Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

virusAlmost every one of these has ‘so can I start teaching again’ after it.

Loads of people have had COVID-19 without realising it

Official ONS statistics suggest 0.25% of the population has had COVID-19 as of the time this claim was made. That’s not ‘loads’. It’s actually a very small proportion – one four hundredth of the population, in fact.

Update: The government is now saying up to 20% ‘have had it’. I’m not sure how they know that, since only 3 million tests have been done, and most of those were on people in hospital, on the frontline, or with symptoms. Test 3 million people who are in the thick of it (or in hospital), and you will get far different results compared with testing 3 million people who have been in almost complete isolation for the last two months.

It’s just flu

Tell that to the 35,000 of the 0.25% (or 20%) who have died from it in just a little over three months.

I’ve had it, so I’m safe

And you can now leap tall buildings in a single bound. But assuming you have had it – a lot of ignorant people are convinced they have because they had a ‘bad cold and a cough’ around Christmas, and ignore the ONS figure of only 0.25% (or latest government claim of 20%) of the population likely to have – you can still spread it around. And no one is sure yet if you can get it again – which you probably will be able to, based on other coronaviruses.

I’ve had it, so I can’t pass it on

Yes you can. Perhaps not by coughing it out, but certainly by picking it up on your hands and transferring it by touching things.

The government said most cases are very mild

Yes. And 0.25% (or 20%) of the population has apparently had it, and 35,000 people have died as a result. Multiply 35,000 by 400 (or 5), and that’s potentially how many could die if the whole population got it based on what’s happened so far. It’s unlikely to be as high as that, but it’s still a Big Number.

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Mr VirusIf you’re sitting comfortably, a little story. Once upon a time not that long ago, Mr Virus appeared. There is no vaccine to deal with him right now. Mr Virus tends to kill quite a few of the people he visits – at the time of writing he has more than doubled the normal weekly death rate from all causes in the UK even compared with a ‘bad flu’ season. Until there is a vaccine for him, he is still out there, doing his virusy thing. He cares not for country borders or skin colour and, being about 45,000 times less wide than a French fry, he cares not for physical barriers, either. Not unless they are very special or very solid ones. He can drift in the air, and he can remain ‘live’ on surfaces for some time. Although he tends to hit those with ‘underlying conditions’ hardest, he has shown quite clearly that he can hit anyone. People with ‘conditions’ tend not to be born with a neon sign on their forehead proclaiming the fact in the first place (though it is a personal choice for the individual to decide if they want one retro-fitting at a later date), but Mr Virus cares not for specific vulnerabilities in any case – he just infects anyone he meets and leaves it up to them whether they survive his visit or not. Many of those he visits might not even know they have a ‘condition’, but these people – including older ones – are not throwaway members of society, and have the same rights as everyone else. But I stress again, Mr Virus’s visit can kill healthy people too. Although his visit seems to have an effect which is proportional to the age of his host, he doesn’t just wait until someone’s birthday or anything, since he cares not for birthdays any more than he cares for borders, barriers, and ‘conditions’. As if to demonstrate this, his visit has recently claimed a 3-day old baby, whereas on the other hand several centenarians have survived it. And finally, Mr Virus is a two-way visitor – he can come visit you, but you can send him to visit others.

The moral of this story is that if you have even a shred of humanity in you, you’ll realise that the Mr Virus problem (aka COVID-19 pandemic) isn’t just about you. Other people are involved – all of them, actually.

In spite of all this, if Uncle Boris lifted the lockdown tomorrow, a huge number of driving instructors would wet themselves rushing out to work. All the dire news about Mr Virus in the media, and the first thing they say is ‘can I work or not?’ They say this repeatedly – and I mean at least once a day – even though nothing will have changed for Mr Virus if the lockdown is eased or lifted. Placing yourself before him will carry they same risks tomorrow, or next week, as it did yesterday, or a month ago.

Misleading (or very unclear) government advice, combined with non-scientific (and even conspiracy-oriented) understanding, doesn’t help. It means that many of these instructors are prepared to teach in face masks – even full-face visors – and nitrile gloves, with all the car windows fully open, and everywhere coated in a double layer of hand sanitizer the moment Uncle Boris says it’s OK. In spite of being short of money, they are apparently going to use a couple of bottles of sanitizer a day between lessons to make sure their car is ‘safe’ (even though Mr Virus is fairly mercenary, and cares not for attempts to eradicate him if you miss a bit, or get any of him on you without realising). They’re also planning to hand out face masks and gloves to their pupils (or insist pupils bring their own). Hand sanitizer of the kind that actually works is running at about £20 for half a litre. Face masks of the cheapest kind are around 50p each (and are single-use and need to be changed every 20 minutes). Gloves are about 25p each (50p a pair).

