Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

VollkornbrotAfter my preamble in Part I, now it’s time to get down to business and start making my proper German Sourdough Rye Bread – Vollkornbrot in this case.

The whole point of sourdough bread is that you don’t use any added yeast – which is fortunate, since the panic-buyers have it all. Instead, you make use of the yeast that occurs naturally in the flour. The only problem with that is that there’s not much there compared with a tablespoon of pure bakers’ yeast, so you need to gradually bring it to life and let it grow before you can actually make any bread.

This is a one-time process, and at the end of it you have a ‘starter culture’ – or Anstellgut, in German. Incidentally, if any German readers want to correct me, please do. I’m trying to improve my German language skills right now, and having to translate these recipes has been fun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have got all the words right. Anstellgut in particular doesn’t translate too well – you get some pretty funky results – and I had to work it out for myself.

The principle behind making a starter is that you mix approximately equal portions of flour and water, then incubate it in a warm place for a day. Then you ‘feed’ it with more flour and a similar amount of water, and incubate again. You repeat this for several days, until at the end of it you have a nice frothy starter which is now fully active and can be used to make bread rise. You can use any flour to make a starter, but it is usually best (though not essential) to use the type of flour you’ll be making the bread out of later. In my case, I want a rye bread, so I am using rye flour.

I’m using “Roggenmehl Typ 1150”, which I purchased from Bäckerei George, located in Dresden, Germany. They’re on eBay, and the listing is in German, but you can use any rye flour if that worries you (and if you can get it). They delivered to me with no problems, so I’m happy to vouch for them. Roggenmehl means ‘rye flour’, and Roggenmehl 1150 (the number relates to the ash content) is high in B and E vitamins, contains at least 85% of the whole grain, and is therefore darker than normal bread flour. Rye has a lower gluten content than regular white flour and a slightly sour taste.

Googling for information on starters and sourdough throws up some bizarrely complicated methods which seem fixated on ending up with barely more than a thimbleful of starter from anything up to half a kilo of flour and the same amount of water. I went for a simple Anstellgut based on one I found on a German cookery website. It takes 7 days to prepare – assuming nothing goes wrong. I used a big enough container so as not to have to keep pissing about throwing half away here, and half away there to try and keep it in a jam jar (it rises and falls when you’re making it).

I started with a jam jar, then switched to a larger jar when the volume increased. Before use, I washed the jar I needed and then dried it in a low oven for 20  minutes to sterilise it. You can use a plastic container as long as it’s clean.

Oh, one more thing. Chlorine is very bad for the low levels of yeast spores in the flour, and it kills or inhibits them. Don’t use tap water when making your Anstellgut – use spring water from a bottle. And you can warm it slightly either in a clean pan on the stove, or in the microwave for a few seconds. Ideally, it should be around 25-30°C when you use it.

I was intending to show a series of pictures, but I quickly realised this is pointless. Once the Anstellgut kicks off, it rises then falls over 24 hours. So although it might double in volume a few hours after you feed it, after 24 hours it has calmed right back down and you can’t see anything dramatic.

Day 1

To the clean jam jar, add 50g of flour and 80g of slightly warm bottled spring water. Mix with a clean spatula, cover the jar with muslin, and incubate at about 25°C for 24 hours.

Day 2

There is already obvious activity even after 24 hours, with a few bubbles and a honeycombed texture when you dig into it. It has a very slight acidic odour. It’s looking good, so far.

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 3

Sometime during the night, the marks on the jar show it doubled in volume, then fell back again. It is frothy with the same slightly acidic odour. I’ve transferred it to the larger jar now (I only just got away with it in the smaller one).

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 4

Again, at some point overnight it doubled in volume and then fell back. It smells more yeasty now – almost like when making beer, but not as strong.

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 5

Again, it doubled at some point, then fell back. The smell is still good.

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 6

Once again, it doubled and fell back. I’m beginning to see how this works. Each feed, it becomes highly active with the new food, then quietens down once it has used it up.

