Tag Archives: Knowledge Examiner

Knowledge Appearance Myths Uncovered

Appearance Myths Uncovered

It’s fair to say I’ve experienced the Knowledge from all angles.  I gained my green badge in 1988, left the trade completely in 1999, then started the Knowledge again in 2010.  I was surprised to be offered a re-test four months’ later, well before I was ready; and even more surprised to pass a long, gruelling, Appearance with Mr Wilkin.  A year later I became a Knowledge examiner, left after eight months, then returned as a temp for another seven months in 2015. In the summer of 2014 I also did some tutoring at a Knowledge school.  Throughout these experiences I was confronted with a lot of questions surrounding the weird and frightening world of the Knowledge.  Some questions were asked by Knowledge students, while others were thrown up during the course of my work as an examiner and a tutor.

Everything to do with the Knowledge is intense.  You can feel the fear and pressure as an examiner, though I found being a tutor was the most challenging episode.  Tutoring at the school was very humbling.  The experience reminded me how seriously everyone takes it, and how it affects people.  Students seemed to thrive on rumour and conspiracy theories, and people were now looking to me for answers!  Students would sidle up to me at the end of a session and expect me to know why they didn’t perform at their last Appearance.  I had no answers to this.  They seemed competent enough handling mock Appearances in a school setting, but would be full of self-doubt when they scored a couple of “Ds” up at the Towers.

Some of the questions asked at the Knowledge school surprised me, and I think some of my answers surprised people too.   Many questions asked were based on ancient myths that I am surprised are still circulating. So, I think it’ll be useful to look at some of the issues raised, and expel some myths about Appearances.  Here then are some responses to some questions I’ve received in my Knowledge-handling career:

 

  • You are not obliged to wear a suit and tie, but I would strongly recommend it. The rules say you should dress in a smart, professional, manner.  I know, professionals don’t all wear suits and ties these days, but your examiners feel the need to maintain tradition, and they expect that of you too.
  • Examiners are not told what they can ask. Your first Appearance will be based on the Blue Book.  After that you can pretty much be asked anything  – though it must be within the six-mile limit.  Maps issued to examiners don’t have the six-mile limit circled, but few Points outside the exclusion zone get asked these days.
  • If you think your examiner has made a mistake, politely point it out. If unsatisfied, ask to speak to the manager ASAP.  Your query will be taken seriously and it won’t go against you.
  • There are no quotas: examiners don’t have to pass or fail a certain number of people in any given period.  There are no quotas for men and women either!  (I took this question seriously). Nor there is prejudice against people with ginger hair! (I treated this question less seriously, but it’s worth thinking about!).
  • Examiners sometimes ask obscure Points that are unlikely to be asked by a cab customer. Examiners know you spend longer on computers or in a school than you do on your bike.  Every day, they see candidates who roughly know where a Point is because they’ve looked it up on a computer, but they don’t know exactly where it is because they’ve not seen it with their own eyes.  Never guess a Point.  If you own up immediately, you’ll only lose one point.  If you get a guess wrong you will lose a lot more.
  • You are judged only on your current Appearance. Your previous Appearance sheets are scanned and attached to your file, and all files now only exist on computer.  Sometimes your examiners will look to see what runs you were asked previously, and they might hone in on your weak points.  If they have time.  Not surprisingly, the computerised files take longer to view than the paper files, and they give less information.  Generally, all an examiner knows about you are the questions you’ve previously been asked, and your scores.   Don’t worry about your last Appearance, just concentrate on the here and now.
  • Examiners don’t say bad things about you on your file. Not any more, anyway.  The days are gone where your weaknesses and attitude were commented upon.  Occasional comments on your performance are made on your Appearance sheet, but these are brief and strictly factual.  In the spirit of transparency, these comments are likely to be written on your feedback sheet, so there are no secrets.
  • Finally, my personal favourite! …There is no date in your file suggesting your Req date.  The idea makes me laugh, but enough candidates have asked it to suggest that people still believe this ludicrous rumour.  See above:  there are no quotas.  It’s purely down to your performance over time.  Once you’ve gained enough points you get your Req.

