Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Doner Kebab meat being slicedI like cooking, and I especially like to be able to reproduce food that I would normally end up paying an arm and a leg for if I went out and bought it from a restaurant or fast food joint. I can make curry that tastes almost identical to those you get from an Indian Takeaway, and I can make pizzas which are also identical to takeaway ones. Another long-time quest has been to be able to make my own doner kebabs from scratch.

I’ve tried making doner meat in the past, and it wasn’t successful. Membership of the local cash & carry outlets means that I have access to the kinds of things you wouldn’t find on supermarket shelves, and on more than one occasion I have been tempted to buy a whole doner leg (that’s one of those big things that slowly turn around in front of the grill at the kebab shop). If I’d have been stupid enough to do it, God only knows how I’d have cooked it (and yes, the option of buying a doner grill did occur to me), or what I’d have done with 10kg of cooked doner meat. Buying it would have been cheating, anyway. Satisfaction could only come from being able to make doner meat from scratch.

The few goes I had a couple of years ago were a hell of a palaver. It was all about mincing lamb breast twice, forming patties, pushing them inside an empty tin can, cooking it, then using a blow torch whilst turning the mini-doner leg on a fork and slicing layers off. Even the pictures that accompanied one of the recipes I tried showed that the final slices of meat were coarser-textured and nothing like a proper slice of doner meat. That’s how it turned out for me – the taste was pretty much spot-on, but the cooked meat was crumbly and had no “bite” to it. The worded version of that same recipe mentioned that commercial preparations “probably” use transglutaminase – or meat glue – to hold the texture. I’d been planning on trying that, when out of the blue the answer came from… bacon.

Why bacon, you ask? Well, yet another of my culinary quests was recently completed when I started curing my own bacon (I’ll have to do a write up of that). I needed some curing salt, and I found Surfy’s Home Curing website as a source of it. While browsing Surfy’s site I noticed that they also sold Doner Kebab Seasoning, and with my previous failed attempts in mind, I asked Surfy a few questions about the texture problem I’d experienced. That’s where the key piece of information came from: temperature.

In a nutshell, the most critical part to getting the texture right when making doner kebab meat is the temperature you do the mixing at. It has to be very cold, almost freezing.

Making Doner Kebab Meat

Surfy’s Kebab Seasoning, comes with a handy recipe for doner meat. The recipe is so simple that I couldn’t believe it was going to work, but I decided to give it a go exactly as it was written to see what happened.

I bought two 500g packs of lamb mince from Asda and stuck them in the freezer along with a bowl of water. When the water had just started to freeze (therefore acting as a crude thermometer), I threw the mince into my Kenwood Chef fitted with the K blade, added 50g of the kebab seasoning, and mixed on a medium-high speed until it became sticky and of a uniform texture (just like pink bread dough, in fact). Then I added 50g of the ice-water and mixed for a minute more, also on medium-high speed. Apart from the hour or so in the freezer beforehand, it took less than 10 minutes to produce the meat mixture in accordance with Surfy’s Recipe.

Cooking was based on my previous experiments. The first time I made this recipe, I packed the meat mixture firmly into a non-stick loaf tin by hand, placed this in a baking tray half-filled with boiling water (making a bain-marie), then put the bain-marie into a pre-heated oven at Gas Mark 4. I let it cook until the inside temperature reached above 75°C. Once removed from the oven, I let it cool a little.

Then came the moment of truth. I cut a slice off the end using a knife and immediately saw that the texture was identical to shop-bought kebabs. The slice was firm and even-textured, and it had just the right “bite”. The smell and taste was also identical to that of commercial meat. Once completely cool, I used my bacon slicer to slice it up into strips. The cooked loaf was about 220mm x 110mm x 65mm (i.e. slices were about 2½ inches wide).

On my second try, I made it in exactly the same way, but this time packed it into a square, non-stick cake tin. The cooked loaf was about 220mm x 220mm x 35mm (i.e. the slices were just over 1 inch wide, and much more like shop-bought meat). I’ve frozen this batch by rolling it up, two slices at a time, in cling-film, so all I have to do when I want some is unroll what I need, then put the roll back in the freezer (I use this technique for Panchetta, which I buy in slabs, slice up, then freeze for when I need it).

Making Kebabs

Re-heating can be done either under the grill or in the microwave. Personally, I prefer the second cut of meat when I buy a kebab from a shop. The first cut is the highly-browned and often crispy layer right next to the grill flame, and it is sometimes so brown that the meat is very dry. The second cut is much more moist. Grilling simulates the first cut, microwaving simulates the second.

Making a kebab is simple enough. Just re-heat some meat as described, and heat a pitta or naan under a grill (or in a pan or the oven). Thinly slice a little cabbage and some Iceberg lettuce. Slice up a red onion, a tomato, and some cucumber. Place the hot meat on the naan or in the split pitta and add some of your favourite chili (and/or other) sauce, then layer on the vegetables. And that’s it.