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 7

Once again, it doubled and fell back

Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.

Day 8

My Anstellgut – my baby (which has a name, by the way) – is ready to use (and that comes in Part III).

Maintaining the Anstellgut

If you’re baking regularly, feed the Anstellgut in exactly the same way as you did when you were making it. Equal amounts of flour and water daily if you’re keeping it at room temperature.

Storing the Anstellgut

If you’re not baking regularly, seal the lid, put the Anstellgut in the fridge, and feed it weekly. It will keep almost indefinitely.

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VollkornbrotLike most of us, I have a lot of spare time on my hands right now, and regular readers will know that I like cooking, especially if it involves trying to copy something that already exists commercially, and which I enjoy eating.

Note: This is a three-part series – the fun stuff is in Parts II and III.

Before the lockdown, I rediscovered something I’ve missed for years – German Rye Bread. And I mean the proper sourdough rye – not Hovis or any other insipid ‘wholemeal’ concoction that’s just packet white bread with some brown dye in it.

Thinking back to whenever I travelled abroad with someone on business (even when I used to go on skiing trips with friends, for that matter), once we got there food was always a problem. There was always someone in the bloody group who would only want to eat burgers or pizza – and even that threw up issues if the burger wasn’t a McDonalds, and the fact that proper continental pizza is nothing like a Dominos or Pizza Hut affair.

‘Tough, we’re having Bratwurst and Sauerkraut’ tended not to go down too well, so there was little choice but to give in at least some of the time. You see, if I’m in France, I eat croissants, proper baguettes, and anything else French. And I love it. It’s the same if I’m in America, Pakistan (a bit risky), Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Italy, or Germany. I mean, what’s the point of being up in the Alps or The Dolomites, with the smell of wood fires and fresh coffee all around, and you’ve got to walk miles to the end of the village to get a bloody McDonalds (and Coke) for a fussy eater? One time, at a conference in Vienna with this guy (it was close to Christmas, with all the Christmas markets over there, to make matters worse), we’d agreed to alternate on who decided where we ate each evening. As the one of us who wasn’t afraid to look around and embarrass himself trying to speak German (I can, a bit), and who preferred continental beer to Fosters at the best of times, the first night I found a place where they didn’t speak any English, served brilliant Austrian food (Wiener schnitzel, strudel, spätzle, and so on), beer in Steins, and and which was where all the locals went to eat. Next night, the guy I was with wanted to go for a bloody Chinese! I was seething – we’re in Vienna, at Christmas, with all the Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel in those markets, and instead we’re eating Crispy bleeding Duck (he was being ‘adventurous’) in a plastic Chinese restaurant that was exactly the same as back home.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Germany, though, and the last few times I was there – while those I was with would grumble and gingerly poke at a bowl of non-British cornflakes with non-British milk (or maybe a croissant with non-British jam) for breakfast, in prelude to the nightly argument over whether we’d go for Schweinshaxe followed by Germknödel or a McDonalds that evening – I’d go for the full-on German option of scrambled eggs and a selection of different and often very dark breads, with various cooked meats, salamis, and cheeses. I fell in love with German bread more each time I went (as well as Germknödel). Incidentally, if ever you go to Hanover, look up The Bavarium restaurant – brilliant Gulaschsuppe and (sigh) Germknödel.

Anyway, back to the point. I had found proper German rye bread in Asda, of all places – made and packed over there. It was just rye bread, too, and not that poncey stuff with sunflower seeds, or nuts and raisins in it, and usually with a bloody rainbow on the wrapper somewhere. Nor did it specifically mention ‘for vegans and other weirdoes’ on the wrapper. It was just as I remembered, but being unfortunately situated on the special weirdo shelf in Asda’s bakery section, it was often sold out. As a result, I bought it when I could and froze it – being so dense, it freezes perfectly. Then came the lockdown, Asda doesn’t sell it online, nor can I find it anywhere else.

