A Driving Instructor's Blog

Funny

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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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Eric Idle in Monty Python sketchCouldn’t have put it better myself. Eric Idle has criticised the official Monty Python Twitter feed for tweeting “It’s time to dust off your finest attire now that pubs & restaurants are open from tomorrow.”

Idle’s response was:

Do not listen. This is shit advice. I have nothing to do with this. In the wise words of my wife. “What has changed?” Nothing. There is no cure, there is no vaccine. Go out at your peril. Mingle at your own risk. Just remember “Bring out your dead.”

Unless your pub is called The Grim Reaper, you should stay home. Please be safe.

Completely agree, Eric. It’s too soon.

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Covid-19 on blackboardQuestion: Can I start doing lessons yet?

Answer: There is no Law which directly says you cannot. As in, there is no Law which specifically states ‘driving instructors must not give lessons’. This is probably why your grocer, your hairdresser, your mum, your nan, the police, DVSA, some weirdo you met in the park last night, all your Facebook ‘friends’, and any one of the millions of other people you have repeatedly asked the same question of hasn’t given you the answer that you want. And you’re not going to find the answer by resorting to ‘alternative news’ websites operated by anti-vaxxers and non-qualified ‘medical advisors’.

Obviously, you have a problem with simple logic. But let me try to help.

COVID-19 kills people. Even if it doesn’t kill you, it can kill others. And it does – quite a few of them so far, in fact. Unfortunately, whether or not it does kill you if you catch it can vary in probability from quite unlikely all the way up to virtually guaranteed. The problem is that you don’t know where you are in that range until you try it. And among the higher primates, that is generally regarded as a high-risk strategy, and one to be avoided unless you want to get on the wrong side of Natural Selection.

Now, this is where it is going to get really hard for you to understand. The COVID-19 virus itself is small – much smaller than anything you can imagine. You’d be able to fit more than 30,000 of them across a single French Fry that you’d get with, say, your Happy Meal. They are not physically stopped by anything other than a completely solid and sealed barrier. The simplest way of imagining them is by thinking what happens if either you or your pupil farts on a lesson (or if one of you is particularly odoriferous). Let’s call it the ‘Fart Factor’. Both of you can smell it no matter how much the culprit denies doing it, and neither of you can do anything realistically possible to avoid smelling it. If that fart (or BO) were COVID-19 wafting around, then smelling it means you caught it.

In order to reduce the spread of this fart-like COVID-19, it is important that close person-to-person contact is restricted and – wherever possible – eliminated. That is why we have the ‘2 metre rule’ to keep people away from each other if they meet, and the ‘isolation’ principle otherwise. Two metres is about six times the distance a French Fry travels each time you move it from your tray to your mouth. It is therefore considerably further than the distance between you and your pupils when you’re in your car.

You may have heard talk of reducing this separation distance to 1 metre, or even half a metre. In a car, you are as close as a few centimetres at least some of the time – particularly when a pupil decides to take evasive action over a squirrel they might have seen in a tree 200 metres up the road, and you have to intervene.


Question: I used to clean my car anyway between pupils, so what’s the problem now?

Answer: You used to clean your car because of colds and flu, a build up of gunk from excessive use of hand cream by some pupils of a certain gender on the gear knob, or possibly bad smells left by others with questionable hygiene. At a guess, you’ve probably still had colds and flu in spite of all your cleaning, so it didn’t work. Did it? You might already be able to see where this is heading.

Even that build of gunk on the gear knob is actually there before you can see it. All you did with your precautions was shift the risk – maybe, and only by a little – in your favour. And as we’ve already noted, it wasn’t enough. You still caught colds, and possibly even an interesting skin disorder in some very rare cases. Well, that initially invisible gunk could easily be a coating of COVID-19, and scraping or wiping it off obviously carries an increased risk of exposure above and beyond the fact you were in the car with someone who had it in the first place.

