Knowledge is Power

Following my (second) exit from TfL I have gained some new followers. I have promised to post some advice on handling the Knowledge process, but I need to update this material. While you wait, why not put on Dark Side of the Moon and immerse yourself in the brief story of my return to the Knowledge, originally wrote as a magazine article in 2013. More articles to follow later…

As a qualified Careers Adviser I am naturally interested in the jobs people do. When I was a Knowledge Examiner I would sometimes ask my candidates about their work. I saw lots of firemen, several IT experts, some from City finance, tube and bus drivers – plus a fair few disaffected mini-cab drivers. The trade has a long history of being home to those with artistic talents: music and acting, for example. Quite a few cab drivers are ex-teachers; and there are former policemen on both sides of the examining table.
The Knowledge is a tough thing to accomplish, but once you’ve completed it you know you can do anything you put your mind to. I’m not sure how many cab drivers make the move out of the trade in order to follow a different career, as I’m the only person I know who did so. Nothing wrong with trying something new, but it’s a risky strategy if you give your badge up too. So, unless you love the Knowledge so much that you don’t mind doing it twice, take my story as a warning…
However depressed the cab trade has been over the last few years, it wasn’t as bad as it was in the early 1990s. I’d only been licensed for a couple of years, but was already looking for a way out. With vague ideas around writing and teaching I decided to take whatever steps were necessary to get to university. With no “O” or “A” Levels this wasn’t going to be easy, but I got there by first spending a year at a residential adult education college in Birmingham. It was the most productive year of my life, and one of the happiest.
After three years at the University of Bradford, I returned to Birmingham and started a teacher training course in Secondary English. But on placement I found I had insufficient passion for teaching, and found it unbearably frustrating.
My next move was to study for an MA with the Open University. The idea was to return to university as an academic and stay there. I realised this wasn’t going to be as straightforward as I imagined, so decided to become a careers adviser. I went back to Birmingham to take a one-year diploma.
What followed was probably my biggest career mistake of my life: I let my cab licence lapse as I didn’t think I’d need it again.
With my careers diploma, and most of my MA completed, I moved to Northampton to become a careers adviser. This was OK at first, but when the government de-professionalised, then dismantled, the careers service, the job changed and I lost motivation. I started to reflect more on my old life as a cab driver. Was it really that bad?
Thoroughly disaffected and de-motivated, I’d built up a colourful disciplinary record. With the writing on the wall, I found myself posting off an application to go back on the Knowledge. I hadn’t driven a cab for eleven years.
I started the Knowledge again, driving seventy miles into London. I did it by car, just one day per week. I reckoned it would take me two years. After four months I received a letter from TfL that I kept re-reading: I’d been offered a re-test on 2nd July 2010.
The Examiner had a calm, kindly, demeanour, and he put me at my ease immediately. But it was the toughest Appearance of my life: not just the six mile limit, but suburbs too (I originally passed the Knowledge in 1988 and had neither physically nor metaphysically visited many of these places since then). Points asked weren’t the major ones that I was expecting – I thought it would be all train stations and big hotels (I was never a Points man, even when I became an Examiner myself).
I felt like I was in there for an hour, though it was probably less. Eventually, he asked if I’d been asked enough. Yes, I certainly had, though I reckon I only got about 40% of his questions right. Amazingly, he congratulated me on my hard work and said I could make a coffee while I waited for my badge!
I later discovered that my “Super” Examiner was known as an East London End specialist. I only found this out when, in a surreal twist of fate, I was privileged to become an Examiner myself thirteen months’ later. Although I was working alongside my old Examiner as an equal I always regarded him with awe, and always fought the compulsion to call him “Sir”.
I left a month before my eight-month contract was up. It was a fantastic job, but my body never got used to getting up at 4.30am and travelling seventy miles. I’d just bought a new cab and had to work weekends as well. I was permanently tired, and I dreamt about the Knowledge every night. I never did get the hang of the drinks machine either.
I was 26 when I got my first cab licence in 1988. Getting it back in 2010, I was more appreciative. I valued it more. I was my own boss again, and I valued having my freedom back . It’s telling that I have photos of me around the house in my cab, but none of me as a careers adviser, or a student teacher.
Driving a cab can provide a good living if you put the hours in. It’s very flexible and pretty secure, if you don’t do anything silly. For me, it represents the freedom that I didn’t fully appreciate at 26. After several years’ disillusionment with the professional world, it made me realise that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
The teachers at my Essex comprehensive would have laughed at the idea of me going to university, but once I completed the Knowledge I knew I could do anything. Passing the Knowledge was harder than both my degrees put together, and remains the hardest thing I’ve ever studied. So when you get that badge – hang on to it!
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, October 2013.


Filed under Published Articles

13 responses to “Knowledge is Power

  1. Craig essery

    Very inspiring , great post Chris


  2. Rob

    I’m KOL student. We met twice. What a disappointment that you are no longer examiner. You are by far one of the best human beings I have ever met. So courteous and polite, a real gentleman. I have always had the feeling, specially after meeting you second time that through you the spirit of past great examiners spoke and reading your blog first time has really confirm it for me.


