A Driving Instructor's Blog

Movies & TV

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ITV: Secrets of the Driving TestThis is a new series on ITV, where cameras were allowed ‘unprecedented access’ to the driving test and test centres, and each week (if it sticks to the same format), follows three candidates with a bit of background information about them, and footage of their performance during their tests. You can still watch it on ITV’s catch-up service.

Going from the first episode – and the ‘next time’ bit at the end (which I haven’t watched, yet) – it’s clear that their choice of which candidates to show is diversity-driven. And I mean ‘diversity’ in the broadest possible sense, with knobs on. I suppose just showing good drivers who pass easily would be boring, so you can maybe see why they did it this way. Obviously, there’s a lot of editing going on to get three tests condensed into a 30-minute slot, so it focuses on mistakes rather than the good bits, which fairly obviously makes it more watchable.

The narration is a bit annoying in my opinion, both in terms of the actual voiceover – it’s a bit grating – but also in what he is saying and how he says it (that grates, too). The funniest part, though, is seeing other instructors’ reactions to it. Not content with complaining about their own pupils’ results, now they can do it by proxy and whinge about other pupils’ results.

Nothing that was shown in the programme contradicts what I have experienced with my own test candidates. I always tell (or teach, or coach) mine that driving onto a footpath is bad and that they shouldn’t do it. And to assume a fail if they do. Because purposely driving onto a footpath and thinking it’s OK is not good by any stretch of the imagination.

Doing it for an instant, by accident – and who hasn’t clipped a kerb at some point (even when they’re super-perfect ADIs who hold court on social media)? – is in a grey area. Clip a kerb that’s half a meter high, and tear off the front of the car – fine. Fail, with knobs on. But brush a normal one (or clip a dropped kerb) at low speed? The examiner’s decision based on the rest of the drive.

In the 1st programme, one pupil had effectively passed minutes before returning to the test centre. Then he stalled repeatedly for trying to move off at a roundabout in 3rd gear. He’d just taken a wrong turn – which isn’t a fail in itself – but he knew he’d gone wrong and became stressed by it, resulting in the stalls. If he’d have realised after the 1st or 2nd stall he was in 3rd he’d probably have passed. As soon as the examiner had to tell him he was in the wrong gear – that’s ETA (V) on the test sheet – he’d failed. So close, but definitely a fail.

The second candidate had also passed minutes before the end. But then she sat waiting to turn right at a junction when it was clear that all the traffic ahead of her had stopped. I can’t recall from the programme if a filter light came on (I don’t think they showed that), but we have a similar junction in Nottingham, and more than one candidate has failed for sitting back. Definitely a fail.

It reminds me of a pupil I had about 12 years ago, As he drove back into the test centre, he had two driver faults on his sheet. The examiner asked him to drive forward into a bay (and back then it didn’t matter how you did it, or how many bays you used). So he braked late and hit the barrier. Only slightly, but he hit it. Fail. Driving into a bay is one thing, driving into a wall at the back of it is something else. Fair enough, the examiner could have passed him (and I’d have accepted that), but he didn’t (and I accepted that). Because it isn’t my call. It’s the examiner’s.

That’s what can happen.

When it comes to tests, I do my job, and I let the examiners do theirs.

Edit: Episode 2 – yep! ITV’s primary objective when conceiving this series was definitely ‘diversity’ among anyone appearing on screen.

The examiners are still definitely doing their jobs properly, though, and come across professionally. Mind you, the older woman from Cardiff’s test would more likely have been abandoned – or at least diverted back to the test centre early – around here. The candidates are clearly (mostly) hand-picked. Rich and Yolana were the only token candidates who were test ready, with Rich – as the older driver – making probably the most typical mistake people who can ‘already drive’ make when they go on test. The clips of his lessons showed him to be a decent driver overall. You could see Yolana was going to pass from the short clips of her lessons – she was good. Mind you, she’d have got a bollocking from me if she was mine after I’d watched the dashcam footage later, for choosing a bay next to a kerb to park in when the whole bloody row was free.

I’ve got a pupil at the moment who is in his late 40s, and who has years’ of experience driving in another country. He can genuinely drive, but getting him to understand the importance of blind spot checks, then getting him to actually check them, has been a nightmare. He failed his first test for it, and that was after around 25 hours of lessons. I’d got him to check properly on lessons, but he was only doing it as an artificial exercise and was not taking it seriously. So he fell back to driving like he has for the last 30-odd years in Africa.

ITV’s apparent desire to get mistakes on screen does show, though, that not taking proper training is not a good idea for the majority of people.

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Your Wife Is Hot billboard adUntil recently, there was a billboard in Nottingham at the junction between Porchester Road and Woodborough Road which carried the ad shown above.

The owner of the company, Lee Davies, had seen the same sort of ad used in America – and if you Google it, they use it a lot – and decided to use the idea himself.

In most cases where it is used, they have an image of an attractive female, with the text “Your Wife Is Hot”, and some follow up stuff about getting the air-conditioning sorted out.

