Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Börner V5 SlicerI’ve had a Mandoline slicer for many years. I bought my old one after seeing an ad on TV, and it lasted for at least 20 years. In fact, there’s still not much wrong with it now, apart from the state of its box after all this time.

But – and being a sucker for these things, though in recent years I’ve tried to break the habit – I saw another ad on TV a few months ago for the Börner V5 Slicer. It was all shouty, as they usually are, but I thought to myself that the old one was about ready for replacing, so I took the plunge. Since I’ve had it, I’ve used it a few times for the usual things, but it wasn’t until tonight that I needed to dice some carrots.

Now, as anyone knows, dicing carrots is a major pain in the backside. They’re quite brittle, for one thing, and bits go everywhere. And seeing as they’re also quite hard, if you have a lot of dicing to do you’re likely to end up with blisters from holding the knife, and cuts if you don’t maintain concentration. And unless you take forever over it, the finished dice isn’t necessarily a ‘dice’ – it is more of a selection of trapezoidal things, and they’re not uniformly-sized trapezoidal things, either.

My old Mandoline couldn’t do this, but tonight I finally figured out how to do it on the Börner – though I have to admit I needed to study their demo video closely several times until it clicked in my head what was happening.

You see, if you use a normal home Mandoline with a slicing blade fitted, the short vertical blades create the strip cuts, and the main V-blade detaches them from the bulk. So you only get strips. The only way to dice, therefore, is to manually cut lengthways into whatever it is you’re dicing, then use the Mandoline with those cuts at 90° to the V-blade (or alternatively, cut strips and then dice them separately, which also tends towards trapezoidality (I made that word up) and is also a pain). It’s dangerous enough even with soft things like cucumbers, and you still have to be precise with your cuts if you want a uniform dice. With carrots – and their aforementioned physical properties – you’ve got no chance.

I was sitting here tonight thinking how the hell can a Mandoline be used to dice quickly when I decided to look at the Börner website. Sure enough, they say it can dice, but they don’t explain how. The video shows them doing it, but the only thing it mentions – and only then in passing – is that you alternately slice with 90° turns of the safety holder. For me, I needed to understand why. And then it clicked.

On the Börner, the slicing plates have two positions they can be moved to, and one of the positions clearly shows cubes. Here’s the secret: the cube (dice) position pushes the blade tips higher than the V-blade, so when you slice, the bulk item in the holder is pre-cut above the V-blade ready for the next slide, and when you turn the guard 90° for that slide, the next V-cut produces a dice, and another pre-cut is made for the next slide. So alternately slide-twist-slide-twist and so on gives you a uniform dice. My old one couldn’t do this, presumably for safety reasons, because if you use a Mandoline without using the safety holder you will lose parts of fingers at some point, and if the slicing blades can protrude higher, you’ll end up shredding the bits that are still attached to your hand. The Börner is German, and Germans are far more practical about such things, and probably feel as I do in that if you use the damned thing without the safety holder it serves you bloody right if you cut yourself. It’s certainly served me right all the times I used the old one without the guard and cut myself.

So now I can dice things quickly and precisely. And it only took 40 years to figure out how.

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Sunshine after the stormIt’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.

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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The reality of COVID-19 spreadingSince the Coronavirus pandemic started, one of the most annoying aspects of it has been how all the self-professed ‘experts’ have squirmed out of the woodwork and offered their takes on it.

I am repeatedly pointing out on various message boards that when the entire scientific world is treating this as a Very Serious Problem, the likelihood of some wanker who is getting through boxes of tissues because of being shut up in their room for too long hitting on an alternative and more correct interpretation is similar to that of winning the lottery by not even doing it.

In other words, it isn’t going to happen.

There are the conspiracy theorists, who claim it is manmade. There are those who think it is a hoax, and not as bad as is made out. And then there are those whose heads sound like pan-pipes when the wind blows past their ears.

It was bad enough two weeks ago when people were doing it. And back then, others were agreeing with them.

But to see someone post the same comment today – that China has had 20,000 deaths because of COVID-19, but it has 20,000 a day from other causes – is beyond stupid. Light years beyond stupid.

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Jolly Roger pirate flagI’ve mentioned recently how hard it is to buy certain things because of panic buyers. In many cases, these people aren’t buying for themselves – they’re doing it to try and make a quick buck on eBay or on street corners.

Take hand sanitizer. The usual price of a bottle is around £5, give or take (I don’t buy it often). Right now, comedians like this seller on eBay are selling a single bottle for £24.99. Or this private seller listing a bottle a fifth of the size for £36.99 – and it is shown as ‘used’, as he has actually had some out of it!

