The final countdown!
Regular FOCUS readers will know that I have been working towards achieving my EC (or code 14) driving licence. I am pleased to report that it is a case of Mission Possible!
It’s been a long time coming! Not for any reason other than my truly hectic schedule (they don’t call me the editor in exile for nothing, you know).
Incredibly, this journey began at the Johannesburg International Motor Show back in 2013. I was chatting to Alexander Taftman, product and marketing director at Scania South Africa, and I suggested that the company sponsor my training. To my delight he agreed!
The next step was obtaining my learner’s licence … a rather painful exercise (you can read all about it on our website). Scania contracted the IDes Driving Academy to teach me everything I needed to know, and, to my surprise, I managed to get that prized piece of paper.
Then it was a case of actually learning to drive. I have driven trucks for many years … on private roads, obviously … but the K53 test is something quite different. JC Bothma, my exceptionally patient and really wonderful driver trainer from Scania, drew the short straw when he was tasked with teaching me everything I needed to know. JC was utterly amazing; he was supportive and he never lost his cool … even when I failed to alley dock after my 20th attempt one day (it’s harder than it looks).
After a while, we decided that we would head to the wild west of Mogale City (previously known as Krugersdorp) … and finally prepare for the actual test. This decision was taken for two logical reasons. First, the Mogale City Testing Station is reputedly the only place in Gauteng where it is possible to get a licence without paying a bribe. Right at the outset of the programme I had resolved that I would obtain my licence legally … there was no way in hell that I was bribing anyone.
The second reason for heading west was a man called Oom Jan (no one ever uses his surname; it’s Stoltz for the record). Oom Jan owns a driver training school called Alfa Driving School in Krugersdorp … or Mogale City.
He is one of the best driver trainers in the land. If any FOCUS readers need driver training, I urge you to use him! Oom Jan has actually trained a number of the driver trainers at Scania; he’s also trained many of the instructors at the Mogale City Testing Station. He really knows his oats. Between the patient and wonderful JC and the delightful and utterly hysterical Oom Jan, they vowed that I would get my Code 14.
And, shame … What a frustrating journey it must have been for them. We met regularly at the old Krugersdorp test facility in that city’s CBD. It’s a really cool spot because it’s been abandoned by the testing authorities (they have fancy new premises on the outskirts of town) but it’s still there. All the markings and poles for the yard test have remained in place. As such, it is used each and every day by people who aspire to get some sort of licence.
The old yard can get really hectic; it’s used by guys on bikes, motorists in cars and truckers in dinky-toy Code 10 vehicles. Yours truly was almost always the only person aiming for a Code 14 (“my” sensational Scania truck became quite famous with the locals).
Because it is so busy, we often met there at dawn: JC, Oom Jan, the mighty Scania and me. This necessitated JC leaving his home at 03:00 … but he never complained once.
There are three elements to the yard test: a left turn, a hill pull-off followed by a reversing manoeuvre, and the alley docking. Eventually I mastered all three – when I was practising. Of course, take the Scania and yours truly off to the Mogale City Testing Station and I completely fell to pieces … and I messed up the alley docking twice!
Eventually, the Scania and I became quite famous at the Mogale City Testing Station, too; when I arrived back for my third attempt, I was welcomed back like an old family member. (As an aside, I have to tell you that the Mogale City Testing Station is massively efficient and the people working there are really nice.)
Once again, I was utterly terrified. My legs wouldn’t work. My hands were shaking. I was a complete mess. Oupa Chembe runs the Mogale City Testing Station, and he was full of encouragement (I was delighted to see that he was testing me; he’s one of the nicest people on the planet). “You and I both know that you are a very capable driver. You can do it!” he urged me, with a big smile. I wasn’t so certain; I was convinced that the alley docking would foil me.
As I attempted the alley docking, scores of people from the testing centre lined the side of the yard (thankfully I didn’t notice them). Oom Jan joined the throng; JC was on the other end of the phone. I don’t know who was more nervous: Oom Jan, JC or me.
I messed up my first attempt – to my immense frustration. I began to think I would never get my Code 14, but then things looked better on my second and final attempt. “It’s going in!” Oupa announced with huge excitement. And it did.
That was probably one of the most exciting moments of my entire life; the alley docking monkey on my shoulder was gone! After that, the test was easy. I did the hill pull off without rolling back, reversed like a pro, and then I did the left turn. I know that this all sounds easy but there are trillions of things you need to remember (largely relating to observation and indicating).
Then it was time for the road test. Oupa jumped into the cab and we headed out of the testing station, chatting incessantly about rugby (ag shame, he’s a Sharks supporter like me). I was so nervous I honestly don’t know where we drove to …
Suddenly the road driving was over. We were back at the Mogale City Testing Station, and the question on my lips was: did I pass? Yes! I don’t know who was happier at the good news: JC, Oom Jan, Oupa or me.
So, there you have it: one times Code 14 licence. Tick! Now it’s done and dusted, there are a number of people I need to thank (in no particular order).
I need to thank Scania (Steve Wager and Alexander Taftman) for sponsoring me. Thank you, too, to Janke van Jaarsveld, from IDes, for all the tuition. I also need to thank Oupa (he’s such a wonderful man I am planning to propose; don’t tell a soul), but, most of all, I need to thank Oom Jan and JC. We spent many hours together. All of them were very special. You made me laugh (while I probably made you cry at my dismal alley docking). Oom Jan, I think my Afrikaans is a tiny bit better now; baie dankie for that. JC, I will miss our times together (and thanks for teaching me what the truck manufacturers’ acronyms stand for).
Getting my Code 14 licence has been on my bucket list for a long time. I never dreamt that it would be possible. I am so chuffed to have it, but, much more importantly, I am happy and blessed because I met so many incredibly special people in this journey. Thank you guys; you have enhanced my life. You’re in my heart forever.