A Driving Instructor's Blog

COVID-19

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COVID imageThere is going to be a fifth SEISS grant. A couple of weeks ago, HMRC sent out an email explaining how it would work this time.

Bear in mind that the SEISS is not – absolutely not – just for driving instructors. That important distinction makes how you interpret the email rather important.

The email makes it clear that the fifth SEISS will be granted depending on how much your 2020/21 turnover has reduced compared to previously. It also makes it crystal clear that you do not have to have submitted a return for 2020/21 (not due until the end of January 2022 at the latest) in order to make a claim.

It states clearly that your 2020/21 turnover needs to have been reduced compared to previous years in order to be eligible for the grant. If you haven’t yet submitted your 2020/21 return, an honest estimate is acceptable, and HMRC will determine how much you get based on the difference between 20201/21 and the previous year(s). Just be aware that your ‘honest estimate’ for 2020/21 is inevitably going to be what you eventually do submit, so be careful if lying comes naturally to you.

HMRC website makes it clear that if you are down by 30% or more, you will get 80% of three months’ trading profits (maximum £7,500), and if you’re down by less than 30% then it will be 30% of three months’ trading profits (maximum £2,850). This is because – as I mentioned – the SEISS is not just for driving instructors. It’s for plumbers, electricians, cleaners, nail bar owners, and all kinds of other self-employed people, etc., as well as instructors. Some of those will have legitimately traded while, ADIs ought not to have been.

I am confident that having only worked for about six weeks at a very reduced rate last summer, I will be eligible for the higher award. My turnover was down by more than 90%. However, if I’d pretended everyone was a ‘key worker’ and crammed in a lot of work I really shouldn’t have been doing last year (whilst claiming ‘hoax’, and boasting about not wearing a mask), then I’d have been at the lower rate – if I was eligible at all. If anyone out there did that, then I wish them well in their dilemma over what to do next – and I’d love to be a fly on the wall watching them complete their 2020/21 self assessment.

But for me, I have no such dilemma. My reduced workload is absolutely transparent. I typically do around 1,100 hours of lesson in a year, but in 2020/21 it was down to about 70 hours – a 95% reduction. And all as a result of following advice, taking this seriously, and not trying to be a smart ass.

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A downward trendAll was going well. Then, last Monday, a pupil texted me to say he’d had to go into isolation because someone had tested positive at work. He actually had COVID last year. Then, the following day, I gave a lesson to a pupil who had been to watch one of the Euro 2021 matches at a pub with work colleagues (in spite of my warnings about the risk). He tested negative for the next three days, then last Friday informed me he was now positive.

I shit myself, and have been frantically doing lateral flow tests everyday since. He is unwell with it, and he’s now informed me his missus is also COVID positive.

Then, last Saturday I turned up to a lesson and the pupil didn’t come out as he usually does. I texted, and he immediately replied he’d just found out a family member was positive, and the whole family had to isolate. The same day, another pupil who I was planning on visiting to help with her theory test texted me to say she’s had to cancel the test because her year has been sent into isolation at school because someone tested positive.

Then, yesterday, a pupil who had a lesson booked for tomorrow texted me to tell me he’s tested positive. He questioned why I said next week’s lesson would be off, too (he didn’t have a clue about quarantine periods, and the timeline prognosis if symptoms develop). Also, the first pupil contacted me to inform me that his last day of quarantine is the same day of his driving test this coming week (which was a moved test anyway, since he had COVID last year when it was originally scheduled for), so we’ve had to cancel it again, and unless we find another cancellation somewhere, he’ll have to do his theory test again, because the nearest dates are the end of December.

And finally, I turned up for a lesson today. I’d just stopped outside the house when the phone rang, and he told me he’d been pinged by the NHS app and had to isolate (and he had another lesson tomorrow). Yet more confusion, because he said it’s ‘two days’, and apart from the fact I wasn’t aware of anything under ten days being a quarantine period, there’s no way he’s getting in my car unless I’m sure he’s negative.

And to add insult to injury, two more cancelled lessons for today claiming feeling unwell. Funny how the nice weather does that to people (it always has done, so I’m wise to it) – but now I can’t take the chance and pick them up over it, any more than I can moan at them not telling me sooner (though the two who did that say they’d only just found out).

So the old diary has taken a beating for the next week.