Costing

I estimate that 1kg of lamb mince produces enough doner meat for up to ten kebabs – admittedly, perhaps not ones the same size as those you can get in takeaways, but that’s probably a good thing because eating one of those is sometimes a challenge, and even if you manage it you feel like your stomach is going to explode if you make any sudden movements. At £8 per kg of mince, plus £0.60 for the seasoning, each serving of meat comes to about 85p. Add another 50p for the naan or pitta and salad and you have a total cost of around £1.35 per kebab. The average takeaway price is £5.50-£6.00 (though when I researched that, I discovered my local takeaway has been overcharging me if their online price is anything to go by).

Nutrition

No one is ever quite sure what goes into commercial kebab meat. At the very least, the majority of meats aren’t 100% lamb, some have no lamb in them at all, and you can be certain that they don’t use the best cuts of whatever meat they do use. Indeed, there is the recurring suggestion that various body parts (and occasionally, if you read The Sun, non-food meats) end up in the kebab mix, and given that the meat is ground to a fine paste, none of that would be beyond the realms of possibility. Furthermore, commercial kebab meat is very high in fat (up to 22%), and in some cases, trans fats are so high that they must have been added to the meat during manufacture. And since we’re looking at commercial production, chemical additives (sodium phosphate, in particular) are used, and I wouldn’t be surprised if synthetic flavourings are also added by some manufacturers. In short, you simply don’t know what you’re eating – just that you’re eating a lot of it (and you know you shouldn’t).

The only fat in this homemade meat comes from the lamb. The Asda lamb I bought contains less than 20% fat in the first place, and a lot of that is rendered out during cooking. It contains no synthetic fats, and no chemicals for emulsification or preservation. Unless Asda is pulling the mother of all scams, when it says “lamb” on the packet it means “lamb” (in any case, you could mince your own if you are a tinfoil hat wearer and really wanted to be certain).

I estimate that each homemade kebab weighs in at no more than 800 calories, even on a large naan. On a pitta it’s closer to 500 calories. Indeed, the majority of the calories come from the bread and not the meat. It’s no more than a typical meal, and probably healthier since it contains quite a lot of vegetables and not much fat.

If you were on a 2,000 calorie diet, you could have one (or even two or three) of these as your main meal without any worries. A shop-bought kebab, on the other hand, could contain the full 2,000 calories in one go.

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CuckooYou couldn’t make this sort of thing up. Level after level of complete stupidity.

On one side, you have Katie Hopkins – anything she says or writes is usually complete bollocks, and with her unique way of putting it across, it is frequently even more bollocks than that. Back in 2015, she made a mistake (not a unique phenomenon for her) and got someone mixed up with someone else, made one of her trademark asinine and highly offensive comments to the innocent party, then followed it up with her trademark refusal to admit her error and apologise to that person once the error was noted. Indeed, even after the subsequent libel case went against her – leaving her with a legal bill likely to top £300,000 – she is still shit stirring.

On the other side, you have the person she offended – listed as a “food blogger” who goes by the name of “Jack Monroe”. Something that struck me in all the media stories this week was that it wasn’t possible to pin down whether Monroe was male or female. The name implies one thing, the photos are ambiguous (which is the only reason the question occurred to me in the first place), and none of the stories I read used the relevant personal pronouns. But I think I can now see why that was. That Huffington Post article starts off confusingly by using the possessive pronoun “their” to refer to Monroe in the singular. I initially assumed it was a typo or bad editing – something which is now standard in most media outlets – since “he” and “she” are singular, and the only grammatically correct asexual alternative is “it”. But it clarifies a few paragraphs later:

Monroe, who identifies outside the binary construct of gender and prefers the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ and title ‘Mx’…

I wonder how long it took to come up with that pile of crap? I mean, you could say quite simply “he or she is writing a blog article”. It would appear that “it is writing a blog article” is not acceptable for some reason. Monroe apparently expects it to be rendered “they is writing a blog article”. And what the f*** is wrong with “Ms” if you live your life on a high horse, free from any sort of reliance on a filthy, putrid male? How the hell is “Mx” any different, other than requiring a brand new construct?

Any sympathy I originally felt has wafted away on the winds, along with grammatical correctness, and I now consider the match to be a draw. Mind you, it does mean we get two nominees for the 2017 Darwin Awards instead of just one.

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Reversing around a cornerThis article gets a lot of hits, and reversing around a corner is the manoeuvre many of my own pupils struggle with the most.

What seems to make it so difficult is that you have to control the car all the way through  – it’s not just full lock one way, then full lock the other – so you need to know which way to turn the wheel. And that’s where the problems arise: steering the car when it is going backwards. In my experience, most people – 80% or more – seem have problems initially, and for some it is always a real struggle.

The secret to overcoming the issue of which way to steer and mastering the manoeuvre is to retrain your instinctive behaviour by careful calculation. What does that mean?

Steering - forwards and backwardsWell, imagine you are sitting in your car in the middle of a big, empty car park. If you steer left and drive forwards, as shown by the green arrow in the diagram, then obviously the car will turn to the left. What you might not be aware of is that the back of the car swings out to the right, but since you aren’t usually looking at that bit of your vehicle when you’re driving your brain doesn’t take it into consideration.

However, if you stop, put the car into reverse, and then start to move backwards, although the car will still turn to the left, as shown by the red arrow, this time the front of the car swings out to the right. You see that quite easily, and when you’re stressed your brain will instinctively try to make sense of that. Your instincts kick in and immediately tell you to steer the opposite way.

