Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Virus sepiaPeople keep asking (or criticising) DVSA over concerns about their badges. The ADI’s ‘badge’ – often called the ‘green badge’ – is their licence to teach. It costs £300, which has to be paid every 4 years in order to remain on the Register. I had one such query this morning.

Understandably – up to a point, and usually until it becomes offensive, which with some ADIs it does after about two seconds – during the COVID-19 Pandemic people are asking if they will get an extension to their ADI registration.

The situation we are in is extraordinary. Nothing like it has ever happened before. And it is a Brand New Situation. It’s only been in progress for barely more than two months, and in that time extraordinary actions have been taken – such as the plan to pay people 80% of their income out of government coffers. I would also point out that the number of people who have died (and who are likely to die) is also rather extraordinary, but this seems to keep falling on deaf ears for many.

Right now, there is no clear light at the end of the tunnel, and no one can be certain about when this will all be over and we can return to work.

ADI registration is, I believe, a situation that is governed in Law. It isn’t something DVSA can just change whenever it feels like it, because it doesn’t have that power – only the Law does. Therefore, in order to extend registrations, the Law would need to be amended. Right now, there are far more important things we need to worry about.

Phoning up DVSA is not going to get you anywhere, except angry (if you’re one of the kind who refuses to understand the situation, and blames DVSA for everything). All they can possibly say is what I have said above: that registration lasts for a fixed four years and cannot be extended.

However, the longer this situation continues, the more of an issue it is likely to become. DVSA itself will almost certainly be thinking the same thing, even now. And from what I can see, they are already being lobbied by professional groups of angry people who blame DVSA for everything to look at extensions. If you are really concerned, maybe you could join one of these groups and add your voice.

So just bear that in mind. My own opinion is that if this does go beyond three months, an emergency amendment to the Law to extend ADI licences at some point is likely. Or a partial refund, maybe. Or a discount on the next renewal. I’m only guessing, and have no inside information. The only thing I am certain of is that whatever they do, someone somewhere will still be unhappy about it.

I’m just being realistic instead of angry.

But what about learners and their theory tests?

The same still applies. It’s the Law. Right now, DVSA can only tell you what the Law is, and they have no power to decide differently. And they don’t, no matter how angry you are.

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Virus imageI keep seeing people saying we’ll be back working as instructors by the end of May, or in June or July. I do not see how we possibly can be.

COVID-19 is still there. You can still catch it. You can still spread it. People can still die from it. And there’s still no vaccine to prevent it or ‘cure’ it.

None of that is likely to change by June.

Something new has got to come up before we could realistically start working again. If it turns out most of us have had it, and didn’t realise, but now have immunity, then that would be a game changer. But there’s no valid reason to pin our hopes on that right now.

Maybe a vaccine will be found much, much quicker than we think. But there’s no valid reason to pin our hopes on that, either.

Maybe COVID-19 will do as Donald Trump suggested barely a month ago, and just ‘go away’. And there’s no valid reason to expect that.

The simple fact is that if people start teaching again in June, the situation will be approximately the same (worse, actually, since there are more background infections) as it was a few days before the lockdown – an active virus, ready to jump between anyone who has it and anyone who doesn’t, and with the same potential outcome for anyone who develops symptoms that we have right now. If relaxing the restrictions too soon results in just one person being infected who otherwise wouldn’t be, it could easily result in dozens of others subsequently dying once they pass it on – and I’m thinking of examiners and test candidates.

Simply because DVSA is moving tests back to June and July is a meaningless detail when it comes to ‘getting back to normal’. It has no bearing on how the pandemic develops in any way whatsoever. The virus isn’t going to stop infecting and killing people just because a few thousand driving tests were cancelled in March and moved to July. There’s every possibility that when we get to July, they’ll be pushed back to September or October. Or even further.

Far too many people don’t appreciate how serious the problem is, and can only see it from the financial angle. And while that is most definitely understandable, it is not a sound reason to ‘get back to normal’ regardless.

