Hang out the flags and break out the bubbly – I’ve finally qualified as a professional bus and coach driver!
Today I passed the 4th and final module of my Driver CPC qualification, the Practical Demonstration Test. I booked some training time with Carmel Coaches in Exeter, who also provided their training bus for the test. It was the same one I had for the Practical Driving Test a few weeks ago.
I turned up at the Carmel Coaches yard a bit early and wished I hadn’t. I get really nervous in these situations so I took myself off to Sainsbury’s just around the corner to buy a drink (juice, of course) and to calm my nerves. The Carmel instructor, Martin, walked with me along to their storage compound and I started to feel a little more at ease. We found the bus, a Dennis Javelin of 1994 vintage, and went over some of the questions I’d fluffed last time.
Yes, dear reader, I took this test last week and failed. In the ‘show me, tell me’ test there’s a section which deals with security and prevention of crime. This focusses on the steps a driver would take if the bus had been tampered with at a border crossing. I had gone through the motions of searching the bus, inside and out, for hidden packages and children lying in the luggage racks but had forgotten to mention a head count, in case of people trying to smuggle themselves aboard along with the regular passengers. In the ‘daily checks’ section I had spent too long checking the outside of the vehicle and didn’t get as far as starting the engine and building up air. The time allowed for the test had expired and last week I didn’t pass.
So, the time for today’s test arrived. Martin drove the bus across the road and into the VOSA Test Centre. We talked things over for one last time and I revised all the different types of fire extinguisher – water, powder, foam and CO2 – and their relevent label colours. In the event, I wasn’t asked about these.
We sat and waited for the examiner. My heart sank when in walked the same chap I’d had on my first practical driving test back in February. He is a very precise, well-spoken kind of fellow, who (quite rightly, I suppose) gives the impression that he won’t allow any leeway. I tried to put that aside in my mind and treat this as a fresh start!
Conscious that I mustn’t waste precous time (I only had 30 minutes for the test), I made sure that I went round the outside more quickly and still had time for a pre-start check of the interior before starting the engine, building up air, checking the door, wipers, mirrors and so on before doing a brake test. I correctly answered questions on vehicle, passenger, baggage and fuel weights. Thankfully, I had revised these really carefully.
Either nerves or just plain old age affected my powers of recall and I very nearly forgot some essential answers. For instance I nearly missed part of the ‘accident’ section. This is where you have to describe what you would do if you had been involved in an accident. In the previous test I had forgotten to say that I would stop the engine, but this time I remembered that and moved on to moving passengers to safety. I needed a little nudge before saying that I’d also place a warning sign behind the bus. There were a couple of times like that where I could sense that the examiner was fishing for a particular item that I hadn’t yet mentioned. I suppose he was a bit lenient in that he did ask some ‘leading questions’ which prompted me to give the right answers.
Anyway, the test finished and he said straight away that I’d passed. I very nearly punched the air at that point but restrained myself until I walked back into the Carmel office!
Martin kindly congratulated me and I had to ask him to pinch me because it really hadn’t sunk in yet! He declined the invitation, probably fearing an allegation of common assault. This was a good result, after a journey that had begun several years ago when young Mr Pratt had asked me if I’d ever thought of getting a PCV licence. It has probably been one of the most stressful times of my life, with the possible exception of getting married and moving house. But I’m sure that I won’t regret it, even though I’ve spent far more money than perhaps I should have. After all, I’m not planning a career change, this is little more than the pursuit of a hobby! Well actually, it’s more than that.
Many times I’ve been told that there are plenty of good drivers around but few that are competent with a crash gearbox. I love to see these old timers being put back into revenue-earning service and I seem to have ‘the knack’ with driving them. So I want to do my best to ensure that there is one more person willing to drive them sensitively as part of a commercial operation.
I should really pay tribute to Martin and Tony at Carmel, for showing great patience with a relatively old guy as he struggled to gain PCV and CPC qualifications. Their easygoing manner and expert knowledge gave me confidence at times when I thought I wasn’t capable of carrying it through. Thanks guys!
My next post may well be accompanied by a new theme for this blog, in honour of my successful transition from trainee to fully qualified driver!