Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Originally posted in 2009. Updated annually, so here’s the 2021 version. It’s the end of November and we’ve had some early snow. The papers are full of photographs of people’s dogs in snow, children sledging on frozen mud with some sleet on it, and dire warnings about the coldest winter since 10,000 BC (the last Ice Age). Same as every year. The original article follows.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum a couple of years ago someone getting all excited about how there might be a market for specialised snow lessons at premium prices. As of October 2018 (and it hasn’t got even close to snowing yet), some instructors are already going on about not doing lessons.Snow on road scene 1

Let’s have a reality check here.

Until February 2009, it hadn’t snowed to any appreciable extent in the UK for around 26 years! We had two bad winters, but since then they have been relatively mild ones with almost no snow. Even when we get a little of the white stuff it is usually gone inside a week or two at most. Snow – and especially in the UK – is usually extremely localised. The media talks it up so it sounds like the whole country is blanketed in a metre of the stuff, especially if a few wet flakes fall in London. This  is enough to have people cutting down each others trees for their wood-fired stoves, and panic buying Evian at the local Waitrose. It can keep the BBC news bulletins going for days at a time.

Every year, incompetence and bureaucracy at local councils typically means that every time there is any bad weather, it’s like they’ve never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are. Having a ‘specialised snow Instructor’ in the UK (especially in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing the Mediterranean: bloody stupid!

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Back here on Planet Earth, I will carry on doing things the way I always have done: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

One bit of advice. Make sure you have the right mixture in your wash bottle, and a scraper for removing any frost or snow. A further bit of advice. Never, ever, ever be tempted to buy a metal-bladed ice scraper. Always plastic. Trust me, I’ve tested metal ones for you, and you are welcome. Don’t use metal.

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

It depends on how much of it there is, how far advanced you are with your training, and your instructor’s attitude to teaching in snow. There is no rule that says you mustn’t have lessons in snow. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to do them if you can to get valuable experience. But beginners perhaps shouldn’t because it’s just too dangerous for them. It’s your instructor’s decision, even if you want to do it.Snow on road scene 2

Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?

Yes. It depends on how much snow and how advanced you are as a learner driver. If your instructor cancels then you should not get charged. If you are, find another instructor quickly.

If the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea. That’s when they’re likely to be cancelled.

Also bear in mind that it doesn’t matter if you’re learning with the AA, BSM, Bill Plant, or any other driving school. The decision is down to your instructor based on the weather in your area.

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

Yes. If he or she doesn’t (or just doesn’t turn up without telling you), find another. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask.

My instructor says he isn’t insured for icy weather

Someone found the blog on that search term (February 2018). I’m telling you in the most absolute terms possible that this is utter nonsense. I have never heard of insurance which says you can’t drive in certain weather, and especially not driving instructor insurance. If anyone tells you this, find another instructor quickly.

Do [driving school name] cancel lessons due to bad weather?

Cancelling lessons due to bad weather is down to the instructor and not the driving school they represent. So it doesn’t matter which school you are with. But yes, lessons can be cancelled for bad weather.

Any decent instructor might cancel lessons due to too much snow – either falling, or on the ground – making driving dangerous. They might also cancel due to thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain/flooding. The decision lies solely with the instructor. If you disagree with their decision, find another one.

Will I have to pay for my lesson if it’s cancelled due to snow?

There is no specific law which says your instructor can’t charge you, but if he or she does it goes against all the principles of Common Decency. You should not be charged for bad weather cancellations initiated by your instructor. If you are, find another instructor as soon as possible.

However, if it’s you who wants to cancel, but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson, it’s a little more tricky. You being nervous is not the same as it being genuinely too dangerous. I had someone once who would try to cancel for light rain, bright sun, mist, and wind when she didn’t feel like driving. You’ll need to sort this out yourself, but as in all other cases, if you’re not happy just find a different instructor – being aware that if the problem is you, the issues won’t go away.

I want to do the lesson, but my instructor said no

You need to be realistic about the conditions. Just because your test is coming up, for example, and you don’t want to have to move it doesn’t alter the fact that the weather might just be too dangerous to drive in on the day of the lesson. When I cancel lessons in snow it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. On the other hand, if the police are advising against travel, or if the roads are at a standstill, I will cancel a lesson no matter who it is.Snow on road scene 3

As an example, one day in 2016 it began snowing heavily about 30 minutes before I was due to pick someone up late one morning. The roads quickly got covered and traffic began to slow down. His house was on a slope, and it was clearly becoming difficult to drive without slipping. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson. The snow lasted for about as long as his lesson would have, but was gone by the afternoon. Cancelling was the right decision.

Do lessons in snow cost more?

No. If you’re charged extra for normal driving lessons in snow, find another instructor immediately.

