Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

ADI Green Badge montageThis article was originally written in 2010, and things have changed a bit since then. This article now refers to the current (2018) procedure – with a 2019 amendment for the bit about what date your driving licence was issued.

My ADI badge was due for renewal in October 2018. I got the initial alert that my DBS check (formerly the CRB check) needed to be renewed in early April – 6 months before my badge expired. This alert came from DVSA via email.

I applied for my DBS immediately online. DVSA supplies you with a PIN number and a secret word. You apply via an online form.

Once you have completed your DBS application, you take a printout of the completed form along with the necessary documents to a Post Office branch that does identity/document checks (you can find a branch at GOV.UK). Note that your local Post Office will almost certainly not have this facility – you will need to go to one likely to be situated in the middle of a large city, with no easy parking, and with queues of people with prams and other annoying things, doing what people who use Post Office branches in the first place usually do. In other words, be prepared for a long wait.

Be careful with your initial DBS application. I am paperless, so had to go to my bank separately to get an official bank statement printed out as one of my check documents. You have to physically put the date of the statement on your application form – even though it is clearly printed on the actual statement. The problem is that you can only use a date in the past, so get the statement first, then fill the form in the next day. Trust me: if the statement date is today or in the future, the online system won’t let you proceed, and if you try to post date it, the Post Office will reject it because the dates won’t match.

When I did mine in October last year, I used my driving licence as a check document (and you probably will be, too). At that time, the date you had to physically enter on the form was the date you passed your test. It was NOT, as you might reasonably expect (as I did), the “valid from” date on the front of your licence (i.e. when you last did your photo update). It was totally f—ing stupid, but that’s how it is, and it isn’t explained anywhere that I could find (nor was it such an issue any of the previous times I had a CRB/DBS check done). The woman at the Post Office told me it catches a lot of other people out , too. Basically, if you don’t remember the exact date you passed your test (and I bloody well didn’t), you have to infer the date from the list of entitlements on the back of it.

As an update to the date on your licence thing, a reader emailed me recently (May 2019) and told me that he had used his pass date, as I outlined above, and the idiots had rejected it and wanted his “valid from” date from the front of the licence. He tells me he was shown the document dated January 2019, so it seems the morons have moved the goalposts and not told anyone. Just be aware of this if yours is due – it looks like the required date is now the one on the front of the licence, which it definitely wasn’t when I did it (though it should have been)!

It’s a stupid system, because the dates on bank statements and driving licences are integral to those documents, and all you are effectively being checked on is whether they caught you out when asking you to write them down on a separate form. It’s even more stupid when you get it wrong, and the Post Office worker shows you how to fill it in properly with the correct figures, so you go away (you have to generate another form) and make the corrections. There is no security aspect to it whatsoever.

I used my passport, my driving licence, and a bank statement as my check documents. I had recently had to apply for a new passport and used this instead of my birth certificate (which has to be an original, and not a copy like mine is).

My DBS certificate came through about seven days after the document check was completed (the check at the Post Office triggers your application process). It costs £6.00 for the service.

Now we come to the actual renewal of your Green Badge. There is no warning later in the year from DVSA – it’s up to you to keep track of your application.

Every Green Badge expires on the last day of whatever month you originally registered in. You apply to renew as soon as possible in the month in question. In my case, with my badge expiring on 31 October, I had to apply any time from 1 October (I would not have been allowed to do it on 30 September).

You simply log into the IRDT system – which every instructor should have access to – and make your application. You will need to provide the number on your DBS certificate, which DVSA will have a copy of/access to. You need a means to make payment (credit or debit card). It costs £300. I applied for mine on 1 October, and it was issued and is now current since 2 October. It arrived in the post 5 October, and has an expiry date of 31 October 2022. All set for another 4 years, now.

To summarise. Assuming you have a credit or debit card, and are not still holding out against technology and the internet, the times taken to actually get both the DBS and your new badge are very short. The documentation and chasing around required for the DBS application is a right pain in the arse, so plan ahead. Application for the Green Badge is simple.

On the other hand, if you insist on using paper money or cheques, won’t use the internet, or want to kick up a stink about which photo you want on your badge… good luck with that. I have no idea what to do in those circumstances.

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UK PassportFirst published in November 2018, this question pops up from time to time. I often gets hits on terms like “can driving instructors sign passport applications” or “can my instructor sign my passport photo”. The short answer is: NO. They can’t.

On the forums, no one knows the answer – but it doesn’t stop them offering one up all the same. Their answers are mainly based on the fact that they’d like to think they can sign, and proceed from there.

The GOV.UK website lists recognised professions, members of which can countersign passport applications. It is worth pointing out right away that driving instructors are not mentioned. The closest is “teachers and lecturers”, and as much as ADIs like to consider themselves teachers, they are not teachers in the sense the word is intended in an official context.

I have asked the Passport Office for guidance on this before. Their initial answer was:

Yes you would be able to sign a passport application if you are self employed and VAT registered or a Limited company.

I queried this further (most instructors would stop reading after the word “yes”), pointing out that most driving instructors are not VAT registered, nor do they operate Limited companies. The Passport Office responded with:

…a driving instructor can be considered a suitable countersignature not because they are a driving instructor, but if they would be considered the owner/manager of a limited or VAT registered company.

If they would not be registered in this way we cannot guarantee they would be accepted by the processing team.

There it is in black and white. Driving instructors cannot countersign passport applications just because they are driving instructors. If they are VAT registered or owners of Limited companies, they can. But the vast majority of instructors are not VAT registered, nor are they owners of Limited companies. If an instructor who is not VAT registered or the owner of a Limited company countersigns a passport application, the application may be rejected if anyone bothers to check.

Of course, some ADIs might operate larger schools and their greater turnover would mean they would have to be VAT registered. They may even be large enough to form a Limited company out of it. If they are either of those things, they are eligible to officially countersign passport applications. But I emphasise again that the vast majority of ADIs cannot officially sign off passports because they do not meet the relevant criteria.

