A Driving Instructor's Blog

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Smearing windscreen in rainPlease note that screen wash – even at its most concentrated – has a very low alcohol content and cannot be used as a hand sanitizer.

I’ve mentioned this in the smearing windscreens article, but we’re approaching that time of year where it gets wet and cold, and a lot of crap gets thrown on to your glass and builds up into a nasty film that doesn’t easily wash off.

It amazes me that some people – even driving instructors – only put water in their wash bottles (if they have anything in at all). And hearing them try to justify it just cracks me up.

Water on its own does not have sufficient wetting properties to attack oil, wax, and grease, and even proper washer fluid can have problems – it’s why  you get that mosaic pattern left behind when you wipe in the wet. You need a good detergent to clean off oily deposits, and a small amount of alcohol to assist with wetting. Alcohol also functions as an antifreeze, so whereas using just water means you’re going to get a popsicle with the first frosts, a proper washer fluid will protect you to well below freezing as long as you have it at the right concentration.

You can buy two types in the stores – concentrated, or ready-to-use. In most cases, the ‘concentrated’ stuff will act as an antifreeze when used neat down to about -9°C for the most expensive brands, or -6°C for the routine stuff (some brands claim -20°C). The freezing temperature is dependent on the amount of alcohol in it, and it’s obviously cheaper to make with less alcohol. For most of the year, you might use this concentrated stuff diluted between about 1:5 to 1:10 with water, but the colder it gets the more concentrated liquid you need to avoid freeze ups.

The ready-to-use stuff is used neat, but you need to be aware of what temperature it will go down to before it freezes. Some brands are good to -4°C, and with the weather in early 2021 in the UK that would almost certainly freeze up on you. If you’re somewhere where it gets really cold, it would be no good at all. They also sell ‘summer screen wash’, which contains little or no alcohol.

The price of typical concentrated screen wash varies from about £5 per 5L in summer, to about £8 in winter (when you need it the most). The ready-to-use stuff is similarly priced, even though it is more dilute. In a bad winter, with lots of rain and slush, I can easily get through 5L of washer fluid each week. I use less in summer, but over a year it can mount up. Not to a huge amount, but it’s still an overhead.

If you’re going to buy it, my advice is to stock up in summer when the prices are lower, and only get the concentrate so you’re not paying someone to dilute it for you. You often get BOGOF offers in summer.

However, it can be cheaper to make your own (it definitely was when I first published this). I got the idea when I had a freeze up one time (I was late switching to my winter mix), and solved the immediate problem by nipping into a hardware store and buying a bottle of methylated spirits. Adding that to my wash bottle depressed the freezing point and I was running again within 30 minutes. There was also the fact that my garage was overflowing with the stuff I’d stocked up on.

When I started making my own concentrate I was using bio-ethanol, which is a clean-burning fuel for home heaters. However, most of this comes from the EU (even the UK-branded stuff), and as a result of the insanity of Brexit the price has gone up to cover import duties.  You can still get it for as little as £3.40 per litre, but the number of suppliers has dropped and the price of UK supplies has gone up. Alternatively, denatured ethanol supplied as a cleaning agent can also be used, and you can get it for as little as £3.80 a litre.

Washer fluid needs to do two things:

  • clean
  • not freeze when it gets cold

It’s basically just a mixture of alcohol and water with a bit of detergent.

The alcohol – usually as ethanol – functions as an antifreeze and a wetting agent. The whole subject of freezing point depression in alcohol/water mixtures is a huge topic in physical chemistry, but the bottom line is that pure water freezes at 0°C, whereas adding alcohol lowers (depresses) the freezing point. A 10% ethanol/water mixture freezes at -4°C, a 20% mixture freezes at -9°C, and a 30% mixture freezes at -15°C. A typical commercial concentrate might claim that it freezes at -6°C when used neat, and this means it must contain 15% alcohol.