As for the windows being down – and let’s not complicate the issue by mentioning that it could be 5°C outside – a few years ago I was caught in a sudden thunderstorm on a lesson. The window was open a crack and rain was coming in, which caused the pupil to swerve slightly. I told her to stay calm, gently held the wheel, and asked her to close it. She pushed the wrong button and opened it instead, and got drenched (I was in full control of the steering by now). In addition, you can’t communicate effectively with someone when driving much above 30mph with the windows down because of road and wind noise – and that’s even when you haven’t got your face behind a mask, and possibly a visor, as well. And as numerous people who’ve been planning for it and testing it whilst sat on their driveways have now discovered, if you wear glasses and a face mask, unless it is very tight-fitting – and therefore very uncomfortable – your glasses fog up (as does the visor if you’ve got one on). And that’s before we get any warm weather, which will make it a hundred times worse. And people haven’t even discovered the joys of mask-related zits yet. Or hand dermatitis from wearing sweat-filled gloves for hours at a time. Even worse, masks don’t actually stop the virus. They just reduce the risk. A bit. Probably. And no one knows by how much (‘up to’ 75% minimisation of risk has been touted), even if they do.

One sector other than ours which has been badly affected by COVID-19 is the taxi industry. Taxis didn’t have to stop work, as they were considered essential. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that behind security staff, taxi drivers have recorded the most deaths across the various sectors – even more than care staff (but only just). Mr Virus certainly took advantage of the situation there. But instructors have been constantly whining that ‘taxi drivers are allowed to work, so why can’t we?’ Even when confronted with the ONS report in the media, the whining has become ‘it isn’t fair that taxi drivers can still work and we can’t’. Clueless doesn’t come into it, and Mr Virus is sitting there rubbing his hands in eager anticipation.

Incidentally. although it has been below the radar throughout the pandemic, you might be aware that Mr Virus tends to be somewhat more malevolent towards males than he is to females. Data suggest he is up to twice as likely to kill men compared with women. I do wonder how much more central on the radar screen this ‘minor’ detail would have been had the situation been the other way round, but I console myself somewhat with the fact that I am instead now far more knowledgeable concerning shortages of sanitary products, the demand for female-specific surgical gowns, women’s mental health issues, and what it’s like to be non-binary during the lockdown. Nevertheless, this statistical skew has prompted some female instructors for whom it hasn’t passed unnoticed to suggest that they should be allowed back to work because they reckon 2:1 is ‘low risk’. Clueless.

But back to taxis. Hackney Cabs already have Perspex screens separating the driver from the passenger compartment in back. Consequently, several companies have developed similar screens for normal taxis – even ones which separate the driver from the front passenger. This is a reasonable idea for taxis, primarily because the driver is the only occupant of his cubicle for the whole day, and because he is the only one responsible for driving the vehicle. But it will come as little surprise to discover some ADIs are over it like a rash. At least two I’ve seen online have even had the modifications carried out!

As I already said, a taxi driver is solely responsible for legal control of his vehicle. A learner is not – the instructor is – and to that end, the instructor has to be able to reach the steering wheel from the passenger side. A Perspex screen prevents that. But that’s apparently not a problem if you’re a super-ADI desperately wanting to go out before it’s safe, because it seems that such an instructor can teach verbally and through the sheer force of their will, and does not need to touch the controls at all (you can see where the article title came from). Alternatively, it has been suggested a hole could be cut to allow access to the steering wheel!

Such a screen would almost certainly void your instructor insurance. For a start off, here on Planet Earth, we mere Earthling instructors have real world experience, and we know that we can have pupils who will attempt to take a roundabout the wrong way, or who see a cat or squirrel run across the road 200 metres ahead and instantly try to take the doors off parked cars along the kerb. We know that telling them – even coaching them – not to isn’t very effective in the heat of the moment, and even if it was we can’t take the risk in the split second involved in avoiding 3rd party contact. So being able to grab the wheel is critical, and if you can’t, you don’t have control.

If this screen had a hole in it, allowing access to the steering wheel, then it would first of all be less effective for its original purpose. But what happens if your hand is through it and a collision still occurs? The jolt alone could snap your arm like a twig if it hit the edge of the screen. But what if the collision were serious enough to compress the car? What does Perspex do when it breaks? It certainly doesn’t shatter into safe little cubes like safety glass, but instead snaps. The broken edges are sharp, the fragments can be pointed, and your arm is through the hole trying to prevent whatever it is that’s happening. It’d be like a scene from a horror movie, and chances are you’d not be having any more piano lessons afterwards.