I refer again to the fact that COVID-19 kills people. There’s no vaccine right now, and it is not a cold or flu. If your cleaning precautions fail with COVID-19, keep your fingers crossed there’s no bullet in that particular chamber of the gun you’re now holding to your head. And maybe spare at least a passing thought to all the other people you will now have put in the same situation.


Question: Does an antibacterial sanitizer kill viruses?

Answer: Well, viruses are not actually ‘alive’ in the same way as bacteria are, but the simple answer is yes – most of them. What happens is that a good sanitizer which contains alcohol will ‘denature’ the shell around many viruses and destroy them. This might be less effective for something like Norovirus, which is resistant to alcohol, but it will destroy COVID-19.

However, the whole process relies on actual – and relatively prolonged – contact between the alcohol and the virus. COVID-19 doesn’t turn and run at the mere sight of a bottle of sanitizer. So the $64,000 question is always going to be: did I miss a bit?

I stress that this only applies to alcohol-based sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol. It does not apply to that hypo-allergenic, vegan, organic citrus-based product with Ylang Ylang and Tea Tree Oil in it in the pretty bottle your Wellbeing coach on Instagram advised you to buy (probably from her).


Question: Does bleach kills viruses?

Answer: As above, the short answer is yes. However, be aware that bleach is also toxic to pretty much everything else, and can cause serious burns if not diluted properly. These burns can lead to permanent nerve damage and also serious eye damage if any gets in those. It also causes breathing problems, especially in people who already have respiratory issues. From a safety perspective you need to be asking if your cleverly devised ‘risk assessment’ has truly considered all the risks – as opposed to having been deliberately constructed just to give you an excuse to start working again –  before sticking bleach in spray bottles and squirting it around inside the car.

Also be aware that bleach can cause an allergic skin reaction in some people even at normal dilutions, the outcome of which can still lead to nerve damage. Skin allergies can develop over time, and don’t always occur immediately. And the long-term effects of bleach on the plastics and fabrics in your car are unlikely to be of the positive variety. Bleach at any concentration should not be used as a hand-sanitizer.

You ought to consider all this before concluding that Domestos is cheaper than alcohol-based hand sanitizer.


Question: Do face masks work?

Answer: Viruses are not stopped by normal face masks (aka surgical masks’). All these do is catch some/most of the larger droplets of moisture (containing the virus), and this reduces the number of virus ‘spores’ being circulated beyond the mask. It doesn’t eliminate them. And of course, until they become inactive, the mask is still contaminated with them when you fling it on to the back seat and it dries out, while you put a clean one on

All you have to do is try one while you’re wearing glasses and see how easily they steam up. Well, that ‘steam’ could easily contain viruses, and that’s where the Fart Factor comes into play again (including what that dirty one on the back seat is doing while you continue your lesson). Also consider that the ‘steam’ is coming from the other person in the car too, and if your ‘steam’ can get out, theirs can get in through the same channels. And vice versa.

You need proper respirator masks to give any serious protection against viruses. At least an FFP2 or FFP3. These are single use, like surgical masks, but create a tight seal around the nose and mouth, and have a small enough pore size to stop viruses. They’re difficult to breathe through as a result, and the tight fit makes them uncomfortable – especially worn over long periods. And they cost about £3 each – if you can get them. In theory, you can wear one for up to 3 hours, but if you take it off at any point you ought to use a new one.

Proper respirators can cause facial skin damage if worn repeatedly and/or for long periods.


Question: Does having the windows open reduce the risk?

Answer: If you’ve ever driven at moderate speed with the windows fully open, and had empty plastic bags on the back seat for any reason, you will probably have experienced what can happen. The bags can get pulled into a vortex – a bit like a tornado – inside the car, spin a round for a while, then get sucked out of the windows. Let’s call this one the ‘Vortex Factor’.

If you’re desperate to return to work, you might be tempted to conclude from your ‘risk assessment’ that yes, having the windows open reduces the risk. But just ask yourself what happens while that vortex – this time containing invisible COVID-19 spores stirred up from old masks and things – is still inside the car, and before it heads for the windows. And think further about what happens when the vortex is less as a result of the windows being only slightly open, so it never bothers with a full exit. Think Fart Factor.