In the early stages of the lockdown it was impossible to get any bread from Asda at all thanks to the panic-buyers. My elderly parents only eat white bread and my dad, in particular, is a stubborn old sod and won’t accept that we need to make do with what we can actually get, rather than pick and choose what we want. My first thought was ‘Breadmaking Machine’, but I immediately discovered that the panic-buyers had cleared those off the shelves (and online). Then I realised they’d cleared out all the stocks of yeast and flour, too.

Things have calmed down a bit with Asda, though it’s still hit-and-miss, and getting white bread for my parents is somewhat easier. But I wanted German Rye, so out came my project hat, and off I went to resolve the issue.

Googling threw up a multitude of ‘authentic’ German recipes, all of which were as authentic as a Corsa with a BMW badge glued to it. Anything which contains ‘all-purpose flour’ is not authentic. It’s American. Any ‘sourdough’ recipe calling for ‘instant yeast’ is the same. And Americans seem to have this weird fascination with making bread with silly patterns on the crust, and the biggest imaginable holes in it so they can boast how much it has risen in multitudes of ‘rustic’ photographs. Yet this was all that kept coming up.

Then I realised what I was doing wrong, and fired up my trusty VPN to pretend I was in Germany. That did it! Stacks of German recipes, from Germany, and in German. Armed with my fluent (in my dreams) German linguistic skills – and Google Translate – I figured out how I was going make Vollkornbrot to begin with.

As I already implied, there must be thousands of nutcases all over the UK right now who are sitting on stockpiles of every type of flour, yeast, and electrical appliance that could even remotely be used in baking bread, without having a clue how to use any of them. But, when in Rome – or in the case of my VPN, Germany – I decided to order from German millers. So I now have 10kg of rye flour (Roggenmehl) and a couple of kg of coarse rye meal (Roggenschot). Roggen means ‘rye’, Mehl means ‘flour’, Roggenschot literally means ‘rye scrap’ or ‘rye flour’ (but coarsely ground), and Vollkornbrot means ‘whole grain bread’.

Sourdough (Sauerteig in German) bread doesn’t use any added yeast. Instead, you have a starter culture (Anstellgut), which utilises the natural yeasts present in the flour. To make one, you simply mix flour and water, and over a number of days gradually coax the yeast into becoming more and more active by adding more flour and water until it is at a level of activity where it can be used to give the necessary rise to your bread. As long as you keep feeding it, the starter lasts pretty much forever (some bakeries boast starters which are over 100 years old), and you only use a fraction of it each time you make bread. More about this in Part II.

Rye with fine crumbMy target is something with a tight crumb similar to this (the stuff I was buying from Asda). No stupid 3cm wide holes, and no Leonardo da Vinci crap on the crust. Just a dense rye bread.

Part II of this series will make the starter/Anstellgut, and Part III will be the baking of my first loaf of Vollkornbrot.

And trust me on this. It might seem like a lot of hassle, but it isn’t. Once you have your starter – which isn’t time consuming other than the day wait between stages – making bread is an absolute, laid-back doddle.

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Virus graphicWell, Donald Trump appears desperate to outdo himself with everything he says and does. You will no doubt have heard his latest medical endorsement of the possible use of bleach or detergent – injected or consumed – to get rid of COVID-19. He even iced the cake by referring to UV light – used internally as well as externally – as a possible ‘cure’ for the virus!

Whatever he meant – whatever he was thinking – it is what other people will think that matters. Stupid people, in particular.

There has already been a case of someone in Arizona dying because he took Trump’s previous endorsement of Chloroquine literally and dosed himself up on the stuff used to clean aquariums. His wife was apparently in a critical condition after doing the same. In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s latest rant, Reckitt Benckiser – the manufacturers of Lysol and Dettol – have had to issue warnings not to ingest or inject their products.