Davies ran the idea past his family (including females) and none of them found it offensive. Indeed, when it went up in July, he was getting people asking if he could do a male version, which he seemed prepared to do at some point. He’d paid for two months, and that would be setting him back at least £1,500 (probably more), and he almost certainly wanted to check the return on his investment.

At that time, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had received two complaints about it. Frankly, he could have put up a photo of a kitten and some prat would probably have complained. Also, quite frankly, if he had used a photo of a kitten and someone had complained, the ASA would still almost certainly have somehow concocted a reason to ban it. Which they have done now.

You see, the ASA has recently introduced rules about the use of gender stereotypes in advertising, so you can no longer advertise, say, a family-oriented product using a picture of a typical family (i.e. the kind everyone would recognise). If you even dare to suggest a family consists of a man and a woman with children, you’re pretty much dead meat. You can’t use white models without running the risk of being convicted of being non-inclusive, and if you try to play the game and put some of the allowed minority groups in it, you’ve then got to wrestle with how your depiction matches up with their perception of themselves. And since that roughly equates to “how long is a piece of string”, you’re basically screwed. Then there’s the matter of whether any females depicted are thin, fat, short, tall, pregnant… whichever you go for, the others will complain, so you’re screwed again.

Then there is the issue of being female in itself. There are several parallel universes running together here, because it’s perfectly OK for a woman to dress attractively (or even to the extent that she could be auditioning for an adult film role), but if a man dares to observe the fact… he’s dead meat, again. It’s apparently wrong for a man to ask a woman out anymore – or at least, it could easily turn into such a scenario if the woman decides she is “offended” and reports it. Which could happen anything up to 40 years later, if what I keep reading in the news is true. And if she does report it, the police will drop all their paperwork and cancel all their community meetings immediately, send a SWAT team out, possibly call in the BBC with helicopters and drones and stuff, then put on “extra patrols to reassure the public”. And ruin the rest of the guy’s life.

In a nutshell the world has gone mad, and the ASA are a bunch of morons.

There are thousands of adverts I find offensive one way or another. That bloody TUI ad with the whiny singing girl a couple of Christmases ago, for one. Anything with whistling for another. Anything with rap music of any kind in it. Anything with kids eating – especially when they’re wearing the food instead of getting it in their mouths, so pretty much anything with babies or toddlers. And don’t even get me started on how they try to show things that really shouldn’t be shown outside the baby-changing facilities in McDonalds, or the changing rooms in a clothes shop – especially when I’m having my dinner.

But I don’t complain. I just moan on the blog about them.

There’s nothing wrong with the ad, and the (now) 25 people who have complained should just either be totally ignored, or referred to a psychiatrist for the help they obviously need.

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Bismarck MagazineHoly cow, they’re at it again!

I wrote an article in 2015 about a monthly magazine where you gradually got parts to build a model of The Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. Although issue 1 was priced at £2.99, subsequent issues were £8.99 and the full series was 100 issues long (totalling nearly £900 to get a finished model).

I just saw an ad on TV for a similar series where you build a model of the Bismarck. The bloody thing is 1¼ metres long and is made largely of die-cast metal (they don’t say how much it weighs). This time, although the first issue is £1.99, subsequent issues are £8.99, and there are 140 of them! So it’ll cost around £1,250 in the end.

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The Dark HedgesI don’t watch Game of Thrones, but there is apparently a natural feature in Northern Ireland called The Dark Hedges. It is a tunnel formed by Beech trees, and it has been used in the series because of its other-worldly appearance.

The trees which form the tunnel have apparently been damaged by the weather before, but another was felled by strong winds over the weekend.

Here’s what I don’t understand. A tree expert has said that the trees have stood since 1775, and that Beech trees have a typical life expectancy of around 250 years, so at 240 years these are very old. There were originally about 150 trees, but due to natural events there are only 90 left (well, 89 after the windy weekend). The tree expert says:

It’s sad to see that one by one they are actually falling.

Erm. Excuse me, but isn’t it possible to plant new trees when one dies or gets blown over? They could even clone the existing ones to keep the history alive if they wanted. I mean, fair enough. They have left it about 100 years too late, but even now the feature could be preserved for posterity – instead of just being allowed to fizzle out.

There really is something wrong with mankind that I can’t quite put my finger on.

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Paul Hogan barbecuing shrimpIs it just me, or does every Australian cookery programme revolve around barbecuing 2-foot long shrimps and an octopus in front of Sydney Harbour?

I’m watching the cookery channel and they’ve got an Australian Day. Every bloody programme it’s the giant shrimps and cephalopods. And Sydney Harbour.

If you want even one shrimp that size over here you need to re-mortgage your house.

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I saw it on the TV earlier today. It’s another JML one (remember PediPaws and the Turbo Brush?) This time, it’s for Hollywood Pants – a lower-body garment that appears to be capable of the equivalent of turning a hippopotamus into a cheetah without the need for liposuction.

Take a look at the TV ad above. Now, I am a scientist by training, and I am aware of the Law of Conservation of Mass. Essentially, this says that matter can be neither created nor destroyed, but it can be rearranged. So my question is this.

When those women put those pants on, where does the fat actually go? Because it’s not inside the pants, that’s for sure.