I have successfully signed passport applications for friends over the years on the back of being an instructor. I am successful as an ADI, but I am not VAT registered and I am a sole trader. I have always been wary of signing off passports because I knew it was a grey area. Any one of those applications could have been bounced back. I’ve never signed one for a pupil because I simply don’t know them well enough (as well as being from a “recognised profession”, you also need to have known someone for at least two years, and I’ve only ever had a handful who’ve been with me that long in all my years as an ADI). It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if it turned out that some instructors are signing applications for pupils and even charging money for the service (like some GPs do).

So, technically, the answer is no. Driving instructors cannot sign off passport applications just because they are driving instructors. And that’s the official Passport Office stance.

I sign them and no one says anything

Officially, you are not authorised to sign passport applications. You are simply not being questioned over it – if you ever were, your signature would be invalid. That is the official Passport Office stance, and no matter how you try and argue it, you are not authorised to sign them off.

No one has ever questioned it

If they did, your signature could be rejected. That is the official Passport Office stance, which I have in writing (see above). You need to be the owner of/manager in a Limited company and/or be VAT-registered and to have known someone at least two years to be eligible if you are not in one of the recognised professions. The vast majority of ADIs have not known their pupils for anywhere near two years, and the vast majority are not owners of/managers in Limited companies, nor are they VAT-registered. Specifically being an ADI does not give you the authority – the Passport Office told me that in writing.

If you are not being challenged, it isn’t because you are authorised. It is because no one is checking properly. As long as that’s the case, carry on by all means, but officially you are not authorised to countersign passport applications.

ADIs are “teachers”

No we are not. A teacher is someone who is a member of the teaching profession, and who specifically does that job day in, day out in a school or college. By your definition, anyone who ever passes some information on to someone else is a teacher, and that is obviously incorrect, since that would mean everyone would fit the bill one way or another. Like it or not, a driving instructor is not one of the recognised professions. And a driving instructor is absolutely not classified as a teacher in the professional and official sense the word is meant.

So is it illegal to sign them?

No – but it’d be bloody interesting to see what happened if someone you’ve only known for a couple of weeks, and whose passport was obtained with your endorsement, suddenly turned up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and they wanted to know how he or she got it. But it isn’t illegal to sign them off. You’re just not officially authorised to do so.

But I’ve been contacted previously to verify that I signed

That’s the Passport Office not doing its job properly. You can see what they told me, above. If you are not a “recognised profession”, you must be VAT-registered through being the owner of, or manager in, a Limited company, and you have to have known someone for at least two years to be eligible to sign (and that applies even if you’re on the recognised list). Normal ADIs are not authorised to sign off passport applications – the Passport Office has stated that in black and white. Most of us do not know pupils for more than 12 months, and we only know many for six months at best. At the very least, you can’t (or shouldn’t) sign them because of how long you’ve known the pupil – the other stuff is just icing on the cake.

I’ve done it before for friends of many years. But as the Passport Office has said, such applications could be rejected. That they haven’t been is because the Passport Office didn’t check properly. Just because you got away with it (like I have) doesn’t mean you are officially authorised.

No one is saying you’re a bad person for doing it, or that you should stop. It’s just that you’re not officially authorised to do it, no matter how you try and twist it. That’s the Passport Office’s official stance.

The Passport Office told me I could sign as an ADI

Assuming you didn’t stop listening after the word “yes” and therefore missed the part about being VAT-registered, etc., there is every likelihood that whoever you spoke with was just a phone operator and not an expert on the subject. They could easily have given the wrong information. Their first response to me seems to be saying yes at first glance, and it’s only when you stop and ask yourself (and question the Passport Office more deeply) if you are VAT-registered that the penny drops. If the first person who responded to me knew what they were doing, they would have given the information the second respondent did right at the start, because it is crucial.

ADIs fall foul of at least one of the criteria for being able to countersign passports in the first place, namely how long they have known the pupil. That particular criterion is not in question, only the one about ADIs being “teachers”, and therefore on the list of “recognised professions”.

Can ADIs sign passport applications?

The official answer is no. The Passport Office has told me in writing that a driving instructor (or anyone else not in a recognised profession) can only sign if they are the owner of, or a manager in, a Limited company, or if they are VAT-registered. They also need to have known whoever they are signing for for at least two years. Nearly all ADIs are not VAT-registered, not owners of a Limited company, not managers in a Limited company, and have not known their pupils for anywhere near two years. They are not eligible to sign on every single front.

You’ll get a lot of idiots saying yes, you can. They say this because they are instructors who have done it, and they assume that this must mean they are authorised. They aren’t. They just demonstrate quite clearly why the job of ADI is not on the list of recognised professions.

It’s a bit like burgling someone’s house. Just because you don’t get caught doesn’t mean it’s OK to do it.

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Our Silver Birch in June 2017I originally wrote this article back in 2014, when our tree began to produce a lot of yellow leaves in mid-June. I managed to figure out the cause and the remedy, and that’s what this article was originally about.

Last year – 2018 – was the hottest on record, and it brought in another problem that affected pretty much every tree in the country. Heat stress.

The article becomes popular each year, and things kicked off earlier in 2019. I suspect that was down to a combination of the mild end to Winter, which jump-started Spring so that it was a month ahead of usual, and the lingering effects of the 2018 drought.

To summarise everything I have found out, premature yellowing and leaf drop in Silver Birches can occur for the following reasons:

  • nutrient deficiency
  • iron deficiency
  • lack of water and heat stress

And I now know that it’s easy to get all three at once.

When the yellowing first occurred back in 2014, we were worried. Googling for an answer was next to useless, since most of the technical advice was North American, focusing on the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches), or the perils of trying to grow trees in either a desert or a swamp. And that was only from the experts – the general public was quite prepared to believe that it was an alien conspiracy, and was more than prepared to defend that view. Our trees had none of the beetle infestation symptoms other than leaf drop, and although the British never shut up about the bloody weather, we were not growing ours in anything other than normally-drained British garden soil.

