Michael's Drive for Improvement, Part 2

Blog post posted on 14/11/17 |

My last blog entry described my journey since passing my IAM test in 1971. In 2015 I’d had a wake-up call, realising my driving skills had slipped badly, and the subsequent few months had been devoted to recovering and improving – all leading to one thing.

The Masters

Examiner Andy Giddings emailed to arrange our Northamptonshire rendezvous. I’d travelled through the county some decades ago, but it would all be unfamiliar by now. The test went well – until I threw it all away with a text-book error. At the debrief, Andy sounded disappointed. “I think you know what I’m going to say; do you know what speed you reached, overtaking on the A605?”

I didn’t.

“73 in a 60 limit.”

Doh! I’d become so fixated on the overtake I had lost track of all else. “It was a good overtake,” Andy smiled, wryly: “Safe, decisive, but completely illegal.”

Seeing the mark sheet, I really kicked myself. The scores were all well above the base-line – except for a sore thumb of a ‘4’ for legality. I’d failed by just two points, for one silly error.

“Apply for a retest quickly,” Andy advised. “No more mentoring – just drive as you did today but keep it legal.”


Within the week I was in hospital – the first of four emergency admissions, culminating in surgery and the long road to recovery. IAM RoadSmart and the examiner accepted the repeated cancellations patiently, and after recovery I concentrated on practising overtakes: bicycles, horses, parked cars, pedestrians in the carriageway – even imaginary cars on empty roads!

Second chance

The first half of my re-test was blighted by the memory of failure. I noted every trivial error, magnified it and rapidly compiled a mental list of reasons to fail! By the time we came to the pre-agreed ‘convenience’ stop, I was feeling as twitchy as a bucket of frogs. I said so to Andy, who replied, “Well, you haven’t thrown it away – yet – but it’s touch and go. You feel twitchy and you’re making the car feel that way, too!”

After a few minutes’ conversation, he summed up: “Concentrate on smoothness and let the progress happen naturally. I’m sure now you’ve got that off your chest you’ll feel better and that will transmit to the car. Just drive as you did last time, but keep it legal.”

From there on, things settled down. After a few miles, Andy commented, warmly, “If I were deaf and blind, I wouldn’t know when you’re changing gear.” I relaxed enough to be able to hold a conversation about theory as I settled into my normal style of driving, using commentary to show its application.

Back at the rendezvous, Andy grunted approval of my reversing and stopping drill, smiled and held out his hand. It had been a drive of two halves – the first up to standard (just) and the second very much better. That had been when I’d stopped trying to act the part of a Master and had just driven!

After a short debrief, Andy totted up the score: 77% – a good, clear pass. “You should enjoy your driving even more now,’ he commented, ‘you’ve got nothing to prove.”

I learnt a lot from this process – mostly about myself. During my mentoring, Grahame had commented on my tendency to beat myself up over trivial errors and allow that to affect my driving. It’s far from unusual in test candidates, but I can do it for England!

“We all make mistakes on every drive,” Grahame had repeated. “The examiner makes mistakes! Put it behind you, focus on the drive and move on.”

It was a couple of days later I really felt the benefit: I was enjoying my driving as never before. Everything came together in smooth, flowing actions, and things I’d been fiercely concentrating on happened intuitively.

I look back now on an amazing roller-coaster of a journey, full of highs and lows, achievements, setbacks, disappointment and elation. If you ask me whether it was worth it there’s only one answer: a resounding “Yes.”

The challenge now: to maintain the standard.

No more wake-up calls!

By Revd Michael Forster