I’m worried about driving lessons in snow

Don’t be. You’re going to have to do it when you’ve passed, and it makes sense to learn how to do it now while you have the chance. A lot of people never see snow until they’ve passed their tests, then they don’t know what to do and end up crashing, like the red car in the picture above.

You should never drive in snow

That’s total rubbish. Unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’, doing lessons on snow or ice is extremely useful for when you pass. Partially melted snow is ideal for doing ‘snow lessons’ if you have the right instructor. The one thing you do need is to make sure you are suitably equipped in case you get caught out. A scraper, de-icer, the right liquid in your wash bottle – and perhaps a pair of snow socks.

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Do YOU do lessons in snow?

Generally speaking, yes – as long as I feel it is safe to do so, and unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’. I do not do lessons in snow because I am desperate for the money – I will happily cancel if I believe it is too dangerous. And sometimes it is. For example, in this 2021 update, I cancelled two late afternoon lessons on the day it began snowing hard (after finishing the one I was on while it was coming down), because the first is trigger-happy with his foot at the best of times, and the other would have been after the slush froze (and it froze bloody hard). And I didn’t know how long it would snow for, or how much we’d get.

Why do YOU do lessons in snow?

Several years ago we had two winters where it snowed properly for the first time in around 26 years. I had not experienced it as an instructor before, and I cancelled a lot of lessons. After several weeks I realised I was being over-cautious. It was one of those head-slapping moments, and I recognised that I could actually use the snow as a teaching aid. Not with the beginners or nervous ones, but the more advanced ones definitely.

Snow - bad enough to cancel or not?Basically, if the snow is melting and main roads are clear, there’s no reason not to do lessons. We can dip into some quiet roads and look at how easy it is to skid. If the snow is still falling and main roads are affected by lying snow, then doing lessons carries a much greater risk. A bit of common sense tells you what you can and can’t get away with.

I can state with absolute certainty that every single pupil has benefitted from driving lessons on snow if the chance has arisen for them.

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

It is very likely. You need to phone up the test centre on the day using the number on your email confirmation and check. Otherwise, you must turn up – even if they cancel it at the last minute. If you don’t, you’ll probably lose your test fee – or end up having a drawn-out argument over it. Make life simple and follow the guidelines.

At one time, tests wouldn’t go out if there was any snow at all in Nottingham. In February 2018 during the visitation by ‘The Beast from the East’ (aka the ‘Kitten in Britain’), I had an early morning test go out with substantial snow on the side roads, repeated snow showers, and a temperature of -4°C showing on my car display. My wiper blade rubbers were solid, and making that horrible sound when they bounce instead of glide. I was amazed (but the pupil passed anyway). You can never be certain, but be prepared.

If my test is cancelled, will I have to pay for another?

No. They will send you a new date within a few days (or you can phone them or look it up online). And it will not count as one of your six ‘lives’ for moving your test.

Can I claim for out of pocket expenses if my test is cancelled?

No. Neither you, nor your instructor, can claim any money back. And you shouldn’t be charged for your lesson or car hire that day.Snow on road scene 4

Will snow stop a driving test?

YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test could easily be affected. They tell you all this when you book it.

Driving tests cancelled due to snow [insert year here]…

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1821, 1921, 2021, or any other date. If there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy then your test may well be cancelled. It doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says, or – in 2021 – that there’s a long waiting list for test dates due to COVID. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

Driving in snow is potentially dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets will likely be covered in sheet ice and compacted snow and you will skid if you even drive carefully on them. You could easily lose control. That’s why there are so many accidents in snow and icy conditions. You are a new driver and you probably haven’t driven on snow before. DVSA cannot take the risk, and you have to accept it.

PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED AT THAT TEST CENTRE BEFORE YOU SET OFF – YOU WON’T FIND THE ANSWER GOOGLING FOR IT. DECISIONS ARE MADE MINUTE-TO-MINUTE AND YOU CAN ONLY FIND OUT BY CALLING THEM.

In the past, I have had 8.10am tests booked in the middle of winter and sometimes I know for a fact that when I pick the pupil up at 6.30am the conditions are so bad the test is going to be cancelled. But until the examiners get in just before 8am there is no way of checking. That’s why I advise against my pupils booking early tests in winter – cancellations are far more likely when it is cold and icy, and it is more likely to be cold and icy (and foggy) first thing in the morning before the sun has come up properly.

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It’s nearly the end of Autumn in the UK, snow is looking likely, and my tree only has a few  yellow leaves left, having had a healthy and drop-free season otherwise. Time to prepare for next year and start feeding and watering from March again.

Our Silver Birch in June 2017Back in 2014, when I originally wrote this, our Birch tree suddenly began to produce a lot of yellow leaves in mid-June. After a lot of research I managed to figure out the possible causes and the remedies. That was the purpose of the original article.