After a lot of research, and after sifting out the utter crap, I discovered that yellowing/leaf drop is usually caused by deficiencies of nutrients and/or iron in the soil. In 2018, with the hot summer to contend with, I further discovered that lack of moisture and/or high temperatures can produce the same symptoms – it’s called heat stress, and I’ll discuss it later (I wrote a separate article about it in August 2018).

Note that the problems described are not confined to Silver Birches. All trees and plants can be affected by nutrient deficiencies or heat stress, though you may need a different fertiliser to address the nutrient issues.

The problem we had in 2014 was characterised by bright, canary yellow leaves – just like in the Autumn, though not as widespread throughout the canopy – which began falling off the tree. I can’t honestly remember where I found this now, but somewhere in the hundreds and hundreds of forum pages and obscure “ask the expert” sites rattling on about the bloody Birch Borer I came across a single one-line comment mentioning two easily-applied ideas that made absolute sense, and which could be implemented without calling in David Attenborough and Rentokil. Fertiliser and Iron Treatments

Nitrogen (nutrient) deficiency is resolved using ericaceous fertiliser (for lime-hating plants, which is what birch trees are). It is available from various manufacturers, such as Miracle-Gro, and can be bought from most decent garden centres and from many online retailers (including eBay and Amazon, where I usually get mine). It only costs about £5 for a box of the granules (you often get multi-pack deals), and there’s enough in one box to manage a decent sized tree for at least half a season. You can also get liquid varieties, which I’ve switched to since 2018 because of my new irrigator toy; and slow-release granules, which work for up to three months, and which are great for those treating small areas (I use them in my containers of Blueberries).

Normal fertiliser is no good for birches – it has to be the ericaceous stuff – and you just dissolve it in water and spread it around the tree. The slow-release granules are just sprinkled on the ground and watered in (I just wish they’d make the damned things in camouflage green, instead of the “hey, look at me all over the lawn” multicoloured mix they actually are).

Leaves suffering from chlorosisLeaves that look like those in the images here are suffering from iron deficiencyknown as chlorosis.

Leaves are green because they contain chlorophyll. Simplifying the subject, chlorophyll allows plants to convert light energy into sugars they can use via the process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is green – hence the colour leaves usually are – and it contains iron, so if there isn’t enough iron you get less chlorophyll (hence the yellow colour). The plants compensate for the subsequent lack of food by shedding leaves and going towards a shutdown state. That’s what you can see here.

Chlorosis is resolved using sequestered (or chelated) iron, such as Maxicrop, shown above. It’s a seaweed extract, so perfectly natural, and it comes as a liquid. You can mix it in with your fertiliser and water it in at the same time. I’ve recently discovered a source of Maxicrop in commercial 10L containers, which is more cost-effective than buying it in 1L bottles. It stains like hell, so be careful not to drop the concentrated liquid on pathways and decking.

Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosisAnother symptom of soil nutrient deficiency is that new leaves may be small and misshapen, instead of the classic Birch leaf shape. Some of ours were like that in that first season.

Back in 2014, after a single application of fertiliser treatment, leaf drop stopped almost immediately once the already-dead leaves had fallen. The tree even threw out some catkins, which had been absent up until then. In subsequent years, I started feeding every few weeks from March with both fertiliser and iron and we had no leaf drop at all until 2018. In May 2017 our tree looked like the photo at the top of this article, and here’s a close-up of the leaves from that year. Does that look healthy, or what?

Close-up of our tree's leaves in June 2017An additional iron treatment for the longer term is to water-in iron (ferrous) sulphate periodically. This replaces iron in the soil, too, but it also acidifies the ground over time, which is beneficial for ericaceous plants. It’s also very good for your lawn – iron sulphate is a moss-killer and a grass-greener (it’s sold for these purposes, and I use it several times a year to kill moss in the lawn).

Why does nutrient deficiency occur? Well, bear in mind that when trees and plants die back in winter in the wild, the leaves they shed decompose and return nutrients to the soil as they do so. In urban gardens, though, leaves are usually swept up and taken to the tip to keep the garden looking tidy. That means the soil becomes depleted of those nutrients over time and you get problems like this. It’s fairly obvious looking at it now, but I was like everyone else in thinking that when you planted a tree you just forgot about it and let it grow. It turns out you need to look after them almost as much as you would a tomato plant or an ornamental cactus.

You have to keep the treatments going at least once a month between March and September, and you have to follow the same routine each year (or at least over alternate years). If you don’t, the problem will come back at some point.

Now we come to the extremely hot summer of 2018. Around the end of June, I once again noticed a few sprays of yellow appearing. I briefly wondered what was going on, but I guessed right away it might be linked to the prolonged high temperatures and low rainfall we’d experienced up until then. After Googling it I concluded my tree was, indeed, suffering from heat stress. The solution to this is to get water down to the roots – it’s called deep watering – but that’s easier said than done.

One way of doing it is to use deep watering spikes. These are tapered tubes that are hammered into the ground around the tree, and into which water is fed slowly so that it gets to the roots deep down. I didn’t have time for that in 2018 (with the ground as dry as it was, it’d have been like trying to hammer a 6-inch nail into plate steel), so I went for the longer-term sprinkler method. Every night, I set the sprinkler going and watered for a couple of hours in each of several zones to ensure even saturation (we didn’t have any hosepipe restrictions, and I wouldn’t have continued if we had). This allowed water to seep down deep into the soil, and it fixed the problem in less than a week (it also turned a completely brown lawn into a lush green carpet).

With hindsight, all trees in 2018 had much thinner canopies than usual – as I mentioned earlier, heat stress isn’t just confined to birches. The leaves on my own trees were smaller than they were in previous years, but about a week after starting deep watering the tree produced some new shoots and the leaves that appeared were much larger. And some very fat catkins also appeared.

As a result of the heat stress problem, and still needing to keep the other treatments going, I have now invested in a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. I can highly recommend that device – the Access Irrigation Static Dilutor.

I’m updating this in early May 2019, and our tree is now in full leaf.

Can you rescue leaves which have turned yellow?

No, probably not. The important thing is that by feeding and watering the tree you can stop any further yellowing – and believe me, the first time you do it the effects will be quite noticeable within a short time.