Alcohol is the most expensive ingredient in screen wash, and 5L of a 15% solution will have 750mls of ethanol in it. The cost of alcohol varies depending on current circumstances, but it’s cheaper the more you buy.

Whatever detergent you use has to be relatively non-foaming – you don’t want bubbles blowing down the street when you use it – and it has to be the kind that is actually going to attack the crud that gets on your windscreen. This is another big chemistry subject, but to cut a long story short, Traffic Film Remover (TFR) is ideal. TFR gets anything off your car – tar, oil, mud, insects, bird crap, dead squirrels, that sort of thing. I get mine from JennyChem, who also supply a range of car products the car washes use. You only need to use it at a concentration of between 1% and 2%, so one 5L container goes a long way, and will make up to 70 batches of screen wash.

Finally, there’s the water. It depends on how anally retentive you are on the subject (for me – very). Tap water is what most people would use, but – and depending on where you live – this can leave mineral deposits on the glass as streaks if you’re in a medium or hard water area. You can buy deionised water, which has the minerals removed, but it costs money – unless you have access to a supply of it, which you might. Alternatively, rain water (boiled and filtered), or – and what I use – the condensate from a dehumidifier, provides soft water which leaves no streaks.

Making your concentrate is easy. Get an empty 5L container (the kind screen wash usually comes in), add 750mls ethanol, 75-100mls TFR, and top up to 5L with water. Mix well by shaking the container. Used neat, this will protect down to about -6°C, but in summer you can dilute it as low as 1 part to 5 parts of water (1:5).

Personally, I make my screen wash fluid ready-to-use as I need it (I make three or four batches at a time and just keep them on hand, making more as required). In summer, I just make it with less alcohol – 100mls or so – and use more water.

For comparison, if I bought a 5L bottle of screen wash concentrate right now (February 2021) which was good down to -6°C when used neat, it would cost somewhere between £8 and £11. A 5L batch of my own stuff good down to the same temperature would cost £3.12.

A 5L bottle of ready-to-use summer mix would cost £6 bought online. My own summer mix costs £1.22 (though it could be as little as £0.27 without any alcohol in it).

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What if the temperature goes below -6°C?

You just need a higher alcohol content. Protection to -6°C requires about 15% alcohol, but 20% will give -9°C, and 25% will give about -12°C. However, bear in mind the flash point of alcohol solutions. My advice is  not to exceed 25% alcohol by volume.

How can I prepare for cold temperatures?

Use common sense. In summer, a high alcohol content of the screen wash in your car is just a waste of money. Dilute the concentrate about 1:5 with water (it would freeze at just below -0°C). When it gets colder, and sub-zero temperatures are likely, a 1:1 dilution will cover you to about -2°C, a 2:1 dilution to about -4°C, and a 3:1 dilution to about -5°C. As we have said, the concentrate used neat would be good as low as -6°C.

Can I make it with more alcohol in it?

Yes, but be careful. Ethanol is flammable, even in water mixtures. On its own it has a flash point of 14°C (that means that at that temperature and above, a combustible vapour exists that can easily be ignited). A 10% solution in water has a flash point of 49°C, which is much safer. A 20% solution has a flash point of 36°C, which is still safe unless you store it in a very hot place. A 30% solution has a flash point of 29°C, and this is quite likely to be encountered in hot weather. My advice is not to exceed about 25% of ethanol.

A concentrate made using 1L (20%) of ethanol instead of 750mls will be good down to  -9°C. A 25% mixture will cover you down to -12°C. Any more than that, and be careful. Don’t store a strong winter mix in your car during the summer. And definitely don’t carry any neat ethanol during the summer months.

Can I use isopropanol instead?

Also known a Propan-2-ol, 2-Propanol, and Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA).

Short answer, yes – but only if the sub-zero temperatures are a few degrees below zero. IPA has a lower flashpoint than ethanol, and  anything above 20% is risky. IPA also has a distinctive smell.

Can I use Methanol?

I’m just going to say no. It’s poisonous, and could be dangerous, so for that reason you should not use it.

