Knowledge And Education

A favourite saying I have from my former teaching days is that we don’t know what we don’t know. A question was asked of me a little while ago regarding my blog posts and how is it that I know so much. Be assured, I do not know all that much, but as I have mentioned before, I was taught where to look and find out. I am an inquisitive soul, though sometimes not always to my advantage! It really amazes me how contestants on quiz shows can instantly recall what seems to me to be vast amounts of information. London taxi drivers must learn ‘The Knowledge’ of city streets – I bet they and taxi drivers elsewhere aren’t happy when a council pedestrianise whole areas, create new roads and one-way systems! Thank goodness for these satellite navigation systems, though I do consider that a decent sense of direction to be a good thing. So far as almost any sort of information is concerned, for me it is more about knowing just where to look, knowing that the answer must be out there. Except I have friends with bookshelves that are stacked from floor to ceiling as well as two or perhaps three books deep, all packed full of historical data relating to a vast range of aircraft and other things military. They truly do have their own library. But in my humble opinion it is a shame that so often all this information is collated by folk, but not then shared with others in some way. The danger is that we will then get those who come along with half-baked ideas, putting two and two together to make forty-two! I know of a time a few years ago when a good friend of mine was in casual conversation with a group of people and another person in that group was spouting on about an aircraft-related item as if they knew exactly what they were talking about. I am sure we have all met them. I have, in relation to computers. Now I don’t know the fine detail, but my friend stopped this chap and said “I am sorry, but what you’re saying is incorrect”. My friend was then spoken to in a rather derogatory tone and asked how he could possibly know! My friend told him, politely but firmly, “The reason I know is because I am ex-RAF, I worked for years on those aircraft and what you are saying is rubbish”. He then explained to the group how that part really worked. He wasn’t giving any secrets away, it was something that anyone with a proper knowledge of hydraulics would know. The chap who had been spouting on went very quiet. There are times when we are mistaken and it is of course polite to acknowledge the fact, but if we still think we are in the right, then we can just quietly research, check our facts and if appropriate then point out what we have found (and where) to the person we disagreed with. Honour is then satisfied. I am aware of occasions when that has occurred, but thankfully we don’t call anyone out to a duel these days! I read a great deal because I am always wanting to learn more. I have been proved wrong sometimes and that has never been a problem to me as things do and will change. But I like to see knowledge kept up to date, to be put to good and proper use as well as shared, so that it is never forgotten. If not, mistakes can and do occur. I watched a programme about an error made in the repair of a Space Shuttle, when a part had been re-fitted incorrectly. The good news is that it didn’t result in a major problem, but it happened. All because information was not kept accurate as well as up-to-date and people had not been kept informed. In the latter instance they had simply presumed, without checking.

In a previous post I provided a fair bit of detail relating to my father’s cars and then mine, but I also said about when I was having driving lessons. In that particular year we had some really strong winds over East Anglia, causing the land to dry out, thus creating dust storms over the fens. It was then that I took my driving test! My father would not teach me to drive, instead he kindly paid for me to have professional driving lessons, just as he had done for my two elder brothers as a present for their respective seventeenth birthdays. Interestingly, one brother passed his test at his first attempt but the other kept on failing – then after he passed, he went into the army and by the end of his time with them he could drive just about anything! He later held an HGV1 licence, he drove buses as well as ambulances, was a driving instructor and eventually ran his own business as an engineer, adapting cars so they could be driven by disabled drivers. But for me, when I reached the grand age of seventeen there was an excellent driving instructor living just down the road from us, so that was all set up. After a number of lessons I was put in for my test but I failed on that first occasion, I don’t think that I displayed enough self-confidence. So I continued with my lessons and just as we were nearing the end of one lesson the instructor asked if I was going back to work. At that time we lived some five miles from the city and on learning that I was planning on going home straight away on a bus, I was told to carry on driving. I therefore took my instructor home, as he lived near to us! It meant that I was in charge of the car, I knew where I was going and that helped my driving confidence immensely. The day of my second attempt arrived and I began the test, but soon afterwards it began to rain. I then made a silly mistake, I knew I had and I just thought “Oh well, that’s it then” and relaxed. It was the best thing I could have done! At the end of the test the examiner said “Well, you made one mistake but I think you realised that and so I’m going to pass you”. I was delighted, as was my instructor. So I arrived home, cheerfully waving my pink slip of paper to prove I had passed. A little while later my Dad suggested that I perhaps take my older brother’s Vauxhall Victor for a drive, with brother sitting next to me of course! This was a much bigger car with a steering system very different to the Ford Escort I had passed my test on. (For the technically minded it had a steering box as opposed to a rack and pinion system). In addition, it was a windy day so keeping this bigger car straight wasn’t exactly easy. But I did it. Then I was allowed to drive my dad’s Austin 1100 and that to me was so very easy. Insurance had already been set up and it meant that I could take my mother out shopping, or for her to attend local meetings, things like that. Then one day, a few years later, I was taking mum over to a meeting. I had stopped on a main road near to our house, I was waiting to turn right, I was in the correct position on the road, I was signalling, my brakes were on but another driver thought he could sneak past on the inside. Except he couldn’t. Instead he hit the left corner of dad’s car, spinning it round across the other carriageway. Happily there were now no cars coming the other way as they had just passed by, so I was able to pull across the road and park. Having checked that mum was fine and uninjured, I went to get out of the car to talk to the other car’s driver as he had stopped. But my mum was in a state of shock and wanted to get back across the main road to our house and to dad. I spoke to mum in a firm tone, as it was important she stay in the car. But no, dear mum wasn’t listening to me. So I turned to her and said “Mum, stay in the b*&&@y car!”. She obediently sat down and closed the car door. A few minutes later we all crossed the road safely, the driver of the other car freely admitted responsibility in front of me as well as dad. The car was repaired, but forever afterwards when talking about the incident, my mum would always say how shocked she was that I had spoken to her in such a manner and used such language!

