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Shopping in AsdaWell, well, well. I just did a bit of delving to find out why someone had found the blog on the search term “why is UK productivity so low”, which had thrown up an article I’d pretty much forgotten I’d written. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I mentioned Asda in that.

Then, browsing the BBC website, I found this article which says Asda is considering cutting up to 2,500 jobs.

Asda has two problems: 1) too many chiefs, and 2) most of them are incompetent.

I shop in Asda regularly, though I am increasingly having to complete my shop elsewhere because of the stock levels. My branch is open 24 hours, but its shelf stock does not match that detail in any way, shape, or form. Asda stocks up in the middle of the night and early morning, then that’s pretty much it until the next night. On top of that, they keep running “Rollback” offers on things, and haven’t cottoned on to the fact that this encourages the owners of corner shops to come in and buy everything up so they can resell it at the RRP in their own store. By 10am, the shelves are empty of those items. I’m also pretty sure some people buy some things on Rollback to sell on Ebay at the normal price.

That’s the thing about large retailers. They can buy at much better prices than smaller sellers can, and even their normal retail prices are better than you can find in the cash & carries. Beer is a prime example – Asda’s normal prices for a case of 12 bottles are £3 – £4 cheaper than the cash & carry offers, but when they put it on Rollback, it can be as much as £10 cheaper! When that happens, even pub owners  go in and buy up stock. This Rollback discount problem also applies to many items in grocery, snacks, and confectionery.

Asda also has a problem with stock control. The amount of shelf space it gives to various products is fixed for long periods of time. So it doesn’t matter if they repeatedly sell out of one particular item (even a chimp would realise that’s because people want it), they will still maintain row after row of slower selling items, and maintain the 2 sq. ft. they allow for the item that is selling. Then, when they run out of warehouse stock, they will make no attempt to get anymore of that product until the next scheduled delivery – often weeks later. Management cannot see that if they held stock of things that sell, they would sell more of it.

Then there’s the Dairy items. I don’t piss about with low-fat stuff – if it’s got 50% less fat, it’s also got 50% less taste – yet they have shelf after shelf of that, whilst the normal-fat stuff sells out completely every day, and the shelves stay empty until the next midnight re-stock.

It’s no wonder that they’re struggling. And they’ll keep struggling until they start taking on managers who have a clue.

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Woman gets tattooI’d imagine that many people are aware of the BBC’s obsession with women’s rights, and its ongoing policy of generating alternative history stories to muddy the past. The one that irritates me the most is how they use every opportunity to portray Charles Babbage as secondary to Ada Lovelace. But that’s another story.

This one is a confusing piece about the suffragette movement. And one section of it concerns a woman who had a tattoo of Emmeline Pankhurst put on her leg to… well, that’s about all, really. She had a tattoo of an historical figure from Victorian England put on her leg because she’d watched the film “Suffragette”.

The first thing that jumped to my mind when I saw the photo (above) was “that looks like bloody Ada Lovelace, again”. When I saw the name, Pankhurst, I then thought “but she didn’t look like that” – a memory from my History lessons at school – so I did a quick bit of Googling.

The tattoo alongside a true imageHere, you can see the tattoo image and a photograph of Emmeline Pankhurst contemporary with the period during which she was an activist. That is the image everyone associates with Ms Pankhurst.

I’d get a refund from the tattoo parlour.

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Pebbles on a ropeIn this months issue of Intelligent Instructor magazine, there is an article from the RAC, the heading of which suggests that motorists could face being fined and getting points on their licences if they stop inside the cycle forward area (advanced stop lines) at traffic lights. The full RAC news release is here.

I’m absolutely in favour of that, because the number of drivers who ignore them totally – especially taxis, Audis, BMWs, motorcyclists, and other crap drivers – drives me mad. They’re there for a reason, and shouldn’t be ignored.

However, there are no links whatsoever indicating where this has come from, or how reliable it is, and the only quoted source appears to be “Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy”. On top of that, motorists can already be fined for stopping in the box (see later). So you have as much balance as you’d have trying to place a rock on a tightrope. Consequently, I did a bit of Googling, and immediately came up with this article in The Sun (a UK tabloid, registered at the Post Office as a comic). This one is much more interesting.

