Taking care of business

The last few weeks I’ve not been blogging as much as I used to, and there’s one important reason for this: I’ve been working on getting my HGV (truck) licence. You have to do this in two or three stages: the first is to pass the theory and hazard perception tests, the second is to pass the driving test for a single large vehicle, and the third is to pass the driving test for an articulated truck, i.e. one with a large trailer. I passed the first of these last month and the second this past week, which should open up a much larger range of agency work and I’ve already had one suggestion of a permanent job with a company I’ve done van and small truck driving work with (though they wanted a CV, and my CV doesn’t emphasise my driving work as I had been wanting to get other work).

I used the driving school recommended by my agency, Wallace School of Transport, based in Park Royal in west London. I had considered going for a truck licence 10 years ago when I first started working driving trucks and finding I enjoyed it, but the expense got in the way: I never quite had the money. This year, a combination of a large tax rebate and an inheritance from my Nan (who passed away in August), meant that I could finally afford it, and when my Mum (who has started a masters course) asked me if I wanted to take any course, that was really the obvious choice. I applied for my provisional licence and had my medical in July; I postponed any other activity on that front until after Ramadan, and in late August I started a 3-week stint with a car auction company which I left after that time was up (although it continued for longer than that) and immediately contacted the driving school to say I wanted to start the ball rolling.

A picture of a DAF LF 55 truck with a box van for cargo, in Jan de Rijk Logistics livery with a Dutch numberplateThe first stage was an “assessment lesson” in which I went out in one of their trucks for an hour so that their instructor could see how much training I would need. This was in a 14-tonne DAF LF 55 (which is fairly similar to trucks I have driven, although the cab is higher off the ground) and involved driving around some minor roads in Park Royal, along the North Circular and then around the one-way roads around Wembley Stadium. The instructor recommended three days’ minimum but ideally four days’ training before my test; I chose the three days as I figured I had learned to drive a small truck fairly well over the last 10 years, and really the only thing different on these was the gearbox (which has eight gears in two “ranges” which you choose by flicking a switch up or down on the gearstick). I paid a deposit and booked my theory and hazard test; they also got me an account on a theory test learning website which also offers mock tests.

I booked the theory test for later in October, about three weeks on. I found the website (Driving Theory 4 All) not to be particularly well-implemented: each “lesson” consisted of a blurb and an “animation” (which isn’t, it’s just a slideshow) which often showed less information than the blurb and often took a long time to load. The hazard perception test was the easiest to learn; it consisted of clicking the mouse when you see a hazard, and the “goal” is to spot the developing hazard (such as a car emerging from a side turning or a vehicle in front preparing to turn) at the earliest possible moment. Anyone taking this test should really put aside a lot of time to learn the theory test material, even if they have previously taken a theory test (as I did, for an abortive bus driving ‘career’ in 2000). There is only one theory test for all HGV licences, so you will need to learn material about trailers, couplings, lines etc for your theory test.

I passed the theory test on the 21st October (first attempt) and immediately booked my practical tuition and test. I had my first two lessons Thursday and Friday of the week before last, and my final lesson and test the Monday and Tuesday of this past week. The first day, we drove out to Wembley where I practised the reversing manoeuvre, in which I had to reverse the truck into a “garage” area, as close to a barrier as possible without hitting it or a series of cones on the way. I practised this four times before we decided I got it right. The rest of the lessons were done in Guildford as this is where I was to do my test. The test centre is to the north of Guildford, and any test circuit is likely to include rural and urban main roads between Guildford town centre and Woking (we did not go to the south of Guildford). A popular “landmark” is a place called Fox Corner, where there is a blind bend that you have to approach very slowly (and possibly stop) and take the corner fairly wide to avoid clipping the pavement.