But DVSA said tests were only cancelled for three months

Yes. And the day before that they were only cancelled for two days. And the day before that they weren’t cancelled at all.

Look, this is a developing situation – and an extremely serious one at that. When DVSA said ‘three months’, at that time it was a conveniently distant time point to push back to. Even two weeks in from the initial announcement, it should be absolutely clear to most people that three months is optimistic at best. Virus cases are still increasing, as are virus deaths.

It doesn’t matter how many people tell you they’ve had a cancelled test ‘rearranged to June’. Whether or not that test goes ahead in June is not governed by the fact it is currently on that date. It is governed by the pandemic and how it develops.

So why have I got a test date in June (or July)?

Absolutely no one knows what is going to happen next, and that includes DVSA. All they have done is move tests back according to government timelines – and that’s the timelines as they stood three weeks ago! You can see for yourself (or, I would certainly hope you can) how bad the situation with COVID-19 has become. Can you honestly see things changing in such a way that by June we’ll all be going about business as though nothing happened?

Open your eyes and look at what’s happening. Something totally unlooked for is going to have to happen for us to be ‘back to normal’ in June or July.

I need to get back to work

We all do. But the virus isn’t interested in that. It kills people. And that is far more important than the need to work.

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Börner V5 SlicerI’ve had a Mandoline slicer for many years. I bought my old one after seeing an ad on TV, and it lasted for at least 20 years. In fact, there’s still not much wrong with it now, apart from the state of its box after all this time.

But – and being a sucker for these things, though in recent years I’ve tried to break the habit – I saw another ad on TV a few months ago for the Börner V5 Slicer. It was all shouty, as they usually are, but I thought to myself that the old one was about ready for replacing, so I took the plunge. Since I’ve had it, I’ve used it a few times for the usual things, but it wasn’t until tonight that I needed to dice some carrots.

Now, as anyone knows, dicing carrots is a major pain in the backside. They’re quite brittle, for one thing, and bits go everywhere. And seeing as they’re also quite hard, if you have a lot of dicing to do you’re likely to end up with blisters from holding the knife, and cuts if you don’t maintain concentration. And unless you take forever over it, the finished dice isn’t necessarily a ‘dice’ – it is more of a selection of trapezoidal things, and they’re not uniformly-sized trapezoidal things, either.

My old Mandoline couldn’t do this, but tonight I finally figured out how to do it on the Börner – though I have to admit I needed to study their demo video closely several times until it clicked in my head what was happening.

You see, if you use a normal home Mandoline with a slicing blade fitted, the short vertical blades create the strip cuts, and the main V-blade detaches them from the bulk. So you only get strips. The only way to dice, therefore, is to manually cut lengthways into whatever it is you’re dicing, then use the Mandoline with those cuts at 90° to the V-blade (or alternatively, cut strips and then dice them separately, which also tends towards trapezoidality (I made that word up) and is also a pain). It’s dangerous enough even with soft things like cucumbers, and you still have to be precise with your cuts if you want a uniform dice. With carrots – and their aforementioned physical properties – you’ve got no chance.

I was sitting here tonight thinking how the hell can a Mandoline be used to dice quickly when I decided to look at the Börner website. Sure enough, they say it can dice, but they don’t explain how. The video shows them doing it, but the only thing it mentions – and only then in passing – is that you alternately slice with 90° turns of the safety holder. For me, I needed to understand why. And then it clicked.

On the Börner, the slicing plates have two positions they can be moved to, and one of the positions clearly shows cubes. Here’s the secret: the cube (dice) position pushes the blade tips higher than the V-blade, so when you slice, the bulk item in the holder is pre-cut above the V-blade ready for the next slide, and when you turn the guard 90° for that slide, the next V-cut produces a dice, and another pre-cut is made for the next slide. So alternately slide-twist-slide-twist and so on gives you a uniform dice. My old one couldn’t do this, presumably for safety reasons, because if you use a Mandoline without using the safety holder you will lose parts of fingers at some point, and if the slicing blades can protrude higher, you’ll end up shredding the bits that are still attached to your hand. The Börner is German, and Germans are far more practical about such things, and probably feel as I do in that if you use the damned thing without the safety holder it serves you bloody right if you cut yourself. It’s certainly served me right all the times I used the old one without the guard and cut myself.