I often read web postings where students worry about very trivial problems.  There is always more than one way of running a run. The important thing is to connect the two Points.  Keep it simple if you don’t know the name of every little cut-through road.

Finally, a bit more about confidence.  In many cases, a bad Appearance is caused by being excessively nervous and lacking confidence, things that are virtually impossible for me to cure.  You’re nervous, because it means a lot to you.  A touch of nervousness is good, it sharpens you.  Some people always study harder than you, or at least they say they do (sometimes it’s quantity over quality too).  Don’t compare yourself with others.  If you’ve studied as hard as time and resources have allowed, you’ve done all you could.  You have earned the right to be confident.  Ignore the myths and rumours.  The examiners want you to succeed.  An Appearance is your opportunity to shine.

Blog:  pubcat.co

Copyright:  Chris Ackrill, 2016.

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Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is Power

(original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

I hear that Conservatives on the Greater London Assembly are calling for the Knowledge to be scrapped in its present form.  Assembly member, Richard Tracey, mentions an ageing workforce, with the Knowledge standing as a barrier to future drivers.  The report also argues that the Knowledge is obsolete in the age of GPS.

As an ex-Knowledge examiner I take a particular interest in the subject, and I neither think the Knowledge is obsolete, nor deterring people from entry to the trade.  Unite Cab Section’s Peter Rose countered that the Knowledge isn’t a barrier, “it’s a qualification for the job.”  Quite right.  I’ve heard no calls for doctors’ training being made easier as it’s putting applicants off.  As far as I know, doctors still need an immense knowledge of medicine, even though their patients can self-diagnose on a computer, and the doctors themselves can brush up their knowledge on the web.

In the case of cab drivers, doctors, and other professionals, their qualifications on entry provide a minimum competence to do the job.  In our case, we know we don’t know it all when we gain our licence, but we have a sound basis on which to build our competence.  The Knowledge isn’t a barrier; it’s a hurdle, or a series of hurdles, that have to be successfully jumped.

The Knowledge is extremely hard work, but unlike other qualifications, it doesn’t have to be fitted into a set period of time like a degree course.  You can take as long as you want.  It’s possibly the most democratic form of occupational training known to man.  As the fictional examiner, Mr Burgess, says in the wonderful film, The Knowledge, it’s not about who you know, it’s about what you know.  Every applicant is on an equal footing; whether you start the Knowledge with a degree under your belt, or whether you earned a dishonourable discharge from a sink comprehensive.  You don’t need to sweat while your initial application is pondered over by a college admissions tutor, and you don’t have to convince anyone of your cleverness before acceptance.  You just need to have kept your nose fairly clean, and show the ability to identify some points on a map.  And I’m not diminishing the achievement of passing the map test.  I marked a few map tests as an examiner, and I wouldn’t feel that blasé if I had to pass one now.

Many more people start the Knowledge than complete it, that’s true, but every successful Knowledge Boy knows the maxim that “you can’t fail the Knowledge, you can only give it up.”  Some people are better than the Knowledge than others, but even the weaker candidates are rewarded if they believe in themselves and stick at it.  From the outset, you know the Knowledge is difficult.  Very difficult.  What Richard Tracey doesn’t realise is that the satisfaction comes from knowing it’s very difficult.  If it was easy it wouldn’t mean so much.  The one thing that all Knowledge candidates have is pride.  It’s a big achievement when they “score” at an Appearance, and a massive one when they get their Req.  When they attend their Finals talk and are presented with their badge they know they have achieved something monumental.

