Answer: when oncoming traffic brings everything to a standstill.
Today was the final training session for my young apprentice conductor and we were confronted with some useful real-life dramas. She was in charge of the bus (under my supervision of course) and handled the platform and the passengers well. With an almost full load we had just started attacking Edgcott Hill in first gear when we were confronted by a string of cars coming down the hill. The driver of the lead car tried her best to make room to pass in the narrow lane but came to rest with the front of her car buried in the hedge and the rear sticking out at an angle, effectively blocking our way. Looking over the rail on the top deck, we (and about 30 top deck passengers) watched as the driver tried to shunt herself clear. I could see it was never going to work so I ran down the stairs and, after checking that the driver had the handbrake on, dinged the bell once and jumped off the platform. I directed the flustered lady at the wheel to turn hard right and bring the front of her car down from the hedge. The back of her car then swung in just enough for us to pass so I hopped back on board, gave the driver two bells and we were away. Still in first gear but making progress nonetheless.
Well I survived my assessment day and so, I’m pleased to say, did the coach I was driving. In fact I can safely say that the only thing that I hit was the brake pedal!
The day dawned grey and showery, but thankfully the rain stayed away during my one-and-a-half-hour driving assessment. To be honest, the weather was the least of my worries!
After my driving licence was checked and copied, I was led out to the training vehicle. I don’t remember much about it except that it was white and VERY big. I found out during our jaunt around the Somerset countryside that it was a Scania coach with an 11 litre engine and 10 forward gears. Yes, ten! This awesome gearbox was the first thing to rear up and bite me once we were on our way. The gear stick travels quite a long way but, due to the many linkages on the way to the gearbox at the back, it feels a bit like stirring treacle. I have to admit that I missed the gears quite often and, in hindsight, should have spent some time exploring the gearbox before starting the engine. There are actually only 5 gears + reverse but the forward gears are multiplied by a 2-speed rear axle (I think). There’s a neat little switch near the top of the gear stick which lets you select high or low ratio. You merely dip the clutch shortly after flipping the switch to implement the change. A bit like the old-fashioned pre-select change I imagine.