In this article, dated only a couple of days ago (and more recent than the RAC story, which is from last week), it seems that cyclists could find themselves being fined up to £1,000 if they go over the second (stop) line. And as we all know, most of them do (the ones that don’t use the pavement at the last minute instead, then skip back on to the road once they get across the pedestrian crossings). To be fair, there are no absolute links in this article, either, though they do quote rather more balanced sources than the RAC does.

The thing is, drivers can already be fined and get points on their licence for stopping after the 1st line – and that’s official, from the police. So is the fact that cyclists can already be fined for crossing the 2nd line. It isn’t actually illegal for a motor vehicle to stop in the cycle area unless you do it after the light has changed to red – it’s not illegal if the light changes as you are passing through the box. Of course, the problem with that is that it has to be witnessed by a policeman or caught on camera.

It would appear that the only thing changing is the price list. I cannot see how they could possibly make it completely illegal for a motorist to stop in the cycle area, since there are sometimes extenuating circumstances. The one that jumps instantly to mind is on someone’s driving test – they haven’t seen a red light, the examiner uses the dual controls, and they stop in the box. It happens – it actually happened to one of mine less than a month ago – and the only alternatives would be to shoot the red and either get a prosecution notice or collide with someone, or brake so hard someone goes into the back. DVSA would love having to deal with the fallout from those.

You will also note that the cycle forward area is only for pedal cycles. Motorcycles and motor scooters are classed as motor vehicles along with cars, buses, vans, lorries, etc., and are not supposed to use them. I don’t need to point out that motorcycles and scooters routinely weave past and stop in them.

The only changes that I definitely think should be made are that cyclists get fined the same as motorists for not complying with the rules, and that enforcement is equally distributed. If the fine is increased from the current £50 for cyclists and £100 for motorists to the suggested “up to” £1,000 for everyone, and cyclists get nailed as readily as motorists, then good. And tough.

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I originally wrote this article back in 2011 following an RAC story about bad car posture. I must confess I was dismissive of it – and still am to some extent – but my writing style has changed in the nine years that have passed. I’ve also had a string of hits on the subject recently. So an update was due.Human spine

We’ve known about repetitive strain injury (RSI) for many years. It’s where repetitive movements usually involving the hands and arms can result in tendon and muscle damage. True RSI can be a very serious and debilitating problem for some people, but there are many more people who either mistakenly attribute every ache and twinge to it, or who are just pulling a sickie at work. This is largely due to the difficulty in diagnosing it.

The RAC decided to coin a new term – repetitive driving injury, or RDI. They went on to claim it affects half of all British drivers, and said that it was due to poor posture. Symptoms apparently include foot cramps, aching sides, stiff necks, headaches, and eye strain.

Sorry, but if we are using RSI and RDI in the same breath, eye strain is not an RSI issue – if you have a rest your eyes are fine again, and you’re not going to do them any long-term damage just by using them to look at things. The same goes for cramps, aches, and stiff necks in the vast majority of cases. Yes, they might be brought on by bad posture or doing something your neck and legs aren’t used to (going on a six-hour drive, for example, when you normally don’t go further than Tesco half a mile away once a week). But again, a bit of a twinge a couple of times is not going to do you any lasting harm. Christ! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pulled my back cleaning the inside of my windscreen due to leaning and stretching, and that isn’t RDI. And there is no way that “half the population” is suffering from it, when genuine RSI only occurs in up to 10% of the population.

The original eBay Motors source survey (described as “a study”, when it is merely a poll) says that it is caused by people not knowing how to adjust their seat. What? Half the population doesn’t know how to do that? It’s more a case of people choosing not to adjust their seat properly, or simply not bothering.

