A Driving Instructor's Blog

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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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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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The Fusco familyI just saw this article on the BBC website. Coronavirus has killed four members of the same family in New Jersey.

Grace Fusco was 73. She, and six of her adult children, fell ill after a larger family gathering of up to 20 people. One of those children, Rita, was only 55 and had no underlying health conditions. The story doesn’t mention the ages of Carmine and Vincent, who also died.

It’s a tragic story – and one those over here who are vowing to keep working no matter what should bear in mind.

Having said that, I appreciate that many instructors are in terrible positions. I’m fortunate. inasmuch as I have now have an income from a private pension from my previous employer (hack, spit) of around £250 a week, and a lump sum in the bank from that which I wanted to save, but which could keep me going for several years if I needed it (hopefully, I won’t). And I have no mortgage or debts.

Many instructors – especially the younger ones – have nothing. They have mortgages, car loans, and other debts, as well as kids to feed. Driving instruction is not a high-paying job in the first place – even at best it is ‘adequate’, but you have to have been doing it for years and built up a financial buffer for that to matter.

My primary (selfish) concern is not passing COVID-19 to my parents. My secondary concern is  not passing it to my pupils who have Downs children, who are pregnant, or who have vulnerable relatives. Money comes in third.

I can understand the dilemma many find themselves in. I just count myself fortunate right now.

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Virus imageHouston, we have a problem!

I only wrote this a couple of days ago, but I’m having to update it already. The problem I was referring to was that not many driving instructors understand statistics or come from scientific backgrounds. They are concerned about Coronavirus on the one hand, but trying hard to persuade themselves they’re not on the other because there are obvious financial implications if they cannot work.

I noticed that there is a Coronavirus infographic doing the rounds. It’s from China, and it reports that 80.9% of cases are mild, 13.8% are severe, and 4.7% are critical. It also points out that ‘the majority of people’ recover. The latter two percentages require hospitalisation and intensive care, respectively. The originator of this infographic on Facebook – not the original Chinese source, I believe – who goes under the Facebook name of Information Is Beautiful, concludes “the majority of… infections are mild”.

Let’s put this into a more real-world perspective. I’ll start with the bottom line: if the entire population of a care home were infected, the ‘mild’ and ‘severe’/‘critical’ number would flip, and the vast majority of those infected would be at great risk. The same would perhaps be true if, say, a special school with a high population of Down Syndrome pupils were infected, since those with Down’s frequently have breathing issues in the first place. In a hospital, where people may already be ill, it would likely wreak havoc.

Information may well be ‘Beautiful’, but Understanding Information In Context is a hundred times better. And since the original version of this article less than a week ago, the situation has changed dramatically – as anyone with any sense at all would have known would happen.

I have elderly parents, both of whom have COPD. If they were to catch Coronavirus, they would probably die. I have a pupil who has a baby son with Down’s. If he caught it, it would be a serious issue for him and his son. I have another pupil whose partner is pregnant (I quite possibly have several in that position without being aware). If they caught it, there would be an increased risk for them as a family.

People are still trying to liken COVID-19 to seasonal flu as a comparison. Coronavirus/COVID-19 is not flu, you idiots. Trust me, it isn’t. Flu can be prevented if you have an annual vaccination (and they picked the correct strains for it), whereas Coronavirus cannot. Coronavirus appears to be more easily transmitted than flu. But most significantly, the annual mortality rate from flu is about 0.1% of the population, whereas with Coronavirus it is anywhere between over 1% and 6.5% (the latter is the figure in Italy). In the UK, which arguably has the most precise count of infections than anywhere else, we currently have a death rate of about 4.5% based on the number of known infections (it was 1.8% when I first wrote this, and the number of deaths has gone from 10 to 177 in that time). It is far more deadly than flu – and there is no current protection.

As much as 70% of the population could be infected by Easter or during Spring – that would be around 40 million people. The death rate, assuming it stays relatively uniform, would mean that as many as 700,000 could die in the UK alone. And if the infection peaks again next year, this would put the current pandemic right up there with the Bubonic Plague in Mediaeval times when considered across Eurasia as a whole.

This. Is. Not. Flu.

Flu makes you feel lousy, but it only leads to serious complications in some people with underlying health issues, usually (though not exclusively) connected to pneumonia. Coronavirus can send the immune system into overdrive, and the body starts attacking its own cells, leading to multiple organ failure. People with diabetes and heart conditions are vulnerable, as well as those with lung problems (since pneumonia is also an issue). Basically, anyone with a weak immune system in the first place.

I had begun discussing with pupils the possibility of cancellations, and the precautions they should take. I am now stopping lessons completely after one Pass Plus course, which starts tomorrow and finishes Tuesday.

I had a near miss on Thursday. I texted a pupil to remind him of his lesson late Wednesday, and his mum texted back that they had ‘forgotten’ to tell me but they were self-isolating because she had a fever. Shit. I gave him a lesson the week before. Fortunately, having checked again, she just has normal flu and I’m safe. But imagine if it had been Coronavirus.

This pandemic is what you could call ‘serious shit’, and attitudes like ‘there’s nothing to worry about’ and ‘it’s just flu’ are a sure fire way of helping it be so – especially if money is the motivator for feeling that way. This isn’t just about you – it’s about a lot of other people’s lives out there. Literally, their lives.