And then there’s the sanitisation issue. A taxi driver is the only one on his side all day. An instructor spends time on both sides. How much sanitizer or alcohol is going to be needed to clean the entire surface of both sides of the screen? If you have four lessons a day, you’ve got to clean your side (at least) in the morning, both sides before the first lesson, your side (at least) after the lesson, both sides before the next lesson, and so on. That’s between twelve and fifteen complete wipe downs for four lessons! How much sanitizer will that get through? And what if you miss a bit and Mr Virus is lurking on that bit? It’s hard enough to get hair and dust out of the gaps between the seats at the best of times, but how easy will it be when there’s less than half the usual space – and as well as the hair and dust, Mr Virus is possibly lurking? Absolutely clueless.

The next argument that keeps coming up is dates from DVSA. When the lockdown began, DVSA initially cancelled tests for two days, and then a week. Anyone with intelligence above that of a peanut knew – absolutely knew – that it wasn’t going to be just for two days, and then a week. I mean, for f***’s sake, even my neighbour’s cat could work that one out. But not most driving instructors.

As the situation progressed during that first week (March), tests were further cancelled and moved to late May and June. Again, my neighbour’s cat was aware that this was just in line with what the government was saying at the time and that it was not a definite statement of when we would be able to start working as if nothing had happened again. My neighbour’s cat knew that the dates would move back again. And yet every single time someone’s pupil gets an email telling them their test has been moved, out come these people with ‘looks like we’ll be back on 3rd June’. Clueless.

Next, we have the idiotic government ‘guidelines’. It stands to reason that while Mr Virus is hanging around, the best way of stopping him visiting is to keep the metaphorical doors (and windows) shut. And doing that has helped a lot – though it would have helped a lot more if the UK population didn’t include so many Neanderthals who think the rules don’t apply to them, and if the UK government had… well, that’s a different topic, and much too expansive to go into here. But instead of sticking with ‘Stay at Home’, Uncle Boris has morphed it into something along the lines of ‘hey, man, chill. Stay cool. Go out, but be careful’. Translation: ‘If you’re a Neanderthal, you can now do what you were probably doing anyway, and now you can officially do it anywhere and the police can’t do anything about it’.

For driving instructors, the first question to come out of this is ‘so, can we go back to work?’ The obvious and crystal clear answer to this, so my neighbour’s cat tells me, is ‘no’. Standard response from instructors? ‘But we are now allowed to car share, so that means we can work’! Clueless.

And it goes on, and on, and on, and on.

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Virus imageToday was my day to make my claim. I had already checked to see if I was eligible for the grant, and had been given today as the date to make my claim.

The claim procedure was absolutely straightforward. Not a single hiccup along the way. The amount I was awarded was exactly what I’d calculated I would receive – around £3,500.

(Update: claim made Friday, payment made immediately after midnight Tuesday).

I note that quite a few instructors have been confused by the request for the ‘billing address’ of the account money is being paid into. Clearly, these people have never actually purchased anything on the internet before, since you’re asked for your billing address almost every time you make a purchase. Anyone still waiting to do their claim, the billing address is typically the address where the named person on the bank account you have specified lives (if you made it more complicated by living at a different address and using an account of someone else, you sort it out). In my case, it was straightforward – my billing address is always my home address – but it shouldn’t be that hard to work it out even if you’re one of those people who has a registered home address, a 2nd address, a business address, a holiday home, a caravan, a camper van, and a pony in a field somewhere. It isn’t the address of your bank, although from what I have heard, HMRC has turned off its stupid filter to allow for those who have decided – and even tried to argue – that it is.

Update: I am seeing lots of people making confusing statements about the way this payment is handled. To clarify.

You were given a date and time from which you could apply. Once you placed your claim – and assuming you entered the correct details in order to get paid – you were told it would take up to six days. That’s six working days, and most banks don’t include weekends as ‘working days’. Once your claim was made, the process was silent, and no emails relating to it’s progress through the system were sent out.

Once the payment was made to your nominated bank account, you may or may not have received a text, email, or other notification via your bank’s app. It would depend on the bank, the app, any settings you may or may not have set, or if you were still in the Dark Ages and insist on receiving paper statements through the post as if the internet didn’t exist. For example, my payment was made at one minute after midnight on Tuesday, and my banking app sent me a notification several hours later – as it does for any deposit into or payment from my account. This notification (or otherwise), in whatever form, is from your bank, and not HMRC.

