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APPRENTICE biographic accounts Driving education English History Motoring Society Travel Vehicle Safety Vehicles

Was it That Long Ago?

Exactly 44 years ago today, I passed my driving test.

I was seventeen, and was being taught to drive by my Father. This was for two reasons. Firstly, in order to wean me off motorcycles, he offered to do it for free, and secondly, I had bought a car in which to learn. 

My first car was a twelve-year-old Morris 1100 saloon. It was, in many respects, a great car to learn to drive in.

Not my car – but the same model and colour

It was a simple machine, with no clever safety systems – apart from old fashioned lift latch buckle seat belts.

It didn’t even have any real “comfort” systems if you exclude the two-speed fan assisted heater.

Its front wheel drive made it easy to drive round the country lanes of Sussex where I grew up. 

The Morris 1100 was quite revolutionary when it rolled off the production line in 1965. It used the new space-saving BMC-designed Hydrolastic suspension system. 

To put it simply, this system replaced the springs and shock absorbers used in conventional cars with rubber bladders known as displacer units at each wheel.

The front and rear bladders on each side of the car were connected together with pipes and valves. When the front wheel encountered a bump in the road, it would force fluid from the front bladder to the rear bladder, which minimised the pitching of the car over bumpy roads.

It also had a brilliant side effect for a learner. It made hill starts really simple.

On a hill, with the parking brake applied, all one had to do was engage first gear, cover the brake pedal, and let the clutch up slowly. The vehicle would then gently rise up on the rear suspension. As soon as this happened, the handbrake could be removed without the car rolling backwards.

I must say it helped me considerably!

So, back to the point. 

I had applied for my provisional driving licence and got it back in time for my 17th birthday. I had to buy my very first driving insurance policy out of my meagre apprentice pay, so it was a third party only policy. 

The good old paper driving licence, showing provisional driving entitlements. Not mine though!

I guess this was a bit of a calculated risk. I assumed that it was a little unlikely to spontaneously combust, and any self-respecting car thief would be horrified to steal such a shabby looking car – especially one that had a slightly Miss Marple image.

For my first lesson, it was decided that we would leave the house very early to avoid traffic as much as possible. We agreed that we would use quiet country roads to start with and then progress to busier streets and towns. 

I jumped in the passenger seat, and we drove sedately to the south west edge of the town, heading for the village of Turners Hill. 

Dad pulled over onto a layby at the right, and we swapped seats. 

After 44 years, the lay-by is still the same…

Crunching the gears, I kangarooed off on the start of my driving adventures – and all without the aid of dual controls!

An hour of driving up to the village, turning around, and driving back to the layby resulted in me being able to change up and down the gearbox, and smoothly pull away.

So, it continued. Practicing reversing into a parking bay on the Imberhorne industrial estate, reversing around a corner, and three-point turns. Hill starts without the car rolling backwards and crushing the matchbox that my father had placed behind the rear wheel.

Eventually, after a few months, Dad pronounced me ready for test, and so I applied. Crawley was the closest test centre, so in preparation I regularly drove the family over to Crawley for Saturday shopping, and was reasonably familiar with the place.

I eventually got my test date, which was the 2nd of February 1977. This was a Wednesday, and Dad couldn’t get leave to get me to the test centre.

Luckily, one of my Air Cadet friends who had passed his test the previous summer offered to take me.

My test was as simple as my car.

Upon arrival, I reported to the receptionist, and she asked me to take a seat. In due course, I met my examiner; he looked a little like Sherlock Holmes, complete with a deerstalker hat.

Having checked my provisional driving licence and my insurance documents, he asked me to read a nearby car number plate, which I did with ease. Not sure I could do it today without my varifocals!

Without further conversation, we got into my car, and I drove around Crawley, following his directions. 

The emergency stop was for real, rather than him banging on the dashboard in accordance with his briefing.  I was “making good progress” and driving at just under the posted 30 MPH limit, when a car suddenly pulled out of a side junction.

I slammed the brakes on, and the car rapidly came to a stop, without me locking any of the wheels up and skidding on the cold damp tarmac.

The deceleration forces were impressive. His clipboard shot into the footwell, and he pitched forwards. “Oh god” I thought, please don’t let the examiner break his nose on my car”

Luckily, he didn’t. Leaning back into his seat, he turned and smiled at me. “That was very good. I shan’t be asking you to do a further emergency stop.”

Having completed all the required test items, we drove back to the test centre, and he fished a folder out of his battered briefcase.

Flipping through the folder, he randomly selected road signs and marking and asked me what they represented.

