a bank."

If only.

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