Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Well done to GP for passing his test yesterday afternoon – the last test of the year for me and the test centre – with just 9 driver faults.

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I was listening to the local news on the radio yesterday and there was a ‘top’ story where a certain high-street retailer/pharmacy was urging people to stock up on prescription medicines over the festive period.

Of course, on Saturday it was Big News that retailers were seeing an increase in shoppers but it was still a disastrous year and the sales are starting early to try and drag people in.

Maybe it’s just me, but this is about as cynical as you can get. The same store/pharmacy has previously advised people to throw medicines away if they have finished with them, and it is very big on stating the obvious (because not everything is obvious to a lot of people) – and yet its only defence here could be that it was talking about old medicines before, and now it is thinking of the Christmas shutdown.

Of course, poor recent sales wouldn’t have anything at all to do with it…

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Just came home between lessons and started to channel-hop. Channel 4 has T4: McFly’s Greatest Hits Live – it’s 10.55am now and this is on until 11.25am, so I guess the show is at least an hour long!

You’d think that anything involving McFly’s greatest hits would be right up there with Great Swiss Naval Victories and Wars That France Didn’t Lose. Very short.

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There’s a new page (see the top button bar). I love curry, and it has been a lifelong ambition to be able to make them like they do in resturants and takeaways.

A lot of so-called ‘Indian’ restaurants are crap. They’re not ‘Indian’ (and by that I also mean they’re not ‘Bangladeshi’ or ‘Pakistani’, etc. either) and they don’t make their own food. The worst ones I’ve found are those which advertise ‘currys (sic), pizzas, SFC, kebabs, burgers’. The curry comes in a plastic tray with a heat-sealed plastic film, just like those you buy in the supermarket freezer chests, and it tastes like the stuff you get in works canteens – boiled and creamy. Other restaurants are genuine, but they just cook awful food. One of the problems is the stupid modern idea that any salt at all is bad for you – salt is a flavour enhancer and taking it out of food means the food tastes bland (Mini Cheddars – those little cheese biscuits – are a good example: taking the salt out means they taste horrible; and the same is true of crisps (potato chips), and McDonald’s fries).

Over the last couple of months I’ve been to four Nottingham restaurants which in the past have provided good food: The Curry Lounge, Sapna, the Mogal e-Azam, and The Laguna.

The Curry Lounge was featured on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (a UK TV series about failing restaurants, which Ramsay was trying to help). I’d not been before until about a month ago (my friend had, and reported that it was good), and I will never go again. Apart from being stupidly overpriced the curry was completely tasteless. It was just as if the chef had forgotten to put any curry powder/spices in (and I’m not exaggerating). We mentioned it to the waiter and he said: “I can see you know about curry. Next time you are in just ask for it to be made a little more tasty. Some people don’t like it too spicy” . Well, let them go and buy fish & chips, then. And don’t get me started on the Gulab Jamun – you got two Gulabs, a scoop of ice-cream about the size of a walnut, and an extra £5 on the bill!

I’ve been to the Sapna a lot of times. It’s cheap and cheerful – plastic tablecloths, peeling plaster and wallpaper in the corners (well, it is in a basement) – but the food has always been good enough for after a concert or few drinks. The added benefit is that it is open until around 4am (one year we’d been out celebrating New Year and we went for a curry in here at about 3am on New Years Day morning). This time is was awful, though. My friend had Mulligatawny Soup as a starter and it was like a mousse rather than a soup. He commented that they appeared to have used their basic curry gravy to make everything. His daughter’s Vindaloo looked and tasted like my Chicken Methi. Both were creamy.

The Mogal e-Azam always seems to be hit and miss. It’s right next to Rock City, so it is convenient, but I find that if there aren’t many people in the food is rubbish. Last time we went in my mate, who’d come down from Leeds, eventually (I could kill him over how long it takes him to decide to order something which usually isn’t on the menu) went for a tandoori lamb starter. It was basically several lamb chops coated in tandoori spices and cooked, presumably, in a Tandoor – although I think a more appropriate description would have been geriatric mutton coated in Superglue, dipped in tandoori spices bought at Tesco, and incinerated using an industrial blowtorch. It was tough.