I obviously answered correctly, as he ponderously got out of the car and trudged back to the warmth of the test centre.

He gravely started filling out a document. Was it a failure or pass certificate? 

“Well done Mr. Charlwood. You have passed. Congratulations!”

So – I was one of the 40% of test applicants that passed their test first time!

I thanked him, and went to see Andy who was waiting patiently. “Well?” he enquired. “Am I driving back, or are you?”

“I am” I said proudly. We went to the car park, and ceremoniously ripped the L plates from my car, and I nonchalantly tossed them onto the back seat for disposal later.

We then drove to Brighton and back on the busy A23. 

Just because we could!

However, things are very different now. 

The driving test has metamorphosed into something much more complex. Hill starts and reversing round corners have been removed from the test, and navigating whilst driving using a GPS Satellite Navigation system has been included. 

The almost casual theory questions used by my examiner in his ring binder are gone – replaced by a formal theory test, which is computer based. 

The theory test also includes a hazard perception test, using 14 short video clips to establish whether the candidate has good recognition of developing hazards and risk assessment skills.

Bizarrely, (in my opinion) candidates may use vehicles that have hill start assistance systems.

In my world of professional aviation, skills tests are conducted using the equipment fitted to the aircraft, but candidates still have to demonstrate navigating or performing the required manoeuvres with the enhanced systems shut down, thus demonstrating that they can control their aircraft in all situations.

Having said that, my car is fitted with a hill start assist system and there is no means of disconnecting it. I guess thats the same in most current cars. Unless you know better?

I must add, somewhat smugly, that it never activates, because I was taught how to do a hill start using blended clutch and brake control.

The driving syllabus and the test upon which it is based unfortunately lags considerably behind the rapid development of Autonomous Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).

To illustrate this, new drivers are not currently required to be taught the use of cruise control, or to recognise its limitations, and how to use it safely.

So, where do YOU place your feet when the cruise control is active and engaged?

I keep my foot over the accelerator. Some people I have driven with place both feet onto the floor.

I find this a little startling. 

Simple risk assessment shows that it is possible to lose spatial awareness of where the pedals are in relation to the drivers’ feet. In an emergency, do you really, instinctively, know where the brake pedal is?

New vehicles are loaded with ADAS, and whilst many younger drivers may not be able to afford new cars, they should still be aware of the types of systems available. New drivers may be renting cars to which these devices are fitted, or be given a company car which has many safety systems fitted as standard.

Statistics show clearly that the highest risk groups for accidents are very young drivers (17-21), and the elderly (80+) both of whom may not have sufficiently developed judgement to ensure their safety. 

Both groups are unlikely to be driving the latest cars which have the additional safety systems.

So maybe those that need a good understanding of ADAS and would benefit from the additional safety, are the drivers most unlikely to have a car fitted with it.

At some point the driving syllabus and the test will address these issues.

Until that time, all I can say is…

Drive defensively and learn as much as you can about the systems that YOUR car is fitted with.

Go well, and be safe!

Categories
Aircew Armistice combat English Culture English History pilots Poetry Remembrance Society Veterans war

My Tribute to the Fallen

For those that never came back, and for those that came. back broken

Don’t Tell ‘Em I’m Only Sixteen Mum

Don’t tell ’em I’m only sixteen, Mum,

Or they won’t let me go the front,

I’ve been issued a Lewis machine gun,

Which I clean as I sit on my bunk.

The Lewis Machine Gun. Being used for Anti-Aircraft purposes, by Australian Troops

I’ve heard there’s a big push tomorrow,

The barrage is starting at dawn,

The sky’s grey and dark with Gods sorrow,

The Poppy’s stand limp and forlorn.

Poppy Wreaths, laid at the Menin Gate, Belgium

We stand in the mud of the gloomy old trench,

Waiting silent for daybreak to come,

Backing us up are Belgians and French,

All shaking from fear of the Hun.

Some lonely boy in a dugout, is playing a gramophone now,

Memories of crisp sheets and my bedroom at home,

Taking my girl to the theatre, to see the show, Chu Chin Chow,

Surrounded by men in the close-crowded trench, I’m alone

Don’t tell ’em I’m only sixteen Mum,

Or they won’t let me go over the top

I’m no longer a schoolboy, so, I must go and battle the Hun,

I’ll make you proud, Mum, and I promise I won’t get the chop.

British Troops, going over the top…

The Sun’s golden fingers, are now probing the top of my trench,

A whistle is blown, the ground starts to shake, my ears filled with brimstone and noise,

Dawn’s freshness, corrupt, by explosions, the smoke, the cordite stench,

A shout, and the smell of fresh mud hits my face, as I climb up the steps with the boys.