So now I can dice things quickly and precisely. And it only took 40 years to figure out how.

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Sunshine after the stormIt’s no secret, but I am not a fan of this government in normal times. None of that will have changed.

However, they have announced a help package for self-employed people that will apply to the majority of driving instructors. From what I understand at the moment, your average income for the last three years will be determined (though I believe you will still be eligible if you submitted a return for last year), and you will be paid 80% of that. It’s all explained here. You will still be liable for tax on it next year because it is still self-employed income, which is perfectly understandable. But this is where the fun begins.

It appears that many instructors still can’t work out the difference between turnover and profit/income, and are of a mind to believe that the government is going to (or should be) be paying them for overheads which they no longer have to cover right now, such as fuel and franchise/car ownership costs. Others, for unfathomable reasons, seem to expect to be paid their entire (and sometimes imaginary) income without even having to get up. This is where previous, erm, ‘creativity’ when filing your tax return comes home to roost, and if you’ve been earning close to £30k but only declaring £20k of it, then it is the latter figure you’ll be assessed on.

If you go on to the HMRC website and look at your account, you can see your tax statements for the last four years. Last year – the one I’ve most recently sent in as my self-assessment – my total income was around £25,000. Part of that for me is now from a private pension which I only started receiving part way through that tax year, but which means I’ve eased off the gas somewhat when it comes to worrying about cancellations and maintaining a full diary these days. The majority of it was from self-employment, though. Depending on how they do this, I estimate that they will be paying me around £1,000 per month.

That’s £1,000 a month (£230 a week) that I otherwise wouldn’t have had, which – when the payment kicks in – will be backdated to the start of March, as I understand it. As the saying goes, that is somewhat better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

These are extraordinary times, and we are experiencing something no one has ever experienced before – and I include the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 in that (if anyone is alive who can remember it). The government paying anything – let alone 80% of income – to millions of people is unprecedented. Unprecedented with knobs on. Unprecedented to the power of . And still people aren’t happy.

The vast majority of instructors have had franchises, car leases, car loans, and almost all other debts put on hold. Gas and electric companies are deferring payments. Even major lenders for mortgages are trying to help. OK, some are still stalling on it, but they’re going to have to get real and offer people something. On that alone, though, getting 80% of your normal annual income could easily leave you slightly better off in the short term until you can start earning again and the bills come back online.

In some cases, the help is automatic and is being applied as a matter of course. In others, you simply have to get off your arse and ask for it. Although they appear to snowed under, Universal Credit is open to almost everyone – especially those who have only been instructing for a short time.

I am fortunate now, and have my private pension to help me through this. That pension, with the lump sum that went with it, was originally purposed for use in retirement when I eventually get there, and it is a long way from keeping me in the manner to which I have become accustomed by itself (though it will be much closer once there is a state pension on top of it and I have no business overheads to worry about). But to have it partially protected in this way now is some comfort.

Of course, this will make many people angry – anger comes immediately after jealousy for many people. But I would point out that I have been through something very similar financially in the past. When I lost my job all those years ago, I had huge debts and zero income initially (the pension was way off). While I trained to be an ADI I was on almost the minimum wage for a part of the time, and had to negotiate with my creditors to allow reduced payments throughout that time – and that was back when they had no reason at all to want to play ball. But they did (though CapitalOne tried hard not to the entire time, with their incessant, sometimes daily, phone calls). I didn’t want to declare bankruptcy, or use it’s teenage cousin (the IVA), because of how it might affect me being an instructor and self-employed later on. My credit rating then was literally zero.