Those who would remove, or weaken, the Knowledge, would presumably be content to accept a taxi service where the driver relies on GPS.  On gaining your badge, you know more than any other new cab driver in any city around the world.  You also have the ability to beat the sat nav.  The sat nav is woefully inadequate for use in a complex city like London.  It can get you out of trouble, but it can’t handle the permutations of routes and road conditions that an experienced London driver has running through his blood.  GPS can’t analyse like a human brain, and it can’t advise on the best roads to use at certain times of day.  In these times of daily road closures and major diversions it is an inadequate tool to find you way around with.

The public would surely prefer their drivers to be trained to current standard, and I believe so would the drivers of the future.  The drivers are proud of their status.  A status that comes from knowing they are the best trained cab drivers in the world.

Would I change the Knowledge?  I wouldn’t make the Knowledge easier, but I would abandon the cruel points system that heaps unnecessary pressure on the candidate.  People shouldn’t be pegged back because of one or two bad Appearances.   Is the map test necessary?  In my day, you wouldn’t have an Appearance until you’d completed the Blue Book.  I think this is too long a wait for a benchmark assessment, so I’d go back to the time where you were examined on the first section of the Blue Book and abandon the map test.

There’s been a small reduction in the number of Knowledge applicants, but by no means has everyone deserted the Knowledge and gone over to Uber.  The taxi trade is still attractive enough to those who drive a mini-cab for a living.  Many Knowledge candidates are private hire drivers.  They initially took the easier option to do a similar job, so why would they put themselves through two or three years of hell for the green badge?  They are best placed to compare the two trades.  Do they know something others don’t?

Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.

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Back on the Cab Rank

I’m amazed to have received so many messages since I left TfL.  This was after my second spell as a Knowledge examiner, where I was a temp for eight months.  I’ve had so many responses that it’s impossible to answer every posting made to my blog, the Knowledge of London Facebook page, and the Wizann forum.  Many people have asked questions about the Knowledge and about cab driving.  I’ve answered as many as time has allowed, but I’m now back as a full time cab driver – and part time writer.  I’ve noted all the questions I’ve been asked and I intend to use the issues raised for future articles.  I will definitely be producing some guidance to handling the Knowledge process.  These pieces will be accessible from my blog (pubcat.co), the London Knowledge of London Facebook page, and possibly in trade publications.

It’s not my policy to accept Friend requests to my personal Facebook page.  If you’re looking on my Facebook page for Knowledge tips, there’s nothing for you here.  Cab trade-related comments are posted elsewhere.  My Facebook page mostly contains daft comments between long-standing friends, and pictures of cats doing funny things.  I also want to retain some privacy.  The more open I am on social media, the more exposed I am to hackers, scammers and trolls. And the more open I am to the probing of MI5, the FBI, Mossad, Russian Intelligence (no offence, Gert); and worst of all, TfL Spooks.  So far, the funny cat pictures have acted as a smokescreen to my subversion, but if I “disappear” after criticising the TfL regime, you’ll know what’s happened.

My aim is to entertain my Knowledge and cab driver colleagues.  The Knowledge thrives on assumptions and rumour.  My comments on cab-related issues are personal to me.  Any views I give come from my philosophy and experience, the way I see things.  I can’t speak for all Examiners, as they all have their own philosophies and ways of doing things.  Lastly, you need a sense of humour in our game.  Please don’t take things too seriously!

Be lucky.

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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.

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The Stress of Moving

(original edit of article for CallOver magazine)

It’s often said that moving home is one of the most stressful things in life.  I’m just finding that out.

I didn’t subscribe to that thought in my younger days.  Moving was always exciting.  I’d spend a couple of weeks collecting cardboard boxes from supermarkets, then just load up a car and hit the road.  In 1985 I moved from my mum’s flat in Upminster to a bedsit in Highbury – my first move as an independent adult.  I continued to move around North London when I got my cab licence in 1988 and could afford better places.  Stoke Newington, Wood Green, Stamford Hill and Harringey followed.  I then had a bit of South London action before moving to Birmingham to take up a college place in order to pursue a new career.