I had thought that learning to use the gearstick would be the main task to prepare for the test, but really the biggest was breaking “bad habits” such as putting the gearstick in neutral before putting the handbrake on (or worse, putting it in neutral before you even stop) — the theory being that your foot could slip off the clutch or brake and the truck could shoot forward. There are other behaviours such as when to look in the mirror and when to signal — I was told not to signal every time I moved towards the centre of the road, only when I’m actually turning, changing lanes or overtaking, but not when it might be interpreted as something else (like turning when I’m only passing an obstruction on the left). It all became such a performance, with the guy seeming to take personal offence at every minor slip, and I was so nervous about annoying the instructor that I often forgot to do things I would normally do without thinking, such as signal before turning, and that was only the day before my test. On some occasions the guy would lean forward as if his life was in danger from me driving a bit “too close” while stopping or “too fast” when approaching Fox Corner, when in the first occasion I was stopping and on the second I was going dead slow anyway — as an experienced driver, I’m hardly going to go into a blind bend faster than I could stop if something came the other way, am I? But his being there made me more nervous than I would otherwise have been and perhaps affected my judgement. The examiner put me much more at ease than the instructor did, and I felt much more relaxed and drove like what I was: a driver with ten years’ experience of driving vehicles a lot like that one (although he did say that I made him feel sick at times and needed to drive more smoothly).

So, now that that’s over with, I will probably start writing a lot more again, although work is usually the thing that gets in the way — by the time I’m home (and I’ve got dinner over with), I’m normally too tired to write, and the things that gave me the urge to write about them during the day no longer seem to matter so much, or I’m too tired to put words together. One bit of business that did not go quite so smoothly, however, was my attempt to sell my old Galaxy Nexus phone, which I can no longer use as it takes a full-size SIM card (or at least, the size that has been standard since I first started using mobile phones) while my current one, a Nexus 4, takes a Micro SIM (which is actually a cut down SIM card — the chip is the same size). I listed that on eBay last Sunday, intending to use it to partly finance the purchase of a Nexus 5, which came out last week, if I passed my driving test on Tuesday.

Image of an email I sent to "Leo Owen", which read: "The money is not in my PayPal account (despite the two fake PayPal emails I received). I can easily check using the PayPal website so until it shows up there I don't have it. No money, no phone. It's that simple. If I was going to give away a perfectly good phone, there are very fine charities I could have given it to."Just hours after listing, someone apparently in New Jersey bought it on a “buy it now” basis, and immediately asked me for my PayPal email address. I thought it a strange request, but thought perhaps she wanted some extra assurance so I emailed it to her. After sending it, I began to receive emails apparently from PayPal, which told me that funds had been deposited in my account that would only be released after they received proof of shipping. I checked my PayPal account to find that there was no record of this. I got other emails, from this person’s other identities, telling me the shipping address had been changed to Lagos, Nigeria. Of course, I immediately became suspicious. I wrote the guy an email telling him that I was wise to his tricks and that I could check the PayPal website to find out if money had been deposited, and that it hadn’t, and telling him that if I didn’t get his money, he wouldn’t get my phone, and if I wanted to give away a perfectly good phone, I could have given it to charity. He didn’t reply to that, and a few hours later, I got another email, this time from eBay telling me the account had been deleted.

Why eBay allows someone to delete their account when a payment is outstanding, I don’t know — it is surely a sign of suspicious activity, and no doubt other buyers in the same part of the world have cancelled accounts after their intended victims have rumbled them. Anyway, my phone is still mine, and anyone who wants it and can pay about £100 for it should let me know — it works, it’s loaded with CyanogenMod which will be updated for the new version of Android, unlike the stock version. I didn’t get the Nexus 5 — I got the Nexus 4 only a couple of months ago, and it’s still a perfectly good phone even if it’s not the latest and greatest Nexus anymore. I might still get it in a few months’ time when CyanogenMod comes out for it (it hasn’t yet, as they can only start developing when Google releases it) but for now there were other matters to be taken care of. Getting my class 2 licence should mean I get a lot more work from now on, particularly as Christmas is coming, although this week I’ve got a full week of 7.5-tonne work booked. I’ll tweet when I next list my phone.

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