The last week has seen many torrential downpours around the country, and these look set to continue for the next week at least. It’s what often happens in summer in the UK. If it rains, and the car windows are open even a little, you get wet. If this concept is still too difficult to understand, I will write a separate article on why rain is wet, and why it gets in through open windows.

The short answer is that having the windows open could actually increase the risk in one way, even if it could potentially reduce it in another. At best, the two just cancel each other out – but I would think the increased risk carries more weight than the reduction. And you’ll get wet if it rains.


Question: Do those wing-dang-doodles you plug into the USB socket work?

Answer: People have started looking at fitting ‘air purifiers’ in their cars. Such a device would have to process all the air before it was passed on to you to breathe to be of any use. And I mean all the air. You see, air is an ideal Fart Factor medium, and it is very difficult to keep one bucket of air containing a fart away from other (clean) buckets of air, unless the buckets you use are completely sealed – much like in a balloon. In order to implement this for a human, said human would need to be in a completely sealed suit, and have the purified air fed to them inside the suit via hoses from the processing unit. One bucket of air would be good for two, maybe three deep breaths, and this is why scuba divers have tanks of compressed air with them underwater, since two or three breaths tends to limit how much exploration of the ocean depths is possible. To filter air on demand – and especially to the level of filtration needed to remove viral particles – means the processing unit would need to be at least the size of a large suitcase. And you’d still need to be inside a sealed suit to use it, otherwise it would be pointless.

If you can guarantee that each and every COVID-19 ‘spore’ passes through something which ‘kills’ it before it get’s anywhere near your nose, mouth, or bare skin, any device which claimed to do this would be an ideal investment. However, something the size of a mobile phone clipped on the dashboard (or kettle-sized under the seats) wafting Tea Tree Oil and Ylang Ylang into the car is unlikely (as in ‘it can’t’) to be capable of doing so. And it doesn’t matter what they put in it – essential oils, alcohol, bleach, Plutonium – it simply cannot work.

So thanks to the Vortex Factor, you’ll be breathing plenty of the ‘nasty’ air at the same time. Yes, such a gizmo may well ‘kill’ the spores if any pass through it – though given that it probably costs about as much as a handful of Happy Meals, that is far from guaranteed (as in ‘it isn’t’) – but I honestly can’t see them being fitted into hospitals and other settings anytime soon.


Question: Do Perspex dividing screens work?

Answer: If someone coughs directly at you, or tries to spit at you, yes. They stop them coughing or spitting directly in your face. However, due to the Fart Factor and the Vortex Factor, they cannot stop viral ‘spores’ circulating around the car. So no, they do not eliminate or ‘stop’ the virus.

Some insurance companies will not allow them, although some apparently do. The issue is maintaining control of the car. You see normal driving instructors – as opposed to the ones with enlarged frontal lobes who can apparently control the car, the pupil, and the overall lesson just by a few pulses of their lobes – occasionally need to take physical control away from the pupil to prevent harm coming to the vehicle and other road users. It is hard to do that when there’s a bloody big plastic screen in the way.

The solution to this problem for some seems to be that you simply have a big hole cut in the Perspex so that you can reach the steering wheel, thus allowing greater influence from the Fart Factor and the Vortex factor, and completely negating the original purpose.

Then there is the issue of ‘sanitizing’. Your fancy new screen has now given you a new surface area in the car of between 3-6 square metres. It has also made some of the existing surfaces (i.e. between the seats) even more difficult to access than usual. And it has introduced a lot of very fiddly nooks and crannies that were not there before that you will need a Q-tip or toothpick to get to.

Perspex (or acrylic) can be attacked by bleach, and the surface becomes ‘crazed’ (small cracks, which make it go cloudy). So your Domestos idea will need to be shelved, and you’ll be using a ton of alcohol sanitizer instead. Hand sanitizer contains other ingredients that prevent your hands drying out, and these may also attack Perspex. If nothing else, they’ll leave an oily film behind, leading to more cleaning.