When I bought my own flat I started to acquire many more items.  Once you start buying furniture, things escalate.  By the time I moved from Birmingham to Northampton in order to become a Careers Adviser I needed a van.  I needed a bigger, medium-sized removal van with driver, to move my belongings from Kingsthorpe to St James in Northampton for my next move.   Moving back to St James from Kingsthorpe with my wife and pets, things were really getting serious.  What used to be a rather fun day out in a transit van had become a logistical exercise that needed as much planning as a world tour by Pink Floyd.

But more than anything, it’s the legal formalities involved in buying and selling that really causes the stress.  Until contracts are exchanged the buyer can pull out and walk away.  This happened to us on our previous move, and something nasty happened this time too.  With our buyers desperate to move and threatening to pull out, we needed somewhere to rent and it took ages to sort out.

We found somewhere decent and finally had a completion date arranged for February 27th.  Unfortunately, the legal people didn’t seem to share our sense of urgency, and within minutes of hearing that contracts had been exchanged, making everything legally binding, the landlord of the flat we’d agreed to rent pulled the plug and gave it to someone else!  With little over two weeks to go, we’d committed to moving, but had nowhere to move to.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man.  Within three hours, we’d driven forty miles south and put an offer in on a house in the same road as the flat we’d just lost.

I was living in Northampton when I decided to return to the cab trade after ten years in the wilderness of unsatisfying so-called professional jobs.  I was still there when I became a Knowledge Examiner in 2011. Doing both jobs living seventy miles from London proved a strain, and after a few years back on the cab full time, we decided to look to move further south.  My accountant, Martin, suggested I move to the suburbs of London.  I met him half way and settled on Leighton Buzzard.   Notice how the places I’ve moved to have got progressively smaller?  London, Birmingham, Northampton; and now Leighton Buzzard, where you’re never more than a mile and a half from the town centre!   Next time I move, you won’t even be able to see it on the map.

I used to find my rented accommodation via cards in newsagents’ windows.  Or if I did it through an agency, I’d pay a deposit and collect the keys.  These days it seems as complicated as buying.  The agencies now run a referencing scam, where you not only pay a hefty deposit and rent in advance, but you pay around £150 each to be referenced (non-refundable).  My credit history is lamentable, so I can only assume that Martin told the referencing people that this time next year I’ll be a millionaire.

The landlord was sympathetic to my credit history, so after an incredibly stressful few days, me, my wife, and our cat and rabbit were saved from homelessness.  With two weeks to go, there was a chance we’d be living in Wetherspoons until we sorted ourselves out.

I’m not sure what Spoons’ policy is on animals.  We were shocked to experience so much prejudice against pets in our home-seeking exercise.  Our new landlord will accept pets, but we’re meant to pay a £150 pet surcharge.  He shouldn’t worry about the animals.  The cat might chase my friends out of his home, but he’s not as bad as he makes out.  The rabbit, left to his own devices, might chew a few electrical cables, but he’s all right under supervision.  The landlord is barking up the wrong tree:  he really needs to worry about the neighbours’ reaction to my Led Zeppelin albums, collection of electric guitars, and five hundred watt bass amp.  As far as the pets go, if we’re caught and have to pay the extra charge I’ll get my money’s worth by bringing in a whole houseful of pets.  I fancy a monkey, or perhaps a kangaroo.

Changing jobs compounds the stress of moving. I’m not moving to a new job, but I am going back to an old one… In the final stages of selling the house I was invited back to TfL on a temporary basis.  I am delighted to say that I shall be returning to being a Knowledge Examiner for six weeks starting early March. It’s an unexpected, and surreal, twist to my career.  A few months ago I was giving mock Appearances at a Knowledge school.  I missed the real thing and can’t wait to get back to Palestra, even if it is only for a few weeks.

To all my Knowledge customers, past, present, and future, please remember the legend on my coffee mug:  Keep Calm and Carry On!

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