Every pupil I take on, I teach them the cockpit drill, and get them to adjust the seating and mirrors properly. After closing the door, the first thing they should adjust is the seat:

  • left leg should be able to push the clutch right to the floor with a slight bend at the knee (i.e. no stretching)
  • seat height should be adjusted (if possible) so that the eyes are about half-way between top of the wheel and top of the windscreen (also if possible)
  • the seat back and steering wheel position should be adjusted for optimum comfort, but so that with outstretched arms the wrists will rest on top of the steering wheel (if possible)
  • the head restraint pad should be level with your ears (if possible)

I say “if possible” in the above list, because some pupils are very short or very tall, or are carrying extra body weight, and they have to adjust things as best they can. By doing it in a structured way, the driver will not have to stretch to operate the pedals or contort themselves to operate any of the controls.

However, I have no control over them once they pass their tests, and many – the males in particular – will be intent on cultivating an image to take precedence over everything else. For example, sitting in a bucket seat in a reclined position, eyes barely level with the top of the steering wheel, right arm draped over it so they’re leaning about 20 degrees towards the middle of the car so they can see how they look in the mirror and fiddle with the stereo to find the most irritating thump-thump-thump-thump-thump track possible (or the one where they lean 20 degrees to the right, elbow on the door arm rest, stroking their bum-fluff stubble)… you see (and hear) it every day. I had one recently who, for some reason best known to himself, had decided to start changing gear by twisting his wrist round and gripping the stick from above – resulting in finding 1st instead of 3rd about 80% of the time. After I bollocked him about posing he went back to the way I’d originally taught him and the problem went away (and he passed first time a few weeks ago).

Pupils often have to be pushed into the cockpit routine for quite a while after the first lesson. A lot of them (again, mainly the males) will leap in and try to put it in gear, even though at that point they can barely reach the pedals when they’re up (and don’t get me started on the mirrors). Others (mainly the females) will insist on moving the seat so far forward that the steering wheel is literally a few centimetres from their chests, their arms are cramped right up, and the pedals are almost underneath them.

On more than one occasion a pupil has complained of cramp or leg discomfort during a lesson, even after doing proper adjustments. It’s most common with new drivers, especially when doing a manoeuvre, or if we’re driving in heavy traffic (with a lot of clutch work).

And it is not RDI.

It usually comes down to poor “driving fitness” in people who may not use their leg muscles very much. It goes away after a few lessons – though I’m sure it will come back if they start trying to “be cool” by posing once they pass.

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2017 Ford FocusYou may have heard about a problem with Ford’s Ecoboost petrol engines, where cars are apparently overheating, failing, and sometimes even catching fire.

The situation is a little confusing, as it appears to be due to more than one problem. For the 1.0 litre engine, the issue is simply overheating, and only Focuses produced between October 2011 and October 2013 are affected, and this amounts to nearly 45,000 vehicles, of which 96% have already been repaired. For the 1.6 litre size, C-Max, Fiesta, Focus ST, and Kuga models produced between 2010 and January 2018 are affected. A safety recall for the 15,000 vehicles involved was issued in January for this, and it is more serious.

All the 1.6 litre cars are subject to safety recalls if they haven’t already been fixed due to the seriousness of the problem. As I understand it, the 1.0 litre issue isn’t specifically a safety recall, and involves replacing some hoses, but it needs fixing all the same. In the case of the larger engine, the head can rupture and possibly result in fires.

Ford is going to cover the entire cost of any repairs, and also refund anyone who has already paid for the work.

Since a safety recall is involved, any instructors using cars in the groups affected will most likely need to prove that remedial work has been carried out if they are using them to take pupils to test. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked for it, and don’t be surprised if the test doesn’t go out if you don’t have it.

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Salad Cream dollopEvery year, like all big corporations, Heinz will take on a bunch of new graduates and let them loose with flipcharts, Lego bricks, Play-doh, finger paints, and all the other things that pass for good Team Meeting props these days (I’ve worked for a big company, so I know that’s what happens). Also like all big corporations, every 5 years or so, Heinz decides that it needs to do Something Big – whether it needs doing or not – and duly assigns the current crop of graduates to come up with something (I know THAT happens, too). In Heinz’s case, this typically seems to boil down to removing the flavour from one of its existing successful products, changing the texture of one so that instead of being able to stick to vertical surfaces, it’ll run even on a flat one, or renaming one so that it appeals to people who listen to rap music and watch the Teletubbies. Sometimes, Heinz will do all three of these things at the same time to just one product.