Your instincts can get even more confused by information provided by the mirrors. It is surprising how many people without previous experience subconsciously believe that everything in the mirrors is the opposite way round, and since your instincts feed off your subconscious, relying on them can be a recipe for disaster.

Remember that your instincts will kick in whenever you are stressed, and if they’re incorrectly programmed you’ll usually end up steering the wrong way when reversing around a corner. The secret is to: take your time, stop… and think… often.

Each time you stop, you must work out – calculate – what to do based on the hard facts, as illustrated in the above diagram. Ignore the front of the car as you do your calculation – you’re guiding the rear end. Absolutely the worst thing you can do, and especially so when you are still learning, is to go quickly and avoid stopping, because that forces your instincts to take over. The more you get it right, the more confident you will become, the less stressed you will be, and the quicker your instincts will get retrained.

Reversing around a corner is actually quite simple, and on your test all you’re expected to do is keep reasonably close to the kerb and watch out for other road users (the examiner only has tick boxes for “control” and “safety”). The examiner won’t get out and use a tape measure, and as long as you don’t mount the pavement or end up across the other side of the road then you’re unlikely to attract even a driver fault, let alone fail your test. The examiner doesn’t care what method you use, or how often you stop (as long as you don’t take forever and cause hold ups for other road users), so you can gauge your position relative to the kerb by looking out of the back window, the rear passenger window, using your mirrors, or a combination of any of these. You can steer as much or as little as you like as long as you remain in control – and are aware of what is happening around you.

Remember that reversing into a corner isn’t a parking manoeuvre, and you shouldn’t attempt to get really close to the kerb. You want to try and keep about as far away from it as you would be if you were emerging to turn left going forwards.

Here’s a fool proof method which works every time. For it to work, your mirrors must be adjusted the same every time – if they aren’t, your position relative to the kerb will be different.Reversing around a corner - start position

First of all, look at the bottom edge of the mirror housing in the picture above. Note the two white dots – I have marked these on the picture using my graphics software, but you can put suitable markers on your own car using Tipp-Ex (which you can scrape off easily without leaving any marks) or two rubber bands. The actual positioning of the dots isn’t critical – all you need to do is split the mirror approximately into thirds. You don’t even need to put any marks on your car – just imagine the position of the thirds markers.

Step 1

Drive past the road you want to reverse into and stop safely about two to three car lengths beyond it, and about half a metre (the width of a drain grating) from the kerb. When you look in the mirror you should see that the kerb is more or less at the nearest third marker (as shown in the picture above). It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit closer or a bit further – as long as you can see it.Reversing around a corner - the point of turn

Step 2

Get the car into reverse, and safely and slowly reverse back until the kerb curves away from the car, as shown above. Stop when it lines up with the furthest third marker. This is the point of turn (where the kerb is branching away from the car).

Step 3

This next part is critical: work out which way you need to steer. The kerb has moved away from you(←, or “to the left”), so you need to steer towards it (←, or also “to the left”). Steer one complete turn of the steering wheel in that direction.Reversing around a corner - kerb gets closer

Step 4

Reverse safely and slowly until the kerb comes back to the nearest marker.

Step 5

This part is critical again: work out which way you need to steer. The kerb has moved towards you (→, or “to the right”), so you need to steer away from it (→, or also “to the right”). Steer one complete turn of the steering wheel in that direction.Reverse around a corner - kerb moves away

The kerb will now move away from you again. Repeat the above steps – carefully working out which way to steer every time you stop – until the car is into the side road.

Step 6

Once you are parallel with the kerb in the side road, stop. This part is critical again: work out which way you need to steer. If you continue moving without doing anything, you will continue to get closer to the kerb and will hit it – so you must steer away from it (→, or “to the right”) to avoid that. Steer one complete turn of the steering wheel in that direction.Reversing around a corner - in the side road

Step 7

Reverse back safely in a straight line for about 3-4 car lengths, then stop and secure the car.

You do not have to use the handbrake each time you stop as you move around the corner (but it doesn’t matter if you do). Use it if it will help prevent the car from rolling, and especially if you’re reversing on a slope.

I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important it is to stop and work out which way you need to steer. If you react on instinct you will almost certainly steer the wrong way, so you have to calm things right down and prevent instinct from taking over.

One useful tip is to talk out loud. If I stop my pupil and ask “which way has the kerb gone?” they should answer “away from me” (if that’s the case). I will then ask “so what do we want to do?” and they will say “get closer to it”. I then ask “so which way should we steer?” – and this is where logic must beat instinct: logically, if the kerb has moved away, and we want to get closer, we simply steer towards it. If the pupil can do that with me asking the questions, they should be able to do it if they ask the questions themselves – except that if they only think the questions instead of saying them out loud, the subconscious is involved and instinct is likely to win out. By asking the questions out loud, the conscious is involved, and logical actions are much more likely.

Are there any other ways to do it?

Of course. As long as you can get round the corner safely and in control, you can do it however you want. If you have good reverse steering skills there is no reason why you can’t just go slowly and steadily round the corner, steering as much or as little as you need until you’re in the side road. Actually, that’s the ideal way of doing it – just don’t forget to keep an eye out for other traffic and pedestrians, which is easier said than done when you’re still moving and trying to avoid the kerb. Depending on the car you’re using, you could watch the kerb out of the rear passenger or quarter light window, or even out of the back window. However, do not be fooled into thinking you shouldn’t use your mirrors: they’re there for precisely this kind of thing.