Finally, and even if your insurance has cleared it, there is the ‘what if?’ question. As in, what happens if you do have an accident and your arm is through the hole at the time (which it likely will be under such circumstances)? The jolt of an impact alone is likely to snap it like a twig as your body weight is thrown around and your arm is levered against the Perspex. And if compression of the vehicle occurs, the Perspex will snap and turn into a giant pair of scissors and a variety of very sharp daggers – with your arm right in the middle of it all.

It’s a hell of a risk over something which doesn’t bloody work in the first place – unless you get a lot of people who spit at you, or you’ve allowed someone in the car even though they have a chronic cough.

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Antique slide-tile gameDoes anyone remember that toy you used to get in Lucky Bags? It was a small plastic plate with 15 sliding tiles in it. The Sixteenth position was empty, and the idea was to slide the other tiles into the space and eventually end up with all of them in numerical order.

I wonder if anyone would be prepared to manufacture the one I came up with, above? From what I keep reading, I think a lot of instructors would find it useful for running their lives right now.

It’s easier than the old version. They’re not supposed to go in any order, or anything. You just move them around randomly for a bit then ask a question about the one in the top left-hand corner.

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

Loads of people have had COVID-19 without realising it

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

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

It’s just flu

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

I’ve had it, so I’m safe

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

I’ve had it, so I can’t pass it on

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

The government said most cases are very mild

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

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Secret firewood safeThere’s a website called Instructables, where people provide step-by-step details for building various things. I came across it a couple of years ago when I was searching for a circuit diagram for something I was building using a Raspberry Pi.

A lot of the stuff on it is extremely… well, let’s say ‘niche’. I mean, I’m sure there is a lot of demand for a Celtic Knot Rolling Pin, a Rubber Band Wallet (made using a 3D printer), or a multitude of tacky-looking lamps and pendants. But I’m equally sure that there is a lot of demand to quickly recapture the people involved and get them safely back inside their padded cells.

This one arrived in my inbox this morning. Someone has created a clever concealed safe that looks like a piece of firewood.

Actually, ‘secret safes’ that look like other things is a very popular area on Instructables. Ones that look like books are common. Then there’s an ‘underground secret safe’ (aka buried jar), one concealed in a speaker, one in a torch, ones in aerosol cans, ones gouged into wooden drawers and ‘hidden’ by a sticker, one in a jar of mayonnaise, another in a tin of soup… and it goes on. In almost all cases, the act of creating the ‘safe’ destroys the item being used as the disguise and prevents it from fulfilling its original purpose.

Probably about one Instructable in a thousand is actually something you might need, and of those, many are extremely complex. The rest are submitted by kids.

The firewood safe is certainly slightly clever in terms of the craftsmanship, but I can’t help wondering if anyone in their right mind would risk putting large sums of money or valuable items in something which looks like firewood, is stored on a stack of firewood, and is located right next to a fire which utilises said stack of firewood.

It certainly redefines the word ‘safe’.

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I’m a carer for my elderly parents. On Thursday, I got up and told my 90-year old dad that I wasn’t doing anymore lessons so I didn’t have to come into contact with people, and the first thing he says is: ‘can you take me to Wickes, then?’

I said ‘what? No, I’m not’, and he almost fell out with me. He sulked for a while, and wouldn’t tell me what he wanted.

I said ‘dad, whatever it is I can order it online, then we won’t have to go out’. He still wouldn’t tell me.

Fast forward two days, and I again started trying to explain to him what ‘social distancing’ meant, and what it was for. I explained that if 100 people meet in a room, and one of them is infected, all 100 could walk out infected, and that’s how the virus could spread. I think I have finally got it through to him that he’s going to have to stop going to the Birds bakery for the very specific (and very small) loaf he insists on eating every day, and that I can buy a packed loaf in the weekly shop that he will have to get used to while we’re in this mess.