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The wrong sort of cream teaBefore Christmas I wrote about the most annoying ad in the world (at the moment) – the TUI ad, which is still on Sky One every ten bloody minutes.

It’s so annoying that I would never book a holiday with TUI, just on principle, and I switch the sound off or change channels as soon as it comes on. Of course, in the future – around 2030 or so – I might feel differently about booking a holiday through them, though right now they have no chance. But after all is said and done, it is just… annoying. Really, really annoying. But still just annoying.

However, some people are nutcases. Especially if they are Cornish, it would seem.

The BBC has this story about a Mother’s Day advert produced by the National Trust for “cream teas”. For anyone who doesn’t know, a cream tea is a peculiarly British thing, defined as:

…a meal taken in the afternoon consisting of tea to drink with scones, jam, and cream

This definition doesn’t do it justice, though. It is a ritual, and is only a proper cream tea if the tea is served in annoyingly small china teacups and – I wouldn’t be surprised to learn – stirred using spoons with a strict length and chemical composition. The reason I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that is that it seems the order in which the jam and cream (clotted cream, actually) are placed on the scone is also rigidly defined. At least in the minds of the aforementioned nutcases.

The picture at the top of this post is what has called all the fuss. Although I have never stooped so low as to have a cream tea because of the “ritualness” of it, it does look rather appetising. The picture below – a proper cream tea, allegedly – doesn’t.

The correct sort of cream teaAnd yet National Trust members (the secret wing of the Brexit campaign, I suspect, if you go on age) are threatening to cancel their memberships as a result of the ad. Some reckon it “makes them feel sick”. All it is is a bloody cake with jam and cream, and the order doesn’t make it taste any different anymore than a ham salad sandwich tastes different if you put the lettuce and tomatoes on in reverse order.

The Trust’s Visitor Experience manager is playing with fire when he makes light of the situation – some of those morons are serious.

Another ad (well, series of ads) which is shining a light on the average IQ of the typical Briton is the Nationwide one, featuring Flo and Joan.

Flo and Joan – played by Nicola and Rosie Dempsey – sing typical advert songs in front of a home keyboard. I suppose I should be annoyed by this one, too, but for some reason I can’t put my finger on I’m not. I’ve not listened to the words, and I’m neither driven towards or away from opening an account with Nationwide. But there’s just something about Flo and Joan that is… OK.

That’s not true for the nutcases, though. People have issued death threats to Nicola and Rosie, and these are deemed serious enough to have involved the police. Looking at some of the samples, it’s hard to believe they are deadly serious, but they overstep the mark enough to make you wonder.

Disliking something – even being intensely annoyed about it – is one thing. But to go so far as to cancel membership of an organisation which does good work or to issue threats of violence over something so trivial just doesn’t make sense.

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As I’ve mentioned in the About Me section, I seriously considered becoming a teacher before I went down the route of being a driving instructor. I like teaching people.

I saw an advert on the TV just now from the Department for Education pushing its Get Into Teaching campaign.

I think it’s fair to say, judging from those in the clip, that I wouldn’t be able to do it now. The advert clearly implies that only women and possibly those from minority groups are eligible. The video above carries interviews with seven people (six women, one male). The second video in the series has ten interviews (8 women, two men).

It’s funny, isn’t it? If it had been the other way round, World War III would probably have started.

I hate positive discrimination. It is usually far more deliberate than the usual type everyone gets worked up about.

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I’ve not done one of these for quite some time, but I am currently being driven to distraction by the most annoying TV advert of the year. It’s for TUI Holidays, and it features an irritating, gap-toothed woman, and a thin, whiny female voice singing an already-irritating song (“Ain’t Nobody”, by Rufus and Chaka Khan). According to one source I used, the actress in the ad, Bethany Louise Slater, is also the singer. However, a reader has recently written to me to inform me that they used a separate singer. Whatever and whoever, the singing is crap.

It’s made worse by the fact that TUI appears to be sponsoring Sky One this Christmas, so the bloody thing is on at least twice every 5-7 minutes – i.e. at the start and end of every ad break.

Edit: And it’s not just me. TV Ad Music refers to the music thus:

Such a shame, then, that they’ve chosen to soundtrack the ad with a terribly insipid cover version of… The trend for anaemic covers of classic songs in TV ads is long established…

Campaign describes it:

Turkey of the week… It’s a cheesy ad with poor singing and dancing…

And a lot of others feel similarly.

Incidentally, after a few weeks, Sky toned it right down, and although the annoying muted piano intro still appears with the same regularity at either end of ad breaks, the full version is thankfully much less frequent. I wonder if Sky will ever realise that they could well lose customers if they persist in showing really annoying sponsor adverts at saturation levels every year?

When will it stop?

Well, I’m writing this update in mid-February 2018, and the bloody thing is still being shown. Every ad break. And I’m getting more and more people finding the blog on search terms amounting to “when will Sky stop showing it?”

The short answer is that I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that I have been avoiding Sky One like the plague, and switching channels when the ad comes on. Furthermore, I will never book a holiday through TUI now on a point of principle. And I very much doubt that I’m the only one.

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