Unlike the company that I used to work for, where the products were medicines, and so pissing about with the formulations and presentations was a no-no, Heinz makes food products, and these have no such protection. Consequently, if he or she is lucky and arrives at just the right time, the average new graduate can really carve out their future career by having a field day changing things using such tried and tested methods as removing salt, sugar, fat (and therefore any taste or familiar texture), and putting less of it in a pack and selling it at a higher price.

The current flavour of the month is Salad Cream, which Heinz owns, and which appears to be on some sort of hit list. To anyone who doesn’t know, salad cream is a thinned down mayonnaise-like dressing with a tangy flavour. It goes great with salads, whether they’re on a plate or between two slice of bread. It also works with plain ham, tuna, even cheese sandwiches – with or without salad items included. A drizzle before adding the top slice of bread brings the sandwich alive. But the thing is, it’s called “salad cream” because it’s always been called that.

Heinz has tried to rename it at least once in the recent past, and I also seem to recall some historical issues over recipe tweaking. They’re on the case again, and the upshot seems to have been that someone somewhere decided that since not everyone who uses Salad Cream pours a nice round dollop (see the photo above) on a plate alongside two lettuce leaves, two spring onions, and half a tomato, the name “salad cream” is grossly misleading and must be changed forthwith. As an aside, you’d have a job putting a “dollop” of Salad Cream on a plate these days thanks to the aforementioned recipe tweaks. It’d be more of a “squirt”. But that’s a different story.

I’m pretty sure that students – who, after all, are the immediate precursor to graduates – might be involved here, since they’re likely to put it on anything from Mars Bars to crisps (potato chips, for American readers). If they’re short of money, they’d probably eat it neat, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they also used it as a lubricant when they’re having sex. As a result of all that – and, I mean, it’s obvious when you think about it – it should immediately be rebranded as “sandwich cream” (and I just realised there’s a double entendre there, which is purely accidental).

Fortunately, Heinz has seen sense (until the next time) and bowed to public pressure to leave it alone. Bearing in mind that Heinz had decided to go ahead with the change until the public found out, and had probably had the label artwork at least partly produced, they could have saved themselves a lot of money by just asking me first.

Digressing slightly, I remember an episode years ago at a squash club I was a member of. The young (17 year old) son of one of the members was in the bar one night, and he ordered a pint of orange juice and Coca Cola, mixed. It was apparently the “in drink” at University. It looked like diarrhoea, and to make matters worse, he had just crunched his way through a whole pack of Polo Mints – and we all know what anything tastes like after you’ve eaten mints. I just thought he was a berk, and that orange juice and Coca Cola would happily survive as separate drinks into the future (and I was right). The kind of people who run companies like Heinz would immediately see it as an opportunity to get rid of both orange juice and Coca Cola because they “don’t appeal to younger drinkers”.

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The Audi LaneIt’s funny, but ever since I became a driving instructor I have often explained to my pupils about the “caterpillar effect” on motorways. This is where you will be travelling along at a steady 60 or 70mph, suddenly to be faced with a wall of traffic at a complete standstill. You’ll be wondering what has happened – and be lucky if you move more than a few metres over the next 10 minutes or more – when suddenly everything starts moving again and there’s no sign of what might have caused it. Then, if you’re on a long journey, it could happen again some time later – perhaps several times. It’s like a huge caterpillar, in the sense that you have chunks of motorway moving freely, and others at a standstill, and these alternate along the network – just like a caterpillar moves.

What causes it is people not driving either at the speed limit, or exceeding it, by more than about 10mph either way. A slower driver will cause cars behind to have to slow down, and the laws of physics mean that each car slows down a little more than the one in front, so eventually someone has to stop. It might only be for a second, but the same laws of physics then mean that each subsequent car stops for longer. It happens both when a normal driver encounters a slower one, or when a speeder encounters a normal driver.