Field Guns in Flanders

The barbed wire fence is in tatters, like a snake’s skin, just freshly sloughed,

The whipcrack of bullets buzz by my head, like so many furious bees,

We slowly move into the maelstrom, friends falling like rain from the clouds,

Away to my left is Sid from the village, chest crimson, he sinks to his knees.

Devastation…

Through the smoke I see a small crump-hole, half filled with my comrades, and mud,

I look back to the trench that was home, about fifty yards I would guess,

I crouch and hobble to safety, and see Charlie, who’s covered in blood,

I held his hand, as he died in the green slimy mud, I cry, “My God, what a mess”

The Cenotaph, London.

Don’t tell them I’m only sixteen Mum, I’m really just doing my bit,

If the Captain finds out that I’m under-age, they’ll send me home in disgrace,

It’s just that I’m so very scared Mum, that on the next push, I’ll get hit,

Then it’s back to the factory, white feathers, and old ladies who spit in my face…

Don’t tell them I’m only sixteen Mum….

Lest We Forget…

Mark Charlwood 2020

Categories
Climate change Econonomy English Culture English History Environment HEALTH Nostalgia

Is it Possible to be Green and Clean?

People of my generation grew up in 1960s Britain. They will remember many things that were unique to their age group. I well remember the Saturday morning pictures at the local cinema, free milk at school during playtime, playing football in the street and the weekly ceremony known as “Bathnight.”

In many homes, this ritual was carried out on a Saturday evening, and lots of you will remember being ushered into the bathroom by Mothers or Fathers, where the white enamel bath would be a third full of steaming water. No bubble bath, no liquid soap.

I still remember the pungent smell of Wrights Coal Tar soap, and Vosene Anti Dandruff shampoo – with which my scalp was scrubbed, despite me not having the condition,

Sinking down into the hot water would be a relief from peeling off in the cold bathroom, and most of us would splash about, soap up, wash, dip their heads in the tub, and quickly shampoo and rinse. It was a process that would probably take less than 15 minutes.

A shivering, wet kid would then climb out of the bath, to be wrapped up in a towel that was as stiff and unyielding as a plank due to it being air-dried on the washing line.

A Typical Bathroom in the 1960s

A vigorous rub dry, followed by a dusting down with Yardley’s talcum powder and that was cleaning over and done with for a week, except of course for the normal wahing of hands after using the lavatory, or before eating.

Most of the older houses on the street where I grew up only had baths. Showers were seen by many as continental indulgences. Most of the kid’s growing up in the early 1960s experience of showers was limited to those that they used in the school changing rooms for use after sports, games and gymnastics.

School showers. Tepid water at best. Carbolic soap only. I hated these!

I seem to recall that the water from these feeble showers was only ever tepid, even in the deepest winters.

Coming back into the school after 90 minutes of playing rugby in the snow a hot shower would have been welcome.

OK for professionals – but only if there is HOT water after the game!

The world changes a lot in a few decades.

In 2014 a study conducted by the University of Manchester in the UK it was revealed that only 10% of Britons took a daily bath, 50% never used a bath, choosing only to shower, and 20% only showered or bathed every four days.

Using a bath as a means for achieving cleanliness has been replaced by using a shower.

Showers have been promoted as being far more economic and eco frindly, with claims that they use much less water and energy than that required for a bath and were quicker to use.

Many people regard bathing in a tub as a relaxing activity, enabling them to unwind, maybe read a book, maybe meditate with candles, or a peaceful respite to enjoy a glass of wine, and listen to music – all activites that can’t really be undertaken in a shower – unless you like watered down vino!

Now, lets look at the realities of this.

A recent study by Unilver which manufactures Radox and Dove personal hygeine products shows a different story.

Using dedicated high-tech shower-monitoring systems backed up by user surveys, the company analysed the bathing habits of 100 families over a ten day period. The sensors recorded when the showers were activated and for how long.

For a start, the average shower is about eight minutes long!

Eight minutes!!!!

I am in and out of the shower in about three and a half minutes. I favour the military style shower. Shower with hot water to get wet. Turn shower off and apply shampoo/body wash or soap (according to taste). Wash vigorously. Turn shower on and rinse off. Clean shower off, and dry myself with a towel. Dress, and ready to rock.

I have many fiends and family that stay with me who seem to prove the eight minute rule and in some cases double that, so this is no surprise to me.

The study reveals that an eight minute standard gravity-fed shower uses nearly as much energy and water as a bath. (62 litres or 13.64 gallons of water, compared with 80 litres – 17.6 gallons for a bath. This costs an average UK family of four about £416.00 per year (520 US $).

