In my latest piece for Taxi magazine I talk about my time as a Knowledge of London Examiner. Over the next few issues I’ll be saying more about the Knowledge: tips & insider knowledge. To read more, there are still a few copies of my my book available from the YPS Bookshop, or from Amazon (if you must):
Tag Archives: working at TfL
As an introduction, my name is Chris Ackrill, and I’ve recently completed my second period as a Knowledge of London Examiner. Since leaving, I’ve been overwhelmed with questions about the Knowledge and how to handle things at the New Towers – or whatever the new office is known as. It’s been impossible to answer every individual question put to me, but I have noted the most common questions asked and issues raised, and I shall address them in a series of articles for CallOver.
Security have let you into the back entrance at 230 Blackfriars Road, and you have been deemed a fit and proper person to be examined on your Knowledge. Well done for getting this far. Many others will have given up before the Appearance stage.
If you’ve bowed to convention you’ll be wearing a suit and tie. The guidelines don’t stipulate a suit, but examiners tend to be a conservative bunch, so best play it safe. Can I leave the tie off on Dress Down Friday? I hear you ask. Best not. You might see staff walking around in jeans and Led Zeppelin T-shirts, but you will notice that your examiner sticks to traditional values. When I suggested to a colleague that I might dress casually on a Friday I was told that I’d be ostracised by the other examiners. That was me told. This isn’t the real world, it’s TfL
Get yourself a cup of water in the reception area if you want. You can take your water into the examination room, but drink it from a cup. Examiners don’t like candidates glugging back bottles. Not only is it off-putting, but it could be seen as a delaying tactic.
Keep Calm and Carry On
Your name is called and you follow the examiner into their room. Have your appointment card ready for the examiner, and take a seat when asked to. Not before. And don’t move the chair either. All your examiners have seen the film, The Knowledge, and know Nigel Hawthorne’s “Pickfords?” retort to any would-be furniture removal operatives. Some of us would have our day spoiled by someone moving the chair six inches forward. Petty? Perhaps; but examiners spend most of their day in that little room and they’re precious about their space. Handshakes are traditionally left until you get your Req. You can remove your jacket and loosen your tie, but ask first.
Male examiners are addressed as “Sir” and female examiners as “Ma’am”. Like the Queen. The occasional wide boy will try “Mate” and “Darling”. If you remember that “Darling” starts with a “D” it’ll help you to focus on the task.
Few examiners have personal items on their desks – the regime doesn’t encourage that sort of thing – but I guess if they do, the items are there to be admired. But not touched. Whatever you do, don’t upset a certain examiner’s arrangement of coloured pens, particularly if Chelsea have just had a bad result. If you get to discuss football, or last night’s Coronation Street, you can rightly feel privileged. An examiner sees up to sixteen people a day and there isn’t much time for chit chat. Please don’t be offended by brusqueness if the last candidate has put the examiner behind schedule. Some people think they’ve been called in late when they haven’t. Your card gives the time you’re expected to report to reception, not when you’re scheduled to be examined.
Nerves and Sickness
If examiners believe everything they’re told, then Knowledge candidates are the sickest individuals known to man. It’s accepted that an advanced warning of illness is often used to excuse a poor performance. Be assured that as soon as you start to say how illness has prevented you getting out on the bike, he’ll be reaching for his red pen in anticipation. A busy examiner doesn’t need to hear about your illnesses, or your family’s illnesses (I never actually had a pet’s illness cited as an excuse for a below-par performance, but I admit I might be swayed by the image of little Tiddles sitting at home with a bad cough).
If you are sick, postpone. Examiners don’t want folk coughing and spluttering in their confined space. You won’t be penalised for re-arranging your appearance.
Being nervous is natural, healthy even. The appearance means a lot to you and being nervous shows you care. Nervousness can sharpen you up and focus you. But if it’s extreme it might affect your performance. How you handle nerves was probably the most common question I was asked as an examiner. There is no definitive answer, as people cope with stress in different ways. You need to explore yourself to find your own individual answer. Thinking back to my own appearances, I’d say confidence came from knowing I’d been working reasonably hard, and that I stood a good chance of answering the questions reasonably well.
Many people think they are the most nervous person the examiner has seen that week/month/ever, but most people show nerves. Don’t try to get sympathy by a theatrical display of puffing and panting though. Examiners can sniff out the people who haven’t been working hard, and have a pretty good idea whether a poor performance has been caused by nerves or laziness.
The Right Room for an Argument?
Politely questioning the examiner’s decision is acceptable if you think a mistake has been made, but do it before you leave. The examiner won’t remember the intricacies asked of every run asked on every day, so there’s no point phoning up a week later to argue the toss. Mistakes will be put right if they are proved. Illegal turns are usually noted on your file. If you want to query something at a later date, contact the Knowledge Manager.
Does all all this sound scary? Just think of your examiner as a fellow cab driver. They want you to succeed, and they’re not trying to catch you out. They’ve all been through what you’ve been through. There’s a strange protocol in the Knowledge world, but you’ll soon get used to it. You’ll even be laughing about it in years to come.
Next month I’ll look at the sorts of questions you might get asked and how to handle them.
All my cab writings are available on my blog: pubcat.co
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2015.