For those who missed my introduction thread, I'm 33 and have had an interest in AD for some years. Because of my disabilities (including kidney disease requiring frequent surgeries) I only ended up buying Roadcraft and taking a couple of days' private sessions (with Ride/Drive and our own Reg Local) last year. It was something I'd wanted to do for a long time. Since those two (excellent) days out I have been fastidiously studying and privately practicing, focusing especially on the points raised in feedback from the two aforementioned Class One drivers. They both said I had good car control and awareness, but I was rushing into hazards a little. For example spotting a pinch point due to parked cars from 800 yards away, but only actually doing something about it at 30 yards away.
Many months of extra self-teaching and practicing from Roadcraft (and with some help from YouTube!) later, and here's the first entry in my RoADAR diary. Enjoy.
Sunday 17th January 2016
I was a little apprehensive today, meeting the Merseyside RoADAR/RoSPA group for the first time. I’d convinced my friend (a9pdh) to join up with me, and we’d arranged to meet at 9.45am with the rest of the gang. The organisers had been friendly and very helpful in the run up to the day, sending directions and itinerary for pupils/instructors well in advance. The night before I was suddenly struck with a mild anxiety; I was probably a terrible driver after all, perhaps deluded with self-importance - and I was going to look a fool. Was I doing the right thing?
I fell asleep mulling it over, and eight hours later I was on the road after a small breakfast. I didn’t have much of an appetite but knew my brain would be glad of the energy a couple of hours later. The drive to the meeting place (Miller & Carter, Swan Lane/Springfield Road, Aughton) was uneventful. The morning air was cold, hovering around 2oC and producing bellows of petrol exhaust vapour behind me wherever I went. It was strangely comforting, stopped at the lights and catching sight of the never-relenting stream of hot gas hitting the icy air.
Upon arrival I realised I’d been rather keen. It was only 9.20am and we were only due to meet around 9.45am ready for a 10am start. The car park had a barrier across the entrance, so I pulled to the side of the road and waited. After twenty minutes I was seeing activity in the car park, but nobody had passed me… Oh. There’s probably another entrance. I drove around the side and sure enough, two lovely large gaps in the stone wall labelled ‘In’ and ‘Out’. Idiot…
My friend a9pdh pulled up just after I’d parked next to another likely looking chap. We exchanged greetings and it transpired the other fellow was also new on the day. We met up with two of the organisers, who were immediately welcoming and friendly. The formalities out of the way (membership forms, progress sheets, a bit of banter) we settled down to business.
Because of the severe weather two of the instructors hadn’t been able to make it (surrounding towns were fairly entrenched in snow this morning). As such we had four pupils - with a friendly chap who was already a regular shoring up our threesome - but only two instructors. It was decided that the instructors would split us into two groups, and take each associate out in their own car for an hour, with the other sitting in the back awaiting his turn.
My new friend was to go first, and after squeezing into the back of his three door Punto (I’m 6’5”) we were off. It would be neither prudent nor polite for me to comment or otherwise report on his drive, but after an hour out (and a healthy discussion about use of the horn and headlights) we returned back to base. My turn…
My new acquaintance and fellow associate had to leave, as he had work commitments, so it was just me and the observer for this one. After confirming I’d already done a POWDER check that morning before setting off and going through a basic cockpit / familiarisation drill (here’s your heating controls, please apply your seatbelt and adjust your seat etc) we were off. I rolled out of the car park and towards the junction with the A59, a four lane dual carriageway with a 60mph limit. I rolled toward the give way at a snail’s pace waiting for an early view to develop, and took my gap with brisk acceleration up to the indicated limit and finally slotting home to 4th gear to maintain progress and flexibility (there were a lot of roundabouts and potential hazards ahead). Approaching the first roundabout, assessing its vehicles, view and curve while using acceleration sense, I took a suitable position and, being happy with my speed I selected 2nd gear, gave last minute mirror and shoulder checks, and straightlined it, exiting with firm acceleration back to 60.
I was giving full commentary at this point, and continued to do so for about ten minutes until we were well into the next village’s high street. At this juncture my observer friend piped up and suggested I might want to rest my voice. Being honest I was privately a little taken aback and wondered if I was really so awful. He followed his comment with ‘I have to say, your commentary is even better than mine. You’re clearly not averse to using the full range of the engine to get briskly to speed and you’re looking as far down the road as I think has ever been humanly possible… So, what I’m saying is, I think you’re way ahead of what I was expecting and you may as well enjoy the drive from here and we’ll see what we can see.’
A wave of relief and relaxation hit me like a train. I pressed on, occasionally pointing out unusual hazards further down the road (and what I was planning on doing about them). We had a polite chat in the interim, as we covered twisty rural B roads, towns and large dual carriageways. Before I knew it we were back at the pub car park where it had all begun. A shame really, as I was really starting to enjoy myself!
Engine off, it was time for feedback. Out came the marking sheet and pen, where it was explained I’d get marked week-by-week on a scale from A to D (Standard Achieved through to Unsatisfactory). My observer grinned and said he would have to apologise again, as he had some verbal feedback first. Gulp! I needn't have worried as it turned out...
- It was a first class drive.
- I had exceptional mechanical sympathy, car control, balance and smoothness.
- He had never seen an associate - especially a new one - so smoothly brisk to the limit, with such rapid safe progress, yet able to three-phase brake ten feet before a lower speed limit sign with the car on its nose, and sail safely through exactly at the new limit. All this despite him rarely moving an inch in his seat.
- This showed very strongly that I’d had good Class One ex-police mentoring and was beyond what was expected at RoADAR.
- These were all very good things.
- I would ‘p***’ the test with a Gold if I took it even now.
- Would I like to take up observer training after my test?
He then handed me the grade sheet, which consisted of As and B+s. He said he was sorry it couldn’t all be As; I deserved them but he needed to show there was room for progress, as after all we can all learn something new. I agreed, but felt somewhat coy and wondered had he been a little too generous (or low in expectation!). After handing me my grade sheet he said I was a star pupil, and told his colleague the same when we returned at the end of the morning’s session.
I sincerely regret this might all sound big headed, and I've been considering whether to post this up at all (hence the late hour). In the end I decided I would, but would stick to the facts such as they are. To be fair I think, as I said earlier, he was trying to bolster my confidence. Either way, it’s certainly helped validate the countless hours of practice, self-reflective criticism and the relentless push to improve every little flaw I could find in myself (or had pointed out to me by highly qualified coaches like Reg Local). I’m over the moon that it seems to be paying off, and have gone home with a contented smile and a strong desire to get back at it with the next fortnight’s session. In the meantime, I’m acutely aware that in reality I have an awful lot to learn and a very long way to go. If and when I manage to achieve a RoSPA pass, it’ll be the first 'official' step in a very long journey ahead.
Before everyone went their separate ways (with me and a9pdh staying for a spot of lunch in the very nice pub!) I took a few minutes to admire the other observer's E39 525i saloon with its creamy straight 6. A nice forced induction four pot is alright, but give me more cylinders any day of the week! So until next time, we'll have to leave it here...
If you’re still reading, thank you. I promise to keep them shorter in the future, and although this is obviously much abridged from the morning’s full events, I did want to give as much of my genuine experience of the day without trying to cut it down too much.