Any vaccine is at least 12-18 months away from being available, since likely candidates are only now going into trials. The current infection is expected to peak within the next month (though no one can be certain), but it is also expected to peak even higher next winter (also, no one can be sure).

But as I have already said, those with underlying health issues are likely to die from it whenever they get it.

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An email when I got in tonight from DVSA. Here’s the full text:

Theory tests cancelled for 4 weeks

Due to the unfolding COVID-19 situation, from Friday 20 March 2020, all theory tests have been postponed until Monday 20 April 2020.

What DVSA is doing

We are emailing anyone with a test booked during this time to let them know their test has been cancelled and that they will be automatically refunded.

Your pupils should not rebook or rearrange their test at this time. Please do not call our customer service centre as they will not be able to help.

We will be monitoring the emerging situation and we will let you know if we need to cancel any more tests.

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This just came through. Driving tests are cancelled across the country for the next two days (19/20 March). Test centres are closing down. They will review the situation after that.

I’m not affected this week, but I have already warned my pupils with tests in the next month to be prepared for them not going ahead. I don’t see how they can do them with the situation developing the way it is.

It isn’t looking good.

Update 19/03/2020, 1.00pm: I have been speaking with many of my pupils who have tests in the next two weeks. I have explained to them that in my opinion there is a strong likelihood that tests are going to be cancelled for the foreseeable future. I pointed out that DVSA only sent out this communication at 9.40pm last night, and it means that ‘after that’ will fall over the weekend – so any further communication is unlikely (based on experience so far) until early next week.

One pupil decided we had better move his test back. I had booked it, and the earliest dates available are mid-June. From what I have heard elsewhere, DVSA is not allowing booking until then, so reading between the lines that is how long the test centres might be closed for. It’s three months.

I’m not saying that will happen. But at the moment it is a distinct possibility.

Update 19/03/2020 5.45pm: All tests have been cancelled in Northern Ireland for three months. Note that this is for Northern Ireland, which is a different agency to DVSA in the rest of the UK.

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Curly KaleLast week, I took the decision to do my weekly shopping online for the time being. I shop in Asda several times a week, and usually spend upwards of £150 there on groceries, and similar on fuel (I have a 2% cashback credit card with them, which is one of the drivers for that).

I placed my order last Wednesday, and the earliest delivery slot was Saturday. No problem. But when I came to do it this week, on Tuesday, the entire delivery calendar was booked out (it went as far as next Friday). Click & Collect goes further out, but that was fully booked out until April.

I went on to Morrisons’ website, and their delivery slots are booked out until mid-April. I since read that their site has crashed several times due to demand.

Then I tried Ocado, and was met with a page that said ‘you are no. 687 in a queue of 687. Approximate wait time is 10 minutes’. That was just to access the site! A family friend tried today, and was eight thousand and something out of eight thousand and something! I have since read that Ocado has stopped taking on new customers.

So our wonderful government has overlooked starvation (because you can’t buy anything online) vs infection (because you’re forced to go out) as an outcome of their poor handling of this situation to date. Should be fun if they impose a lockdown, so you can’t go out.

But I decided to go to Asda last night for some essentials. I shouldn’t have bothered. The shelves were nearly all completely empty – no fresh vegetables, virtually no fruit, no meat, no milk (except the kind that often goes off five minute after you open it), no tinned goods, no noodles or pasta of any kind, no bread of any kind, no frozen food except a few pizzas and Yorkshire puddings.

I did manage to get a few things, and when I arrived at the checkout there was a middle-aged couple there before me. They were that type you just want to shoot (and which I have mentioned before). For a start off, there didn’t need to be two of them there at all, but there was, and they did everything as a couple. Of course, they allowed everything to be checked through before even thinking about bagging it, and they bagged everything as a couple before even thinking about paying. Then he got his wallet out, took out a credit card, gave it to her, and she had to lean over the trolley to push it in the card machine and slowly enter the PIN because he was much closer to it to start with.

But what mostly caught my eye was what they had purchased. About twenty bags – and I mean somewhere around that number – of curly kale. I mean, curly kale? What the f—?

I immediately had my suspicions, so when I got home I did a quick Google and – surprise, surprise – some twat (a ‘wellbeing coach’, which explains perfectly) in Malaysia has claimed kale prevents you from catching Coronavirus! And that’s why they had bought the entire shelf stock of it.

The ironic thing is, too much kale is suspected of being bad for you, and the potential problems it can cause looked as if this couple might be susceptible in the first place. Idiots.

Today, I went into Morrisons and did manage to get a few bits. Only a few, though. It seems like every idiot out there has suddenly discovered Kidney Beans, Borlotti Beans, Chickpeas, and so on. I wanted some kidney beans because I’m making a chilli to freeze into portions – something I do regularly, as I do with homemade pasta sauce (there was none of that in Morrisons, either, I noticed). The shelves were empty. The thing is, no one usually touches these things.

Fortunately, the cash & carry wasn’t quite as bad (though it was still bad), and I managed to pick up a couple of catering cans of kidney beans and chopped tomatoes (though they’re not Napolina, but you can’t have everything, I suppose). Far more than I wanted because of the cans sizes, but it was that or nothing. I’ll just have to make more chilli than I intended.

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