However, 2018 threw up a new issue. It turned out to be the hottest year on record, but even before we found that out people will remember how hot it was, and for how long it stayed like that. My tree once again began to show a few sprays of yellow fairly early in the season.

The article becomes popular each year, firstly in late Spring and early Summer, then again later in the season closer to Autumn.

In 2014, I identified the following as likely causes of premature yellowing:

  • nutrient deficiency
  • iron deficiency
  • manganese deficiency

After the 2018 heatwave, I further identified lack of water as a major factor. With hindsight, it may have also been a factor in that 2014 season, but nothing compared with 2018 for prolonged heat and lack of rain.

When I first experienced yellowing back in 2014, I initially thought my tree was dying. Googling for an answer was pretty much useless, because most of the technical advice is American and focuses on the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches), which isn’t known outside of  North America. But somewhere in among the advice, I came across a simple comment – and I don’t recall where I saw it now – that made a lot more sense.

In a nutshell, premature yellowing/leaf drop can be caused by nutrient and iron deficiencies in the soil. This comes about over a period of time as fallen leaves are swept up each year and sent to the tip, so none of the nutrients are returned to the soil. Consequently, the soil becomes depleted of them.

Birches are ericaceous – lime-hating – plants, and prefer a slightly acidic soil. As such, you need to feed them using ericaceous fertiliser. I first used Miracle-Gro solid fertiliser, intended for Azaleas and Rhododendrons (also lime-hating), but a couple of years later switched to Doff liquid feed so I could use it in my Access Irrigation Static Dilutor. I also got hold of some Maxicrop Seaweed Extract, which is also liquid, and watered that in at the same time.

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My original problem showed itself as canary-yellow leaves, either in sprays, or randomly dotted throughout the canopy. On closer inspection, some of the leaves looked like those in the photograph here.Leaves suffering from chlorosis

This is known as chlorosis. Leaves are usually green because they contain chlorophyll – and chlorophyll is green. Chlorophyll is what allows plants to convert light energy into sugars that they can use as food through the process called photosynthesis. Plants use iron to produce chlorophyll, so if there isn’t enough iron in the soil the tree can’t make enough chlorophyll, and you get yellowed leaves. The tree compensates for being hungry (if it hasn’t got chlorophyll it can’t make food for energy) by going into shutdown and shedding those leaves. And you may also find that new leaves are small and misshapen when chlorosis is the issue.

You can easily treat chlorosis using sequestered iron (or seaweed extract). Being ‘sequestered’, the tree can suck the iron up and use it right away. A longer term solution is to use iron sulphate lawn feed, which also slightly acidifies the soil over time.Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosis

I also bought some manganese to water in the first time, but I am not sure how relevant that was. I used it for a couple of seasons, but stopped. Each year, I simply feed the tree once or twice a month between March and September using fertiliser and seaweed extract.

Note that none of these problems are confined to Silver Birches. All trees and plants can be affected by nutrient deficiencies, and you simply have to deal with the problem using the appropriate, easily purchased treatments.Close-up of our tree's leaves in June 2017

In that first season, a single application of fertiliser stopped the leaf drop almost immediately. Once the already-yellow leaves had fallen, the tree remained green until Autumn, and even threw out some large new leaves and fat catkins. It obviously liked what I had done to it, and I continued doing it from June until September every few weeks.

Everything was fine until the hot summer of 2018. You might recall that the prolonged heatwave began quite early, and by the end of June I was again noticing a few sprays of yellow. I wasn’t a nutrient issue this time – I was feeding the tree regularly – but I’d already guessed the hot weather might have something to do with it, and a bit more research showed that heat stress in trees is a real issue, and Birches are highly susceptible to it.

It turns out that lack of moisture in the ground combined with prolonged high air temperatures causes trees – and especially Birches – to become stressed, which again triggers them to go into emergency shutdown by shedding leaves.

My research provided two options for getting water down to the roots (which fortunately, in the case of Birches, is quite shallow). One involved hammering at least half a dozen hollow spikes into the ground around the tree and dripping water directly down to them. I decided against that on the basis that a) the ground was already as hard as iron plate, b) anything which sounds so simple (i.e. hammering a hollow plastic spike into the soil) was going to turn into a nightmare of split plastic, only being able to get part way down, and discovering chunks of bedrock I didn’t know were there, and c) having these things poking out of the lawn would look bloody awful even if I got them in (and even worse if they only went in part-way). The easier option was to commence heavy-watering immediately – basically, to run the sprinklers for hours at a time every  night.

That method fixed the problem in less than a week.