The problem is that stupid people don’t know that they’re stupid. In many cases, they actually think they’re smart. I suppose ‘stupid’ is perhaps a bit strong, but the alternative – that they are just average people – is potentially even more worrying, since it means that there’s a lot more of them around.

Sticking with the bleach thing for a moment, household products are not manufactured under conditions that make them anywhere near suitable for internal use. They are even further away from being suitable for intravenous use. An example would be calcium supplement tablets. The raw material in those is often calcium carbonate – but the quality of that material is nothing like the calcium carbonate that would be used in cement, which is another of its applications. The stuff in the tablets is purified in a lab to make it suitable for ingestion. The stuff used in cement pretty much comes straight out of a limestone quarry.

Household cleaners share a similar gulf in how ‘clean’ they are, with the additional problem being that you don’t use bleach – particularly chlorine-based bleaches – internally for anything. They are corrosive and toxic. Even gentler bleaches like the peroxides are used highly diluted and for external purposes (tooth whitening, for example).

But the problem seems to be that stupidity – or averageness – isn’t confined to Trump, the Americans, or any other nation, although there does seem to be a link between education and being prepared to do things that it might have been best not to.

Let’s summarise the problem we have. There’s a virus. It spreads easily. It kills a lot more people than seasonal flu does, even though it isn’t flu. There is no vaccine at the moment. No one alive can remember anything like what we have right now. In order to protect as many people as possible, the government ordered the lockdown we are all currently dealing with. No one person’s life is any more valuable than anyone else’s – no matter what their health or age.

Read that last paragraph carefully. It contains no opinion – just facts.

Now ask yourself this. What has changed in any of that during the last month? Absolutely nothing has.

And yet there is an article today indicating that, with the next pulse of warmer weather getting underway, people are breaking the lockdown rules in greater numbers than at any time since the lockdown began.

In my own industry, I continue to see people who are putting money and themselves above all else. They desperately want to return to work, and will try any argument to convince themselves they should be allowed to. There are still people saying that it’s ‘no worse than flu’. There are still people whose argument is ‘I need money, so we should be allowed back to work’. There are instructors desperately searching for key workers to teach, even though they have children and are in daily contact with vulnerable people. There are instructors desperate to return to work by the time ‘the kids go back to school’ (or conversely, want the lockdown lifted just to suit whatever the schools decide to do so that they can work without having to worry about childminding). There are older people arguing ‘I don’t want to be imprisoned for the rest of my life’, as if that is a reason for the lockdown to be lifted. There are people still desperately trying to believe that wearing a mask and gloves means you’ll be safe sitting in a car with six or more different pupils every day, and who would gladly go back to normal if that’s all they had to do. Some would work tomorrow – with no protection whatsoever – if they were ‘allowed to’. Others repeatedly quote ‘Sweden’, as if that somehow means we ought to pretend nothing has happened.

I could go on, and on, and on with more examples.

These are the ‘average’ members of society I was referring to. They simply do not have a clue.

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I received an email today from DVSA. This one has no web link, and since it is addressed and worded to me personally (as in, all ADIs ought to have received similar), I won’t reproduce the entire thing here.

It refers to the suspension of driving tests (except for key workers) – which we all know about along with advice on how to deal with any key workers we might be teaching, and suitable sanitisation procedures.

There’s a bit about how they are working with the political wing of this industry (‘the associations’) to keep people informed.

There’s reference to the forthcoming grant for the majority of instructors – if anyone didn’t know, those eligible will be contacted by mid-May(ish) and payments will be made early June(ish).

Then, a couple of interesting bits, which I will reproduce. Firstly:

If your ADI registration expires by the end of June

If your ADI registration is due to expire by the end of June 2020, you can choose not to renew it right now.

You then have up to 12 months to re-register without having to take the qualifying tests again. However, you will not be able to charge money (or monies worth) for instruction while your registration has lapsed.

To my mind, this suggests that no one is realistically expecting life to get back to normal anytime soon.