I used to know someone who was almost violently of the opinion that The Laguna was the best Indian restaurant in Nottingham. Well, I’ve been in a few times and although it has not been what you would call bad, it certainly isn’t the best one I’ve been to. This time was no exception. The first thing that struck me was that you couldn’t smell anything that reminded you you were in a curry house – and there were quite a few people in. The lack of smell, combined with the fact that the waiter who greeted us was Oriental, made me think it wasn’t an Indian any more! The curry was passable, though definitely lacking a bit in flavour. But the naan breads were a joke – my garlic naan was only slightly larger than a DVD disk, and you know how much you pay for sundries when you are eating-in.

Although I haven’t been in for ages, one which used to be excellent was The Jewel In The Crown in West Bridgford (now called The Jewel). It used to be classic: subdued lighting, flock wallpaper, Indian music in the background, heavy wooden chairs, and great food. But they ruined it by trying to go ‘contemporary’. You need sunglasses even walking past it. EDIT 01/04/2010: The Jewel has closed down as of the last month or so. Not sure why, but if I was guessing I’d say it went to far with its change of image. A bog-standard Indian restaurant which serves great food will always survive – a poncey one which messes with the food too much and creates ridiculous overheads it has to pay for probably won’t.

As far as takeaways go two of the best around here have to be Curry2Night (West Bridgford: telephone 0115 981 1712 ) and New Everest Tandoori (Ruddington: telephone 0115 984 8358 ). I added the phone numbers because of the hits this page keeps getting – I suspect people are wanting to order takeaways and finding this blog!

But as I said right at the start, it has always been my ambition to be able to make curries like they do in restaurants. The Bangladeshi guy who used to own Curry2Night – and he and his wife had to have been the best chefs ever – promised me he would show me before he retired, but he never did. So I’ve spent a lot of time trying out different things, some of which has been given to me by pupils, whilst others I’ve picked up off the Internet and trialled/modified as needed.

The result  (so far – it’s always a work in progress) can be found in the Curry Recipe section (that new button at the top of the page).

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I was out with a particular pupil a few days ago and something struck a chord with me as I kept saying the same thing. It then occurred to me that there are several phrases (including variations) which you end up saying a lot – so much so, that I think I may end up having one or two of them carved on my tombstone when I’m gone!

1. “Mind the kerb!”

Especially when they’re just starting out, many pupils have this blindspot which is always occupied by the kerb. You can be driving down a straight road and the smallest thing – sometimes it’s so small it doesn’t even exist – will make the pupil head towards the kerb.

I had one who subconsciously steered away from those pedestrian refuges (with the tall white lamp on them) every time she passed one. Steering away from other vehicles is very common. It doesn’t matter if there is a 15 metre ditch, a lamp post, a tree… steering away from the other car is the only priority!

2. “That’s too fast!”

Just about every thing they do wrong can be attributed to excess speed one way or another. You can’t use the MSM routine properly when you’re approaching within two car lengths of a junction at 30mph, anymore than you can check to see if it’s safe to go.

3. “Watch where you are going!”

Some pupils can easily ‘switch off’, especially if they are tired at the end of a lesson. You’ll be driving on a long, straight road and you start to get uneasy as the car starts to drift. You don’t say anything immediately because you don’t want to over-instruct… but then it drifts further. If you allow it to continue, before you know it you’re on the other side of the road.

4. “Now plan ahead for this”

You’re doing something simple, like turning left at traffic lights or a junction. As you come round the other side, before you know it you’re across the other side of the road or heading on to the left pavement as the pupil either under- or oversteers.

5. “Stay in lane!”

Perhaps tied in with ‘switching off’, some pupils have really serious problems seeing white lines on the roads. Add to that the fact that they see roundabouts as something similar to a Rubik Cube and you’ve got a deadly combination.

The one that particularly bugs me is when they are doing the roundabout perfectly then – all of a sudden – they decide they’re not and jerk the wheel so hard, almost full lock, that the car just about tips on to two wheels as they try to change lanes. And it’s usually more than one lane they’re trying to jump – nothing is simple for them.

I’ll always remember one pupil – Chris – who had had problems on roundabouts, but we’d just about got them sorted out. I once asked him what he thought the problem was, and he said:

I honestly think I’m going to kill us both when I’m on one.

Anyway, he drove on to this large roundabout perfectly… and then decided he shouldn’t have, and that the best solution was to stop dead. In the middle of entering a busy roundabout with cars coming in from all sides!!!

I pulled him over and said:

Chris, you know how you said you were worried that you might kill us on a roundabout? Well, stopping in the middle of one is a good way to do it!