Is there a fool-proof way of doing this manoeuvre?

The one I have described here is pretty close. As I said at the start, this manoeuvre requires you to control the car throughout based on your position relative to the kerb. I suspect that you’re asking this question with a view to finding a method where you don’t have to think: you’re not going to find one. Like it or not, you need to know what you are doing, and this method works for any wide corner.

Isn’t your method too prescriptive?

Other instructors love this sort of nit-picking. Many people have major problems steering in reverse, and it is not written anywhere that they must be able to go backwards around a corner at speed without stopping. New drivers need all the help they can get, and whilst they may one day be able to whizz safely and accurately around a corner whilst simultaneously solving a Rubik’s Cube and playing the banjo, during this phase of their life when they can’t do that, this method (or a similarly prescriptive one) can help them.

Why can’t they just steer round naturally?

The fact that you’re reading this ought to make the answer obvious! If your pupil (or you) can do it freestyle with their eyes shut, all well and good. If your pupil (or you) has problems knowing which way to steer, you would be stupid to persist with doing it freestyle – they/you will just get in a mess and steer the wrong way. It’s a waste of the pupil’s time and money, and highly detrimental to the instructor’s reputation if the pupil decides they’re not getting anywhere. Not “making progress” whilst haemorrhaging money is one of the big reasons I pick up partly-trained pupils who’ve had enough.

What do I do if another car turns up when I’m reversing?

You need to use your own judgement. As a rough guide, while you are on the main road, wait for anyone coming up from behind (don’t worry too much about those coming from the front unless it’s a very narrow road). Once you’re turning in, keep an eye on those approaching from the left/front but only worry about stopping to wait if it’s a narrow road or if they are turning into the side road). Once you are well into the side road, cars on the main road are not an issue as long as they’re not turning into the side road. At all times, be aware of traffic coming up behind you from the side road.

Of course, a lot will depend on where you do the manoeuvre. The Golden Rule is not to fail to see approaching traffic (or pedestrians) because the examiners are watching for precisely that. Generally, if you look, you will see – if you don’t look, you can’t see!

What do I do if someone flashes their lights at me?

Make sure that they’re flashing at you and not someone else, and then carry on with the manoeuvre if it’s clear that they’re waiting for you – but keep an eye on them, because once you’re around the corner (assuming they’re behind you) they’ll probably go past and you’ll have to pause as they do.

What would be a serious fault on this manoeuvre?

The decision will be the examiner’s, but as a rough guide: missing other cars and pedestrians, not looking all around before commencing the actual turn, mounting the pavement, going more than half way across the side road at any point in the manoeuvre, and so on are likely to be marked as serious faults.

Never self-assess, though. Most people who assume they have “failed” for something usually turn out to be wrong, and not long ago one of my own pupils rode up the kerb slightly and slipped back down again (jeopardising my alloys) and still passed. It depends on how good the drive was, and the way the particular examiner marks tests.

Do I fail if I stall when reversing around a corner?

No. Not automatically. It depends on various factors – how many times, how you deal with it, what is happening at the time (i.e. other road users), and so on. Aim not to stall, stay calm if you do, then concentrate on the rest of the test and keep your fingers crossed. Don’t self-assess. It’s the examiner’s decision, not yours.

Read the article on stalling.

At what point do I turn?

It doesn’t have to be millimetre perfect. All you’ve got to do is follow the kerb around, making sure it doesn’t go too wide or disappear into the side of the car when looking in the left mirror, and you’ve cracked it. Generally, you want to start turning just as the kerb starts to curve away from the car. The method I’ve detailed above takes care of it for you.

How much should I turn the wheel when reversing around a corner?

To go round most corners driving forwards you’ll need between a half and one full turn of the steering wheel. It would obviously need about the same amount going round it in reverse. It depends on the corner – some are much tighter than others – and the exact amount of steering will also depend on your car, since some have tighter turning circles than others. The method I’ve detailed above takes care of it for you.

What if it’s a very sharp corner?

Good question. The method I have detailed above will not work as it is written for sharp corners. Reversing into a sharp corner

To deal with sharp corners, all you have to do is work out where the turning point is, then apply full lock. In my car (and when I’m driving), when the kerb of the road I’m reversing into appears just inside the nearside passenger window (see image above), that’s the turning point. You can work it out for your car (or seating position) by driving slowly forwards around the corner (i.e. doing the manoeuvre in reverse) and stopping as soon as you are straight. Take a look where the kerb of the target road is and remember that position.

If you’re trying to teach this to a pupil, remember that what you see in the side window will not be the same as what the pupil sees (unless they have their seat adjusted to exactly the same place you do, and they’re the same height as you). Let them work out their own reference point – don’t tell them what it is, because it probably won’t be!

Which way should I steer?

This is the main reason many learners have problems with this manoeuvre. Their instincts tell them to steer in exactly the opposite direction to what is required whenever they are reversing (I’ve explained the probable reason why, above). Instinct takes over whenever the pupil is panicked or rushed. Quite simply, you steer the way you want the car to move, whether driving forwards or backwards. The direction you steer does not change when you are reversing.