Can I use methylated spirits?

Usually, this contains methanol as the denaturant – though sometimes other chemicals are used. It also has a strong smell. Apart from the time I used it in an emergency, I would advise against it. However, if you can find ‘denatured ethanol’ or ‘denatured ethyl alcohol’, and can be sure it doesn’t have methanol in it, that would be fine. It’s usually (not always) the blue stuff that contains methanol.

It seems complicated making your own

That’s why there is a market for ready-to-use screen wash. It’s up to you.

I just use water as a screenwash

Water on its own is no good. If the temperature falls, it will freeze. Even if it doesn’t freeze in your main washer bottle, it will in the pipes and at the nozzles, and freezing water is quite capable of splitting pipes or closed containers. Water alone doesn’t clean many things off the glass – it won’t touch oil, grease, or squashed insects, and it will struggle with tree sap.

If you do get a freeze up, trying to use the pump might cause it to burn out. Although I haven’t come across the problem recently, even if it doesn’t split your feed pipes it can cause them to become detached inside the car (it was a regular occurrence (well, it happened twice) on a Citroen Xantia I used to have many years ago).

Remember that if you are driving without the ability to keep your windscreen clear, you are committing an offence. The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 says:

Every wiper and washer fitted in accordance with this regulation shall at all times while a vehicle is being used on a road be maintained in efficient working order and be properly adjusted.

Arguably, you are not complying with this if you just use water. If it freezes (or the bottle is empty) and you drive, you’re definitely not complying with it. It is shocking that some ADIs are apparently doing this.

Can you dilute ready to use screenwash?

Of course you can. It’s not a magic potion – just a mixture of water, alcohol, and detergent. I wouldn’t dilute the ready-to-use stuff more than about 50:50 with water, though, because the detergent probably wouldn’t do its job properly. And if it has a stated freezing point, just remember that diluting it means it will freeze at a higher temperature, and that could catch you out in winter.

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ReadlyA couple of years ago I was having a clear out and I was amazed at the number of magazines I’d collected over the years. They were mainly my Classic Rock mags, and part of my decision to have a clear out was that I’d been getting more and more disillusioned with that particular publication.

At the time, I was on an annual subscription, but Planet Rock had just launched its own magazine and that did exactly what it said on the tin – it covered rock music. Classic Rock acquired a new editor, and she made it clear in her introductory piece what she was planning. Subsequently, any rock music they covered had to include at least half female acts – meaning it became obscure and far from ‘classic’, at best – and they also decided that (as just one example) Depeche Mode somehow ticked both the ‘classic’ and ‘rock’ boxes at the same time (actually, they decided twice in the space of just a couple of months with that one example). Then they did their ‘best 100 female artists of all time’ issue, and necessarily had to include non-rock genres to fill it out. That was it from me, and I cancelled my sub.

Before any feminists start frothing at the mouth over this, I go to see lots of female artists and bands with female members. I actually seek them out if I hear them on Planet Rock and like the sound. Like Samantha Fish, Haim, Paramore, Evanescence, Courtney Love, Joanne Shaw Taylor, The Lounge Kittens… I just don’t need any feminist magazine editors trying to filter out the men for me. And if you don’t like the fact that I don’t like that fact, click the back button and go somewhere else.

Planet Rock mag suits me fine, but when the lockdown came along, it also came with a lot of extra time for reading and finding tips on how to do stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise had time for. And going out to buy magazines wasn’t an option – even if it would have been of benefit with the ‘current’ issue on sale (you usually need a series of them).

A few years ago, as a result of my quest to find some authentic German food recipes, I came across a subscription service called Readly. It carries – and this is no exaggeration – thousands of UK titles. They’re all the ones you see on the newsstands (and many you don’t), from TV Times, OK!, Hello!, through all the photography and amateur DIY magazines, through to music and musicians (including Classic Rock). They cover specialist computer and technology subjects, gaming, weddings, cycling, fishing, horse riding, pets… everything (but no X-rated adult stuff). Including back issues, too, which multiplies the content by at least ten. And as I already implied, they have similar numbers of publications from Europe, Asia, and America. They’ve also recently started including newspapers, though it’s only The Independent and Evening Standard right now.