It was a struggle. But I got through it – forced my way through it, in fact – and eventually paid off all my debts. My credit rating now couldn’t be higher.

If I can do it, you can do it. You can. The only way out of situations like that – and like this one now – is to be active and proactive. To meet problems head-on and deal with them. And to accept that some degree of hardship is inevitable. Don’t get angry or start throwing hissy-fits at anyone, and be very careful if you cut off payments without clearing it with them first (don’t listen to smart arses on social media telling you to do it), because that would mean you’re defaulting on your agreement, and I can promise you that will come back to haunt you in future if you get one against your name. Yes, you might be on hold for a long time on the phone – other people are affected, too – and yes, you might get cut off. But you’re not going to get chucked out of your home anytime soon. There is a solution to every problem. You just have to find it.

I realise that the support package will not apply to those who have only been trading for a short time, and I am really sorry for you about that (obviously, the title of this article isn’t directed at you). Similarly, you’re not eligible if your main income is from somewhere else, and you only give lessons to make a bit of pocket money. Universal Credit is there if you need it, so push for it. And if it really seems like there is no way forward – or if you simply cannot do it by yourself – contact a credit management company to help you.

Once all this is over, people are going to want driving lessons again. Many will be in a position where they need to drive to be able to find work. While all this current stuff is happening, people will still be turning 17, and they will be waiting for the time when they can start taking lessons. In my case, all those people who I had to terminate lessons with last week will still be waiting (unless they were all so mercenary they managed to find some asshole who has been teaching during the pandemic).

We can all get through it.

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The reality of COVID-19 spreadingSince the Coronavirus pandemic started, one of the most annoying aspects of it has been how all the self-professed ‘experts’ have squirmed out of the woodwork and offered their takes on it.

I am repeatedly pointing out on various message boards that when the entire scientific world is treating this as a Very Serious Problem, the likelihood of some wanker who is getting through boxes of tissues because of being shut up in their room for too long hitting on an alternative and more correct interpretation is similar to that of winning the lottery by not even doing it.

In other words, it isn’t going to happen.

There are the conspiracy theorists, who claim it is manmade. There are those who think it is a hoax, and not as bad as is made out. And then there are those whose heads sound like pan-pipes when the wind blows past their ears.

It was bad enough two weeks ago when people were doing it. And back then, others were agreeing with them.

But to see someone post the same comment today – that China has had 20,000 deaths because of COVID-19, but it has 20,000 a day from other causes – is beyond stupid. Light years beyond stupid.

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Jolly Roger pirate flagI’ve mentioned recently how hard it is to buy certain things because of panic buyers. In many cases, these people aren’t buying for themselves – they’re doing it to try and make a quick buck on eBay or on street corners.

Take hand sanitizer. The usual price of a bottle is around £5, give or take (I don’t buy it often). Right now, comedians like this seller on eBay are selling a single bottle for £24.99. Or this private seller listing a bottle a fifth of the size for £36.99 – and it is shown as ‘used’, as he has actually had some out of it!

Then there’s toilet rolls. My dad buys packs of 10 for about £4 in normal times (I think he goes to Wilkos). That’s about 40p a roll. This clown on eBay is selling them for £1.99 each – and that’s a sponsored listing. And this one is selling them for £8.99 per roll, albeit a bigger than usual one. But this one isn’t – £18.10 (including postage) for four rolls of cheap stuff, so £4.50 a roll.

Out in the real world, last week my local newspaper ran a story (and make sure you have an adblocker if you go here, because local news websites are basically just advertorials with a bit of news squeezed in) where one shop was advertising toilet paper at £1 a roll, and 50mls of hand sanitizer for £8 – 50mls is the same size as a double whisky, which would cost maybe £6 tops in most pubs.

The shop, CBD Gift Shop, claimed it was ‘a joke’. Yeah. Big laughs, eh?

In the same article, Murat Food Centre was advertising a £2.49 bottle of Dettol at £19.99. When challenged, it was apparently ‘a one in 1,000 mistake’. But one which had gone far enough to have signs or labels printed.