Then there’s toilet rolls. My dad buys packs of 10 for about £4 in normal times (I think he goes to Wilkos). That’s about 40p a roll. This clown on eBay is selling them for £1.99 each – and that’s a sponsored listing. And this one is selling them for £8.99 per roll, albeit a bigger than usual one. But this one isn’t – £18.10 (including postage) for four rolls of cheap stuff, so £4.50 a roll.

Out in the real world, last week my local newspaper ran a story (and make sure you have an adblocker if you go here, because local news websites are basically just advertorials with a bit of news squeezed in) where one shop was advertising toilet paper at £1 a roll, and 50mls of hand sanitizer for £8 – 50mls is the same size as a double whisky, which would cost maybe £6 tops in most pubs.

The shop, CBD Gift Shop, claimed it was ‘a joke’. Yeah. Big laughs, eh?

In the same article, Murat Food Centre was advertising a £2.49 bottle of Dettol at £19.99. When challenged, it was apparently ‘a one in 1,000 mistake’. But one which had gone far enough to have signs or labels printed.

A couple of days ago, the BBC ran a story where the chemist Jhoots was listing 100ml bottles of Calpol at £9.99 and 200ml bottles at £19.99. Whoever did it couldn’t even get the maths right, since the bigger bottle was actually more expensive per ml than the smaller, which isn’t how it usually works. In Asda, a 100ml bottle of Calpol is £3.50, and an online pharmacy has 100ml/200ml bottles at £4.99/£6.99.

When challenged, Jhoots said it was ‘a communication error at branch level’ (aka it was someone in the shop’s idea). It must have been the same communication error that led the same shop to try selling Paracetamol tablets at £9.99 a pack, when they were listing them at £1.39 the week before. Even £1.39 is overpriced – you can buy the same number for 30p in most places.

It’s as the title of this article says.

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First message on GOV.UK test bookingRegarding the three-month driving test suspension, be aware that the rearranged dates in June cannot be changed right now.

One of my pupils texted me tonight and said the time on the new date she’s been given isn’t convenient, but she couldn’t change it. I asked her for the booking reference so I could have a look and even on the first page the message above makes it clear you cannot do anything right now. If you do try to proceed further, you get this message.

GOV.UK main messageIt’s fairly clear. The entire DVSA is effectively closed as far as test bookings etc. go.

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In an earlier post today, I said I wouldn’t mention any more about earnings just yet. The reason I said that was because I was hoping beyond hope that the few dim bulbs out there who are still ‘working normally’ would finally see sense and realise that COVID-19 is only going to get worse if they insist on giving lessons.

Boris Johnson has just declared that everyone must stay at home unless they are key workers. The actual wording is:

…except for shopping for basic necessities, daily exercise, any medical need and travelling to and from essential work.

It took less than two seconds for certain of the dim bulbs I mentioned to declare that they are still ‘going to work’ as driving instructors. A fair number of them, too.

How much f**king more has to be done to make you realise that you are making it worse. The spread of COVID-19 is far, far more serious than your bills. Really, it is.

If you made the effort, you’d be able to manage the financial situation. Christ, when I lost my job all those years ago I had over £30,000 of debts and initially a tiny, tiny income, but I dealt with them – or got someone to help me deal with them – and now I have none. If I can do it, you can do it. And you can if you get off your arse and try, so stop looking for what seems the easy way out.

You’re not doing yourself or your kids any favours whatsoever by going out mingling with people. More importantly, you’re not doing the rest of us any favours, either. You don’t know if the people you’re teaching are carrying – and quite frankly, if their desire to take lessons is as mercenary as your desire to give them, some of them wouldn’t bloody tell you if they had been near anyone who was ill. That is why this virtual lockdown has been applied.

You are not exempt unless your pupils are key workers, and no matter how hard you try, them stacking shelves in Tesco doesn’t come under that.

Stop giving lessons. For everyone’s sake.

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Animation of COVID-19 spreadA further example of how the Coronavirus pandemic isn’t a game, and that people need to wake up to the seriousness of it.

And feel free to use that animated GIF everywhere. The more people who see it, the quicker we’ll all come through this.

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My inbox is filled with emails from companies I have previously bought things from, or who I currently obtain services from. Virtually all of them begin with: This is an unprecedented situation…

A basic lesson in English is called for here.

unprecedented

/ʌnˈprɛsɪdɛntɪd/

adjective

never done or known before.

Does everyone get that? Never done or known before. That’s what the COVID-19 epidemic/pandemic is.

I have now taken the decision to knock even the Pass Plus I had in progress on the head. It was only going to be tonight and tomorrow night, but the risk – in these unprecedented times – is simply too great.