With hindsight, it is quite possible that lack of moisture was a contributing factor back in 2014, and my feeding routine would have dealt with that automatically (though I did have chlorosis). But in 2018, it was definitely just the result of too little moisture around the roots.

So, to summarise. If you experience premature leave-yellowing, the very first thing you should do is water like crazy. Don’t worry about over-watering too much – Birches like wet soil, which is why they grow near streams. Just don’t turn your garden into a swamp. While you’re doing that, buy some ericaceous feed and seaweed extract, and get that into your soil as soon as possible (how much depends on how big your tree is).

Can you rescue leaves which have turned yellow?

No, probably not. I suppose that chlorosis could be reversed if you caught it early enough, but if the leaf is dead and the tree has triggered its shedding mechanism, you’re going to lose them.

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.

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.

How often should you feed?

Treat them once or twice a month from March until September. And water regularly.

Can heat and drought cause them to lose leaves?

Yes. If they are stressed you may get them dropping leaves. In extreme cases the leaves can go brown and the tree can even die. 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.

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.

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?

In the Autumn! In the UK this is from around September-October, and the onset varies up and down the country. 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.

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 use 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.

Why are fallen leaves sticky?

You’ve probably got greenfly! Specifically, the birch aphid, Euceraphis betulae. They feed on the European Birch, Betula pendula, and they increase in number during warm and dry weather. Aphids secrete honeydew as they feed, and that’s the sticky stuff you’re seeing. Apparently, you can get different species of greenfly that feed on specific trees.

You can kill them with a soap/water mixture, though no one has ever been able to tell me precisely how you apply that to a 20 metre high tree. And the same goes for any chemical method relying on direct contact. An alternative solution is to introduce predatory insects – something that eats aphids. The best one is the Ladybird larva, and you can buy them online. There are other predatory insects you can buy, too.

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 – and birches also have a fungus which can cause small twigs to die and fall.

In the Spring, Crows can also be a problem if they’re nesting nearby. They are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose, and they will tear off dozens until they get the right one. It’s nature, so we don’t worry when they’re using ours for their twigs.

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. Mine is usually showing leaves sometime during April each year.

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.

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 in the UK, anyway. They change towards the end of September in the UK.

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.

Does this advice only apply to Silver Birch trees?

No. Chlorosis can affect many plants, and lack of nutrients is 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.

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DIY Doorbell Schematci LayoutA few years ago I bought a Ring video doorbell. After a bit of fiddling setting it up, it has worked reasonably well, though it isn’t perfect.

For a start off, it relies on Wi-Fi, which is a bloody nightmare at the best of times in the home environment. It is also totally dependant on Ring’s own cloud system (it isn’t an ONVIF camera, which I will go into later). But my main niggle is that I have no control over my data – and Ring is trying to make access to it even more difficult, thus enhancing the imperfections.

You see, the Ring system can currently be accessed via a desktop app, a smartphone app, or via a browser. I use the desktop app to monitor my system, because I can see absolutely no point in having a HD camera and only viewing it on a small smartphone screen. Furthermore, the smartphone app has a tendency to alert you up to a minute or more after an event has been triggered (I often get in my car and drive off from my house, only to have my phone vibrate when I get to the end of the road informing me I left a short while ago). And the browser interface has two-factor authentication and logs you out every five minutes, so if you get an alert, it can take some seconds to log in, by which time whoever was at the door has left. The desktop app is always connected (albeit with a tendency to decide not to give a live feed after it has been triggered). And another niggle is that the system only records several seconds of footage when an event occurs – it doesn’t record continuously.

But a couple of months ago, Ring unilaterally announced it was discontinuing the desktop app – initially, in mid-October, and currently (following uproar across the community), in December.

As I said, the Ring doorbell and the Ring system are not perfect. It can be glitchy, and it could do things better (like record continuously). But it’s a million times better than just ‘ding-dong’’ when someone calls, especially when that someone knocks instead (which most seem to do). However, without the desktop app, the glitchiness factor increases in significance considerably – the variable time lags with the other two methods are simply not acceptable. And as the Ring is a subscription device, I was rather miffed at this drastic change.

Running in parallel with all this is a very relevant separate story. During the summer I installed a birdbox with a camera in it in my garden. Once I’d assembled it and powered it up, it was immediately visible on my home network. That’s because it is an IP camera, and it uses the ONVIF protocol (as I mentioned at the start, Ring doesn’t do that, and forces you to use its own cloud service). Being ONVIF also means I can stream the camera feed live. Admittedly, my birdbox camera is a Wi-Fi system in this case (it’s at the end of the garden, after all), but ONVIF cameras can be wireless or wired – it doesn’t matter, and they just have to be discoverable on your network, which the ONVIF protocol takes care of. Better still, with my NAS system – which has Surveillance Station software pre-installed – I can continuously record the footage. Obviously, there’s no point saving every minute of every day forever, so I have it set to automatically delete anything older than (in my case) two days. This gives me time to manually save any particular footage I want to keep. It has motion detection, and I can edit the zones I want to monitor (and edit detection sensitivity as necessary). And best of all, all the data belong to me, and they are free – no subscriptions of any kind.