I would imagine that chlorosis could be reversed if it is caught early, since pale leaves are not necessarily dead – they’re just iron-deficient. In that case, you might be able to save some partially-yellowed leaves by applying the chelated iron treatment. As an example, in early June 2018 (before the heatwave really kicked in) I noticed my neighbour’s usually-dark green Cherry Tree leaves were very pale and many yellow ones were falling. I told her about the iron treatment and she bought a bottle. The leaves on that tree turned dark green within a few days and no more yellow ones were produced.

Do you have to keep treating the trees?

Yes. If you don’t, the problem just comes back once the tree has used up what you’ve fed it, especially if you bin the leaves again the following autumn. Huge trees will suck up all the nutrients and water, and if you’re raking up and binning the leaves each year (or if the soil is dry and there are no prolonged periods of rain) nothing gets returned to the soil.

Treat your trees from March until September. Feed at least once a month (even two to three times during the earlier months) – and water regularly in hot weather anyway, as they do need moisture.

How often should you feed?

I do it once or twice a month.

Can heat and drought cause them to lose leaves?

Yes. If they are stressed you may get them dropping leaves, and if not treated the leaves can even go brown and die on the tree (I saw a lot of Silver Birch trees on road verges like that in 2018). It’s a good idea to water them deeply during hot, dry periods. Once or twice a week should be enough, though more frequently won’t hurt if the dry period is prolonged.

As I explained above, the hot weather we experienced in summer 2018 caused my tree to produce some sprays of yellow leaves. I commenced deep-watering from June, as well as feeding regularly. This was the first time heat/drought had been a problem, so it caught me out a little. However, after a week of deep-watering leaf-yellowing stopped completely, and the tree was healthy throughout the rest of the heatwave (as was the lawn, which was parched brown, but ended up lush green).

Remember that after a period of drought (or prolonged dry weather) it needs an extended period of rain to wet the soil again, especially deep down. A few heavy downpours won’t do it, and you will still need to help things along.

Will a Birch recover from drought?

It depends on whether the drought killed it or not. A reader wrote to me in 2018, mentioning that his tree had lost its leaves, and I advised that the only thing he could do right then was to feed and water – and hope for the best. He wrote to me in 2019 to tell me the tree had started to rock in the wind, and that a tree surgeon had subsequently declared it dead, and had had to remove it. Apparently, the roots were rotten.

There’s no way of knowing if it was just the drought that did the damage. The tree may have been weakened by not feeding and watering over previous years, and the drought was just the final nail in the coffin. But the 2018 heatwave certainly caused problems.

Birches were showing profuse growth of leaves and catkins (mine was) as early as mid-April in 2019. If yours is still struggling, then it doesn’t look good. The 2018 heatwave did a lot of damage, and since not many people do the feeding ritual that I have covered in this article, trees may already have been struggling. That said, mine has certainly recovered, although I did catch on very early and stopped it becoming a major issue.

All I can say is: water (if it’s not raining much) and feed.

Is there any other way to deal with the problem?

You have to get nutrients and iron back into the soil. And you need water in order for the roots to be able to access those nutrients. Yes, you could use your own mulch or bought compost, but obviously this is not so attractive in a normal garden (removing it is what got you here in the first place). It would also take longer to have an effect. But it would still work, given time.

When do Birch trees normally start to shed their leaves?

The short – and very obvious – answer is: in the Autumn. It can vary a little up and down the country (just as Spring tends to start earlier the further south you are), but in the Midlands they usually start to show sprays of yellow from late September to early October. It often seems triggered by a noticeable drop in night time temperatures. The leaves will begin to fall from that point – very lightly at first, then increasing as the yellowing spreads.

Why do birch trees drop leaves so early?

They don’t. They drop them in Autumn, like all other trees which shed their leaves each year. If yours is turning early, you may have a problem – probably one which can easily be sorted by reading through this article.

How do you apply these treatments?

You make up the required solution as directed on the pack, then water it into the area specified. I have now invested in a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. However, you can use a watering can and hosepipe/sprinkler as necessary. Note that if the ground is dry, a watering can won’t get the nutrients down to the roots, so a heavy watering is essential.

I do this up to twice a month between March and September. In 2018, I was deep watering every night during the heatwave.

My tree is losing branches and twigs

If the tree is weak then it is understandable that twigs and small branches might fall off. Once they’re stronger this will stop. In any case, if it is windy, a few dead twigs are bound to fall off. It’s just nature.

Early in the year, another likely problem is crows (the winged variety). From March (February in 2019) they will be nest-building, and they are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose. We get them nesting near us, and they will tear off a hundred twigs and drop them until they get the one they want. It’s nature, so we don’t worry.

Why do Silver Birches drop so many twigs?

As I said above: crows (and similar birds). As of February/March 2019 they were actively nest building (it’s usually March, but the warm end to winter has kicked them off early).

They will carefully select the twig they want, but the sods will tear off loads more before they find it. I watched one on a dead Birch tree when I dropped a pupil off after a lesson, and he (or she) had broken off a huge twig – almost a branch – and was trying to get into a position to fly out of the branches with it.

Also note that high winds might knock a few loose twigs down.

When do birches start to show leaves?

In spring, obviously, but the precise date varies depending on both the tree and the weather. In 2019, they were about a month earlier than 2018 in the UK.

Someone found the blog in mid-April 2019 on this search term, and I suspect it is because their own tree hadn’t yet shown any leaves. I refer again to the hot summer of 2018, and the effects of heat stress. I’m sure that many trees – not just birches – were killed by the drought, but people wouldn’t realise until the following Spring. In 2019, my own tree was in almost full leaf by mid-April, and certainly by May, with lots of catkins.

My tree is taking a long time to show any leaves

I’m not an expert, but if this happened to me – and knowing what I know now – I’d start feeding it pronto. Of course, it might just be slow – some trees do seem to lag behind others – but a good feed can’t do any harm. Mine was in full leaf by May 2019, whereas neighbours’ trees were still in the process of producing leaves. In hindsight, and following my observations throughout the year, the heatwave seemed to have stressed trees to the extent that their canopies were sparser than usual (leaves were smaller), and this may have been what you were experiencing.