I then asked again what it was he wanted from Wickes: ‘a roll of roofing felt’!

A few weeks ago, during the storms, the roof of our shed started flapping because the felt had torn. I went ballistic, and said ‘dad, you’re not climbing on that roof. If you do, I’ll get my air pistol and f***ing shoot you down!’ I stress once more, he is 90 years old, has macular degeneration and cannot see, and COPD, so even taking a shower is a major struggle.

He almost fell out with me again, but I think I have persuaded him – and now I’m not working I can keep my eyes on him, because he’s a lying old git and probably still has every intention of trying it if he gets the chance.

On the plus side, a local roofer is going to get some much needed work, as getting it done professionally has just become my top priority in order to avert impending disaster.

As an aside, about five years ago I came home from lessons and he was on his bed upstairs covered in blood and cuts (he’s on blood-thinning medication). He’d been trimming the hedge at the bottom of the garden and fallen off the ridiculously unstable plank between two small step ladders he’d rigged up, and into the bushes. When I brought it up in the conversation today, he said ‘I didn’t fall off – I just missed my footing when the short plank…’

I interjected at this point ‘’…which you’re as thick as two of’.

Talk about stress.

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Ben BardsleyYou have to laugh. Ben Bardsley, of Warrington, was having a pond built at his house, and while he was watching the work he was struck by a digger bucket and knocked into the pond. He claimed that the accident had caused damage to his neck and back, meaning he couldn’t lift weights anymore (he’s a bodybuilder and gym owner), and that it had also given him a fear of heights.

Reading into the story, it seems that if he’d have accepted the offer of £4,500 the insurance company had initially made, that would have been the end of it. He’d been involved in an accident, after all, and the claim was legitimate in that sense. But Bardsley was greedy, and wanted up to five times that amount, claiming extensive physical as well as psychological damage. That was when Aviva became suspicious and instructed lawyers to investigate further. Reading into it again, they didn’t have to investigate very much to flush him out.

They uncovered multiple photos he’d posted of himself lifting heavy weights in the gym after the accident. Best of all, he showed how badly vertigo – a fear of heights – had affected him by posting a video of himself going down the Verti-Go slide in Benidorm, which is 33 metres high, and you travel at 62mph down it. He even showed his muscles off to some kids at the bottom.

So, from having a guaranteed £4,500 pay-out, he’s now been stung with no pay-out – and an order to pay the £14,000 in legal costs.

I have little time for insurance scammers. Every time anyone has hit my car – or cars my ex-pupils have been driving – they have tried it on.

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Car goes bangWe’re near the end of 2019, and we have a last minute entry for the 2019 Darwin Awards.

A bloke in Halifax was parked up outside some shops and bars. He’d been spraying air freshener inside his car, and when he’d finished he decided to light a cigarette.

Although aerosol cans used to use non-flammable CFCs, these were banned because of the damage they were said to do to the Ozone Layer, and many modern air fresheners use compressed air as the propellent instead. But quite a few still don’t. Of those that don’t, they usually use liquefied propane or butane – both of which are used as heating gases because they burn. Consequently, the ejected aerosol from such an air freshener is flammable. Indeed, in an enclosed space, it is explosive. And our erstwhile Darwin candidate discovered this through practical application of these properties.

In the enclosed space of his car, with a high concentration of flammable gas present, as he struck his lighter or match the gas ignited and – in the enclosed environment – became explosive. It blew out his windows. Looking at the picture, it also nearly blew off the roof and all four doors. The explosion damaged the windows of nearby shops.

Luckily, he only sustained minor injuries, so we can admit that it is funny without upsetting anyone who matters.

Update 23/12/2019: It’s been in some of the newspapers today. He did sustain some burns, though I wouldn’t go as far as The Sun in describing them as “horrendous”.

But the funniest part is that in the photos he has a really surprised look on his face. I’m sure that will wear off in time.

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