Obviously, less confident drivers will usually be in one of the inner lanes, and the faster ones in the outer lanes. It usually starts in the Audi lane (the one on the far right), and then quickly spreads as the Audi (or BMW) driver moves over to try and get past, and begins to encounter all the Miss Daisys on the opposite side.

Now, to me, the most obvious fix would be to ban Audis, BMWs, and old people from the motorways. Then we could all drive at 60 or 70mph in peace. But the Americans reckon that Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) would address the problem better.

In the USA, they use the term “phantom traffic jam” – a term I can’t get my head around, because the traffic jam is actually very real when you encounter one, and it has been caused by the very real situation of people driving badly. The article I’ve linked to says that drivers cause the problem themselves due to their “delayed reactions having a ripple effect”. It’s a rather naïve and politically-correct assessment, since I’ve already pointed out quite correctly that it is mismatched speeds that are the problem and, if anything, it is over-reaction, lack of experience, and bad attitude which causes it. In other words, crap drivers.

ACC uses radar to detect what’s in front of it and adjusts the car’s speed accordingly. Hopefully, it is a few notches better than reversing sensors which are great both at detecting things which aren’t important (blades of grass and twigs on bushes), and missing things which are (lorries, metal barriers, and other big heavy things which are not in the sensor plane).

Given that the typical Audi driver is likely to set their standard cruise control at 90mph, I suspect they’d be switching ACC off the minute it tried to take them below 80mph.

I still think my solution would work best.

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You couldn’t make this up.

Mike Bird, the leader of Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council, has apologised for saying that travellers are a “lawless society”.

Let me just set the record straight. Travellers (note that I said “travellers”) are filthy, lawless, putrid scumbags who deserve nothing. They are no better than the bags of shit they leave in the bushes of any site they illegally enter and deface. And the Law needs changing so that instead of the lengthy legal proceedings to move them off the places they criminally enter, JCBs should immediately be brought in to trash them and their caravans once and for all.

Not one single infestation of travellers (note that I said “travellers”) has a positive effect on those unfortunate enough to live within 5 miles of them.

The filth who have been involved in situations in Nottingham have gone so far as to cut down hedgerows to get into private fields, and no one is ever going to convince me that when these sewer dwellers occupy someone else’s property, the property owner should have fewer rights than they do. And every single one of them has left the most foul mess imaginable behind. I’ve seen them doing it time after time, going into the bushes to urinate or defaecate. There was even a situation last week where they had been moved on almost immediately and had dumped sacks of human waste in a Country Park car park (that was in a police report, by the way).

Other recent problems have been the closure of car parks, the cancelling of events after the scum moved in the day before, and there was even that one a month or two ago where they trashed Thwaites Brewery, resulting in the loss of thousands of litres of beer and damage amounting to around £100,000 (and they shit all over the offices – they seem to have a bit of a problem with being able to use toilets properly, since Thwaites would have had those). These are not isolated cases – they are the norm.

Councillor Bird is quoted:

I deeply regret any offence caused, it was certainly not intended or meant.

Like him, I’m not trying to cause offence, Unlike him, I mean every word I say. I’m just stating facts, and if anyone is offended by that, tough.

The article further states:

Phien O’Reachtagian, chairman of the Gypsy and Traveller Coalition, said previously: “His suggestion that communities are lawless is cause for concern from someone in his position.

“We’d be looking to make a formal complaint and liaise with police to see if a crime has been committed.”

O’Reachtagian might do better to address the problems which are staring him and everyone else in the face instead of trying to twist and defend the indefensible. This has got nothing to do with Gypsies or Roma. It’s the vast majority which are no more Gypsy or Roma than I am which are the problem. “Travellers” are not the same as Gypsies or Roma. And “travellers” are a problem.

In case O’Reachtagian tries his pathetic hissy-fit behaviour here, my comments are purely to do with those who are demonstrably lawless, who demonstrably piss and shit on private land, and who demonstrably leave skip loads of filth behind when they’re finally and justly – if very belatedly – evicted.