In the worst case, your tree might not be in good condition at all, but you’d have to call the experts in for that.

I’ve got catkins but no leaves

Someone found the site in April 2018 with that query. You’ll probably find that in a couple of weeks you’ll have lots of leaves. As I have said in this article, I start feeding mine from March onwards. Leaves start sprouting a week or two earlier than my neighbours’ trees, and the foliage on mine is usually much denser. The catkins often come before the leaves.

I strongly recommend feeding them regularly as a matter of course – and watering if the ground is dry.

Are the leaves changing early this year?

This was a generic search term used to find the blog in mid-July 2017. The short answer is no, they are not – not in July, anyway.

In hot and dry weather, many trees can become “distressed” and start to shed leaves. Silver birches are affected by this. Also, greenfly infestations can cause leaves to die and fall. If a lot of leaves are turning yellow on the tree then you have a problem – quite possibly one of those which are the main subject of this article. However, a few leaves falling is probably nothing much to worry about.

Do Weeping Silver Birches lose their leaves in Autumn?

Yes.

When do Silver Birch leaves go all brown?

They don’t. The leaves should go yellow and fall off in the autumn.

I had quite a few visitors from this search term in 2018, and when I looked it up it seems that extreme cases of chlorosis and heat stress can result in leaves turning brown (see this supplementary article). It could also be a disease or infestation which you could treat, but the tree itself might also be dead – especially if it has been having any of the problems I mentioned above over previous years. Best to call in the experts.

Could the 2018 heatwave still cause problems in 2019?

It’s possible. Remember that we’ve had a relatively dry winter, too, so there may not be much moisture for the trees to draw upon. If they were weakened by the hot weather in 2018, and there’s still not much moisture in the ground come Spring, it could mean that they are still struggling at a time when they really need a lot of energy to put out new growth.

The hot summer of 2018 almost certainly killed off a few trees, so it is safe to assume it must have stressed the hell out of many others. That was why many started shedding leaves early – they were going into shutdown to protect themselves.

My tree is doing fine, because I water and feed it regularly. So there’s a clue to what you need to do.

Does this advice only apply to Silver Birch trees?

No. Chlorosis can affect many plants, and lack of nutrients is going to be a universal issue. You might need a different fertiliser to address any nutrient problem, but iron will likely fix chlorosis. Lack of water can kill virtually any plant.

Recently, someone found the blog as a result of premature leaf drop in their Betula utilis. This is the Himalayan Birch, famed for its peeling paper-like bark, and it is a member of the same family as the Silver Birch. In the Himalayas, it often grows among Rhododendron plants (look at that fertiliser again – are you seeing the connection, here?), so the advice given above would work for the Himalayan Birch, too. And it also worked for my neighbour’s Cherry Tree, as I mentioned earlier.

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Ramadan MubarakI originally wrote this back in 2010, but it gets a new raft of hits each year, usually around the start of Ramadan – which is today, in 2019 (well, last night).

I had a pupil on test a while back who failed, and she mentioned that Ramadan had started as I drove her home. She insisted that she felt OK, but I couldn’t help wonder if it might have had some effect on her concentration otherwise she wouldn’t have brought it up.

Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims. During it, participants abstain from eating and drinking between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Technically, those fasting are not even supposed to drink water (there are exceptions for pregnant women or those with specific illnesses), and some participants take it more literally than others. At least one reader has had concerns that Ramadan has affected their driving, and in 2016 it was unusually long at 32 days. In 2017, it ran from 26 May to 24 June, and in 2018 it spanned 17 May to 15 June. In 2019, it runs from 5 May until 4 June. It’s pretty much a full month anyway.

Some years ago, I worked in Pakistan – in Karachi – for a short time, and was there during Ramadan. Some people ate during the day, but very little, and some fasted properly. But in the main, whether they fasted or not, they just got on with things and worked normally. After sunset, though, the street vendors came out and it was scoff-out time (I have vivid memories of the sights and smells when I went to see Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s tomb one evening).

At the other end of the spectrum, when I worked in the rat race over here, Ramadan and other such religious festivals were used by some (not all, I must add) simply to avoid work. I remember some of my shop floor staff trying it on, and although we knew that they were doing so (having a smoke outside when you’re supposed to be praying is a bit of a giveaway), the employment and discrimination laws in this country pretty much tie the employer’s hands.

I used to have the (bad) habit of getting up at 8am or earlier, drinking only a cup of tea, not eating anything until I finished work in the late evening, then pigging out on kebabs or curries. Occasionally, during the day, my blood sugar would get so low that I’d crave something to eat there and then – at which point I could easily put away four Mars Bars and drink a litre of Lucozade! Someone who is very slight would probably not be able to get through the day without being affected at least partially – and this must also apply to those fasting during Ramadan.

If you are teaching Muslim pupils it’s worth discussing the subject with them – and just be open about it: they don’t mind talking about their religion (it’s people who think they do who have the problems). I’ve had several pupils in the past who were suffering during fasting, and in several cases we postponed lessons until it was over. Indeed, in 2019, I have a pupil who is very nervous and jumpy in the car, and we were both worried Ramadan might affect her. So we have agreed to do her lessons later in the evening (that was my idea), and although I will admit I thought sunset was a little earlier than it really is when I suggested it, we’re doing lessons at 9.30pm once a week so she can keep driving.

Irrespective of the reason for fasting, not eating could affect both lessons and driving tests because concentration could be impaired by low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). This would apply to anyone who hasn’t eaten properly (remember that it could also be due to an underlying health problem, like diabetes, so I’d advise anyone who is experiencing such symptoms to check with their GP). Not being able to concentrate on driving during lessons is a waste of the pupil’s money whether it’s due to a cold, hay fever… or fasting.

Advice I’d give to anyone fasting during Ramadan is to take lessons or tests in the morning or late evening (if your instructor will do it), and to eat properly when not fasting the night before. It also makes sense that anyone who isn’t fasting eats and sleeps properly, otherwise their lessons (or tests) could also be affected. In extreme cases, just put the lessons on hold until Ramadan is over.