I discovered my instructor was good, as he got me through the driving test, but that was the first step to hopefully becoming a good and competent driver. A few years passed, I managed to get a better car every few years, not new under any circumstances, but better. Then circumstances dictated that I either sell my car or my house as I could not afford both, so the car went and it was suggested that I might buy a small motor bike. My mother was utterly shocked at the idea, but as I mentioned in a blog last year, the local vicar assured her I would be fine. So that kept me in my own transport for a couple of years until I could afford a car again, which I did. Then one day my eldest brother asked me to drive him to over to a particular event that was associated with his business, it also gave him a chance to see how my vehicle was behaving since he had worked on it shortly before. It is also my belief that he wanted to assess my driving! He then kindly pointed out a few things as it was clear I wasn’t looking far enough ahead along the road, or anticipating the possible hazards, especially on motorways. One trick he showed me related to HGV driving, where these drivers must be in the correct gear well in advance of reaching the bottom of a hill, or the correct lane before approaching a junction. If we are more aware as car drivers that lorry drivers need more time, that might at least reduce accidents. It might also reduce wear & tear, as well as the fuel used, not to mention the stress it puts on everyone. As many of you know, I enjoy watching Formula One motor racing and I recently watched a programme about a the workload of a Formula One driver during just a single lap around the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. I knew they had a busy time ‘in the office’, but not that fast – and sometimes at 180mph! That was scary. They do not have a second of ‘free’ time. It is no wonder that this race is described by some as ‘challenging’! As for me, I gained experience over a number of years driving various vehicles, including an Austin Mini 850, a Ford Capri 1600 and a Land Rover Series 3 and Discovery. All very different. During my time with British Telecom I even drove one of their vehicles that had been converted into a small mobile exhibition centre. It was a type that I could drive, so long as I had a full, clean standard driving licence. The vehicle itself was compact and probably saved the firm some money, as for anything larger they had to get an engineer to drive it and set it up! I had a training session at what some of you would call our O.C.U., or conversion unit to familiarise myself with its rather different handling characteristics, for example what seemed to me like I had to be revving the engine far too much before changing up a gear. But I soon learned that was necessary, otherwise the thing wouldn’t pull away in the next gear. I gained knowledge in this and it certainly was an education, as I visited various towns around the area. But then Phone Shops came along, so the mobile exhibitions largely ended.

Getting the transfer from Peterborough to Leicester created a few changes for me. I had expected some of course, but not as much as took place over the next few years. I found some of it hard work, much of it was good as I was working with people who wanted the same as me, to do a good job and enjoy it. A while later I was moved over to a different department where the work required additional training and one day we were being shown how charges were calculated for a particular product. A good number of years before, whilst I was still at school, we were being taught a particular aspect of mathematics and at the time I asked the teacher why we needed to know this. I was told “One day, you will need this”. I didn’t believe him. So there I was all these years later and the tutor was describing how the charges for this product were calculated. At which point I said “I don’t believe it!” I then recounted the story from my schooldays as it was of course the use of Pythagoras’ Theorem! My teacher was correct, we can never know when what we learn now may be of use in years to come. My job moved me around the Midlands and I found that the knowledge I had gained with my Sinclair Spectrum computer along with its programming language, then moving on to Microsoft Windows and what it used through Word and Excel meant I was writing and running small programs that helped the team I was working with in Birmingham to automate and speed up data manipulation. This helped me when I moved up to Sheffield, still working
for BT but into quite a different job as I was able to use these skills and learn even more. As I have said, the knowledge and education we get can be invaluable. If it had not been for that Sinclair Spectrum and my inquisitiveness. It is fascinating how things work out and sometimes we must accept opportunities with thanks, whilst at other times have faith. As I have been reminded, the light at the end of the tunnel is never switched off – but it is sometimes just out of immediate sight, around the corner. That knowledge in itself has been an education.

The Goal Of Education…

This week…
I am in a Care Home at the moment and me being short-sighted, some Carers here do think it rather interesting that I wear my glasses whilst toddling to and from the dining room, then I take them off whilst I am eating but put them back on again before I get up and leave the room. Some have asked me why I do this, so I smile at them and say it is because I am short-sighted, so taking my glasses off makes the plate and the food on it look bigger and it looks like I’m eating more! Not all of them know my sense of humour – yet…

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