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Monty Python GumbyRecently, I mentioned that when the face mask rules were due to be scrapped on 19 July, I hadn’t yet decided how I was likely to proceed.

Since writing that, I did decide how I was going to proceed based on one of my pupils coming down with COVID, and three others having to isolate, all in the space of a few days. I have been making it clear to all of mine that I will still expect them to wear face masks.

On my last lesson today, after relating all this to a pupil, I explained that me wearing a mask gives him at least a very small amount of extra protection if I am carrying the virus, and him wearing one gives me the same small amount of extra protection if he is. And any extra protection is better than none at all. He wholeheartedly agreed, as have all the others – even the one whose mother is a complete nutjob anti-vaxxer.

But when I got home and checked the latest news, I saw that face masks will still be advised in indoor settings and enclosed spaces in a U-turn by the government.

There are quite a few driving instructors out there who are as intelligent as a Gumby, and who have spent the whole of the last 15 months or so assuming the pose in the picture above and boasting that they’re working during lockdown, not wearing masks, not asking pupils to wear masks, and doing bad sums along the lines of half an orange plus three quarters of a lemon is equal to six onions (because they saw it on a nutjob channel on YouTube or Facebook and liked the sound of it). The previous news that face mask rules would be lifted provided them with an opportunity to go all Gumby, and tell everyone pointlessly yet again that they’d never worn them.

So I guess they will still continue to break the rules and show how unprofessional (and stupid) they are.

The same Gumbys are also on a rant right now about how car parks at many DVSA test centres have alternate bays coned off as part of social distancing measures. Does that mean cars can catch COVID, they ask, as they push the warped agenda they’ve tried to disseminate for the last year.

The spacing is so that those getting into and out of the cars remain distanced from each other. You have to be really stupid not to realise that. But as I say, these are driving instructors with issues we’re dealing with.

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Flat EarthIt was announced today that from 16 August, those who have had both COVID vaccinations will not have to isolate if they come into contact with an infected person.

I notice that social media is still fairly overflowing with flat-earthers in the allegedly ‘professional’ ADI community proudly trumpeting that they’ve never worn a mask, and nor have any of their pupils, so the change in rules in a couple of weeks about masks won’t affect them. In case you forgot, let me just remind you what I’ve said before. That they are complete twats.

I wonder how these same specimens will do – due to their similarly stupid conspiracist views about the vaccines and whether COVID even exists – if they subsequently are supposed to isolate after 16 August? If they don’t, they’ll be breaking the Law, and if they insist on bigging themselves up on social media every five minutes (as is their wont), the Registrar might take a very dim view of their status on the Register. Frankly, if they did fall foul of that, my feelings would be along the lines of ‘serves you right, and good riddance’. After all, they are almost certainly a part of the reason all of this has gone on quite as long as it has (they’ve helped spread it, for a start).

Strong evidence is mounting that the vaccines are preventing deaths. Last year, with three noticeable spikes in infections, the death rate increased approximately 3-4 weeks later. That was when we had no vaccines. However, during this latest spike in infections, the level at which an increase in deaths subsequently occurred last year was surpassed right at the start of June. And death rates have not risen significantly at all after five weeks (fingers crossed they don’t, even though today’s figure is a little worrying). The only difference is the vaccine.

As for masks, I find it incredible that there are still people out there who believe the mask protects the wearer. It doesn’t, and never has. The mask is for the benefit of others.

I haven’t decided yet how I am going to deal with masks when the requirement for them ends in a couple of weeks. I am doubly-vaccinated and careful, of course. However, my pupils collectively (on average) go to school and go out and get pissed whenever they feel like it. Some of them have flat earth mothers who ‘don’t believe in’ the virus, or who are anti-vax/zero knowledge. So the risk to me is still there. I might decide that I still need protecting from them – it depends on how the numbers go over the next fortnight.

One asked me today what I would do. I explained what I just said, and she agreed. And another one later also fully understood. Any who don’t can find another instructor.

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COVID virus imagePhew! That was a relief. I was worried I might not get the fourth SEISS because my 2019/20 profits were down as a result of the start of the pandemic, and it was touch and go as to whether my self-employment income amounted to more than my private pension. Fortunately, it did.

I went through the claim just after midnight, and I’ll be getting a windfall of £3,000 – which will help enormously as I gradually build back up to a decent number of hours.