Some banks are faster than others. It depends on whether they handle the ‘faster payments’ system, for one thing. Mine does, and deposits appear almost instantly. But it can take some time – sometimes a day or two – for other banks to process payments.

Amusingly, I did get an ‘update’ email from HMRC, addressed to me personally and containing my claim reference number, confirming I was eligible, and that my payment was ‘being processed’ and should be expected within ‘3 working days’. That arrived at 3am this morning – over a day after I’d been paid! It didn’t bother me in the slightest, nor do I feel the need to launch into an attack on anyone over it. However, it did add that you shouldn’t phone HMRC until the specified time period has elapsed – and I would point out that ‘six working days’ from a claim made last Friday potentially runs until next Monday.

Finally, bank account details and email addresses are very, very precise items. If someone asks for your email address, they have to have precisely your email address – not something ‘like’ what you seem to remember it might be, sort of. If you give the wrong one, you won’t get any emails. It’s that simple. And the same with a bank account and sort code numbers. If you entered them incorrectly when you made your claim, there’s a good chance the money has either gone to someone else (if the numbers matched) or the payment has failed. If you don’t get your payment after six working days, you’ll have to try and contact HMRC to sort it out. And don’t be surprised if you have to claim all over again.

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TV Licensing ScamJust a heads up on another silly attempt at scamming people over their TV licence.

I get one of these at least once a year and can spot them a mile off. This one came from postmaster@kuriya.jp, which is an automatic giveaway in the first place. The second clue is in that I know our licence is up to date. The third clue is that ‘TVLicensing’ and ‘TVLicence’ have no space, whereas the proper TV Licensing title does.

TVL will always use your full name in their own emails (this one had my email address), and they will always come from donotreply@tvlicensing.co.uk or donotreply@spp.tvlicensing.co.uk.

And never click on links from emails if you are unsure of them.

If I’m wrong, then I expect a visit from the Yakuza in the near future. I’m not especially worried.

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KFC QueueAn article in the local Nottingham Post (have an ad blocker – you’ve been warned) reveals that police had to be called as massive queues built up outside the only branch of KFC to open up in the region.

The combined IQ of those in the queue probably barely made it into three figures, but the really funny part is how KFC are going to handle it.

Even at the best of times, the likelihood of going to the drive-thru only to be told ‘we’re just waiting for chicken – it’ll be about 12 minutes’ is about 50:50, so how on earth they can manage queues of this size is anyone’s guess. Then there is the normal drive-thru procedure to consider.

KFC specialises in attracting the kind of people who drive BMWs and Audis who haven’t got a clue what they’re going to order once they reach the intercom. They’ll invariably have their brood in the car with them, and it’ll then turn into that scene from The Exorcist, with the driver’s head spinning repeatedly through 360° as he or she attempts to add whatever numerous items everyone wants to the order. And of course, it won’t be a normal order – there’ll be tweaks and special requests to customise it.

One they get to the pick-up window, you can be sure there’ll be no more chicken left for you. And God only knows how they’ll manage with the typical two Order Bays in the car park – they need a dozen even when it’s quiet.

It does make you wonder, though, how people can get their priorities so wrong. It’s the same as champing at the bit to go back to work as soon as you’re allowed – even though nothing has changed with the virus pandemic.

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HMRC COVID-19 Support ImageI had an email from HMRC this morning, which you can view here in website form.

If you go to GOV.UK and search for ‘Self-Employment Income Support Scheme’ you will find the tool that checks your eligibility, and assigns you a time from which you can place your claim. I strongly advise that you do it this way, just in case someone sends you a scam email – never click on links from emails to access your bank or business accounts anywhere.

Make sure you have the necessary information before you start your eligibility check. You need your Government Gateway number, your UTR, and your NI Number to complete it.

The good news for me is that I am eligible, and I can make a claim from next week (though there is the possibility that the claim system might not be available until later in the week, but we shall see). The email also says that the calculated money will be paid within six working days.

Update: Well, it didn’t take long, did it? The system is about as simple and straightforward as it could be, yet it still seems to have thrown many into a state of utter confusion.

The original email makes it clear that you need your Gateway Access number, your UTR, and your NI Number. If you don’t have those to hand, you will not be able to complete the check. If you do your own self-assessment you will have them (frankly, even if you don’t do your own SA, you really ought to have this information on file).

When you check your eligibility, it just says whether you are, or whether you aren’t, eligible. It doesn’t tell you how much you’ll be getting or give you any money there and then. Honestly, it doesn’t. It then asks you to enter your contact details. Just your email address and phone number – no inside leg measurements, bank details, or anything – just your email address and contact phone number. This is so you can be sent the claim link on the date and time it gives you on the screen.