Ahh…. That’s more like it – with proper hot water too…

Using an electric power-shower for eight minutes uses up to 136 litres (30 gallons) of hot water almost the equivalent to TWO baths! This works out at £918.00 ($1147 US) per year for that happy UK average family of four.

So – this effectively demolishes the myth that showering is better for the environment than taking a bath.

The study also disproves the common argument that women and girls are unique in occupying the bathroom for long periods of time.

It appears that young males are the worst offenders for taking very long showers – with boys under the age of 12 taking around ten minutes on average to clean themselves up.

I wonder if this is a result of carrying frogs, toads, insects and other unspeakable items in their pockets?

If you assumed that it was teenage girls that hogged the bathroom, then you would be right.

Before they hit their teens, girls seem to be efficient shower-users, taking around six and a half minutes to wash.

The bad news is that by the time they metamorphose into teenagers, they will be taking nine and a half minutes in the shower – costing their parents £123.00 ($153.75 US) per year.

The ladies in our lives would appear to be the most efficient all rounders in the bathroom.

Whereas your typical bloke – me included, just showers for a sole purpose – washing, our ladies excel at multi-tasking (as usual), with many of them combining washing their hair, shaving and even cleaning their teeth!

Maybe its time to start taking shorter showers if we want to save energy?

You decide!

Go Well…

Categories
Driving English Culture English History Environment local economy Motorcycling Motoring Nostalgia Society Transport Travel Vehicles Veterans

A New Years Day With A Classic Touch

New Year’s Day 2019 was crisp and cold; the weak sun shone out of an impossibly bright blue sky – making it an ideal morning to investigate the Phoenix Green Annual Classic Vehicle meet.

At any other time of the year, Phoenix Green in Hampshire is more of a transit village than a destination. Lying astride the main A30 trunk road, two and a half miles north east of the town of Hook, its normally just another “A” road connecting Staines-upon-Thames with Basingstoke.

All of that changes on the first of January every year.

The main focal point of the village is the Phoenix Inn[1], a magnificent old building, dating back to the 1700s. 

The Phoenix Inn at Phoenix Green, Hartley Wintney, Hampshire

It is also the ancestral home of the Vintage Sports Car Club, which was founded at the Phoenix Green Garage, and is now a veritable mecca for classic and sports car enthusiasts and the vintage motorcycle fraternity.

Two British Classics, hiding in the Phoenix Inn’s Car Park.

 This is the opening event of the year for the south-east England classic vehicle community, and attracts all sorts of historic vehicles, from military trucks to vintage and veteran cars. There are normally contingents from owners’ clubs, intermingling with private owners and collectors.

The event is in no way formally organised, and exhibitors and participants just arrive in the village and find somewhere to park. There is absolutely no Police presence, and vehicles of all descriptions are parked on the hard shoulder, the central reservation and the verges, and it all appears to run safely and happily.

Vintage American Cars – Not so much parked as abandoned.

We arrived mid-morning, and already the pretty old village was packed with vehicles, and there was a relaxed party atmosphere, as villagers and visitors wandered up and down, admiring the beautifully restored cars and motorcycles. 

A joy to behold…

The Phoenix Pub is heavily involved in supporting the event, giving over their car park for restored cars and concours motorcycles to be displayed. They were also busy refuelling the spectators and drivers alike, providing mulled wine and hot food outside, in addition to serving meals and drinks inside the pub restaurant.

The Cosy Dining Room at the Phoenix Inn

Having walked up and down both sides of the road through the village, I was a little surprised to have counted five McLaren supercars, each with a price tag of at least £160,000, an absolutely pristine Aston Martin DB6 with a provenance that valued it in excess of £500,000, £60,000 worth of Series 1 Land Rover, a drool-inducing Chevrolet Corvette in searing red which would purge at least £40,000 from the bank balance, and a wonderfully restored Scammell military truck with a street value of about £25,000. 

Just a few McLarens…

 Add in about thirty classic vintage motorcycles, and variegated other marques and models spanning both the last seventy years and the Atlantic Ocean, and the investment parked up haphazardly along the main road was in excess of £1,950,000.

Probably one of the most elegant super cars ever built, except for the E Type Jaguar!

This event is well worth a visit – unless you happen to be a motor insurance underwriter, in which case it would be best to stay at home.

Just in case.

So, better make a note in your diary for next year!

Go Well…


[1] www.phoenixinn.co.uk

Categories
Councils Ecological English Culture English History English Literature Society

Bill and George? Who?

Today should, by rights, be a good day for me to write an article.