Secondly – and even more telling:

If you renewed your ADI registration in March

If you renewed your ADI registration in March 2020 and have stopped working, you can apply for a refund of your registration fee.

Email padi@dvsa.gov.uk with your name, ADI registration number, date of birth and postcode to apply.

You’ll then need to cut up your ADI certificate (badge). You will not be able to charge for instruction after you do this, but you can re-register as an ADI up to the end of March 2021 and start work again without retaking the qualifying test.

So, anyone who got their latest badge in March can apply to get a full refund. I honestly don’t think they’d be doing that if they were realistically expecting tests – and, therefore, lessons – to be starting up in the foreseeable future. No figures or dates are given, but if anyone was expecting the lockdown for driving instructors to last less than 4-6 months, would DVSA be offering refunds? I would doubt it.

All I can go on is what I see, and what I understand. Frankly, there is no realistic end in sight to not being able to give driving lessons just based on the passing of time, or people ‘getting fed up with it’.

All of this is still developing by the day. It’s as serious now as it was when the lockdown first came into force, but there is a growing number of people who, even if they belatedly realised the seriousness before, are falsely trying to play it down now. I’m seeing an increasing number for whom ‘I’ve got to get back to work’ is becoming a mantra.

Because of my background, I know full well the only way out of this is a vaccine. The good news is that Oxford University’s candidate – which they have already said they’re 80% certain will work, and hope to have ready as at least a million doses ‘by the Autumn’ if it does – begins human trials tomorrow. Imperial College has one that will begin its human trials in June. Labs in Germany, China, and USA are also ready to commence (or already have) human trials.

I’m following this news above all else. Because only it will get us out of this in any way which doesn’t lead to even more COVID-19 fatalities.

Update: If you’re on Facebook, ignore any f**kwits telling you either you can’t get a refund, or – possibly worse – that you shouldn’t. In the unlikely event that we can  officially work at any point in the next three months, ask yourself seriously if you really want to.

If you get infected, you will pass it to all the people you meet, and all the people you live with. The virus isn’t going to go from full throttle to engine off overnight on June 12th or any other date some prat has heard one of their pupils has had a test moved to.

If you’re a brand new ADI, you got this far without having to take people on lessons, so why risk never getting the chance in future?

You can get a refund.

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An email alert from DVSA states that all theory tests booked from 20 April are off until Friday 8 May.

Key worker tests will still be conducted. All those affected are being contacted.

I’m sure the rumours will start imminently, but 8 May is just a current future point. Depending on what happens over the next few weeks will govern whether or the lockdown is extended again, so further cancellations are still possible after that.

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Money vs morals seesawPeople are continuing to whinge about the extension to the lockdown the government has just announced.

I also note that although many have wised up, and are expressing the same concern I have had since all this started, many haven’t.

My concern is this: precisely what happens when the lockdown is lifted?

You see, I am a carer for my elderly parents, and both of them have COPD. There is no way on this Earth I am going to go back to work while the virus is still circulating out there to such an extent that me becoming infected is a significant possibility.

I don’t care about me – I’d probably survive. I care about my parents (and other people’s, come to that).

They could lift the lockdown tomorrow, but I would certainly not begin lessons again. And right now, the same will still be true if they lift it in May. Or June. And probably July. However, if people could, for once, look beyond their own financial concerns, they would see that this lockdown provides an alternative way out while a vaccine is developed.

If the current infection burns itself out – which the lockdown is likely to help achieve if people do as they’re f***ing told and stay inside – it is no longer actively circulating. That means there is much less chance of catching it. Of course, it also depends heavily on the idiots in Westminster doing something to stop it being ferried in again once any lockdown is eased – little things like testing to see if people coming in have actually got it before even being allowed out of Customs – but it is possible.

I would certainly be prepared to start teaching again if I knew with reasonable certainty that infections were not increasing and were very, very low numerically. But while there are over 1,000 active cases and rising in Nottingham, there’s absolutely no chance.