It’s funny, that. I started work on the first day the lockdown was eased, but I specifically spaced lessons out so that I’d have time to sanitise the car, and kept one day free for taking the weekly Asda delivery (though I’ve started going back in over the last fortnight, and will return to a normal shopping at some stage). I didn’t try to fill each day, and if one or two were empty, no big deal. I also spaced lessons out so I could take it easy starting up again, because I knew that after a year out it might be tiring.

As it happens, it hasn’t been. It’s been fun, and I hadn’t forgotten anything. The only problem was finding out what new roads had appeared since I last went out, and which ones had either disappeared or now have roadworks on them (and Nottingham City Council decided that many roadworks should start on the same day everyone went back to work, as is their wont). But I did see that those who had tried to fill their diaries to the brim from Day One have been complaining about not enjoying it anymore (and thinking of retiring or staying in their lockdown jobs), being stressed, and being exhausted.

You only have yourselves to blame. You can’t expect to be able to run a marathon, for example, if it’s a year since you last did any jogging.

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COVID Lateral Flow Test StripAn email alert from DVSA is encouraging people to take lateral flow tests on a regular basis. I should stress that this is currently only targeted at Wales – and I have no idea why that is.

I have been ordering free test kits from the NHS, and run one twice a week. Each kit contains seven tests, and each test consists of a swab, a small pod of buffer solution, a sample tube, and a test strip/cartridge in a sealed pouch. You break the buffer pod and squeeze it into the sample tube. You open the test strip and lay it on a flat surface. Then you wipe the swab around your tonsils and up your nose. Dip the swab into the buffer for 15 seconds, squeeze it out as you remove it, and then clip the lid of the tube shut. It has a small hole in it, and you place two drops of the liquid on to the test strip. Wait 30 minutes, and your result is indicated in a window on the strip. You also get seven Ziploc disposal bags to bin everything neatly. Full instructions are provided, and there are online videos to show you how to do it.

Test kits can be ordered on the GOV.UK website. I did it on the basis that I am working with young people who might be infected. You can order one kit pack per day, and they typically arrive next day (my last one was ordered Sunday and arrived Monday). You can also collect them at various pharmacies, or get tested at a testing site.

While others can carry on arguing about whether COVID is real or not, whether it’s legal to ask people to wear masks, and threatening to appeal to the Court of Human Rights over the mere suggestion you might not be allowed to go on piss up to Magaluf unless you’ve been vaccinated or can prove a negative test result, I will carry on taking it seriously and trying to stop anyone else catching it.

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Sideshow BobA nice easy start to work today. Began with a new pupil who’d contacted me during the lockdown, and who needs a manual licence having driven automatic in her home country. No real issues other than a bit eager with the indicators for everything, and a tendency to brake for everything. But nothing that can’t be sorted. And she’s block-booked ten hours.

Second lesson was with a pupil who is test ready, and who has been driving with his mum and dad anyway. His test is booked in June, and it is likely he’ll go in his own car for that. No problems with his driving, other than he has a Corsa and has somehow got it into his head he needs to go into 2nd gear at 6mph. I explained that that might be the all right on his petrol Corsa, but in my diesel Focus that rumbling noise is the engine saying it’s not happy with it, and he should be listening to the engine rather than watching the speedometer otherwise he’ll stall it (he did once) – or worse.

The last one was with a pupil who’d only had two lessons back in September before we had to stop again. She was a bit nervous, but she remembered most of it and we got going quite quickly.

I did a Lateral Flow Test yesterday and, unsurprisingly, came up negative. Doing the test reminded me how much I hate anything other than food touching the back of my throat – I nearly threw up.

Last weekend, a pupil who I taught several years ago booked her son in with me. His lesson is provisionally set for this weekend. However, when she called me it became apparent that they hadn’t even applied for his provisional licence, so I told her to get a move on because it might not arrive in time. Fast forward one whole week. She’s transferred a block booking of ten hours to my account, but then told me they still hadn’t applied for his licence because they couldn’t find his NI number, and needed to wait until at least Monday (today) to get it. I don’t think the lesson will happen this week.

I also discovered my local hairdresser has made it through the lockdown, and I’m booked in for a trim later this week. My hair hasn’t been cut for about 18 months, and I look like Sideshow Bob. Mind you, I probably still will look like Sideshow Bob afterwards, since I like the length – just not the split ends.

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An 'outdoor area' at a local pubMy local newspaper published an article about which pubs would be opening on 12 April. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s those with outdoor drinking areas who are allowed to do so.