As I explained above, talking to yourself can help a lot – it forces you to work things out instead of just going on instinct.

Can I dry steer?

Yes, if you need to. Dry steering is when you steer while the car is stationary, and although it isn’t good practice to do it unnecessarily (it can damage the tyres, the steering column, and the road surface), it is NOT marked on the test. You can read more about steering in this article. In any case, you will usually only be steering a little while you are carrying out this manoeuvre, so dry steering is even less of an issue.

Should I use the handbrake every time I stop?

No. Use it if there is a risk of rolling, if you think you might be waiting for a long time, if you want to shift your foot, and so on. Otherwise, control the car smoothly using the brake and clutch as necessary (not at the same time, though). Having said that, if you do use the handbrake for each stop you’re not going to fail for it, so if it makes you feel better go ahead and use it (several years ago, one of my pupils was told on the debrief that there was no need to use the handbrake so much – but no fault was recorded and they still passed).

My last instructor told me it’s wrong to look in the mirrors

Your instructor is wrong, and you did well to get away from him before he did any more damage. The aim of this manoeuvre is to stay reasonably close to the kerb and to keep an eye out for other traffic. Your mirrors are there to tell you what is happening behind you, so you should make use of them. Just make sure you don’t stare at them – just as you shouldn’t stare out of the back window like a zombie if you’re using that method. Move your head and look around you, but don’t be afraid to use the mirrors as your primary way of gauging distance from the kerb.

But what if I can see the kerb out of the window?

Use that by all means. Just be aware that when you buy your own car you might not be able to see the kerb through the windows. I pick up loads of pupils who can’t use that method in my Ford Focus and they haven’t got a clue what to do. A mirror-based method works in any car.

What does the left wing mirror tell me?

It came as a big surprise to me when I discovered that a few pupils actually believe that if something is moving closer to them in the left mirror, it must be moving away from them in reality! This is not correct. If something is getting closer in the mirror, it is getting closer. Period.

Although it depends on how you’ve adjusted it, as a rough guide you want to keep the kerb about a third of the way across the left wing mirror.

Can I ask the examiner to adjust the mirror for me?

Yes. The examiners’ DT1 guide says that they should not refuse to assist if this request is made. Obviously, this only applies to manually-adjusted mirrors – you can adjust electric ones from the driver’s seat. As I said above, if your mirrors are in the correct place for normal driving then they don’t really need to be adjusted. However, I am aware that some ADIs advise their pupils to adjust the mirror downwards so that they can see the kerb, and although I personally cannot see the point, if that’s how you do it then it doesn’t matter if it works for you.

Do I need to adjust the mirror?

If it’s in the right place for normal driving, quite honestly you don’t need to. Some people do, though. It’s up to you.

I can’t adjust the mirror any more to see the kerb

If you are quite short, then you may find that the mirror won’t go much lower. As I said above, you don’t really need to move the mirror away from the normal driving position to see enough of the kerb to reverse around the corner. I know that some instructors do teach it with a lowered mirror, but you have just discovered one of the drawbacks to doing it that way.

How far away from the kerb should I be?

I teach my pupils that ½ metre (about a drain grating’s width) away from the kerb is perfect, ¾ metre is a little wide (but acceptable), and more than ¾ metre is too wide. These are the ratings I use on lessons – they do not apply to the driving test.

On the driving test the examiner’s decision is final, and in most cases they are happy as long as you don’t hit the kerb or go more than half way across the road you’re reversing into at any point during the manoeuvre. My approach to teaching the manoeuvre is that by training my learners to be very accurate about it, if they deviate a bit on their tests then they’ll still be well inside acceptable limits.

Will I fail if I’m too far away from the kerb when I’ve finished?

Yes. Probably. But “too far” is a grey area, and you have to be very wide indeed to fail for it. As I said above, as long as you are on your side of the road you shouldn’t really get more than a driver (minor) fault.

Remember that this is not a parking manoeuvre. You are not supposed to keep really close to the kerb (½ to ¾ of a metre is ideal). As a rough guide, you need to be about as far away from it as you would be if your were driving forwards to turn left.

What happens if I touch the kerb?

First of all, never self-assess your performance when you’re on your test. People who assume that they have failed because they’ve made a mistake are often wrong. Brushing the kerb isn’t an automatic fail (DT1, the examiners’ own internal reference document, says that). Some examiners seem to be harsher than others considering all the tales I hear, so it’s obviously best to not touch the kerb at all – but if you do, don’t worry about it and keep your fingers crossed.

Mounting the pavement is almost certainly a fail – but again, don’t assume anything! Not long ago one of my pupils rode up the kerb slightly and then slipped down again (risking taking chunks out of my alloys), but he still passed. He probably wouldn’t have if he’d have managed to get the whole wheel on to the pavement, but the point is that the rest of the drive can play a big part in how some mistakes are marked. Examiners often use common sense and aren’t out to fail people without a good reason.

Is it OK to keep stopping during the manoeuvre?