My comments are nothing at all to do with Gypsies and Roma – there’s a quaint Gypsy caravan which moves around Nottinghamshire (it’s been in Bunny and Stoke Bardolph recently), which stops for a day or two and has its horse grazing on the verges. They DON’T leave a mess and aren’t doing anyone any harm, and I would have no problem with them stopping outside my house.

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A proper Toblerone barWell, when I say “Toblerone”, I mean Mondelez – the American jerks who own the brand now.

Back in 2016, they decided to do what most other commercial confectioners do to combat rising costs, and that was to reduce the size/weight of the product whilst simultaneously maintaining the price. Unfortunately – and as most people already know, if they’ve tasted a Hershey bar – Americans haven’t got a clue about chocolate, any more than they have a clue about tradition.

Toblerone originated in Switzerland in 1908, which wasn’t that long after the end of the American Civil War. The shape of a Toblerone is apparently based on the Matterhorn, according to some sources. Wherever the idea for the shape came from, it was trademarked in 1909. The name is a play on the inventor’s name (Tobler) and an Italian word for nougat (torrone). Key to its popularity – other than that it doesn’t taste like Hershey – are the a) triangular shape, and b) the close spacing of said triangles.

In a nutshell, a proper Toblerone looks like the picture above. The American solution to reducing the product weight in 2016 made it look like the one below. They just blanked off some of the spaces in the mould.toblerone2

It was a stupid decision back then, and everyone told Mondelez this. It looked stupid, and screamed “we’re screwing you and we care THIS much”. But hey, they knew best, eh?

From what I can now gather – and it has honestly taken me the whole two years to discover this, though there is still some confusion – the change only affected the 170g pack (which fell to 150g). However, since I assumed that the entire Toblerone range had been screwed with (and there is still some evidence that it was), I haven’t touched one since – and I like Toblerone.

Back in 2016, it would appear that Mondelez hadn’t got a clue, since its Northern European president, Glen Caton, said it wasn’t a long-term solution because of Toblerone’s “iconic nature”. So this “short” term solution has lasted two years.

The company officially said that it was to “keep the product affordable for customers” – which is a load of bollocks, because the only thing any company is interested in is profit, followed by increased profit. That’s not a bad thing; it just becomes bad when they lie to you over it. The change was never about the customers, because I can guarantee that 99% of them hated it, but about Mondelez’s bottom line. It was also about Mondelez’s incompetent marketers believing that such a ridiculous change to something as iconic as Toblerone would not impact sales.

This news item on the BBC reveals that Mondelez is to revert to the old shape, though it points out the price will have to rise.

Mondelez claims that cutting the size, screwing the shape, and charging the same for it actually increased sales. Yeah, right. Of course it did. More incompetent marketing – if sales really did increase, and I seriously doubt that, what would they have increased to without the changes? There is no way on this Earth that the changes specifically and directly caused an increase in sales. That would be like saying breaking an egg makes it stronger.

Face facts, Mondelez. It was a crap decision that has inevitably damaged sales, and it was made by people who haven’t got a clue except when it comes to putting amateurish spin on stupid ideas.

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I just saw this on the BBC website. It’s one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read.

Harold Milner, 79, passed his driving test in October 2017. He’d done it because his wife, who had always driven, was terminally ill with bone cancer and was unable to continue doing so, and he needed to be able to take her to and from the hospital.

Less than three weeks after passing his test, he mistook the accelerator for the brake and hit 70-year old Irene Moore, who was crossing the road while shopping in Hull. She died in hospital three days later.

A policeman called to the scene, PC Bryan Moore, saw Mrs Moore as she was being treated at the scene with the breathing bag over her face. He didn’t realise until he heard her name mentioned later on police radio that it was his own mother.

PC Moore said at trial that he bore no ill-feeling towards Mr Milner and didn’t want to see him put in prison.

Maybe for once the judge got it right when he described it as:

…a tragedy for all concerned. It is a truly remarkable and unique case.

Mr Milner was given a four-month suspended sentence. He has since surrendered his licence and has no intention of driving again.

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