I’m not going to write anything more on this next bit at this stage, other than to say that if you try, the vast majority of lenders will be prepared to help in some way. If they won’t – or if you feel you can’t handle it all yourself – there are debt management companies who can do it all for you.

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An hourglassI’ve now officially cancelled all my pupils’ lessons (with the exception of a Pass Plus that concludes Tuesday, and I’m uneasy even about that. Update: I have cancelled it).

Not one of them had any issues whatsoever, and all of them fully understood the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in right now. I’ve told them they can phone me or text me at any time, because I’m always here (unless COVID-19 gets me first), and that I will contact them as soon as I know we’re OK to fire up again.

I fully understand the financial predicament many other instructors are in. But there comes a time when you have to realise which side of the seesaw has the heavier load. There’s no point trying to bounce down when there’s a two-tonne bag of sand the opposite end. And that’s where we are. This is serious shit beyond anything we have experienced before.

It strikes me that many instructors are only thinking of themselves – and (perhaps understandably) using their children as scapegoats. But COVID-19 is a problem that is so serious that people have got to start actively looking at alternative ways of dealing with not being able to pay the mortgage or the bills instead of trying to carry on working against the tide. Seriously, that’s going to be a lot easier than you imagine once you start dealing with it – and far easier than what is likely to happen if you don’t, keep working, and end up in hospital.

Remember (or understand) that COVID-19 isn’t just something you get, then get rid of. Evidence suggests that those who recover often have impaired lung function, and possibly impaired organ function. Basically, they’re disabled and susceptible to minor ailments later. Not everyone – it’s too soon to know for sure – but enough to ring the alarm bells. By trying to ‘feed your kids’ against odds, you could easily end up in a far worse position on that front once the problem passes.

I find it ironic that even though the government response stiffens by the day, the ‘I’m going to work no matter what’ brigade maintains a flat response.

It’s still a relatively free country, and people still have a relatively free choice (for now). But I’d like to think people would make the right choice before it is made for them.

Oh, and the title of this article just refers to my lessons. The blog’s going nowhere – especially seeing as I will have a lot of time on my hands.

Update 23/03/2020: I hear that both BSM and The AA have directed their instructors to stop lessons immediately. They will not be charging franchise fees for four weeks, and will review that later as needs be – and depending on what, if anything, the government comes up with.

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DIY hand sanitizer ingredientsAs people will no doubt have found out, those members of our society who don’t wash their hands even after they’ve had a shit have been resolutely buying crates of hand sanitizer and thus preventing those of us for whom it might have some benefit getting any of it. In some cases, they’re selling it on eBay for stupid prices.

It’s actually quite easy to make your own. For hand sanitizer to sanitize, it needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Vodka has been touted across the internet as a suitable makeshift option, but normal vodka is only about 40% alcohol, and it simply doesn’t work. You can get some spirits which are 96% alcohol (which people have died from by drinking it neat), but anyone who is stupid enough to pay how much they cost in the first place puts themselves on this year’s list of Darwin Awards candidates immediately. It would be cheaper to pay the extortionate prices for a faeces-covered rip-off on eBay, being sold by ‘stevethetwat99’ in Manchester (made up name, by the way).

You can use ethanol or isopropyl alcohol (IPA) as your sanitizer base. IPA is often also called ‘rubbing alcohol’, though the great unwashed appear to have latched on to it and have cleared out most stocks of that.

I use ethanol – to be specific, bioethanol – which is used as a fuel for stoves and such. I always have a supply because it’s what I use in my homemade screen wash as the antifreeze element.

You need the following:

  • a suitable plastic bottle
  • bioethanol or neat IPA
  • Aloe Vera Gel
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Lavender Oil

I used a 250ml plastic bottle with a flip-top lid intended for hand creams (don’t ask why I have any of these in the first place).

Calibrate the bottle first. Pour in exactly 175mls (or grammes) of water. Mark the level with a felt-tip pen. Now add another 75mls (or 75 grammes) of water and mark that level, too. Empty the water away and shake any drips out.

Now you can make the sanitizer. Fill the bottle to the first mark with your alcohol. Then fill it to the second mark with Aloe Vera Gel. Add a few drops of the two oils (up to 10-15 of each, though neither is essential, and you can use anything you like the smell of as long as it’s only a few drops), then screw on the lid and shake well. It takes a while for the gel to disperse, but once it has your sanitizer is ready to use. This version contains 70% by volume of alcohol.

Be careful if you buy ‘rubbing alcohol’ as it is often already diluted to 70% and adding anything else will stop it sanitizing properly. It’s best to buy neat IPA, which is usually freely available as a cleaner.

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