You can probably see where this is heading. On the one hand, you have the Ring doorbell – which taps into your network, but which has to communicate with Ring’s own ring-fenced servers across the internet, and those have to communicate back across the internet (or by SMS) to send any messages. It doesn’t record continuously, and no internet (or no Ring cloud) means no functioning doorbell. On the other hand, you have an ONVIF camera, which doesn’t require an internet connection, just a local network, which records continuously, and which has virtually the same overall functionality as far as the camera is concerned (just not a bell push feature).

I mean, come on! Is there a DIY project here or what?

I discovered that you can build an ONVIF camera using the Raspberry Pi. You can get open source motion detection software specifically for the Pi (though my Surveillance Station software already has that). And you can include various event detection features – button presses, for example – in a multitude of different ways.

The schematic diagram at the top of this article shows what I am planning right now. I will have a camera system based on a Raspberry Pi Zero with a bell-push button on the outside of my front door. This will connect to a hub, based on a Raspberry Pi 4, on the inside of the door (most likely, by a wired connection through the door jamb, but with Wi-Fi as a back up for the short distance of a couple of inches if necessary). The Pi 4 will be on the network, and almost certainly wired. Finally, I want two remote alarm units (one upstairs, and one downstairs), and I haven’t decided yet whether these will be wired or wireless – a lot comes down to how prepared I am to lay network cables, and the routes I could take if I did. I also haven’t decided whether to control them from the Pi4 or via the network. These remote alarms will be audio-visual – they will chime and flash.

If anyone is thinking I will end up with something the size of a fridge on my front door, just bear in mind the Pi Zero is 30mm x 65mm x 13mm in size. Camera modules are smaller, though the lens adds height. What I have in mind will certainly look different to a Ring doorbell, but it will be of a similar overall size if I assemble it  in an appropriate way. And a Pi 4 is only 57mm x 86mm x 11mm, so it will hardly be out of place if suitably enclosed behind the door.

This will be fun. Watch this space…

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I originally wrote this in 2011, and updated it in 2013, then again in 2021.


There seems to be a lot of confusion over how to turn right at crossroads when another vehicle is turning right from the opposite direction.

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) – that’s the official DSA guide to driving – says the following:

Turning right when an oncoming vehicle is also turning right

When two vehicles approaching from opposite directions both want to turn right, there are two methods that can be used. Either method is acceptable, but will usually be determined by

  • the layout of the crossroads
  • what course the other driver decides to take
  • road markings

Turning offside to offside

The advantage of this method is that both can see oncoming traffic.

In congested traffic conditions, leave a space for approaching traffic to turn right.

Turning nearside to nearside

This method is less safe because the view of oncoming vehicles isn’t clear. Watch out for oncoming traffic hidden by larger vehicles. Motorcyclists and cyclists are particularly vulnerable, as they would be hidden by any type of vehicle.

Be ready to stop for oncoming vehicles.

Police control or road markings sometimes make this method compulsory.

Defensive driving

Try to make eye contact with the driver of the approaching vehicle to determine which course is best. Your speed should allow you to stop if the other driver pulls out across your path.

What is the difference between nearside to nearside and offside to offside turning? Well, the nearside of the car is the one nearest the kerb, and the offside is the one farthest away from the kerb (the driver’s side). So, the two methods look like this:Crossroads - Turning Right

With offside to offside turning, the two cars go round the back of each other (with their offsides closest). As a result, both can see clearly down the road and both can see if it’s clear to turn or not.

Nearside to nearside turning (with their nearsides closest) creates a large blind spot (coloured purple here), the size of which is governed by the size and proximity of the other vehicle. You cannot see easily down the length of the road, and neither can the driver of the other vehicle.

As TES says, either method is perfectly acceptable.

Another thing to remember is that every junction is different and rarely will you find one that corresponds exactly with the schematic layout I’ve shown above.Crossroads in Mapperley

Let’s look at some real examples. The junction above is in Mapperley, Nottingham. It has clear road markings to guide drivers offside to offside – but since the junction is staggered, offside to offside is what any decent driver would want to do  anyway.Crossroads in Ruddington

This one is in Ruddington, Nottingham. It is marked for nearside to nearside turning because the volume of traffic turning right from both side roads would cause gridlock if people attempted offside to offside. Crossroads in West Bridgford

Finally, this example is from West Bridgford, Nottingham. When turning right from the main road, offside to offside appears to be the best option. In reality, there isn’t enough space and what usually happens is that oncoming traffic either steals the priority and turns in front of you – in which case you just hang back and let them get on with it – or it flashes its lights and you take priority (after making sure they flashed at you, and not one of the vehicles waiting in the side roads), and turn in front of it.  This is simply the kind of thing you have to learn to deal with.