Yes, yes, yes, YES! Although it IS possible to fail for taking too long to complete the manoeuvre, stopping for a few seconds a half a dozen times as you steer around is not going to push it anywhere near this. The worst that can happen is that you’ll get a driver fault for taking a bit too long – which is much better than a serious fault for steering the wrong way and messing the whole thing up. Take your time. The problem with keeping moving while trying to figure out which way to steer is that the car will carry on going wider or closer, then you’ll panic and your badly-programmed instincts will tell you to steer the wrong way or by too much, then the whole thing is ruined. If you stop, the kerb stops getting closer or further away and you can think what to do.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes when you’re trying to master it on your lessons. Start out slow – a suitable speed will come naturally later.

My instructor told me to keep moving

Your instructor is wrong. Find another quickly before they do any more damage. You do not have to keep moving, and doing so when you are getting muddled over which way to steer or are going out of position is guaranteed to mess the manoeuvre up completely.

Can I fail for taking too long?

Yes, but you have to be really slow about it, or cause hold ups for other road users. I’ve only ever had one pupil fail for taking too long on a manoeuvre, and it was about 10 years ago on the parallel park. He reversed back and touched the kerb. He moved out to correct it, then touched the kerb again. He moved out one more time, and got it parked properly this time. The examiner failed him for taking too long because there was a car waiting.

What if I don’t have power steering?

It doesn’t matter. You need to steer enough – and that will be the same amount of steering that you’d use driving around the same sort of corner going forwards.

My last instructor told me to look out of the back (or side) window to follow the kerb

In my car – and many others – the rear sill is too high for this to work, and people who have been taught that way get into a terrible mess if they try it. I drive a Ford Focus, and many of those who pass their tests are likely to drive one, too. They were quite probably taught in a small “learner” car that there was never even the remotest possibility of them going out and buying (not until they reach 60 or 70, anyway).

The mirrors exist so that you can see what is behind you. Use them to follow the kerb and you’ll be able to reverse in any car. Having said that, if you can see the kerb out of the windows use that by all means – just remember that when you get your own car it may not work.

I can’t see the kerb when I reverse around the corner

If your mirrors are correctly set for normal driving then you WILL be able to see the kerb if you are carrying out the manoeuvre properly. If you’ve been taught to look out of the back or rear passenger windows, the chances are you’re driving a different car where that method won’t work.

What should I be looking for out of the back window?

Pedestrians and other road users – and not just out of the back windows. Keep a lookout all around as you carry out the manoeuvre.

What if I can’t see it’s clear?

You mustn’t reverse anywhere if you aren’t sure it is safe. If necessary, get out and have a look – but make sure the car is safely positioned and secured before you do.

When would a corner be unsuitable for this manoeuvre?

People ask this when they’re training to become ADIs because it’s one of the subjects that crops up at some point. The usual answer is when it’s a one-way street – you can’t reverse the wrong way up a one-way street. Other reasons for not reversing into a particular corner would be if it is very busy, if it is controlled by traffic lights, if it is within the boundaries/zigzags of a crossing, if it is on a dual carriageway (i.e. you’d be going the wrong way), on a motorway, if all-round visibility is restricted and there are a lot of people around, and so on.

Watch out for other drivers who might not care where they do it, or how they affect others. Taxi drivers, for example, will turn wherever and whenever they want – rules or no rules.

I can’t see the point of turn

If your mirrors are adjusted properly for normal driving you will be able to see the point of turn – it’s when the curved part of the kerb starts to move away from you in the left mirror. You don’t need to angle them down especially or anything, though some people do. However, if you’ve been taught to reverse by looking out of the rear windows then you will have problems in many vehicles.

Can you move forward to correct your position if you make a mistake?

Yes, but be careful. Having to add extra stages means having to do extra safety checks, and the pressure of knowing you’ve gone slightly wrong will increase the risk of you forgetting to do them. It’s best to get it right first time to avoid all of this. However, it isn’t a good idea to drive all the way back to the starting position so you can have a second try – apart from the additional safety checks, you’ll end up taking much longer over it and that can be grounds for failure.

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Originally published in 2012, previously updated in 2014. New update for 2017.


Melted chocolateI will never understand why driving instructors get themselves so wound up about mock tests. I mean, I know why they do, but I’ll never understand. The only test which matters is the actual driving test, and the outcome of any arbitrary pre-test conducted by the instructor (or one of his mates) is completely irrelevant as an indicator of how that real test will turn out. The best learner driver can make a silly mistake on the day of their test and fail, whereas the most nervous learner can put in a faultless performance against all the apparent odds. Mock driving tests are about as useful as a chocolate teapot when it comes to predicting how test-ready someone is!

I’ve mentioned before that some ADIs go to town with their little mock tests. They buy clipboards, hi-vis jackets, and wear a suit just so they can sit there pretending to be examiners. When I originally wrote this, some were already trying to use iPads (the DVSA had been carrying out trials with these at the time) to enhance their ‘mockability’ profile. Unfortunately, the problem with using tablets and computers is that when someone goes to test, for 40 minutes or so they’re not a learner but a candidate, and the examiner is not an instructor, and is not in charge of the vehicle in the same way an ADI is when he is teaching. For that reason, pissing about with gadgets during mock test performances (or at any other time) is right up there with using your mobile phone.