Claim dates and times are different for everyone. I guess they’ve done it like this to stop everyone crashing the system as they all apply at the same time first thing Monday when it starts up. In other words, the claims are staggered whether you like it or not. Moan about it all you want – you’d certainly be moaning if the system crashed due to overload – but at least they are trying to avoid problems.

Let me stress again. You are not making a claim at this moment in time. You are just checking your eligibility, and providing two pieces of contact information so they can send you the claim link at your date and time next week.

Once you have done that, the screen message clearly indicates that there’s nothing more to do at this stage. The clue is in the absence of any further questions or requests for (sigh) bank details. They will want your bank information next week.

This system makes perfect sense to me. However, some people also appear put out by the fact that they aren’t just getting a wheelbarrow full of cash dumped on their doorstep, and they’ve actually got to do something to get it. Something so horrendously illogical as… filling in a claim form!


Reading social media, etc., and it amazes me the number of instructors who are confused over what they need to do – even though they apparently do their own self assessments each year!

If you do your own SA, you will have access to the Government Gateway. When you log in, the security system sends you a text message with a short-lived access code, which you then have to type in before getting to your account. It stands to reason you should not be sending screenshots of this access code to social media or any other source, but I can see people doing precisely that. The first time you log into the Gateway, it asks you to set this up.

The access code expires after 15 minutes, after which time you’ll need to get a new one. However, you can ask the system to ‘remember for 7 days’ if you plan on logging in several times in the immediate future. This is even more reason not to go posting screenshots anywhere just because ‘you can’. It is security information, roughly equivalent to a password, and making it known to all and sundry removes one level of security from your most private financial information. If anyone gains access to that, they could pretend to be you virtually anywhere in the world.

I also see people triggering the whole issue all over again every single time they get a text message, with a deluge of inconsistent, repetitive replies every single time. HMRC will not send out any messages with links in them. You should always go to GOV.UK and access your account from there, or from within links within GOV.UK.

If you’ve gone through everything once and been given a time and date for your claim, you do not need to do it again. You do not need to do it two more times. Or three more times. Once you’ve done it the first time, nothing you can do will make next week come any quicker. Just wait.

Not every test message you receive is a scam. If you get one from HMRC and it doesn’t contain any links or mention sums of money, it is almost certainly legitimate. Log into the Gateway and you can check – if you don’t owe anything when you look at your account, then you don’t owe anything, period. So any text message saying otherwise can be ignored.

This is the same principle you should follow for any other text message telling you your ‘bill is overdue and you’ll get cut off if you don’t pay immediately’. I get them allegedly from EE and Virgin Media on a regular basis. The giveaway is usually the email address they come from, but all I do is log into my EE or Virgin accounts and check (helped by the fact that I pay by direct debit and I know I have funds to cover my payments). What I don’t do is click the link and then start posting all over social media to get a 50:50 opinion on whether it’s a scam or not. I note that social media replies are frequently 50:50 on being right if it is a scam, and 50:50 on being right if it isn’t. The net result is a complicated answer that is lucky if it’s even close to being right.

DO NOT click links in emails to access your bank, HMRC, or other accounts where your bank details are stored. If you do, contact your bank immediately and tell them what you’ve done.

Even if you realise it is a scam, don’t try and be a smart arse by clicking the link to try and outfox the scammers. You might be saying ‘yes’ to having software installed on your PC or phone. At the very least, you are saying ‘I am here’, and thus registering yourself as a target.

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Sunshine after the stormOriginally published 27 March 2020.

It’s no secret, but I am not a fan of this government in normal times. None of that will have changed.

However, they have announced a help package for self-employed people that will apply to the majority of driving instructors. From what I understand at the moment, your average income for the last three years will be determined (though I believe you will still be eligible if you submitted a return for last year), and you will be paid 80% of that. It’s all explained here. You will still be liable for tax on it next year because it is still self-employed income, which is perfectly understandable. But this is where the fun begins.

It appears that many instructors still can’t work out the difference between turnover and profit/income, and are of a mind to believe that the government is going to (or should be) be paying them for overheads which they no longer have to cover right now, such as fuel and franchise/car ownership costs. Others, for unfathomable reasons, seem to expect to be paid their entire (and sometimes imaginary) income without even having to get up. This is where previous, erm, ‘creativity’ when filing your tax return comes home to roost, and if you’ve been earning close to £30k but only declaring £20k of it, then it is the latter figure you’ll be assessed on.