6. “Did you see that skip around the corner?”

When we’re doing the Reverse Around A Corner exercise, if I notice that a pupil hasn’t looked into the road they’re going to reverse into I’ll often wait until they stop and then ask if they saw the skip (or car, or pedestrian, etc.) that is stopping them from doing it. One pupil cracked me up.

Me: Did you see that skip just around the corner? [there wasn’t one, but she hadn’t looked]

Philippa: [quick as a flash] “Yes. It was yellow”

I was really impressed.

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There has to be a full moon tonight! Incredibly, I just looked it up and there is.

We’ve been cut up more times today than in the whole of the preceding month, or so it seems. It started at a roundabout with roadworks on it – people too stupid to realise one lane was closed, so they just had to squeeze in just one extra car ahead just before the diversion sign instead of stopping and dropping in behind (one idiot woman in particular, who then got herself boxed completely in by returning to the lane which was blocked off). This was during the early part of rush hour.

Next, a business plank in a plankmobile decided he would just drive out of his workplace car park in heavy traffic right in front of my pupil. The fact that it was a pupil made him do it, but his tiny plank brain wasn’t able to work out that learners have difficulty in stopping. This was during rush hour.

Then, the same pupil was cut up by an idiot leaving a house in West Bridgford in a pale blue Vauxhall (Meriva, I think) registration no. WF07 KWV. This pillock reversed out into traffic, levelled up on the wrong side of the road, accelerated on the wrong side, and then cut in front of my pupil (obviously, the idiot was breaking the speed limit to do this).

It wasn’t until I wrote this that I realised the moon looked quite big and the ‘full moon’ concept occurred to me. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

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Traditionally, driving instructors have not been noted for their intellectual prowess. But nowadays, you can add courtesy and basic human decency to the list of things they’re not very good at. Intelligence is still right at the top, though.

The other day I was with a pupil and we’d stopped in a convenient place for her to practice the Turn In The Road exercise. We’d been there for about a minute when another learner car stops just in front of us (a BSM car), and another pulls up behind. So we can’t do our manoeuvre until they’ve finished.

A couple of days later in a different area I was with another pupil and we stopped to do the Corner Left Reverse exercise. We’d reversed around it (not particularly well – the pupil is new to it) and when we drove back round to try again there was a learner car there trying to use the same corner. I was annoyed this time and flashed my lights – he drove off.

A couple of weeks ago a pupil had just reversed around a corner. We were going to drive off anyway after having done it correctly, but I was annoyed to see when we went back round that corner another learner was waiting to use it. I made it clear to the instructor as we passed that I wasn’t impressed.

Then tonight I was with a new pupil. She’s never done Turn In The Road before, so I stopped in a quiet place – this is at 8.15pm in a cul-de-sac, so it was quiet – and did the briefing. I noticed a little further behind us (beyond a side road junction) a car had stopped but seeing as it was stationary we went ahead, with me controlling the pedals so the pupil could work out where the kerb was. As soon as we turned round, and I’d reversed us back into a good position to try again, this idiot… no, ‘idiot’ isn’t good enough… this complete pillock from Cloud City Driving School pulled forward, blocked us in, and then proceeded to do the manoeuvre himself. It took him ages because his pupil wasn’t very good at it (not the pupil’s fault – it was his instructor behaving like a complete arse).

What really pisses me off is that if I see another learner car anywhere near where I want to do a manoeuvre then I get my pupil to drive on and we find somewhere else. If nothing else, it keeps the locals happy (they hate learners with a vengeance) by not having queues of learners in their streets. But it is common decency on the part of the instructor to think of others.

I reckon this one will be a running theme.

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Being out and about I’ve noticed that some people – a surprisingly large number, in fact – have had Christmas decorations up since November. Pretty sad, really.

Appreciation of aesthetics is not one of the strong points of people who go for early Christmas decorations. They seem to be of the mind that if half a dozen lights look nice, then several thousand will be absolutely stunning. They’re right – but it all depends on what you mean by ‘stunning’.

Thinking about last year, one house not far from me had a Santa on skis crashed on to the roof, another Santa with skis splatted to the bedroom window, a Santa with a sack on a rope ladder hanging off the drainpipe, another Santa hanging from the windowsill… there were probably more. I lost count.

