Separating the men from the boys (and girl)

I’m pretty good at driving.  I’m a man.  What more can I say?  Not much the Land Rover Experience centre in Herefordshire could teach me then.

We had come to learn to drive the Defender, that box-like brute that you associate with the words ‘Land Rover’, and the model we have been leant to initiate Atlantic Rising.

Herefordshire is Land Rover country and Eastnor is its stable, paddock and exercise ground.  Here, immaculately groomed cars, in showroom silver (it disguises the scratches best), line the Land Rover Experience yard like Grand National thoroughbreds.

During an initial briefing we scoffed silently into our unbranded jumpers as vehicular anecdotes were exchanged across the room.  We were the naughty students who had forgotten our uniforms.  Glorious amateurs that laugh in the face of the well-equipped and sensibly-dressed.

However, halfway up a 45 degree slope, with wheels spinning, flecks of mud flying and three tonnes of metal slipping unceremoniously beneath you… glorious amateurism doesn’t wash.

Particularly not with Chris and Phil.  Our instructors.  Men who’d had some kind of formative experience with a Land Rover in their youth.  Whose very matter added to the Defender’s stolid sense of gravity.  Men with a toolkit of practical professions under their no-nonsense belts – paramedics, soldiers, firemen.  Men for a crisis.  Men.

Land Rover Experience

“So, how does the handbrake work Tim?” asked Phil.

I didn’t know.  In fact I had no idea.  I had never spent much time thinking about it.  Pause.  No helpful suggestions were forthcoming from my travelling companions in the back of the car.

“Well Tim, I have to say, I’m a bit concerned.  How are you going to know what to do when it breaks?”

“I don’t know”, I whispered.  The naughty schoolboy found out.

Over the next three days they put us through our paces: one of us sweating with grim determination over the wheel, the other two living every bump, rut and pot hole from the back seats – thrown about like loose luggage.  We learnt a whole new vocabulary of mechanical terms, the language of knots and ropes, and mottos to be recited along our journey “as slow as possible as fast as necessary”.

They taught us to listen to the fine tunes of the engine: the anti-stall and the anti-lock, the sound of a rope at full tension and of a cable about to shear.  They even displayed a surprising affection for tadpoles, doggedly emphasising an awareness of the environment.  We spent about as much time out of the vehicle – inspecting groundcover, track marks, trees and gradients – as we did in it.

On our last afternoon, we had got the Defender stuck, in a rut.  The rescue attempt was afoot.  Lynn, suspended in mid-air by the high-lift jack; Will, on his back, kicking logs under tyres in defiance of gravity’s inexorable pull; and the Land Rover rising inch by precious inch against the bowing jack.  Amid the grime I thought for a split second that I noticed Phil’s eyebrows raise in paternal approval, you had to be quick to catch it, but it gave the fleeting impression that we were proving our mettle.

Lynn, Tim, Chris Bartlett, Will

2 Responses

  1. Brilliant – am so jealous! I wish i could have had any training before trying to take a 4×4 on proper terrain. Instead I got stuck on my first riverbed crossing and had to be rescued by a tractor!

    In better news though – I met a couple last week in Zambia who’d driven all the way from Germany with only one problem the whole way!

  2. Pleased to have been of help. Best of luck with the Expedition.

    Sorry about the silly Bunny Rabbit ears thing in the sicture.

    Was great meeting you all. Scary, but great 🙂

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