As for the question about whether they should be driving or not, I think you need to be realistic. I’d say that 99% of white, non-Muslim UK drivers drive when they’re not feeling 100%, and Ramadan hardly turns most participants into hospital cases. I can’t see any automatic reason why people who are fasting for Ramadan shouldn’t drive.

Can I take my test during Ramadan?

Of course you can. However, you should consider how fasting affects you and your concentration. It might be better to plan ahead and avoid booking a test during Ramadan altogether. Alternatively, try to book an early test at a time just after you have eaten – or rather, before you start to get hungry.

Fasting during Ramadan affects my driving to work

Honestly, someone found the blog on that search term! The answer is simple.

If you are having problems, either don’t drive or don’t fast. What other answer did you expect? Some Magic Pill that makes it all OK? If you don’t feel well, don’t drive. And that applies whether you’re ill, drunk, menstruating, or fasting. It’s just common sense.

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I wrote this article way back in 2012. At the time, DVSA had just launched a new facility where you could find your Theory Test Certificate (TTC) number online if you’d lost the paper sheet. Here’s the link to the feature on GOV.UK.

You need the number if you’re going to book your practical test – and note that I said the number, not the certificate itself.

A lot of pupils get worried that they need to take the actual TTC to their practical test, though. By that time, many will have lost or misplaced it (quite a few of mine have, and we usually only find out the night before or on the day, which allows me to wind them up a little). Indeed, the booking confirmation you get when you book your practical says you should take your licence and TTC along with you.

In all the years I have been an instructor, I can think of only one or two occasions where the examiner has asked to see it – and those were at least ten years ago. More recently, when a pupil has offered the TTC along with their licence, the examiner isn’t interested. They only want to see the licence.

If you think about it, you wouldn’t be able to book your practical if you hadn’t passed the theory, so it’s obvious you have done when you turn up on test day.

When any of my pupils starts to fret over not being able to find their TTC – and after I’m finished winding them up – I tell them the examiner won’t ask for it, and even if he or she does, just say that you didn’t get one or that the printer at the testing station was broken when you were there. None of them have ever had to do that, though, because the examiners simply don’t ask for it.

If you still have your TTC, take it along with you by all means. But don’t worry if you’ve lost it, because unless there is some problem with your booking, I cannot see any reason why they would demand to see it.

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Bill and Ben - Flower Pot MenI can’t find any specific information to back this up, but a little bird told me that Bill Plant was in financial difficulties again earlier this year. And they have apparently switched from BMWs to Volkswagens. The exact words used that Bill Plant went bust again earlier this year.

Regular readers might recall that I can’t use any photos with Bill Plant’s logo on it, because they demand I take it down if I do. They did the last time I mentioned their troubles.

The company which rescued them last time – Ecodot – was dissolved in 2014, and became Bill Plant. Companies House (CH) indicates that both Ecodot (deceased) and Bill Plant have the same registered address. The last submitted balance sheet suggests that between 2017 and 2018, Bill Plant’s P&L reserves had fallen from a negative £156k to negative £563k. They opted not to provide full P&L accounts.

That was as of May 2018, and the 2019 submission isn’t due until May 2020. So they could well have technically gone bust and no one would know unless they announced it.

One to keep an eye on.

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Protester being arrestedThere’s a passage in Catch-22 where the Chaplain is musing over his misfortunes, and asks himself:

Did it then seem probable, as he had once overheard Dunbar ask, that the answers to the riddles of creation would be supplied by people too ignorant to understand the mechanics of rainfall?

I have exactly the same feeling right now, having just watched the BBC Evening News, where they interviewed some of those idiots protesting over climate change in London.

Does it really seem probable that the solution to global warming will come from a bunch of hatchet-faced, middle-aged and elderly women – the same kind who camped out on Greenham Common in the 80s – with multi-coloured dreadlocks and half a kilo of face jewellery? Is The Truth only likely to be given to people stupid enough to superglue themselves to buses, trains, and each other? Or 16-year olds who should be in school?

I don’t think so.

At the time of writing, over 950 of these imbeciles have been arrested, with 40 being charged for various offences (so far). Photographs of several of these middle-aged prats being arrested show that it is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to them in the last 50 years. One of their number, an exotic specimen who goes under the name of Larch Maxey – and I’d not be surprised to find that that doesn’t appear on any electoral list – is quoted:

On Tuesday we’ve got a series of strategic points around the city which we will be targeting to cause maximum economic disruption while simultaneously focusing on Parliament and inviting MPs to pause.

In other words, they’re going to try and block parliament from sitting. If Maxey engaged at least two of his handful of brain cells, he might realise that the “economic disruption” he is causing is also responsible for far more pollution than usual, as cars and lorries (and public transport) sit gridlocked. Police are travelling from all over the country – using road transport – to help. High profile dipsticks are flying in (or using trains) especially so that it can be seen how committed they are to The Cause. And let’s not even consider the carbon footprint associated with all that extra superglue that’s being sold.

Extinction Rebellion needs to get it into its thick skulls that we’re not going to go back to living in caves and eating algae.

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Victoria Parry - now with THREE drink-drive convictionsYou couldn’t make this up.

Regular readers will know that I don’t hold back on telling it like it is. I don’t give damn that the trend is towards making it a crime to tell the truth if the truth involves women or those from minority groups having done something wrong. The truth is the truth, regardless of sex or ethnic origin.

This BBC article reports that Victoria Parry, 30, was three times over the drink-drive limit when she smashed into three other cars and careered down an embankment, where her car burst into flames. She’d drunk a bottle of wine. In court, she admitted to dangerous driving – a serious offence which carries an unlimited fine and up to 14 years in prison. To make matters worse, Parry has two previous drink-drive convictions.

Now, if Parry had been a man, he would have been starting a long prison sentence right now. He’d have been fined a lot of money. And he might even have been put on the sex-offenders’ register just as a precaution.