A couple of days ago, the BBC ran a story where the chemist Jhoots was listing 100ml bottles of Calpol at £9.99 and 200ml bottles at £19.99. Whoever did it couldn’t even get the maths right, since the bigger bottle was actually more expensive per ml than the smaller, which isn’t how it usually works. In Asda, a 100ml bottle of Calpol is £3.50, and an online pharmacy has 100ml/200ml bottles at £4.99/£6.99.

When challenged, Jhoots said it was ‘a communication error at branch level’ (aka it was someone in the shop’s idea). It must have been the same communication error that led the same shop to try selling Paracetamol tablets at £9.99 a pack, when they were listing them at £1.39 the week before. Even £1.39 is overpriced – you can buy the same number for 30p in most places.

It’s as the title of this article says.

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First message on GOV.UK test bookingRegarding the three-month driving test suspension, be aware that the rearranged dates in June cannot be changed right now.

One of my pupils texted me tonight and said the time on the new date she’s been given isn’t convenient, but she couldn’t change it. I asked her for the booking reference so I could have a look and even on the first page the message above makes it clear you cannot do anything right now. If you do try to proceed further, you get this message.

GOV.UK main messageIt’s fairly clear. The entire DVSA is effectively closed as far as test bookings etc. go.

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In an earlier post today, I said I wouldn’t mention any more about earnings just yet. The reason I said that was because I was hoping beyond hope that the few dim bulbs out there who are still ‘working normally’ would finally see sense and realise that COVID-19 is only going to get worse if they insist on giving lessons.

Boris Johnson has just declared that everyone must stay at home unless they are key workers. The actual wording is:

…except for shopping for basic necessities, daily exercise, any medical need and travelling to and from essential work.

It took less than two seconds for certain of the dim bulbs I mentioned to declare that they are still ‘going to work’ as driving instructors. A fair number of them, too.

How much f**king more has to be done to make you realise that you are making it worse. The spread of COVID-19 is far, far more serious than your bills. Really, it is.

If you made the effort, you’d be able to manage the financial situation. Christ, when I lost my job all those years ago I had over £30,000 of debts and initially a tiny, tiny income, but I dealt with them – or got someone to help me deal with them – and now I have none. If I can do it, you can do it. And you can if you get off your arse and try, so stop looking for what seems the easy way out.

You’re not doing yourself or your kids any favours whatsoever by going out mingling with people. More importantly, you’re not doing the rest of us any favours, either. You don’t know if the people you’re teaching are carrying – and quite frankly, if their desire to take lessons is as mercenary as your desire to give them, some of them wouldn’t bloody tell you if they had been near anyone who was ill. That is why this virtual lockdown has been applied.

You are not exempt unless your pupils are key workers, and no matter how hard you try, them stacking shelves in Tesco doesn’t come under that.

Stop giving lessons. For everyone’s sake.

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Animation of COVID-19 spreadA further example of how the Coronavirus pandemic isn’t a game, and that people need to wake up to the seriousness of it.

And feel free to use that animated GIF everywhere. The more people who see it, the quicker we’ll all come through this.

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My inbox is filled with emails from companies I have previously bought things from, or who I currently obtain services from. Virtually all of them begin with: This is an unprecedented situation…

A basic lesson in English is called for here.

unprecedented

/ʌnˈprɛsɪdɛntɪd/

adjective

never done or known before.

Does everyone get that? Never done or known before. That’s what the COVID-19 epidemic/pandemic is.

I have now taken the decision to knock even the Pass Plus I had in progress on the head. It was only going to be tonight and tomorrow night, but the risk – in these unprecedented times – is simply too great.

I’m not going to write anything more on this next bit at this stage, other than to say that if you try, the vast majority of lenders will be prepared to help in some way. If they won’t – or if you feel you can’t handle it all yourself – there are debt management companies who can do it all for you.

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