Tag: driving

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We can go my way, or the Electric Highway

The eagle eyed amongst you will have no doubt noticed that I didn’t post yesterday, thus technically failing the “post every day in September” challenge that I’ve been setting myself.

However, I had a good excuse – I was driving, and as per my earlier post, I didn’t really think it was a safe (or legal) time to start tapping away on my keyboard.

If you read my last post, you will already be aware of my journey. I was to drive to Gloucester, to meet up with Katy, Aisling and – of course, Jem – in preparation for their Great Highnam Court Run – the inaugural 10K race around the Highnam Court estate.

Pre-trip preparation

Upon arrival at work yesterday, I immediately set about charging the LEAF. There is no dedicated charger at work, so I had to use the LEAF’s EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) adapter to plug into a standard 3-pin socket (known to plug connoisseurs as the BS 1363 Type G, and arguably one of the best plug designs in the world – yes, I have an anorak)

Our office roof is covered with a large array of solar panels that pretty much power the whole office most of the time, so the charge was effectively free.

At the end of the day, and with my battery at 99% full, I set off home to feed the cats and get on the road.

Leg 1: Broseley to Gloucester

I set off for Gloucester at 7.15pm (I didn’t just feed the cats in the end, I had a shower and did a couple of chores too, in a (probably vain) attempt at making Jem’s life easier when she got home.

I’d already planned to stop off at Frankley services on the M5 to recharge, and did so with 35% battery remaining:

I thought I’d hate having to stop off and charge every so often, but it does actually provide a welcome break (no pun intended, especially given that the Frankley services are run by MOTO) and I took the opportunity to sit down with a coffee and read a bit of Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers on my nook.

35 minutes later, I unplugged and continued on my way – the rest of the trip was uneventful, and I arrived at my destination with 26 miles left on the guess-o-meter (range counter) – it took me a while to find the house though, thanks to what I can only describe as one of the strangest road layouts, coupled with one of the strangest house-numbering schemes I’ve ever seen.

Leg 2: The Race

Not much of a leg, this. Or at least, it shouldn’t have been. The idea was simple enough – drive to Highnam Court and drop the racers off, and then head over to Gloucester Services on the M5 to recharge in preparation for the journey back.

Gloucester Services is, incidentally, the nicest service station on the motorway – with Tebay Services (operated by the same group, Westmorland) coming a close second.

I got to Gloucester Services with just 8 miles left on the range counter, and dutifully charged up and took the opportunity to stuff a breakfast bap and a cappuccino into my face.

What should have then happened was simple – drive back to Highnam Court, pick up the racers and then go back to the house before heading home. However, I inadvertently took a wrong turn and ended up travelling 16 miles out of my way, which kind of defeated the point of recharging, but never mind – it could have been worse – Jem and Aisling, while driving from Brighton to Gloucester last night, somehow ended up taking a wrong turn and arrived in Oxford somewhat bemused at how they managed to go so far out of their way. They eventually got to Gloucester an hour and a half later than planned.

Anyway, I went back to Highnam Court and after the race finished, we had a bit of a walk around the grounds and the lovely scenery within them:

Leg 3: Gloucester to Broseley

This was where it got interesting, although in hindsight there was no need to worry.

I left Gloucester with 54 miles on the range counter. My plan was to go back to Frankley services and top up there, but Frankley services is 44 miles away from where we were, and I wasn’t sure if it would make it, so I considered heading back down to Gloucester services (5 miles away)

However, when I got going, I figured that it should be fine – the range counter has been pretty accurate so far, so I threw caution to the wind and went for it.

Jem, driving separately of course, went flying off into the distance and left me for dust.

On the way to Frankley, I saw one of the matrix signs on the side of the road that read “SMOKE. SLOW DOWN” – not a message I’d come across before, but sure enough, upon rounding the corner I could see that the carriageway was covered in smoke, pouring out of what looked like either a Ford Galaxy or a Vauxhall Zafira that had caught fire on the other side of the motorway.

I felt sorry for whoever owned the car, and yet at the same time felt oddly smug that the fire was likely caused by diesel runaway or something like it, and that me, in my not-creating-thousands-of-explosions-per-minute car would never have to worry about such things.

I arrived at Frankley in good time and with a good 18 miles or so left on the range counter, no doubt helped by my driving at a steady pace and generally taking it easy – which makes for a far more relaxing drive. I plugged in and enjoyed a mocha latte and a few more chapters of Red Dwarf.

I then had enough charge to get me home, but I decided to stop off at Telford services on the M54 for a further topup as my back and legs were really starting to ache and I could do with the break.

216.9 miles. Zero cost.

Yup, that’s right. In total, from Broseley to Gloucester and back again (including the detour, and the associated journeys) I drove nearly 217 miles.

In my old M5, at 12 miles per gallon, that would have cost me £88 in petrol (at today’s prices of £1.08 per litre – had we done this journey when I actually owned the M5, when petrol was up at £1.42 per litre, it would have been a staggering £116.

In the LEAF, thanks in no small part to the Ecotricity Electric Highway (which is currently completely free of charge – again, no pun intended) and the solar panels on my office roof, the total fuel cost for this journey was a big fat zero.

“Totes amazeballs”, as I believe the cool kids say these days.

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For all intensive purposes

No, this isn’t going to be a post about commonly mispronounced sayings and phrases, although that may form the basis of a future post – I suppose that depends on whether I could care less or not.