This is an important learning point: learn from roads you drive on regularly, and modify your behaviour accordingly. If you’re unsure about being able to turn, hang back and give way – then the problem usually goes away!

If you’re turning right from either of the side roads in these examples, and someone is doing the same opposite you, who has right of way? Officially, no one does, and the main road is too narrow for either offside to offside or nearside to nearside turning. Some people out there (including some ADIs) would have you and the other driver sit looking at each other until you both keel over from exhaustion. In the real world – if eye contact doesn’t achieve anything – someone will either just force their way out (and the problem goes away) or flash their lights to tell you to go. The unwritten rule tends to be whoever gets there first is given right of way – but you can’t assume that under any circumstances, since there are plenty of arrogant drivers who will do their level best to go whether you’re there or not.

Remember that the Highway Code says you shouldn’t beckon other drivers and road users. It doesn’t say you shouldn’t communicate with them. It mentions eye contact… but what then? Smile? Wink? Nod your head? A simple hand gesture with a flat palm, as if to say “well, what would you like to do?” is NOT beckoning.

What happens when both cars are turning right at crossroads?

Neither car has priority. The options available to you are to turn nearside-to-nearside or offside-to-offside, as explained above. However, in some cases there will be insufficient room for both cars to go at the same time and priority has to be given (not taken).

When you reach the junction, make eye contact with the other driver. It isn’t a contest, so be prepared to give way – you haven’t lost anything by waiting for a few seconds while he gets out of the way. Obviously, if he gives way to you sing some sort of signal then you should check that it’s safe and proceed.

Can you flash your headlights?

Some people out there will be having kittens at reading this, but many other drivers WILL flash their headlights to tell you they are giving way. It’s your responsibility to check there is no traffic coming from your right or left (or from ahead), and that they’re flashing at you, but you can then proceed. If someone is giving you a reasonably clear signal that they’re giving priority to you, only a fool would ignore it. And you don’t have to stretch your imagination very far to work out how this could cut both ways.

Can you wave people through?

Holding your palms out and shrugging as if to say “well, what are you going to do?” is not the same as waving madly to beckon people out. I certainly wouldn’t do the latter, but the former is perfectly acceptable. In most cases, you won’t have to worry, though. The majority of drivers are generally quite arrogant and will try to take the advantage anyway, and that sorts out the problem for you. Even a small hesitation on your part is often signal enough for them to go.

But should you do this on your test?

The short answer is no, don’t flash your headlights or gesture to people on your test. As a learner/new driver you may not be very good at it and it could easily go wrong. However, it is possible that a situation could arise where the only sensible thing to do is to flash your headlights or gesture to someone – even to beckon them.

You have to assess, be confident… and be safe.

Pupils don’t understand what offside and nearside mean.

Then educate them! It’s what they’re paying you for.

Offside to offside turning is stupid – people don’t do it.

No it isn’t, and yes they do. Sometimes it is the best option. Sometimes it is road marked that you should do it. If people don’t do it when it is clearly the best (or the marked) option then they are the stupid ones. As TES says: either method is acceptable.

Marked crossroads are invariably nearside-to-nearside anyway.

No they aren’t! Just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are at least two in Nottingham which are included in test routes.

This comment was picked up from a forum which was visiting this article at the time it was originally published, and it is simply untrue. As I’ve made clear, either method is acceptable and which one you use depends on:

  • the junction involved
  • road markings
  • road layout (i.e. is it symmetrical or slightly skewed/staggered?)
  • the time of day (i.e. how busy is it?)
  • what other road users are doing (rightly or wrongly)

Offside to offside is unquestionably the safest method wherever it is possible to use it. Blindly trying to do nearside to nearside without understanding what you’re doing often means cutting corners, forcing others to stop or slow down, and taking needless risks. It points to ignorance of road rules and poor attitude.

Why should you check your mirrors when turning right?

One word: cyclists!

You ought to do a quick shoulder check, as well, just to be on the safe side. Trust me, not that long ago I saw a cyclist race up to a car which was turning right into Netherfield near the Colwick test centre, and turn right on his offside just as the car moved off. I’ve also seen them go round the nearside and do it.

To be fair, it isn’t just cyclists (though it is mainly them who are the problem). Motorcyclists (especially mopeds, which are just powered bicycles when you consider the idiots who usually ride them) will do it, and I’ve even had a van overtake (on the offside) when turning into a side road (I reported him to the police).

Who has priority at crossroads?