    • Thanks for such a kind comment. “Spirit of past great examiners” – I like that! When I first gained by badge in 1988, things were more austere. The examiners hardly spoke to you. I was always treated fairly though. In a way I modelled myself on “the gentleman” Mr Lippit. When I became an examiner myself I took bits from each examiner I admired. I cut the chit-chat out on the advice of Dave Hall, but I was much more moderate. My biggest role model was Steve Thomas: no ego, very fair, doesn’t try to be clever, always respectful of the candidate. He’s also the funniest man I’ve ever known.


  3. P

    Chris can you answer a few questions?
    1. Is there a system as to which examiner you get? It doesn’t seem fair that some people get an easier ride than others with examiners.
    2. Do you think the redline system is right? That you have shown yourself good enough for 21’s but could quite easily find yourself back on 28’s or even 56’s.


    • Hi

      Answers to your questions:

      1) There is no system, and no conspiracy. Some people don’t get an easier ride. But examiners come with their own philosophies. Some set hard Points, complex runs, some are more straightforward. I sometimes gave complex runs, but my Points were quite easy compared with other examiners. Steve Thomas’s runs are long, sometimes complex, but his Points are easy. It all evens out, unless you are unlucky and see the same (hard) examiner two or three times running (this shouldn’t happen, but it does happen because they swap lists when examiners are off – the rota is compiled two months in advance).

      2) No, I don’t like the Red Line system. In my day, when the examiners thought you were good enough they gave you a drop. I found out recently they had some kind of marking system based on smiley faces! You didn’t know where you were though, and I think that’s best. I don’t think anyone should be in a 3 – 3 position. It’s cruel to put so much pressure on someone. I was always aware of the responsibility of having someone’s career in my hands.


  4. Chris ,

    In intro I had you in an app on 56s and scored with you when I really needed a score , on my way back succesfully from 3-1 down, so thank you.
    Can I ask what you know about road closures . Temp and perm were apparently still able to be called for 6 months (best to mention we know about the closure all the same). Rumour has it this has been extended to 12months?
    Really appreciate your time and straightforwardness in helping us like this !
    Thank you


    • I understand the rule is six months, but it’s a difficult one. The examiners often have no more idea than you how long road closures are going to last. I would make the examiner aware you know about the closures and ask if you can use a certain road. You could also give an alternative route: ie. “I know Avenue Road is closed right now, so in this case I would use Wellington Road…” Something like that. Never be afraid to ask. Examiners want to know you are aware of things.


  5. Nick

    Sir (sorry, I’m in that habit and can break it), I suffer terribly with nerves in ‘the chair’ & always feel like I’m under pressure to start calling straight away. How long is acceptable for thinking time before beginning a call? I’ve been known to race off & get in all sorts of trouble through fear of taking too long. Thanks.


    • Don’t give in to the voice in your head telling you to hurry up and move off. Be comfortable with the silence and compose yourself until you know what way to go. Some examiners see reasonable thinking time as hesitation and will mark you down, so it’s impossible to say how much time you’re allowed. You should be all right with 30 – 50 seconds before you move off. Personally, I’d take a minute or two if I feel I need it. Best to lose one or two points for hesitation, than make a mess of things, or panic yourself into doing an illegal turn.


  6. Ive heard your name mentioned several times by friends who have sat in front of you as an examiner, an they have spoken with fondness and respect for you and by your writings, i can see why. I am on the Knowledge, been doing it 2 years roughly and i thoroughly enjoy it. I am a courier at the same time so that helps, but for the last 13 years i was a drugs worker with young offenders and Gang members over in Enfield, a job i absolutely loved, but the landscape was changing to the point where i started losing contact with the client (i was a service manager eventually) an so i decided to do the knowledge, i have had a history of offending behaviour and substance misuse, spells within the legal system from the age of 13, care, gangs etc, an so when i decoded to do the knol people were like ‘why would you wanna do that’? My reply was, ill be exposed to people from all walks of life and if i can help improve the life of one of them whilst taking em from A to B and maybe share some life wisdom with em then that’ll do for me. Im single, no children, i love golf and i like breaks away, so i couldn’t think of a better job. My reasoning behind this career change is many, but at the heart of it is the love of meeting people and leaving them with a smile and a positive experience of having shared some time with me, however brief. There is no t enough love and smiles in the world and so i plan on trying to change that by becoming one of ‘London’s Finest ‘. I look forward to reading more of the same.


  7. kevin

    Hi there Mr Ackrill
    My name is kevin I am a green badge driver, passed Aug 2012 , previously a yellow badge ( merton and sutton ) with Clapham ext , I stumbled across your website by chance, how ? Well I’ve been trying to find out what it takes and how to apply to becoming a KOL e examiner, after bieng cut off on the the telephone twice by tfl ( as nobody knew what I was talking about , indeed one girl thought I needed to take my cab to see a mechanic ) and then to be put on hold for 36 minutes , I decided to try a search on my old friend Google. This is how I found your website, I hope you don’t mind that I contacted you in this way , just thought you may be able to shine some light. Since finishing my KOL I have always missed the process. There is a lot of doom and gloom in this game , I still feel that, like you it was the hardest thing i have ever done , and that the game is not over , I feel that the KOL is still relevant in this changing world , forgetting what some politicians say and wanted to channel some positive energy into this cause.
    Your advise would be greatly appreciated. Just thought you should know I love my food too. Crisps and chocolate all day long.



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