My normal Readly subscription is less than £8 a month, but they offer a two months for free trial. Even so, at £8 a month, that’s the newsstand cost of just three magazines! If you were after foreign magazines, you’d probably pay more than that for a single issue once shipping was included.

You can get the Readly app with the offer through Amazon (it’s free), and you can read on your phone, tablet, or computer. You can also read offline by downloading the content.

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Heavy Snow in Nottingham - 10/2/2020Caution – contains swearing.

It’s been an absolute joke, today. The A52 is still closed southbound, so traffic is having to find its way across the Trent elsewhere. But that’s why I made sure I wasn’t teaching during the rush hour.

Or, at least that was the plan. You see, I didn’t take into account the Met Office – a weather forecasting agency that gets it wrong even when it tries to tell people what it can see out of its windows.

I had a lesson at 1pm. As we drove away from his house, it began to rain. A few minutes later I commented that it was now sleet, as you could see the ice crystals on the windscreen as the drops hit. By this time we were heading up Woodborough Road towards Mapperley, and I said ‘ just watch when we get to the top – it’ll be proper snow at that altitude’. And it was, although it wasn’t settling.

Mapperley is one of the highest points in Nottingham. If it’s drizzly in the city, it’s pissing down in Mapperley. If it’s a bit hazy in Colwick, there’ll be thick fog in Mapperley. And as I predicted today, if there’s a bit of sleet down below, Mapperley will have lying snow. But I wasn’t worried, because no weather forecasts today had said we’d get any heavy snow in Nottingham. I checked.

We drove down Arnold Lane towards Gedling, and the snow got wetter as we descended and eased off. We did a circuit through Burton Joyce and Stoke Bardolph, then finished up at the Victoria Retail Park to have ago with the road layouts around there and a manoeuvre. While we were there, the snow got heavier – it was those little balls that bounce off glass – and I noticed it began to accumulate around kerbstones.

Then we headed home towards the city centre at about 2.20pm. Traffic was light around the Retail Park, and it was the same all the way back up Arnold Lane – until we got near to the top. By now, the snow was falling heavily in huge flakes, and the road was covered. The traffic came to a complete standstill and was not moving, most likely because some twat had slammed their brakes on at the bottom of the first dip and couldn’t get up the other side. We turned around and headed back down to go via a different route. Traffic was still free-moving, and we managed to get all the way through Gedling, up Carlton Hill, and through Carlton itself. Then, we were at a standstill again, just before Porchester Road. And this time there was nowhere else to go.

That was just after 2.30pm. To cut a long story short, I finally dropped the pupil off outside his house at just before 5pm. It took us over an hour to move from Nottingham High School to Russell View (a quarter of a mile) along Forest Road, and his 1.5 hour lesson had lasted 4 hours! I didn’t get home until just before 7pm. I’d cancelled my evening lesson because the pupil lives off Porchester Road with all the steep roads, and he’d told me they were bad.

The snow began at just after 1pm, and by 2pm it was falling heavily higher up. When I got home, I went to the BBC website and discovered those f***ing twats at the Met Office had issued a Yellow Warning for snow in the Midlands at 3.07pm! Over a f***ing hour after it had already fallen and caused traffic to come to a standstill.

Can someone please explain to me what the Met Office actually does? Because it sure as hell doesn’t involve predicting short-term weather conditions.

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UK Mean Monthly Temperature - 2017It seems to have escaped everyone’s attention yet again, but if we draw a horizontal line on a graph of temperature versus time of the year at, say, 10ºC, there is a tendency for the actual temperature to be below 10ºC in winter and above 10ºC in summer. It’s funny, I know. But as far back as I can remember, that’s the way it’s always been.