Sarah Buckingham - some sort of "legal" authority, apparentlyParry’s case was different, though. You see, both she and the Judge were women. As a result, she was not handed down a prison sentence – which would have been absolutely guaranteed if she were a man. In the Judge’s precise words:

If Miss Parry was a man, there is no question it would have been straight down the stairs, because this is a shocking case of dangerous driving against a background of two previous convictions for excess alcohol.

The BBC article makes no mention of fines or bans, either, and I can’t find any mention in reports from other sources.

Naturally, the mitigating circumstances – which also came from a woman – Parry’s lawyer, Lucy Tapper, pin the blame firmly on men. Parry is apparently an irresponsible pisshead because of being in an abusive relationship, so it’s clearly the fault of men that she has three drink-drive convictions (now) and is lucky she hasn’t killed someone. To be fair, there is no mention of who the “relationship” was with, and I might have got that particular anti-male assessment wrong. Tapper whined:

There is deep and genuine regret on her part.

You forgot to mention that that regret extends across three convictions, now, Lucy. You missed a trick to lay it on even thicker.

Parry and the Judge, Sarah Buckingham, should both be in prison. Parry for being the serial drink-driver that she is, and the Judge for utter contempt of what remains of our legal system.

The case has been referred to the judicial watchdog. Although she probably won’t be, Buckingham should be looking at applying for shelf-stacking jobs at Tesco, where she can do less harm.

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CalendarSomeone found the blog on the search term “what are the chances of passing your test in three months?”

The short answer: DVSA statistics show that the average UK learner takes 46 hours of lessons with an instructor, and 20 or more hours of private practice. Without getting into any arguments over that just yet, let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that you will need 46 hours.

If you take a single one hour lesson a week, it’s going to take you 46 weeks to get to test standard. If you take two hours of lessons a week, it’ll take 23 weeks. If you take four hours of lessons a week, it’ll take you about 13 weeks. That’s around a year, six months, or three months respectively.

The longer answer:  For all sorts of reasons, an individual could end up taking far fewer or many more than 46 hours to get to the required standard. That DVSA figure is an average measured from real people taking real tests. It’s not a forecast, though it can be useful as a rough pointer.

Over the years, I’ve had two pupils manage passes in well under 20 hours, many who have done it with between 20-35 hours, and several who have taken well over 60. I can recall two who took 140 hours and 160 hours, and a recent one who did 120 hours spread over more than three years. I also know one who took 100 hours in a manual car with me, then a further 100 hours or more in an automatic, before finally passing on her seventh attempt (she’s since given up driving because she crashed the car almost every time she left her driveway – three times in the first fortnight after she got it).

I explain all this to my pupils who have never driven before, and suggest they think in terms of 30 hours plus to start with, then see how things go. I also point out that if they are typical, it will probably take around 4 months if they’re doing an average of two hours of lessons a week. I explain clearly that this is not a prediction or target, but merely a guideline based on past experience, and if it turns out they can do it it 10 hours, I’ll be as happy as they are about it.

Now, 30 hours – taking two hours of lessons per week – would just about squeeze into a three month window with a bit of tweaking here and there. If it was going to take 40 hours, you can add another month to that time frame. On the other hand, if you’re in the 30 hour bracket and did three of four hours a week, passing within six weeks would be feasible.

The reality: You simply don’t know how many hours you’re going to need until you’ve taken them. However, once you start lessons you can usually get a good idea of where you are on the curve within a couple of hours. Obviously, if you have previously taken lessons – possibly even getting close to test standard – then you’ll probably already be a long way towards your goal. On the flipside of that, If you’ve only got previous experience driving overseas, you may find that you are only marginally ahead of a beginner when you start in the UK.

If you’re on the wrong side of the curve – for whatever reason – you’ll need more hours than someone who isn’t. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you – it’s just the way it is.

You can’t be a Marvel Superhero just because you want to be, so picking a preferred number of hours and expecting to pass if your learning ability points to a higher number being required isn’t going to work. I had one early last year who declared after his tenth hour that he was now test ready. I asked him if he’d always only ever planned to take just ten lessons, and he said yes. He’d never told me that, and we parted company at that point. He was nowhere near test standard, and the last I heard was that six months later his mum was still teaching him.

People in general seem to have major problems understanding averages, distributions, and how biology works. So I stress again that DVSA’s statistics show that the majority of people take about 46 hours of lessons with an instructor. It doesn’t matter that your best mate Kyle was taught by his mum, or that he told you he passed “after 8 hours”. He was almost certainly lying or very confused over that figure (I’ve had them before where they are already good drivers, but the skills were picked up in stolen cars or driving illegally, and they don’t include that in their public declarations of Superheroism). And in any case, you are not Kyle and are probably not being taught by his mum.

Just remember: the average learner in the UK takes around 46 hours and some private practice to get to test standard. Some take a lot less, and some take a lot more, thanks to Mother Nature.

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Warning! Contains swear words.

Sync 3 after updatingSince I got my new Ford Focus last year, it has suffered from repeated random locking-up of the radio and navigation system. The only way to reset it once it happens has been to either leave the car and lock it for a few minutes, so it resets itself, or press and hold the OFF and Fast Forward buttons for about 8 seconds. Oh, and the radio has never remembered that I have set it to show additional information (the song that is playing, for example), meaning I have to turn that feature on manually every time I get in the car).

Both methods were a pain in the arse – the latter because doing such a reset puts some settings back to the factory default (the screen colour and the clock, in particular), and the former because having to get out of the car and lock it for several minutes as a solution speaks for itself. The frozen clock has made me late for at least one appointment, and the satnav freezing has forced a change of lesson plan several times (pupils aren’t paying me to piss about with a faulty satnav, and I can’t be doing so while they’re driving because it’s dangerous).

Before I realised other Ford owners were having the same problem, I reported it to my dealer when I took it in for its service. As usual, they played dumb – they don’t have to try very hard at that in the first place – and said they’d need it in for a day to assess it, which roughly translates to several days because they won’t be able to catch what is an intermittent fault that can’t be triggered deliberately. Well, sod that! With a single lost day costing me anything up to £200 in earnings, I decided to just put up with it and moan about it again at the next service.