The short answer is no one does. That’s because you can never be completely certain what others are going to do, so even if there was a rule which said you had priority, and no matter how many road markings there are, there are far too many people out there who simply wouldn’t follow that rule.

However, as a general rule for yourself, assume that if you are going to cross the path of anyone else, then you don’t have any sort of ‘priority’. In other words, if you are turning right at a crossroads, and someone on the opposite side wants to turn to their left or go straight ahead (and they might not be signalling even if they’re going left or right), don’t take any risks and just let them get on with it.

Make eye contact with the other driver. They may indicate with a gesture that they are allowing you to have priority – priority can be given, but never taken or assumed.

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) says:

  • if you’re turning right and the other vehicle is going ahead or turning left, you should normally wait for the other vehicle to clear the junction before you make your turn. Otherwise, you’d be cutting across their path

People come up with all sorts of ‘what if’ scenarios for this situation, but the simple answer is not to take risks, and not to assume other people are good drivers. For the sake of a few seconds, it is a minor inconvenience at most. Just give them priority (or let them assume they have it). That way, you are driving defensively even if they aren’t.

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I’ve moved this to the top, because I have a resident! A Great Tit – and I’m certain it’s the same one who – after his first visit, followed by his second longer one – has chosen it as a place to roost now Autumn is setting in. For anyone following this, he tends to arrive between 6.00pm and 6.20pm at the moment (though he flopped in at 5.40pm one evening). After his initial visits at 9.00am on two consecutive days, he’s roosted there every night since, so he clearly likes it. He wakes up and leaves around 7.00am each morning.

When he arrives, he spends several minutes searching for insects in the cavities (on one occasion, he got something with legs between his beak and ate it, so I now know that’s what he’s doing).  I also think that’s why he jumps up to (and above) the camera, – he’s after the insects, because the birdbox has open vents at the top as well as the bottom, so bugs are going to go inside quite readily.

This is the live feed/live streaming from my birdbox camera. It’s on the back of the garden shed facing east, and about 2m from the ground.

The camera is Wi-Fi. It worked seamlessly when I was setting it all up in the house, but when I moved it to the end of the garden the signal strength meant that the connection was intermittent. I tried a Wi-Fi extender, which improved things somewhat, but the real issue was (I think) with my Virgin Media router. I discovered that the Superhub 3 has a known issue with Wi-Fi, resulting in dropouts even if the signal is good – and that tied in with the issues I’d had for a while with my smartphone, where the connection dropped even with a good signal. So I went for a different solution.

I used a TP-Link EAP 225 outdoor wireless access point (WAP). This takes control of the Wi-Fi aspect, so the router’s Wi-FI is irrelevant. I can now get maximum wireless right to the end of our garden, which is about 50m long, and no stupid dropouts. It’s just a constant strong signal.

At the moment, the WAP is propped up indoors near a window. Next job is to drill holes in the wall to mount it outside where it is supposed to be. Since the WAP is powered directly from the ethernet (PoE) I’ve got to get an ethernet cable and plug through the wall, so that means a 16mm hole. I have a 16mm bit, and it is 300mm in length. I’m not looking forward to the next part, but I’m steeling myself for it.

Incidentally, during the day the BirdCam is in full colour. At night, when the sensor detects low light, it turns off the internal LED lamp and switches to infrared, which renders in black and white. Around the time when that switch is made, the feed becomes jittery while the software makes up its mind.

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It might be the same bird as the first time, but this time he stayed for almost ten minutes – some of the time above the camera (you can hear him tapping with his beak). He gave the box a really good going over before finally leaving.

I’m hoping that such a long check means he likes the place.

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jennychemI’ve mentioned JennyChem many times before. I use their Traffic Film Remover when I clean my car and in my homemade screen wash, I periodically sanitise the inside of my car using their fogging machine, and I also buy my hand sanitising gel from them – along with various shampoos and valeting products.

Right now, you can get a 5% discount using the following code at checkout.

BAYJC8628

I can personally vouch for their products. They’re all excellent quality and they do precisely what they say they do.

To get you started, here are some links to products I use as supplied by JennyChem:

Traffic Film Remover Ultra Special

Snowstorm TFR Maxi Mousse

Cherry Bomb Shampoo

Tar & Glue Remover

Tyre Shine

Fogging/Sanitising Machine

Ceramic Beading Topper

They also supply antifreeze, microfibre cloths, and a vast range of other chemicals and tools. Some items are available through Amazon, but minus the discount code.

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I had a very eventful weekend.

On Friday, the fuel panic-buying started. I’d noticed queues throughout the day, and I knew it wasn’t going to just blow over anytime soon. My main concern was having fuel for Monday, when I have a pupil on test. I’d already started thinking of cancelling weekend lessons if need be to make sure I could do it. By the end of Friday, I had over half a tank, but I knew it wouldn’t last the weekend and cover Monday’s test.