For the billionth time, your turnover is not called gross profit – or any other term with ‘profit’ in it. It is your turnover. HMRC will not be calculating this grant based on your turnover, and that is true no matter what stupid name you give it when you’re doing your tax return. It is how much money passes through your hands as a result of your business. In any normal year, you have to subtract business overheads from your turnover. What’s left is your trading or taxable profit. This is sometimes referred to as gross profit, and it is what you pay tax on. It is the trading/taxable profit HMRC will be using to calculate how much you’ll get from this grant – not any other kind of ‘profit’, and especially not one you made up so you could use the word ‘net’ a lot on your Excel spreadsheet. And one final thing, as long as your trading profit makes up more than half of your total income then you will still get the grant – that condition is there for people who live off investments. In other words, if you have a private pension income and also work as an instructor, then as long as your Self Assessment trading profit is more than you get from your pension (which is PAYE and HMRC knows about it already), you are still eligible.

I have to admit that GOV.UK has complicated the issue by putting ‘turnover’ in brackets next to ‘total trading income’ (aka trading profit) on it’s ‘information page’ – which doesn’t actually explain things very clearly at all. The media summaries which say you will get “80% of your taxable profits from self-employment, averaged over the last three years” is the key.

If you go on to the HMRC website and look at your account, you can see your tax statements for the last four years. Last year – the one I’ve most recently sent in as my self-assessment – my total income was around £25,000. Part of that for me is now from a private pension which I only started receiving part way through that tax year, but which means I’ve eased off the gas somewhat when it comes to worrying about cancellations and maintaining a full diary these days. The majority of it was from self-employment, though. Depending on how they do this, I estimate that they will be paying me around £1,000 per month.

That’s £1,000 a month (£230 a week) that I otherwise wouldn’t have had, which – when the payment kicks in – will be backdated to the start of March, as I understand it. As the saying goes, that is somewhat better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

These are extraordinary times, and we are experiencing something no one has ever experienced before – and I include the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 in that (if anyone is alive who can remember it). The government paying anything – let alone 80% of income – to millions of people is unprecedented. Unprecedented with knobs on. Unprecedented to the power of . And still people aren’t happy.

The vast majority of instructors have had franchises, car leases, car loans, and almost all other debts put on hold. Gas and electric companies are deferring payments. Even major lenders for mortgages are trying to help. OK, some are still stalling on it, but they’re going to have to get real and offer people something. On that alone, though, getting 80% of your normal annual income could easily leave you slightly better off in the short term until you can start earning again and the bills come back online.

In some cases, the help is automatic and is being applied as a matter of course. In others, you simply have to get off your arse and ask for it. Although they appear to snowed under, Universal Credit is open to almost everyone – especially those who have only been instructing for a short time.

I am fortunate now, and have my private pension to help me through this. That pension, with the lump sum that went with it, was originally purposed for use in retirement when I eventually get there, and it is a long way from keeping me in the manner to which I have become accustomed by itself (though it will be much closer once there is a state pension on top of it and I have no business overheads to worry about). But to have it partially protected in this way now is some comfort.

Of course, this will make many people angry – anger comes immediately after jealousy for many people. But I would point out that I have been through something very similar financially in the past. When I lost my job all those years ago, I had huge debts and zero income initially (the pension was way off). While I trained to be an ADI I was on almost the minimum wage for a part of the time, and had to negotiate with my creditors to allow reduced payments throughout that time – and that was back when they had no reason at all to want to play ball. But they did (though CapitalOne tried hard not to the entire time, with their incessant, sometimes daily, phone calls). I didn’t want to declare bankruptcy, or use it’s teenage cousin (the IVA), because of how it might affect me being an instructor and self-employed later on. My credit rating then was literally zero.

It was a struggle. But I got through it – forced my way through it, in fact – and eventually paid off all my debts. My credit rating now couldn’t be higher.

If I can do it, you can do it. You can. The only way out of situations like that – and like this one now – is to be active and proactive. To meet problems head-on and deal with them. And to accept that some degree of hardship is inevitable. Don’t get angry or start throwing hissy-fits at anyone, and be very careful if you cut off payments without clearing it with them first (don’t listen to smart arses on social media telling you to do it), because that would mean you’re defaulting on your agreement, and I can promise you that will come back to haunt you in future if you get one against your name. Yes, you might be on hold for a long time on the phone – other people are affected, too – and yes, you might get cut off. But you’re not going to get chucked out of your home anytime soon. There is a solution to every problem. You just have to find it.