Already – and since November – there are houses with those preformed lights stuck all over the front: Santa on a sleigh, various reindeers, hot air balloon (never understood that one), a train (that one, neither), fir trees, dangly icicles (many of which have been hanging off the roof since last year), spirals wound around trees in the garden… the list goes on.

I don’t know if you ever watched that film with Dan Aykroyd – Coneheads. There’s one scene where Mr Conehead takes a photo of his daughter going out to the prom with a human date. He has this huge camera flash with a metal grid across the front. When it goes off you see the human with his hair all singed and blasted back, and the grid pattern burned into his reddened face. Well, there are a couple of streets around here where you really would be advised to wear sunblock if you walk down there at night. ‘Tacky’ doesn’t even come close to describing it.

Listening to the radio today it was part-entertaining and part-sad to hear the presenters trying to turn every single comment into a Christmassy one. It’s only 4 December – we have 3 weeks to go! I’ve heard Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody (link removed as it is now broken) about a hundred times in the last three days, and Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday (link removed as it is now broken) is a close second.

I’m now waiting to see my first ‘idiot wearing a Santa hat’.

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It’s hard to believe they get paid for what they do, those Met Office weathermen and women.

On Sunday, the forecast for Wednesday/Thursday this week indicated a low temperature of  minus 6ºC and a high of 0ºC. Admittedly, they adjusted it on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – but even now they say today will have a high of 4ºC and a low of 0ºC. When I went out this morning it was 6ºC and it felt rather mild.

The other thing was the snow. According to the forecast on the BBC as recently as last night we were destined to get more snow across the UK in a few hours this morning than the Alps gets in a whole season. Well, they were close: it rained a bit.

Fair enough, some places did get snow. But it was slushy, wet snow and even the places ‘hardest hit’ (according to the BBC, which is treating it typically as a disaster rivalling the Asian Tsunami) could only show a few centimetres of it. You can always tell: cut to usual shots of violent little psychopaths – sorry, lovable kids – building dirty-looking snowmen with bits of grass and mud covering them, and sliding down grassy slopes with a few patches of a grey, sleety covering on sledges.

The best bit was a couple of old guys the BBC interviewed in North Yorkshire. One was a haulier:

“Well, me and my son can’t get to work so we’re losing money!”

Yes, when you’re snowed in that’s what happens. Except you weren’t – you just decided that a few centimetres of slush was a calamity of Biblical proportions and didn’t even try. The other was a retired chap:

“Well, I can never remember it being as bad as this!”

I’d see a doctor about that memory problem, if I were you. North Yorkshire gets worse weather than this almost every year, and even I can remember numerous occasions when it was much worse, even here in the East Midlands. It was a couple of centimetres of slushy snow, for heaven’s sake, and it’ll be gone by tomorrow.

Even schools were closed. I mean, in North Yorkshire!? It used to snow more than this every year when I was a kid, and nothing could cause schools to close (or shut early) except for very thick fog – that meant we went home at 3pm instead of 4pm to avoid the traffic (they used a building as the gauge: if you couldn’t see it from across the playground then the fog was thick enough for an early close).

Cut to overhead shot of the ‘disaster area’ – fields with a lot of brown visible, and roads with clearly defined slush tracks where the traffic has freely navigated them for much of the day.

Just look at some of the pictures here. From what I can see, the only problem is that people are idiots.

If you ask a pupil what causes a skid you’ll get a range of answers. The weather. The road. The tyres. They rarely get the answer right: the cause of a skid is always sitting right behind the steering wheel.

So when the BBC starts warning of Armageddon as a result of a few centimetres of sleet, it is the morons who have crashed who have created it – not the weather.

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A few months ago I switched my parents’ phone from BT to Virgin so that my dad could have the Virgin TV package and cheaper calls (I pay the bill for him anyway).

What I didn’t realise was that the phone has voicemail as standard. Looking through the literature, which I had to get off the Virgin website because they didn’t tell me any of this, you’re supposed to activate it yourself – but ours turned out to be active upon installation.

Not knowing you have a voicemail facility can be quite confusing to both callers and the line users. And this is how it has turned out. Apparently, all kinds of people have been leaving messages and not getting a reply.

Anyway, I got an ultimatum tonight to sort it out.

My dad is the kind of person who, when in possession of a remote control handset with only one button on it, is quite likely to forget which button he has to press. Therefore, the chances of him being able to access voicemail and do the necessary maintenance on his inbox are roughly the same as those of winning the Lottery.

So I’ve had it disabled.

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