This post was inspired by this post that I came across today on Catherine’s blog, and I thought driving lessons and tests would make a good topic for today’s waffle.

Son, we can do this the easy way or the hard way

It was 2002. I was 19, and I figured now was the time to learn to drive. Up until now, the only exposure I’d had to driving was playing the Gran Turismo series on the PlayStation, and driving my brother’s Vauxhall Cavalier around the car park at Morrisons at the age of 15 – during which I vividly remember exclaiming, “This is nothing like Gran Turismo! How can they call it the ‘Real Driving Simulator’?! Beggars belief.”

So I did some research and decided that, as I would be leaving college imminently and that a driving licence would help me find a job, doing an intensive driving course would be the way forward. I figured it would be easier to get it all done and dusted, rather than protract it out longer than needed. BSM (the British School of Motoring) were offering 30 hour intensive courses, with the driving test at the end, and I dutifully signed up.

The 30 hour lesson programme basically took place over the course of 5 days, but as the test was on the afternoon of the 5th day, with a two hour lesson beforehand, I basically had to cram in 28 hours of driving lessons over 4 days.

At the end of it, my instructor (Neville Blake, not sure if he’s still teaching!) was happy that I was test-ready and packed me off to the Driving Test Centre in Shrewsbury.

It didn’t go terribly well.

17 minors, 2 serious faults, 1 dangerous fault and a partridge in a pear tree

For context, if there’s anyone reading who doesn’t know how the UK driving test works, you are tested on a huge variety of driving tasks – it’s widely regarded as one of the hardest driving tests in the developed world.

If you make a mistake, that’s a minor fault. You are allowed to make up to 15 minor faults in your test and still pass, although if you repeat the same mistake too many times that can fail you.

There are also serious faults and dangerous faults, and just one of either of these is an automatic, instant fail.

The partridge in the pear tree is by-the-by.

I can’t remember what all of my minor faults were for, but I know I got at least three for “undue hesitation”, as I remember being a bit annoyed at being marked down for being too cautious, thinking that extra caution was a good thing. Of course, since then I’ve come to realise that good driving is not only about being safe and making progress, but also not impeding others who also want to make progress.

I’ve also forgotten one of my serious faults. The other one, however, is really annoying. I was driving down a narrow-ish road lined with parked cars, in a residential area. My speed was appropriate for the conditions, that much I am sure, but all of a sudden a small kid (is there any other kind?) rode out into the road on a little pushbike, shooting out from behind a hedgerow in his garden.

There was no way I could have predicted it – I couldn’t see movement under the hedge in the same way you’d be able to with a parked car – but I remembered my training and instinctively went to perform an emergency stop.

Unfortunately, I felt the brake pedal move away from underneath my foot as I went to stomp on it – the examiner had got there first. Again, if the examiner has to take physical action, it’s an instant fail. I was a bit aggrieved by this, as my reactions as a learner driver are bound to be a little bit slower than a seasoned professional, but never mind – the other faults meant I would have failed regardless, even if I’d completed the stop without help.

The dangerous fault was for pulling out of a (very short) slip road on to a dual carriageway and (apparently) causing a HGV to slow down to accommodate my manoeuvre. The fact I don’t remember even seeing the HGV is more worrying, so I’ll let that one slide.

So, what went wrong?

I was test ready. I felt ready. I knew the theory (I scored 35/35 on the theory test, although as that’s mostly just common sense I’m not sure how people don’t) and I could perform manoeuvres to perfection – even the parallel park, which I’m terrible at nowadays on account of hardly ever having to do it.

I think the problem I had was that I simply did not have enough “on the road” experience. 30 hours of non-stop learning would tire anyone out regardless of the
subject matter, so it’s hardly a surprise that I clearly didn’t take
enough in.

One of the first things my instructor said to me was that he wasn’t teaching me to drive, he was basically teaching me to pass the driving test, because you never stop learning how to drive. And he was right.

I stopped learning to drive after my test, until the spring of 2004 when I resumed lessons – one a week, this time with Geoff Young (who I think is still teaching, I see him about occasionally) and with lots of private practice in between to build up my “road hours.”

It turns out that there are a huge number of variables and scenarios that you will encounter when out on the road that learning to drive in such a short space of time just cannot prepare you for.

I passed my second driving test in August 2004, with just 4 minor faults this time. Interestingly, during this test, we came upon a “fresh” accident on a dual carriageway, and my examiner – to his credit – advised me on how best to deal with the obstruction as if he was my instructor, not my examiner.

TL;DR

My advice to anyone looking to learn to drive is, put simply:

  1. Don’t do an intensive course unless you’re 100% sure it’s right for you
  2. Get in lots of private practice
  3. Do your research, and choose a driving instructor that you get on well with (this guy comes thoroughly recommended if you’re in the Shropshire region)
  4. Don’t be disheartened if things don’t go as planned – as said above, you never stop learning so don’t worry too much
  5. Once you’ve passed, look into things like PassPlus or even Advanced Driving courses

And finally, enjoy yourself! Driving offers you unprecedented freedom to go and do whatever you want, it’s worth the effort.

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Merge in turn!

Every morning on the drive in to work, I’m amazed at the number of drivers who are seemingly incapable of grasping the concept of "merge in turn."

For those who’ve never heard of it (perhaps you don’t drive, or are living in a world of blissful ignorance) this is the name given to the optimal method of getting two lanes of traffic need to merge into one lane.

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