Back to school

Back to school

Regular readers of FOCUS know, by now, that I have committed to getting my truck driver’s licence. Getting an appointment to write my learner’s proved to be an enormous challenge … and little did I know of the stress that lay ahead!

Right, so I finally have an appointment to write my learner’s test. After much frustration and persistence.

Yay.

Now it’s time to go back to school … and study for the test. Once again, I am in the hands of the professionals – the fabulous team of driver training experts at Scania (which has sponsored the entire programme; thanks guys!) and Hayden Naidoo, a driver trainer from iDes Driving Academy. They will guide me through the entire process, using a combination of both face-to-face training and e-learning. I need to get a lot of information inside my thick skull – mostly pertaining to rules of the road and signs.

I’m apprehensive, but not overly stressed. It’s sounds like a fair bit of work. But I have been a driver for many years. I know the drill …

That’s until I begin the actual process. It’s much tougher than I expected. Plus I am busy with lots of different things – notably Truck Test 2014. So, while I study here and there, I don’t really devote myself to studying until two weeks before the test.

That’s when I truly start stressing. Not necessarily about the signs that I have never seen before, but about the fact that the entire process is designed to ensure failure. For instance, Naidoo shows me a stop sign and asks me what it means. I roll my eyes, telling him that it means that I must stop. Of course. Do I look stupid?

Wrong. “It means stop and then proceed when it is safe to do so. After all, you’re not going to remain stopped indefinitely now are you?” asks Naidoo with a wicked grin. He’s not teasing me either; were I to answer “stop” in the actual examination, my answer would be incorrect!

Next up is a question about safe driving techniques. I say that it’s important to keep two hands on the steering wheel. Naidoo’s evil grin appears again. “Wrong!” he announces. “What if you don’t have two hands, because you’re disabled?”

The more time I spend with Naidoo the more I am convinced I will fail the test. He understands my concerns. “Many of the questions are designed to trick you; it’s as though they don’t want you to pass. I had a student fail his learner’s nine times!” he reveals. Clearly, this is why so many people buy a licence – I strongly believe that this doesn’t bode well for road safety.

As my test date approaches, I decide to give up wine and friends. And study instead. Sleep goes out the window too – I am so stressed that I am going to fail.

Then The Big Day dawns. I am a nervous wreck. I arrive at the Florida Testing Station 20 minutes early (the officials request that you’re there 30 minutes in advance; I think that’s too much).

I march into the classroom and announce my presence. “You’re late,” the officials tell me. This is not a good thing to be telling me. I know that I am there 20 minutes in advance. I show them my mobile telephone and point out that it is 9.40 am. My test only starts at 10 am. I am NOT late!

“Rubbish. You’re late,” they tell me again. Now I am getting seriously grumpy. It took me weeks of pain and suffering to make this appointment – and they tell me I have missed it? I point to the clock on the wall, which shows that it’s now 9.43 am, arguing furiously.

The officials start laughing. “You’re late. Don’t you think you should have done your learner’s years ago?” they ask, thinking that this is a huge joke.

Charleen Clarke reviews her notes with Scania parts business analyst John Nelson and iDes driving instructor Hayden Naidoo. I realise that they’re just teasing me. And I retire to a bus stop outside, which is where all the applicants have to wait (before they’re summoned). As I pace up and down, I bump into Barloworld’s Adrian van Tonder, who has been helping us with Truck Test 2014 (he was a real superstar). He reveals that he’s just been asked to pay a bribe. He is number 180 in the queue to renew his driver’s licence. Officials have approached him and asked for R300. That will secure the number one spot in the queue. The R300 apparently gets shared by three guys. Van Tonder, being an upright citizen (most of the time anyway), has refused to pay the bribe.

Next thing, the officials call us. We proceed into the classroom, like lambs to the slaughter. Some 45 people. All terrified. I am absolutely convinced I am going to fail – but now I just want to get this thing over and done with.

One of the aspirant comedians points me to a desk, which has a test book on top of it. I see it’s in Afrikaans and Sotho. I can speak Afrikaans but I see no reason to make the already-impossible test even harder. So I march up to the comedian and ask him for an English book. “Sure,” he says with a huge laugh. “Turn it over.” Sheepishly, I do as requested. Of course it’s in English (and Zulu) too … I can see him shaking his head. He must think that white people are incredibly dumb …

Next up, the officials patiently explain the process and I must say that they do it extremely well. They speak slowly – as though we’re all retarded or something – and frequently ask us if we understand. We are told to raise our hands when we’re finished, and then – once our papers are scored – we are instructed that we must not do a loud dance of joy (if we have passed) or kick the official’s desk (if we have failed). If you do pass, you must go and sit at the bus stop, and wait. For goodness knows what.

As part of the explanatory process, we do four test questions with the help of the officials and, once again, there’s a lot of joking. One of the questions is the beloved “right of way” sign. We are asked out loud what this is and most of the applicants get the answer right. “You are wrong!” announces the official. “That is a diamond. So it must be from Kimberly. Because that’s where all the diamonds come from.” He has a hearty laugh at his joke; we all laugh politely – because we’re scared he will fail us if we don’t.

Then the test starts. We have one hour to complete it. I decide to proceed very slowly and carefully; as I have been told some of the questions are there to trick you. Rushing doesn’t help. A young lady on my left completes her test as I am busy checking my answers. Wow, she’s fast, I think.

Maybe being speedy is her downfall. She fails. Yet again. This is her sixth attempt.

Eventually I finish my revision (I find two errors on my part) and I raise my hand. My test is marked. My heart beats so loudly I am sure it is going to disturb the other students or jump right out of my chest.

I am banished to the bus stop, where I am eventually part of a crowd of six.

As it turns out, I have passed! My next step is to get behind the wheel of a Scania and scare a driver trainer witless.

But that, dear readers, is another story for another issue …

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Andries Ndlehe and Sheldon Mayet with one of Leeu Transport’s 19 trucks.

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