The photo above is the ‘outdoor’ drinking area of one of those being touted. Precisely how is it ‘outdoors’?

I’m now waiting for someone to convince me that if you stand in the middle of the Yorkshire Moors, you’re still ‘outdoors’ if someone builds four brick walls around you and plonks a roof on top (and, no doubt, installs heating and lighting).

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SpringWell, just over a year since the pandemic hit, and save for a few weeks at the end of last summer when it was relatively safe, on Monday I’ll be starting lessons again.

Unlike some complete prats out there, I realise that COVID a) actually exists, and b) is quite dangerous if you get it, so I will be taking it slowly and safely. Pupils will have to wear masks (unless exempt), they get gelled at the start of the lesson, the car gets wiped down in between (and fogged periodically), and I have a supply of lateral testing kits for myself – which I will use twice per week, and feed results back to the NHS as per the system. It may come as a surprise to the aforementioned prats, but as well as not wanting to catch COVID myself, not wanting to pass it on to anyone else is still pretty high on my list. I don’t want to be adding to the 127,000 who have already died from COVID – because I have morals.

I’ve had my first vaccination (the second is due in May), and I know that at least two of my pupils have either had it or have appointments booked. More importantly, both of my parents have now had both of their jabs – it has always been them I was most concerned about. Also, my pupils who are at school tell me they’re being tested regularly, which is good.

The fun has now started. One pupil has moved house since I last saw her, and instead of a 2 minute drive she’s now 40 minutes away and will be doing her test at a different centre to the one we had originally planned for. She doesn’t know that yet, and I know she’ll argue to use the original – but if people are doing one hour lessons and live in Hucknall, Colwick is a bit off the radar. Especially so at midday. I’ve been there, done that, and the T-shirt says clearly that it can take well over an hour just get to from Hucknall to Colwick and back again depending on the traffic and road closures.

Then there are the ‘can I have a lesson next week?’ texts. Except I vaguely remember (and I was right) that several of them work rotas with Mc-You-Know-Who on zero hours contracts, and ‘next week’ roughly translates to a free hour on Thursday at 5pm and one on Sunday at 9am, because they’re working (or at school) the rest of the time. And even that is subject to change if Mc-You-Know-Who calls them in.

Several other haven’t responded to my texts yet. Young people have their phone glued permanently to their hands the rest of the time, yet I can never figure out why some of them take a day or more to reply to any text. It’s like I’ll text them on a Monday with ‘are we still on for Saturday?’ By Thursday, no response. So I’ll text again, thinking about filling their slot with someone else who wants a lesson, and that will finally prompt them to tell me they still want it, like the first text never happened.

It’s just like old times already. And I haven’t started yet.

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The COVID penaltyWell, I had my first jab on Thursday. I got myself officially registered as a carer (I don’t understand why I already wasn’t), and booked immediately.

It didn’t hurt, though I have to say it was the most uncomfortable jab I can remember having. Mind you, that might have been just a throw of the dice as to where the needle went in. No side-effects until about 15 hours later, when I ached a bit for about six hours. After that, no signs at all – not even an aching arm.

For any of the nutjobs out there, I don’t send the TV funny when I walk past it, nor do I attempt to phone home when I’m near a Wi-Fi hub. And as far as I can ascertain, my mind is not being controlled remotely by anyone.

The only minor downside (to me, at any rate) is that I had the AstraZeneca vaccine. If allowed to choose, I’d have preferred the Pfizer/BioNTech one. Why? Because of the nutjobs.

You see, no vaccine is ever 100% effective. That means that every time you go out, if you are ‘challenged’ by someone carrying the virus, there’s a 20% chance you’ll catch it. It’s not quite that simple, but it’ll do for this discussion. The problem then is the number of times you are ‘challenged’ – and the more non-vaccinated people there are, the greater the number of challenges. It’s like saving a penalty in football – if you only get called on to try once, you might save it. But if you have to save 100 penalties, the likelihood of letting one in increases. And the nutjobs out there are the penalty-takers, so the more of them there are, the greater your chance of letting one in.

Having said that, there is mounting evidence that having been vaccinated also reduces the chances of you becoming seriously ill if you do catch COVID, so you could say it’s like having two goalkeepers trying to save the penalty.

The AstraZeneca jab is less effective than the Pfizer one according to the clinical trials, hence my preference.

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