Ford is no better. While I was checking for any information on the issue, I did find an update to the maps for the navigation system, and I thought I may as well install it. Or rather, TRY to install it, swear a lot, then give up in frustration. I downloaded the update file from Ford’s site and the first thing was that the zip file didn’t contain the exact files Ford’s “instructions” said it should. That was a bad start. But no matter how many times I downloaded the file, unzipped it, and tried to install it, the car reported a “lst_err05” each time. I know what I’m doing, and I’d done things exactly as Ford had written them. The error message gave a number to call, which amounted to a recorded message advising me to call a premium rate number. Thieving bastards! As I say, I just gave up.

In the meantime, the locking up problem continued it’s random appearances unabated.

Anyway, I discovered today that there is now a Sync 3 update which has been issued in the last few days. And when I checked, it showed up for my car’s VIN. I downloaded it (twice, eventually, because you can guess where this is going), and followed the instructions to the letter. After about 8 tries across two complete downloads of the 2.9GB zipped update file, every attempt to do the install resulted in a “pkg_err03”. I was well pissed off by this time.

Ford’s idiot instructions are written as though intended to guide monkey through complex calculus in order to crack an egg. And in Swahili, just to make it easier. Pretty much along the same lines as Ford’s vehicle handbooks, actually, where the term “radio” doesn’t appear in the f***ing index, and is implied under “audio” or “Sync 3” instead. Or the fact that 90% of the content relates to premium features that 90% of owners don’t have on their bog-standard Zetecs. Christ, mine’s a Titanium, and it hasn’t got most of what they put in there.

I digress. The point is that Ford states that you must format a suitable memory stick – it doesn’t say any particular ones are unsuitable, just that they need to be at least 4GB – using exFAT, that you should unzip the update file directly to the stick, and that the folder structure mustn’t be changed. It states that their should be two files and a folder in the root directory on the stick once this is done.

Problem. If you extract directly to the stick, the zipped package is extracted into a single folder with the stated directory structure inside it – and that’s a no-no, because the files inside this top-level folder need to be in the top level of the stick’s directory in order for the car to recognise it as an update. So you have to do a bit of file/folder moving first.

Problem. Although Ford doesn’t state this in their instructions, you need to make sure you have turned off all Wi-Fi and bluetooth functions, and that you have nothing connected to any other USB ports. You don’t quite need to go as far as enclosing the car in a Faraday cage 200 metres underground, but that’s a close call from what I can gather.

Problem. Based on what I found today, the car might not like some brands of memory stick or ones which are, say 128GB. I can’t be 100% certain about that, but I have my suspicions from what was happening earlier.

Problem. Ford’s instructions outline a plethora of screens and buttons you have to touch to initiate the process if you get past one of the error messages telling you to go and get scammed on that premium rate number. Once I finally got it going this afternoon, mine apparently didn’t do anything until I noticed the “Updating System Files” message along the top of the screen. It had started up automatically and it finished automatically without any interaction from me at any stage, apart from inserting the stick into the USB port.

Problem. Don’t plug the stick in, then start the engine. Instead, start the engine, wait until the system has given any messages it has decided it will annoy you with today, then plug in the stick.

Problem. You have to leave the engine running while you do the update, and it takes anywhere from 20-60 minutes to complete. It is illegal to leave your car with the engine running unattended unless it’s in your back yard, and stupid if you don’t lock and bar the gates if that’s where you’re doing it. Or you can just be bored for a while as you sit there waiting. In my case, it finally fired up just as I was leaving for a lesson, and it completed just as I got there (the radio kept working throughout, so I wasn’t bored at all).

Problem. The stick doesn’t have to be formatted exFAT, as Ford says. FAT32 works, which is what I’d formatted to after the 8 previous failures with exFAT. I was experimenting, and this was the next attempt.

Problem. Once the update is complete – and all the things Ford says will happen have happened – the update apparently isn’t complete after all. At some point about 2 hours after you think you’ve done it, the system will throw up a message telling you you’ve got to connect to a network to complete the process, on pain of not having full functionality of some features if you don’t.

Problem. From what a reader told me recently, her dealer has told her that automatic updates don’t work in the UK, so the f**king message won’t go away. The only way to stop it is to turn off WiFi, which is what I have done.

Summarising the process, then:

  • download the update file from Ford
  • format a 4GB memory stick to FAT32 (don’t use the stick for anything else once you format)
  • unzip the update file directly to the stick
  • copy the contents of the folder thus created out of the folder thus created and into the root directory of the stick
  • delete the original folder (anything else in the root directory with a remotely update-recognisable name might make the process go titsup, so don’t risk it)
  • turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and everything else relating to networking on your car’s system
  • disconnect EVERYTHING from the USB ports in your car
  • make a flask of tea to take into the car with you, and make sure you’ve been to the loo
  • pack some books or other reading material
  • get in the car, close the doors, and start the engine
  • disable Auto Off
  • let it get any helpful messages out of its system, particularly those you have to acknowledge or dismiss by pressing things
  • take a deep breath and plug the stick into the USB data port (on the Focus, it’s the one with a white light around it in the storage compartment under the heater controls)

If you’re lucky, the update will start. As I mentioned, mine just started and completed without any input from me whatsoever, but knowing Ford, that doesn’t mean you won’t see all the screens Ford says you will. The bottom line is that you want to see positive messages about progress, and no error messages at all. At the end, you want it to tell you it has successfully updated, and that it will be effective from next time you start the car (it did on mine). Oh, and you need to forget about your UK Focus being able to connect to the internet for updates, because no matter what network you apparently connect to, nothing happens.

I haven’t had a lock up yet, but that doesn’t prove anything, because it’s only been a few hours since the update. There’s a new button on the main radio screen that lets you turn on radio text (track playing) instead of having to go to Settings >> Radio >> Additional Information then back to the main screen. But it now remembers what I set it to anyway, and so this is not important now.

Update: no lock ups at all in the month since doing this.

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