Comments often made on various forums suggest that some instructors spend the last few weeks before someone’s driving test just doing mock after mock after mock, gleefully reporting the “result” back to their “candidates”. At the time of the original article, some were even going public on forums when their pupil failed their real test, complaining that they had passed all their mocks and should have passed the test. It goes without saying that it was the examiners who were at fault in these instructors’ eyes.

The answer is quite simple. There is no way a mock test could ever be considered as “real”. The instructor isn’t a real examiner, even if he thinks he’s dressed like one, is armed with a colour copy of the DL25, and sits there all stern and serious (the last two Christmases, all of ours at one test centre have come out to tests in matching Reindeer sweaters). Even if he gets one of his mates to carry out the mock test, his mate is also not an examiner. The pupil knows this full well, and no matter how they score, they will more than likely still be shitting themselves on the day of their proper test. In fact, there’s every chance that the mock shenanigans will have made them even more nervous by gearing them up for an unpleasant experience, especially if they kept “failing”.Test Centre Sign

Mock tests seem to be of much more value to the instructor than to the pupil. ADIs start drooling over them even before they’ve got their green badges, and many seem to look forward to qualifying just so they can do the damned things. The chance to dress up and pretend to be important overrides all else.

A decent instructor will be highlighting what is and isn’t acceptable from very early in pupils’ training. If something is going well, there’s no need to say anything other than “well done”, etc. When problems arise, the change in approach is a “mock test” situation in itself. Instructors certainly should not be waiting until they start performing their “official mock tests” before relating driving skills to performance in the real test – by that stage they will be becoming habitual and will be much harder to rectify in the inevitably short time that remains,

I don’t routinely carry out mock tests for all the reasons I’ve given above. If a pupil or their parent asks me about them I explain how pointless I think they are, but that I’ll do one if they really want me to.

As an aside, some time ago I had a pupil whose father and sister used to invite themselves on to lessons. He had apparently had a lot of lessons already, and they were forever going on about the him taking his test (which they kept booking against my direct advice), and repeatedly demanded mock tests. The truth was that the young lad was special needs and was extremely slow picking things up. He’d only had a handful of lessons from me. He genuinely believed that if something in the mirror was moving further away from the car, it was actually getting nearer to it in reality,  and this prevented him from being able to carry out any reversing manoeuvre. I could not let him drive unaided without continuously having to intervene to prevent serious issues arising. On one occasion, he sailed into a busy junction where five roads intersect, then – right in the middle, after a red light on the periphery of his vision caught his attention – slammed on the brakes and attempted to come to a stop. In order to make a point, I gave in and attempted to “mock test” him – I think I had my hands on the steering wheel more than he did. Even after this, his father still wanted him to “have a go” at the test. I refused point blank and didn’t hear from them again.

I make it clear to all my pupils that I cannot possibly simulate a real test because I’m not an examiner. I absolutely cannot reproduce the circumstances that lead to the nerves they will experience on the day of the real test because those circumstances are an inherent part of the day of the real test. And I emphasise that if they can drive on lessons without me getting involved, they don’t need a mock test.

It’s not uncommon for me to stop a pupil from emerging at a junction as they attempt to pull out in front of oncoming traffic. It’s part of the job. Every so often, though, one of them will subsequently ask “but apart from that, was it all right?” They are incapable of understanding that purely because of “that”, the entire manoeuvre or procedure was non-existent, and the danger they had put themselves in was of infinitely greater importance than whether they were steering properly (even their MSM on approach is completely sunk if the final assessment resulting from it was so poor). The same mentality carries over to the subject of mock tests, and they use them to try and itemise things which they shouldn’t do on the real test. The worst ones for it are those who can’t afford lessons, or who want to pass quickly, and they end up with an ever-expanding list of things they shouldn’t do. Getting them to understand that if they could drive properly they wouldn’t have to be worrying about remembering what not to do is nigh on impossible (similar to how there are people who think that hiring impersonators and trying to bribe examiners are cheaper solutions compared with learning properly).

On the rare occasions I do mock tests, they’re usually the decider in an ongoing discussion about whether to move the test date, where the pupil is reluctant. I don’t think I have ever done one which lasts the same length of time as the real test – the necessary data is obtained much more quickly.

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Bus LaneThis BBC story reports that bus lane enforcement cameras make £31m per year in fines. One particular lane, in Newcastle, made £1.5m on its own – and that’s after you consider that the BBC contacted 160 local authorities for financial data.

The fun part is where a spokeswoman for Newcastle said:

We would firmly stress that bus lanes are not there to generate income – they are there to help us to manage our road networks efficiently.

Liar. Bus lanes CAUSE congestion, and they have done so since the day the first one was introduced. You have to be a complete idiot (or pathological liar) either not to realise that, or to argue the point. So sticking cameras on them can only be to make easy money.

A prime example in Nottingham is the A52 Derby Road heading into the city via the Priory Roundabout. It used to be three lanes in merging to a single lane going out, past Wollaton Park. There was always serious congestion during rush hour. Then, they turned the left lane into a 24-hour bus lane, and suddenly three lanes of traffic was forced into just two, with still just a single lane leading out. The only benefit was to buses, which were now able to skip about three-quarters of a mile of gridlock and force their way back in at the roundabout (“force” being the operative word when Barton, Indigo, or YourBus are involved). Since much of the congestion was caused by buses stopping for extended periods of time on the single lane side (all the stops are next to the University, and you can imagine the difficulty most students are likely to have getting on a bus), having them all get down there more quickly made the congestion even worse. Admittedly, it doesn’t have cameras on it, but there are plenty that do.

