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Both hands on the wheel

You need a very good reason for getting up early on Sunday mornings – lucky then the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) Skill for Life course is worth the struggle, not least for the immediate sense of achievement.

Stratford-upon-Avon and South Warwickshire Group of Advanced Motorists is run by volunteers who give their valuable time to witness varying standards of driving – in some cases providing in-car therapy for the highly-strung. You have to take your hat off to them.

IAM driving classIt appeared everyone had turned up for the class and while we waited to begin I quizzed one or two about why they were there. In the under-25 camp Kerry explained her employer had booked her on the course as her work involved a lot of time on the road. The experienced driver to my right was Paul. At 70 years old he said he wanted to refresh his skills – conscious of a few areas for improvement.

Week 2 covered Chapter 3 of the ‘How to be a Better Driver’ manual issued by IAM head office weeks before the course began. The classroom session took us through observation, steering, gears and brakes, acceleration and deceleration, with film slides and discussion before we each set off with a designated observer.

Before going anywhere, each driver – or ‘associate’ as we are known – is asked a series of questions about their vehicle. This covers the sort of checks that should eventually become second nature, like ensuring the windscreen isn’t damaged or dirty, checking the tyres are ok, that the licence plate is clean, and prior to pulling away, a quick check of the brakes.
In the classroom we’d watched a clip of a police driver in training to highlight the advantages of push-pull steering (feeding the wheel through the hands as opposed to exciting variations on the norm), block changing gears to save time, and considering potential hazards before spotted: eg fresh horse manure on the road could mean riders around the corner.

We now had the opportunity to put this into practise. Around Kenilworth it seemed everybody was out to play in the road. “Tell me about the possible hazards as we go,” observer James suggested, as dog walkers and cyclists crossed our path. The IAM consider such commentary useful to gauge a driver’s thought processes, and I was soon happily yelling about loose dogs, pedestrians and stationary vehicles along with the odd thing that wasn’t much of a threat at all.

IAM driving class 2
Back at base, James made notes – some good points, others that needed work and a reminder to study the IAM manual as homework. I'm going to have to get into the habit as Week 3 promises driving in town and country, manoeuvring, junctions, signals and cornering.

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Vicky SartainRead other posts by Vicky Sartain

Road trip


Years ago when I passed my driving test I celebrated by getting behind the wheel of my mum’s car and zooming about as often as possible – speeding around Devon country lanes, taking the odd wing mirror scrape and occasional breakdown in my stride. But after moving to London, driving became redundant. I didn’t miss it either, and as the years passed I realised I was beyond rusty – panicked even by the thought of ever having to drive again. Roads are terrifying these days, I reasoned, as recently as a year ago. I was determined that I could get pretty much anywhere on public transport, and my ability to withstand bus queues and freezing train stations trebled.

Life had other plans, of course, and driving is now unavoidable for getting to work. Where I once used to walk half an hour to my job, I now sit in a car for that time – thrown in at the deep end with my very first automobile. Over recent months I’ve gone from terrified, clinging grimly to the steering wheel, to a bit blasé as confidence has returned – neither good attitudes. So for the sake of all road users (and with the hope of scoring cheaper car insurance at the end of it) I decided to sign up for a Skill for Life course with the Institute of Advanced Motoring. Read my Blog posts over the  coming weeks to find out how I get on.

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Vicky SartainRead other posts by Vicky Sartain

Ted is feeling festive

Ted at ashbyAs you’ll know, Cumbria has come off worst over the past few weeks, with devastating floods followed by snow last weekend. So it would be lovely to think that kindhearted caravanners will support this beautiful county’s economy over the Christmas period.

Quite a few Club Sites around the country are staying open over Christmas and into the New Year six of which are in the Lake District. The Eskdale Site, for example, is open until January 13, and is set in beautiful countryside with plenty of dog-friendly pubs (no doubt with roaring real fires!) to enjoy after a bracing winter walk.

Ted at CranwellIt will be Kizzy’s first Christmas and she is already enjoying the festive feel mainly wuffing at dogs on TV that are advertising seasonal gifts and products. There seem to be so many animals on the telly at the moment that we rarely get to watch anything in peace!

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Travelling terrier Ted, together with his maid and chauffeur, visit campsites around the UK with Milly the caravan in tow. Ted offers tips for places to stay and shares some of his holiday capers.

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