In 2017, for example, the mean UK temperature for each month is shown in the graph above. Notice how spring and summer was warmer than autumn and winter.

Let’s add 2018’s data so far to this graph.

UK Mean Monthly Temperature - 2017/18The only anomaly – if you can call it that, since February and March were a lot colder than last year – is July. Nevertheless, this is sufficient for the amateurs who go under the title of “reporters” for rags like the Daily Mail and The Sun to get their rulers out, draw a line through May, June, and July, and start predicting that we’re all going to die because by October it’ll be above 60ºC. Of course, come September, they’ll be predicting the usual Ice Age accompanying “the coldest winter on record” (and that’s an actual quote from at least one of those two comics over each of the last three or four years).

Yes, it’s been hot. But it’s not like we haven’t had hot spells before. Just like when it’s cold, it isn’t like we haven’t had cold spells before, either. And it goes up and down throughout the year as we pass through the seasons. Furthermore, even though it has been hot, this year’s “hot” has been quite pleasant most of the time (and I hate hot weather) since it hasn’t been accompanied by the usual humidity we tend to get in the UK.

Here’s the same chart with 1976 added to it.

UK Mean Monthly Temperature - 1976 addedFair enough, this July was about 1 degree hotter, but other than that there’s nothing much different. Christ, I was in a maths lesson at school in June in ‘76 and it snowed on the 14th (or was it the 12th… whatever), and it’s not done that since!

When you look through the data from 1910 until the present, July had the same mean temperature recorded for 1983. It was slightly hotter in 2006, and almost as hot in 2013. Other years have simply fallen within the range.

There’s no question that average temperatures have risen over the last hundred years or so – especially since the 1950s – but that doesn’t mean that any new high or low is a sign of Armageddon. Most of it comes down to the Jet Stream. The last few years, it’s spent summer down by the equator, flinging low pressure system after low pressure system at the UK. This year, it’s vacationing somewhere up near Iceland, and fairly consistent high pressure is pulling air up from Europe. It happens.

Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to be British. We moan when it’s hot, we moan when it’s cold. We moan when it’s wet, and we moan when it’s dry. We moan if it’s a crap summer, and we moan if it’s not. For f*$k’s sake, get a life, people. It’s been one of those “glorious” summers just over 50% of the twats out there voted to go back to in 2016. Enjoy it – you might not be able to afford the next one.

Just remember. In a couple of months it’ll be bloody cold again. And probably wet – just like it was before it got hot this year.

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Silver Birch - summer 2017My article about early leaf drop in Silver Birch trees is very popular – but it has really peaked this year (2018).

My own trees started going yellow this time around in mid-June. After a lot of research, I concluded that it was due to heat stress as a result of the prolonged warm weather and low rainfall we have experienced. I know that some places have had torrential downpours, but it isn’t enough. The temperature has remained pretty much in double digits the whole time, and has been in the mid-20s and low-30s most days for almost two solid months, and with no end in sight.

I commenced deep watering right after I found it as a remedy in June, and it has worked like magic. Right now, I simply set the sprinkler going for about an hour in each of three separate locations, and I do this each night (next year, I’m going to install deep-watering spikes to help the water get deeper into the soil). I have also found a way of watering and fertilizing at the same time.

When trees are stressed as a result of high humidity and low rainfall, they can’t get enough water and begin to shut down just as they do in the Autumn. It doesn’t kill them unless it happens year after a year, but obviously you can take steps to deal with it once you notice it.

My Silver Birch in 2017One thing I have noticed with the benefit of hindsight is that the foliage on virtually every Silver Birch I have seen this year is thinner than in previous years (that’s also true for a lot of other trees I’ve seen). The leaves are actually smaller. The reason I say “hindsight” is that about a month into deep-watering and my tree has put out some significant new growth and the leaves on that new growth are much larger, and just like the photo I took last year.

Note that we have no hosepipe ban, and I wouldn’t be doing this if we did.