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Driver using mobile phoneFrom today (1 March 2017) the penalties for using a mobile phone when driving have increased.

If you get caught now, it’s 6 points on your licence and a £200 fine. New drivers – those who passed their tests less than 2 years ago – should bear in mind that the points will put them at the limit provided during the probationary period. In theory – and, hopefully, in reality – that means you’re banned.

DVSA’s photo used in the news release carries the words “make the glove compartment the phone compartment”. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen – the typical 17-year old can only put their phone in one of two places: in their hand, or between their legs. Well over half of my new pupils try that at first, and I know for a fact that however much I emphasise the dangers and penalties, when they pass they’re going to do it. I also know that they will use their phone while they’re driving – it is a condition of 17-year olds today.

I fully agree with higher penalties. The only form of education which stands any chance of working is one which carries a significant punishment with it.

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British BreakfastIt seems that the new £1 coin – which will soon be put into circulation – narrowly escaped having a picture of a fried breakfast on it.

How long will it take for the arseholes who run this country wake up and realise that “having a vote” on important decisions by involving the general public is like having your dog guard your kebab. It isn’t going to work, no matter how much you try and convince yourself it will.

It was almost Boaty McBoatface all over again.

Amusingly, the design chosen – from a 15-year old, and against the huge number of suggestions for a fried breakfast image – incorporates a rose, leek, thistle, and shamrock. Thanks to Brexit, at least one of those is likely to end up out of place in a few years’ time.

In the words of Kent Brockman:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Democracy simply doesn’t work

Or Winston Churchill:

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter

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Claudio RanieriIt’s hard to believe that only 6 months ago Claudio Ranieri was being hailed as a god for leading Leicester City to the unlikeliest Premiership title ever. In all honesty, he deserved that accolade. What he achieved was incredible, and it showed what a great manager he is.

I was amazed that Leicester maintained their run of form last season. I fully expected their bubble to burst, and for them to finish mid-table. But they didn’t – and they won the title comfortably. It wasn’t a fluke, and their success was down to both Ranieri and the players.

This season didn’t start (nor has it continued) so well, and even just a handful of matches in there were calls from Leicester supporters for Ranieri to be sacked (I heard one dickhead on 5Live saying that). Given that these same supporters had, less than three months earlier, been dancing in the streets as a result of an almost impossible Premiership title, words such as hypocrites, scumbags, idiots, backstabbers, and so on sprang to mind.

I just saw in the news that he has been sacked.

For the first time ever I agree with something Jose Mourinho has said (in a tweet):

CHAMPION OF ENGLAND and FIFA MANAGER of THE YEAR⚽️.sacked. Thats the new football claudio.keep smiling AMICO.nobody can delete the history you wrote.

Gary Lineker adds:

After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad.

The people who have failed are the ones who run around on the pitch.

Those morons calling for Arsene Wenger to leave are just as bad as those who turned on Ranieri.

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The new £1 coinA new £1 coin with 12 “sides” is being launched in March 2017. The old £1 coin will cease to be legal tender in October 2017. People are being advised to cash in their piggy bank and whisky bottle collections as soon as possible so they don’t lose out.

Apparently, there is £45 million worth of counterfeit £1 coinage circulating in the UK. I can well believe it – I regularly get obviously fake coins in my change. You can tell by how rough they look, their colour, and (in many cases) the fact that machines frequently won’t take them. I have to be honest when I say it is a major pain when you want to buy a parking ticket and the only £1 coin in your pocket gets repeatedly spat out by the ticket machine. Fortunately, handing these coins off to someone else isn’t a problem.

I saw an article a few months ago where supermarkets were saying that shopping trolleys were able to accept the new coins. I don’t think Asda falls in that bracket. When I shopped there last Saturday, I used my trolley token on my key ring to release a trolley as usual. Tonight, I noticed that the chains and keys had been removed from all trolleys!

This could go one of two ways. Either Asda has removed the chains prior to having new mechanisms fitted. Or it has just dealt with the new coin problem by ensuring that half the trolleys end up adorning verges and off-road footpaths by mid-summer. I’ll wait a little longer before commenting further.


Incidentally, being able to take card payments from pupils has significantly reduced the risk of being handed counterfeit notes (and coins) when receiving payments for lessons. I used to hate getting £50 notes in payment for 2 hour lessons because a lot of places won’t accept them since so many are counterfeit.

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Pint of beerAndrew Jackson had an interview with Greater Manchester Police for a job in their IT department. The problem was that he stank of alcohol, and when casually questioned about whether he had found the interview location easily enough, commented that he’d had a job finding somewhere to park.

Alarm bells duly rang, he was breathalysed after the hour-long interview, and still blew positive. Proper tests even later at Bury police station still gave a reading of 46 mcg (the legal limit is 35 mcg). He had apparently been drinking the night before, though he denied drinking before the interview. He pleaded guilty in court.

He was banned for a year, and fined £235. I am assuming he didn’t get the job.

Definitely an early contender for the 2017 Darwin Awards (that’s my version, not the official ones).

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