I get my fuel from Asda, but on arriving well after 9pm Friday evening, and after joining the small queue to the 24 hour pumps, it became clear that they were all locked up because Asda was out of fuel. So I nipped to the nearby Esso garage which had also had queues all day, and it was also closed early because it was out of fuel. I then took a long shot and nipped to a local village outside of the city and managed to fill up there (though they appeared to be short of diesel, and people were queuing).

I was still concerned about the Monday test, though. A tank of petrol would not last much beyond Saturday and Sunday with all the lessons I had scheduled. But on my way to my first lesson on Saturday, events took over. I got two texts in quick succession from pupils cancelling because they had something else on (translation: the Detonate festival was on yesterday, and they were going to that), one from someone’s mother informing me they were waiting for the results of a PCR test, and one from another who had a lesson Sunday and thought that Saturday was Sunday, then realised, and didn’t cancel after all. No problem, that would save me some fuel. Then I got stuck in stationary traffic half way along Wilford Lane, which meant there was no way I was going to get to my pupil on time, and which would then impact the second. I called him and explained, and we decided to stick with the one he had booked Sunday (he normally does both days). I turned around, and then immediately got stuck in stationary traffic going the other way, because there had been a crash on Clifton Bridge yet again in the roadworks. Once I got home, I loaded up Google Maps and watched the traffic movement – it was effectively stationary within 2 miles of the bridge, and remained so until the point where I would not be able to get to my next pupil, either. I contacted her and explained, and we decided to stick with Sunday this week (she also does two lessons week). All in all, Saturday went from four lessons to a day off. But at least I knew I’d have fuel for Monday’s test now.

Sunday dawned. My first pupil lives near the city centre, and I checked Google as I usually do before setting off, and noticed that 90% of the city/ring road side was closed – because of the damned marathon. So I went the long way round to his house and came in from the non-marathon side, which took 50 minutes instead of the usual 20. We drove off from his house, with a destination in mind for the lesson, and immediately encountered a police roadblock due to an accident. We turned around with another route now in mind, and as soon as we got to Mapperley we were met with almost stationary traffic.

The marathon causes this problem every year at the best of times, since people have to find alternate routes to wherever they want to be, which increases the traffic volume everywhere else. But this time it was made much, much worse by dozens of twats queuing for fuel at the Co-op garage on Woodborough Road. The video is a time-lapse, and covers about 15 minutes of real time.

You can’t see it in the video, but a bus was bouncing up and down as it had to go over a bollard kerb to get past. The twats who had filled up then decided that instead of leaving the garage by the rear exit, and having to wait for 30 seconds at the traffic lights on Woodthorpe Drive, they would leave by the Woodborough Road exit and turn right across the gridlocked traffic approaching on both sides, thus creating even worse hold ups. That was why the ‘lane’ we were in was stationary for so long when it ought to have been free moving.

Once we got by, the lesson continued to be eventful. We had to stop for an otter in Stoke Bardolph and then, as we waited to turn left on to Nottingham Road in Burton Joyce, we watched a woman on horseback with two children (one on a pony, and one leading a pony) nearly get killed because the horse was bucking and she nearly fell off.

The last leg of the journey was marked only by people driving straight into then out of the garage on the Gedling end of Carlton Hill (because it had no fuel), and to squeeze through the orange cones on the entrance to the one just after Porchester Road to see if the obvious unavailability of any fuel was true and actually applied to them, too. Oh, and my pupil nearly colliding with his mother as she drove away from their house rather too quickly on a blind bend with parked cars on both sides.

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Well, here’s something you don’t see everyday in Nottingham. In fact, it’s the first time I have ever seen one in the flesh (or fur) anywhere in my life.

I was on a lesson and we were driving through Stoke Bardolph. We’d just gone past the pub when I noticed what I first thought was someone’s coat at the edge of the road. But as we got closer I realised it was an animal. The words ‘stoat’ and then ‘dog’ (when I realised how big it was) passed through my mind.

But absolutely the last word I expected to end up with was ‘otter’.

I’m not an expert on otters, but what little knowledge I have from nature documentaries is that they are quite fast. This one did seem to be limping – maybe. And it was much bigger than I thought they were. It stopped on the grass at the side at the river and alertly watched us go by. It’s times like these when I wish I carried my proper camera everywhere with me.

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I had my first non-insectoid and non-arachnoid visitor to my birdbox today. What appears to have been a Great Tit popped in and cased the joint.

He (or she) inspected every corner, and even checked the walls for integrity.

Apparently, this time of year they’re looking for places to roost, so I hope he comes back and then sticks around with a mate next Spring.

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