Maybe words to titillate the senses; maybe to educate, entertain or inform? Or maybe an opportunity for me to be self-indulgent.

Why does today augur such good omens?

Well, for a start, it just happens to be the birthday of William Shakespeare, or so the historians think. The actual date of the bard’s birth is not recorded or documented, but his baptism was, and he was christened on 26th April 1564. It was normal to have baptisms three days after the birth, so I guess its a reasonable assumption.

Weirdly, William Shakespeare died on the 23rd April 1616. This is documented, so either way you look at it, this should be a good day for a struggling penman to bash out a few words.

Now, flashback to the early 1970s.

Confounding my father’s prediction that I would be an imbecile for the rest of my life, I did pass my eleven-plus exam, and made the cut to get into Grammar School.

A typical 11+ exam from 1968… Could a ten year old do these now?

English lessons with Mr Dobbins were dreary and dull, but at least he taught me the fundamentals of grammar, and spelling.

Even at that age, I was a voracious reader. My bedroom bookshelves housed the complete works of Issac Asimov (all read, I add), but I recall that I also dabbled with H G Wells, Jules Verne, E E “Doc” Smith and Arthur C Clarke.

Just one of the reasons why I love Science Fiction

However, nothing prepared me for the sheer, unadulterated hell of classes in English Literature.

Miss Briggs, my English Mistress, was a true hippie, complete with an Alice headband, long dresses and mauve tights. I think she knitted her own shoes.

But she was a nice soul, generous with her praise, and gentle with her frustrations at dealing with a totally disengaged class.

The english literature syllabus back then required that students were able to understand the context of the books studied, and could explain the use of metaphores, and allegories.

This meant that the works of the great writers were dismantled, sentence by sentence, line by line, chapter by chapter.

And then the probing questions and tests to establish our understanding…

“Mark, what did Shakespeare mean by his obscure use of the word and in this sentence.

After two years of dissecting Macbeth and Richard the Second, I was put off Shakespeare’s works completely,. So whilst I could (and still can) recite several speeches and soliluquies, I ended up leaving school with a deep seated loathing for Shakespeare, and a not much better opinion of the mediaeval writer Geoffrey Chaucer. Maybe this was a reaction against learning The Millers Tale and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale in Middle English.

What the hell were our educators thinking???? My old school friends, with whom I still meet regularly, all left school with the same feelings.

It was many years before I came into contact with the Bard again; I was in my mid twenties, and had joined my local drama group. After gaining confidence and appearing on stage in a lot of very minor bit parts, I was finally being offered more principle or leading roles.

One winter evening, I went to a meeting of the players, to discover that the next play we were producing would be A Midsummer Night Dream.

Would you like to see my Bottom?

My heart sank. Not Shakespeare…

Please…

However, I soon discovered that when read and performed as the great man intended it to be, it was truly joyous, and is a great piece of literature.

I have never managed to read any of his works as a book. I have watched and genuinely enjoyed some excellent performances of his work, so the cultural damage inflicted upon me as a kid have been repaired, but it has taken over four decades!

If they had required that I study Science Fiction, I would have probably passed my English Lit exam with an A+ rather than a C-.

The other thing of note about today’s date, is that it is Saint George’s Day.

Saint George on his charger…

For those that aren’t familiar with Saint George, let me briefly explain. St. George is the patron Saint of England. Not Britain. England.

The true history of St. George is lost in the mists of time, but he did exist. It appears from several accounts that he was a serving officer in the Roman army around 300AD. Legend has it that he killed a dragon that was slaughtering the residents of a local town. He was offered a monetary reward from the King, but refused to accept it, and donated it to the poor of the town.

This made him worthy of Sainthood.

There are accounts from 12th Century Genovese books that refer to Saint George’s colours being a red cross on a white background.

Other accounts tell of him fighting alongside the English Knights Templar during the crusades of the 12th Century.

In 1348 King Edward III of England incorporated the Cross of St. George into the English Royal Standard, and by the end of the 14th Century, St George was adopted as the Patron Saint of England, and the Protector of the Royal Family.

The English Royal Standard, circa 1348

It has been this way for centuries.

Now, the English seem to have a reputation as a self effacing race. We don’t normally go in for self agrandisement, prefering understatement to get by. That and the much publicised “Stiff Upper Lip”.

So, it’s our Patron Saint’s day today. We are in lockdown. So none of our pubs will be open for the discounted English Ale, cheap Cider, roast beef sandwiches and pork pies . There will be no give-away straw hats, or plastic flags. No Public Holiday.

But then, we don’t do that anyway.

Go Well…