Remember: abiding by the lockdown means there is a way out of it sooner. Behaving selfishly means there isn’t.

Also remember that it doesn’t matter what other countries are doing. Just because Denmark or Spain is lifting restrictions doesn’t mean we are either going to or, indeed, should. Not yet, that’s for sure. Isolation does significantly reduce COVID-19 spread. Are people really so stupid that they put money above all else, and form their opinions on such information as this? It isn’t a stupid game – science is involved. While COVID-19 is spreading and killing people in the UK, what Denmark is doing is f***ing irrelevant.

If I knew that going back to work would kill just one person out there, I wouldn’t do it. A frightening number of instructors (and people in other jobs) apparently would.

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Virus imageI want to clarify what many people have read in the media over the last few days, but appear to have misunderstood. Here’s one media reference to the subject.

It concerns a promising candidate for a vaccine for COVID-19 being developed at Oxford that is just entering human trials. The confusion amongst people who have seen it appears to stem from what one of the scientists working on it has said:

“Vaccinologist at Oxford, Professor Sarah Gilbert, has said she is 80 per cent sure the vaccine will be a success.”

She is saying that she is 80% certain the vaccine she’s working on will work. Nothing more. In other articles, she is quoted as saying that if everything runs smoothly – and absolutely nothing goes wrong – the vaccine could be ready by the Autumn.

To clarify, she is 80% certain they have a candidate that will work, and the earliest they would be able to say ‘yes, it does’ is in the Autumn.

She is not saying everyone will be able to have the jab in the Autumn and go back to normal. Nor is she saying the vaccine will only be 80% effective (something else I keep seeing people posting).

Once they have a vaccine that works, it has got to be manufactured on a large scale and distributed. Then, tens of millions of people have got to get the jab. That is going to take time (and if what we’ve seen with PPE and medical equipment is anything to go by) it is likely to run into shortages of ampoules, vials, bungs, over-caps, or pre-filled syringes – the containers it is probably going to be put into.

In normal times, it can take anything up to 60 years to develop a vaccine (and yes, historically, that is how long some have taken to develop). Typically, it takes at least 3-10 years to get one, but that is when there is no major hurry and the very detailed clinical trials are carried out, analysed, and documented as is required by the various Health Agencies in different countries.

Even in this extraordinary situation we find ourselves in, a vaccine that became approved for use today might still take as long as 12-18 months to distribute and deploy. Hopefully, a target of 6 months might be met, but meeting targets isn’t something which has been demonstrated to any significant degree during this pandemic when you look at how many tests for COVID-19 the UK has managed to achieve.

Remember that if the UK government did manage to provide 100,000 vaccinations per day (based on its target of 100,000 tests), it would take 500 days to cover the entire population. And that is around 18 months. Yet we are nowhere near meeting that testing target.

The same issue arises with the manufacture of the vaccine. My guess is it will likely be deployed in pre-filled syringes (but I could be wrong, as they are probably the slowest and most likely to run into shortages way of delivering it). But an ampoule filling machine – those are the glass bottles you snap the top off to use – can fill at up to several hundred ampoules per minute. There aren’t that many of them installed in the UK in the first place, and of the ones that are, most run much more slowly. Even if we assume 1,000 machines running at 200 ampoules per minute, 24 hours a day, it would take 10 days to produce enough vaccine for the whole country. In reality, the UK has a fraction of that number of machines available, a fraction of the number of companies who can handle vaccines at all, running at a combined fraction of that filling speed, and only capable of running for a fraction of the maximum available time. Producing the vaccine would take months, and I haven’t even mentioned the manufacturing process for the bulk (which is unknown, as yet).

It is definitely very good news about the vaccine at this stage. But there is still a long way to go.


Update 17/4/2020: The latest to this – two days after I wrote it – is that the scientists involved in the Oxford trial are so confident it will work that they plan to manufacture 1 million doses while the trials are still ongoing and hope to be ready by September.

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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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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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