I realise that the support package will not apply to those who have only been trading for a short time, and I am really sorry for you about that (obviously, the title of this article isn’t directed at you). Similarly, you’re not eligible if your main income is from somewhere else, and you only give lessons to make a bit of pocket money. Universal Credit is there if you need it, so push for it. And if it really seems like there is no way forward – or if you simply cannot do it by yourself – contact a credit management company to help you.

Once all this is over, people are going to want driving lessons again. Many will be in a position where they need to drive to be able to find work. While all this current stuff is happening, people will still be turning 17, and they will be waiting for the time when they can start taking lessons. In my case, all those people who I had to terminate lessons with last week will still be waiting (unless they were all so mercenary they managed to find some asshole who has been teaching during the pandemic).

We can all get through it.

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VollkornbrotAfter the preamble in Part I, and the production of the Anstellgut in Part II, we’re now down to the serious business – making my first loaf of Vollkornbrot.

There will (eventually) be a few more pictures. The recipe I’m using is very simple, and is given below.

600gRoggenmehl Typ 1150
530gWater
12gSalt
10gAnstellgut

In a suitable bowl, beat the starter, salt, and water until frothy and well mixed. Add the flour and mix either by hand, or with a stand mixer. You just need to make sure everything is thoroughly combined – no need to knead or develop the gluten (there’s not much gluten in rye flour).

The mixed dough before risingWhat you end up with can only be described as a sticky mess, but that’s OK because it’s exactly what it should look like. I’m glad I went with my Kenwood, because if you get any on you it sticks like all get out! Cover it with a tea towel and let it rise at room temperature  for 10-12 hours.

Turn it out on to a well-floured surface and shape it into a round. Mine had risen by more than twice its original volume, but was still as sticky as hell. The phrase ‘turn it out’ is a bit of an oversimplification, too – most of it fell out, but there was still a layer stuck in the bowl, so I scraped that out with a spatula. I tried flouring my hands to prevent it sticking when I was shaping it, but that was no good, and I’ve since discovered you need to wet your hands with cold water when handling rye dough.

Gently place the dough into a well-floured proofing basket (mine has a canvas liner).

After proving for 90 minutesLet it rise for 60-90 minutes uncovered, until cracks appear on the surface. Mine rose again noticeably during this time.

Preheat the oven to the highest temperature you can (Gas Mark 9). Place a pan of boiling water on the bottom shelf to provide steam. Flour the top of the loaf and gently tip it on to a baking tray (the canvas liner released it readily, which was a huge relief).

Tipped out and ready for bakingI put one shallow slash using a sharp knife through the dough’s ‘skin’ to be on the safe side, though it cracked by itself. Drop the oven setting to Gas Mark 8 (230°C) and put the loaf inside. Total baking time is 50 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove the tray of water.

For the last 10 minutes, open the oven door a little – just slightly ajar.

My first VollkornbrotThis is what the result is straight out of the oven. It’s exactly what I was after – on the outside, at least. It’s identical to the authentic German loaves. And after letting it cool right down…

My first Vollkornbrot - slicedYes! Result. It has a nice tangy taste (which is one that you need to acquire, so be warned) and the crumb is pretty much just as I wanted it.

It’s amazing, really, that just 10g of the Anstellgut did all this. Many of the American recipes – and a lot of the British ones – use a tonne of the stuff. I guess that is to speed up the proofing time so it rises faster and (sigh) attempts to get ‘grape-sized holes’ – as I saw one American trying to do in a rye bread only last night – in the crumb. They also have complicated multi-stage processes which revel in terms you have to look up, but the one I found is as simple as you can get. And it works.

This long slow rise is authentically German, and it results in an even, dense, and authentic crumb.

When I make my next loaf (or subsequent loaves), I will add to the images here depending on how clean I can keep them looking (and as I hone my skills) so you can see the different stages.

Also, I was so desperate to cut into this one to see what it was like, it was still slightly warm. Apparently, you’re supposed to keep them for 24 hours before cutting into them, and I’ll do that in any future attempts.

What is ‘room temperature’?

Say, between 20°C and 25°C. If it’s less than that, it will rise much more slowly. I discovered that on the 2nd loaf, when we’d gone from around 20°C outside to less than 10°C, with indoor temperatures down pro rata.

How do you stop it sticking to your hands?

Cold water is definitely the answer. I initially tried flour, but it was no good at all. But running my hands under cold water, then quickly shaping the round and dropping it into the proofing basket was simple the second time. Just don’t go overboard with it.

My loaf has a dense or damp bottom

Assuming that it’s fully cooked, make sure you let it cool on a wire rack – not on a solid (and especially, a cold) surface. If the base cools too quickly, moisture in the loaf condenses, and that makes it denser or even soggy at the bottom.

