Ok so who hasn’t been caught speeding?

Aargh such a ball-ache, but hey ho, after being caught in the same place 3 times in a month I couldn’t afford to take the points, so had no choice but to go to the Speed Awareness Course.

The worst thing is that each time I got caught I saw the unmistakable white van with the lift up back window, checked my speed and thought, ‘I’m under, I’m ok’.

Then that green letter arrives in the post and you know that you made an error in judgement.

I resigned myself to sitting through a boring presentation and getting rapped over the knuckles, but then I thought, ‘I’m not the kind of guy who wastes time on this kind of thing’. So, instead of thinking I was wasting time, what could I learn from the experience? It’s an attitude that has stood me in good stead when I have no choice in attending something.

A similar thing happened 30 years ago when I had no choice but to join the Conscription in the South African Defence Force, only then it had not been 4 hours but 2 years, plus the equivalent of 3 months, every 2 years until I was 40!

All my friends had told me it was a complete waste of 2 years of your life, so I would do the same as everybody else. . . waste 2 years and do as little as possible.

It took about 7 days for me to realise that was idiotic advice: –

  • how could doing nothing improve you?
  • how could being commanded to run from place to place be a worthwhile life experience?
  • how could simply obeying orders mindlessly be character building?
  • how could I change my stars?
  • what could I do to give myself a brighter future?

The tipping point was when we were roughly assembled on the parade ground in the best kind of line that misfits could muster, the regimental Sergeant Major had just walked past and we had been called to attention. This was Career Soldier; a man at the peak of his career who commanded an amount of respect. But then a 1 star, newly commissioned Lieutenant who had just completed his 10 months training walked past and the regimental Sergeant Major jumped to attention and saluted.

I was astounded!!

That day I made a decision that in 12 months that lieutenant would be me and I would do whatever it took to make that happen.

I guess what you don’t know is that this was about as likely as the moon falling out of its orbit!

The reason was quite simple, I was a wimp; bullied all the way through school with few friends and always at the bottom of the class. The one thing I had on my side was that no one here knew anything about my past. It was the first big lesson, I discovered here, being at the top of the class meant nothing; being the captain of the football team did, apparently that gave you some leadership qualities. Being a sportsman was considered to be the ultimate achievement, nothing to do with the army, more to do with regimental rivalry.

Being a loner, I was no team player, but I knew that I had more leadership skills than all of those in my platoon.

Just how was I going to prove that? I was not the fittest, the fastest, the biggest or the smallest, just somewhere in the middle.

So, I just knuckled down and took every single advantage that I could. Being dyslexic was going to be a problem, but here they didn’t care if you were ‘stupid’, the more ‘stupid’ the better really, ‘Food for powder’ to quote Falstaff.

I just had to be better; smarter and brighter than everyone else, and plan.

I often look back and thank my lucky stars for conscription

Basic training has just one purpose: to break and kick the shit out of you, then drive you to extremes of exhaustion greater than any you could foresee and then drive you further until you consider yourself to be less than nothing. Once you get there, they pile you with problems, and all the time they’re looking for the potential non-commissioned officers; the sergeants and corporals, the bullies and the team captains, and for those that are driven to excel, those that do the thinking, the planning and the ones who come up with the solutions when all the bullies have failed and everyone else has given up, these are the officer material.

I took every advantage I could.

I slept under my bed instead of on top of it.

On my first home break I sewed fine seams into my trousers and my pillowslips.

I cut plastic strips and sprayed my blanket with liquid floor polish so that the pile once brushed never needed brushing again.

All of this was done for one reason: to give me more time studying and less time ironing.

There was a strict lights out policy at 10pm, inspection at 5am, so I would swat under my bed with a torch.

Because writing was a challenge, I used to ask questions all the time, non-stop. The more questions I asked, the better the understanding I had. Asking questions has always been my thing; it avoids misunderstanding, but having a clear understanding meant that at least I would not have to run to the furthest bush with my rifle above my head.

The only issue was being rollicked for being too stupid to understand in the first place.

The great thing about military exams is that instead of having to write essays on explanations or views, all exams were multiple choice. I guess that’s because, on the whole, the corporals who were doing the teaching were too dumb to understand a good argument, and all operational exams were based on results: a competition, the tactical advantage, quick thinking with fast and accurate decisions, making a plan and seeing it through were key.

I often look back at my 2 years in the army and thank my lucky stars for conscription; that I was fortunate enough to have had that opportunity and milk it for all that it was worth.

Like so many of the people who went in, it could have been the biggest waste of time; instead it was the greatest opportunity to set myself up that I have ever been given, the training to see opportunities in adverse circumstances and turn them to your advantage.

There is no doubt that I look at this differently from others, partly due to training, but mostly because of my personality, and when a situation is forced upon me I look for the lesson to be learned.

The Speed Awareness Course was not a waste of time at all; it was well presented and informative, it gave me a new set of skills that I can employ so that I can be better aware.

Obviously, I don’t agree with all of their comments, especially about not listening to audiobooks or training programs whilst driving.

Idiots, my van is my university and without intelligent stimulation via training or audiobooks I would be fast asleep behind the wheel on a motorway in under 30 minutes.

I guess everyone is different; while many would find business growth cd’s and programs on marketing boring, my wife ‘The Dragon’ definitely included in that, I do not, and a 14 hour drive to Orkney to deliver and install an oven would be quite unbearable if I didn’t think I could learn something on the way.

The biggest take-away from the course however was to drive in

  • 3rd in a 30
  • 4th in a 40
  • 5th in a 50

. . . and if there are street lights of any kind it’s 30 mph, unless the signs say otherwise.

Happy motoring and I hope you can try to see the best of every situation and use every situation that is forced on you as an opportunity to learn and grow.