Once I commenced the watering, the yellowed leaves all fell over the next week or so, but no more were produced. Right now, not a single leaf has fallen in the last month at least and the whole tree is green with the aforementioned new growth. It is also producing fat catkins.

Will a Birch recover from drought?

It depends on whether the drought killed it or not. A reader wrote to me last year, mentioning that his tree had lost its leaves, and I advised that the only thing he could do right then was to feed and water – and hope for the best. He wrote to me recently to tell me the tree had started to rock in the wind, and that a tree surgeon had subsequently declared it dead, and had had to remove it. Apparently, the roots were rotten.

There’s no way of knowing if it was just the drought that did the damage. The tree may have been weakened by not feeding and watering over previous years, and the drought was just the final nail in the coffin. But last year’s drought certainly caused problems.

By now – early April 2019 – Birches are showing profuse growth of leaves and catkins (mine is). If yours is still completely bare then it doesn’t look good. Last year’s drought did a lot of damage, and since not many people do the feeding ritual that I have covered in the main leaf drop article, trees may already have been struggling.

That said, mine has certainly recovered from last year’s drought, although I did catch on very early and stopped it becoming a major issue.

All I can say is: water (if it’s not raining much) and feed.

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The Access Irrigation Fertlizer DilutorLet me introduce you to my new toy – the Access Irrigation Static Dilutor.

One of the most popular posts on the blog is the one about Silver Birch Trees shedding leaves in the middle of summer as a result of nutrient deficiency in the soil. The remedy involves applying fertilizer and watering it in so the trees can get at it.

In 2018, though, another cause of premature yellowing has surfaced. The prolonged hot weather has stressed many trees, and the remedy for that is deep watering.

Ever since I found the solution to the nutrient problem I had toyed with the idea of semi-automating the fertilizer/watering process by combining the two and applying it via a sprinkler system. Indeed, I toyed to the extent that I bought a cheap Venturi mixer – which should have worked, but didn’t. I concluded that my water pressure was not sufficient to provide the necessary lift in the Venturi, because I just couldn’t get it to suck anything up. So I gave up on the idea for a year or two until 2018, when watering became such an issue in its own right.

I started Googling and many things came up, but they were all on a small scale – watering plants in greenhouses or by drip-feeders. But there was an American dilutor which apparently did exactly what I was after. You put your fertilizer in the mixer container, connected it to a tap, connected the other side to a hosepipe, and let it do the mixing before sending it down to your sprinkler or spray nozzle. The problem was availability in the UK. It came in various sizes, and the only one carried by any UK-based seller had a capacity of one pint (damned American units), which is no bloody use at all except for window boxes or greenhouses. The next size up was only available from American suppliers, so apart from the $100+ price tag, there was also the $100+ shipping fee – not to mention whatever UK Customs & Excise (who have become very sharp of late) slapped on it when it came into the country.

I was just steeling myself to order the American product, but while I was searching for the best price I accidentally came across the Access Irrigation Static Dilutor. It hadn’t come up on any of my previous searches over the last three years, and even when it did this time it hardly stood out until I followed the link and read the specification sheet and user manual. As an aside, whoever designed the Access Irrigation website decided to use images of text for product titles instead of just plain old searchable text. As a result, Google isn’t indexing them and normal search terms like  “inline fertilizer dispenser” or “fertilizer dispenser using sprinkler” don’t stand a chance.

Access Irrigation were very helpful with my pre-order questions, so I went ahead an ordered it. It came next day.

Gardena ZoomMaxx SprinklerI’ve also recently bought a new sprinkler – a Gardena ZoomMaxx. Depending on water pressure it can water over a range of between 3m and 18m, or an area between 9m² and 216m² in an almost circular pattern (though the pattern is adjustable). In my case, with a water flow rate of 7L per minute (which is classed as “low pressure”), it was able to cover an area of around 80-90m² – which is about 5 times what my old bar sprinkler could manage.