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VollkornbrotAfter my preamble in Part I, now it’s time to get down to business and start making my proper German Sourdough Rye Bread – Vollkornbrot in this case.

The whole point of sourdough bread is that you don’t use any added yeast – which is fortunate, since the panic-buyers have it all. Instead, you make use of the yeast that occurs naturally in the flour. The only problem with that is that there’s not much there compared with a tablespoon of pure bakers’ yeast, so you need to gradually bring it to life and let it grow before you can actually make any bread.

This is a one-time process, and at the end of it you have a ‘starter culture’ – or Anstellgut, in German. Incidentally, if any German readers want to correct me, please do. I’m trying to improve my German language skills right now, and having to translate these recipes has been fun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have got all the words right. Anstellgut in particular doesn’t translate too well – you get some pretty funky results – and I had to work it out for myself.

The principle behind making a starter is that you mix approximately equal portions of flour and water, then incubate it in a warm place for a day. Then you ‘feed’ it with more flour and a similar amount of water, and incubate again. You repeat this for several days, until at the end of it you have a nice frothy starter which is now fully active and can be used to make bread rise. You can use any flour to make a starter, but it is usually best (though not essential) to use the type of flour you’ll be making the bread out of later. In my case, I want a rye bread, so I am using rye flour.

I’m using “Roggenmehl Typ 1150”, which I purchased from Bäckerei George, located in Dresden, Germany. They’re on eBay, and the listing is in German, but you can use any rye flour if that worries you (and if you can get it). They delivered to me with no problems, so I’m happy to vouch for them. Roggenmehl means ‘rye flour’, and Roggenmehl 1150 (the number relates to the ash content) is high in B and E vitamins, contains at least 85% of the whole grain, and is therefore darker than normal bread flour. Rye has a lower gluten content than regular white flour and a slightly sour taste.

Googling for information on starters and sourdough throws up some bizarrely complicated methods which seem fixated on ending up with barely more than a thimbleful of starter from anything up to half a kilo of flour and the same amount of water. I went for a simple Anstellgut based on one I found on a German cookery website. It takes 7 days to prepare – assuming nothing goes wrong. I used a big enough container so as not to have to keep pissing about throwing half away here, and half away there to try and keep it in a jam jar (it rises and falls when you’re making it).

I started with a jam jar, then switched to a larger jar when the volume increased. Before use, I washed the jar I needed and then dried it in a low oven for 20  minutes to sterilise it. You can use a plastic container as long as it’s clean.

Oh, one more thing. Chlorine is very bad for the low levels of yeast spores in the flour, and it kills or inhibits them. Don’t use tap water when making your Anstellgut – use spring water from a bottle. And you can warm it slightly either in a clean pan on the stove, or in the microwave for a few seconds. Ideally, it should be around 25-30°C when you use it.

I was intending to show a series of pictures, but I quickly realised this is pointless. Once the Anstellgut kicks off, it rises then falls over 24 hours. So although it might double in volume a few hours after you feed it, after 24 hours it has calmed right back down and you can’t see anything dramatic.

Day 1

To the clean jam jar, add 50g of flour and 80g of slightly warm bottled spring water. Mix with a clean spatula, cover the jar with muslin, and incubate at about 25°C for 24 hours.

Day 2

There is already obvious activity even after 24 hours, with a few bubbles and a honeycombed texture when you dig into it. It has a very slight acidic odour. It’s looking good, so far.

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 3

Sometime during the night, the marks on the jar show it doubled in volume, then fell back again. It is frothy with the same slightly acidic odour. I’ve transferred it to the larger jar now (I only just got away with it in the smaller one).

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 4

Again, at some point overnight it doubled in volume and then fell back. It smells more yeasty now – almost like when making beer, but not as strong.

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 5

Again, it doubled at some point, then fell back. The smell is still good.

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 6

Once again, it doubled and fell back. I’m beginning to see how this works. Each feed, it becomes highly active with the new food, then quietens down once it has used it up.

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 7

Once again, it doubled and fell back

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 8

My Anstellgut – my baby (which has a name, by the way) – is ready to use (and that comes in Part III).

Maintaining the Anstellgut

If you’re baking regularly, feed the Anstellgut in exactly the same way as you did when you were making it. Equal amounts of flour and water daily if you’re keeping it at room temperature.

Storing the Anstellgut

If you’re not baking regularly, seal the lid, put the Anstellgut in the fridge, and feed it weekly. It will keep almost indefinitely.

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