The Access Dilutor consists of a thick plastic bottle which can hold about 9L of liquid. A screw-fit head assembly consists of a Venturi unit with a choice of Hozelock or GEKA fittings (Hozelock fitted as standard, but both types supplied).

For anyone who is interested, a Venturi is so-called because of the Venturi Effect. This is where a fluid flowing through a constriction in a tube creates a pressure drop, and this can be used for various effects. I became familiar with it when I was still at school, because we used small Venturi devices connected to laboratory taps to produce a partial vacuum when filtering liquids using conical flasks. In the case of the Dilutor, water flowing from your tap goes via the Venturi and down to the sprinkler head, and the pressure drop created inside the Venturi is used to pull liquid fertilizer from the bottle and into the main water flow. There is a bit more to the device than that, though, because as the fertilizer is removed, it is replaced by clean water to keep the bottle completely full. Since the fertilizer solution is more dense than water, this clean water sits on top, so you have a distinct border between fertilizer and water. Access Irrigation says you should use food dye if your fertilizer is colourless so that you can see when it is all used up. In my case, my mixture contains chelated iron, so it is almost black. Incidentally, this is why they call it the “static” dilutor, because you mustn’t move it when you’re using it, otherwise the divided liquids get all mixed up.

Until I tried it I was sceptical, but it really does work. The Dilutor is supplied with a range of nozzles which fit on the end of the dip-tube that carries the fertilizer. This allows you to control how quickly the fertilizer is used up. In my case, since I wanted to irrigate for an hour at each of several locations, and since my water flow was 7L/min – or 420L/hour – I used the light blue nozzle corresponding to this volume of water (edit: I have since changed to the grey nozzle, which uses the fertiliser more quickly, my logic being that I want to get the fertiliser on the lawn, then make sure it is watered in properly). I was doing my first run in the dark – literally – and using a torch the border between the black solution and clean water was dramatic. It was all used up in slightly more than one hour.

Previously, and as I have pointed out in my article about summer leaf drop, I was dissolving solid ericaceous fertilizer in water (which takes a couple of hours), and using this as a concentrate in five watering cans-full each liberally spread over 10-20m² (about half an hour overall), then watered in using a bar sprinkler for about half an hour in each of five locations to get the coverage. Overall, it was maybe 8 hours involving frequent interventions by me.

Now, using a liquid version of the same ericaceous fertilizer, I can make up a full batch in the Dilutor in about three minutes, and just set the sprinkler running for an hour. Then, I make another batch, move the sprinkler, and repeat. It only takes a couple of hours now to get the same coverage – and I’m doing a lot more irrigation because of the heat stress problem this year.

What are the different nozzle colours?

I don’t want to state what the colours are (though I did mention a couple, above), because Access Irrigation might change them at some stage, and then whatever I’ve written would be wrong (one of mine was not quite the colour the instructions said, anyway). However, four of these are supplied, and they give you a 10:1, 25:1, 50:1, or 100:1 dilution ratio.

Obviously, the 100:1 jet will be the smallest, and the 10:1 jet will be the widest. So you can work it out from there just by looking at them. The lowest ratio jet (widest) will use up whatever you’re spreading quicker than the highest ratio (narrowest) jet.

To be honest, unless you’re doing something really strange, the best thing is not to overthink these numbers. In my case, for example, I use a jet which empties my feed in about 45-60 minutes. That’s long enough to get an even spread and deliver an effective watering over about 100m².

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Cartoon cars, head-on crashA couple of days ago, I updated my article on Driving Tests and Lesson in Snow after someone found the blog due to their instructor claiming he wasn’t covered to drive in icy conditions.

Cancelling lessons because it is dangerous is fine, but I am not aware of any insurance policy which would preclude driving. I didn’t think much of it after I’d updated the article – but then I came across this story. It seems that some moron on Twitter started the rumour, and other morons have picked it up and run with it.

Police and insurers have assured people that insurance is valid even in the worst weather conditions. Obviously, the same rules apply in bad weather as they do in good weather. Namely, if you drive like a twat and have an accident, your insurance may be affected.

It is possible that the original reader’s instructor had also seen this story and been suckered by it.

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Giant KittenOr, what the media insists on referring to as “The Beast from the East”.

It’s a bit nippy, though not dramatically so, and there are frequent light snow flurries. Every hour or three there is a heavy flurry, which settles – then melts almost completely as soon as the sun comes out. And this is speaking from an “Amber Warning” area of the UK.

The BBC has reporters standing in bright sunshine with no visible lying snow, trying desperately to explain why a form of transport from Victorian times – and one which the government is trying to invest in “for the future” – has to cancel trains en masse.

Needless aerial footage of the “chaos” from “disaster areas” shows snow depths barely covering the grass. Weather maps are all being carefully crafted to make sure it looks like London is in one of the “disaster areas”. Evidence for the “disaster” amounts to a drone shot of some bloke walking quite easily across a snowy field.

Some prats have crashed during rush hour because they were driving too fast. Roads are being described as “treacherous” by Police, as if they have never been so before following previous (and much heavier) snowfalls.

Schools are closing when there isn’t enough snow to build even a passable British Snowman. And KFC is still operating a “restricted menu”, so the little darlings will have to go somewhere else.

What a bunch of wusses we have become in this country.

For me, the biggest annoyance is the rapid build up of 1cm of crap on my windows and headlights every time I start driving. Closely followed by irritation at the twats who are overtaking me and cutting in.

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Glacier - an ice age comethThe Sun is at it again. I saw a small item in today’s paper copy reporting that it will be -15°C by the end of the week, and that it will stay like this until the end of March. Oddly, the front page of the online version’s UK news has a story about how plants are blooming a month early, since spring is on the way.

I’m not sure quite what it is they’re trying to get at, since this winter has not been uncharacteristically cold, mild, wet, or dry. It’s been a bit of all those things, just like British winters tend to be.

It’s worth noting that the Met Office isn’t forecasting anything like what The Sun is. Neither is Netweather.


And this is why I wanted in on the ground floor! All The Sun’s blather about snow over the last fortnight came to nothing. Even places which had any barely saw more than a centimetre (for Brexiters, that’s about three eighths of an inch). And as for it being colder than on the dark side of the moon until the end of March, today the temperature ranged from lows of around 7°C to highs of 10°C, and the forecast – the proper forecast from the Met Office and not some two-bit amateur outfit using seaweed and pine cones – is for temperatures as high as 12°C into the middle of next week.

Fair enough, we have had quite a bit of rain today which, after all, is only unfrozen snow, but still not quite the new Ice Age that The Sun was assuring us was underway.

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The Met Office has revealed the names it will be assigning to storms during 2017/18. Here they are:Storm Names 2017/18 - Met Office

You could just leave it at that. If you’re like me, though, you might see something a little more sinister.

Once upon a time, hurricanes were always given female names. In our modern PC world, though, this is totally unacceptable, and nowadays they use a mixture of male and female names. I believe that they alternate – so one hurricane will be female, the next male, the next female, and so on.

The Met Office – which started naming “storms” in the UK last year – has been giving them both male and female names from the start. As you know, all science in the UK simply has to involve children (and people with the kinds of children), which explains why you get names like Oisin and Wilbert.

I mean, there have been about six people named Wilbert in the last 100 years. Most of them are dead (a bit like the name, really), and those who aren’t nearly are. And although Oisin is apparently a top choice for Irish language boys’ names in Ireland, I can honestly say that the only time I’ve ever come across it is in ancient Irish literature (Oisin was the son of Fionn MacCool) through one of my favourite bands, Horslips.

The sinister part to my mind is that there are 11 male names and only 10 female ones. Can you imagine the uproar and demands for resignations that would follow if it was the other way around? And I reckon it’s only a matter of time before they start naming them retrospectively – or renaming them after the event – so that damaging ones don’t go down in history as having female names.

I’d bet money that someone somewhere has already raised that one in a meeting.

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