Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Being self-employed I have a couple of cash’n’carry cards – one for Makro and another for Hyperama.

I noticed in one of the searches used to get to this site someone had searched for ‘ Makro Job Cuts ‘, and after a bit of searching it seems that this is correct. WalesOnline reports:

GIANT cash-and-carry retailer Makro is planning to axe 378 jobs with the closure of three UK superstores, the company said today.

Stores in Coventry, Wolverhampton and Swansea have all been earmarked for potential closure by the company.

The retailer is already in consultation with workers at all three stores regarding the plans.

“The store closure proposal, which is now subject to consultation with employees and representatives, will affect the 378 staff employed at these stores,** a spokeswoman for the company said.

She added that the closures were due to “difficult trading times and a need to reduce costs**.

On a purely selfish front, I’m glad my local Makro is safe. But I obviously feel for those people who will lose their jobs. Every day it seems like thousands more join the Dole Queue (for want of a better expression).

Edit 13 Feb 2009: In summary, Makro is NOT shutting down. It is likely to close its stores in Coventry, Wolverhampton, and Swansea and this will take place by 31 May 2009. I added this because I’m getting hits on search terms to do with Makro closing down completely, so obviously some people are worried.

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I was at the Test Centre (TC) today and I saw a letter informing ADIs that due to some change or enforcement of the Data Protection Act (DPA) they cannot discuss candidates’ test bookings with ADIs over the phone. The pupil has to call and provide certain data as confirmation of identity (this is how I read it, anyway).

Last week, due to all the snow, I had four tests cancelled. In each case I phoned the TC to find out if the test was going ahead and was asked the pupil’s name so that they could register the test as cancelled – that’s the only way the DSA will allow a booking to be changed without the pupil losing the test fee (until it is officially logged as cancelled the test is considered ‘taken’).

Technically, the Driving Examiner (DE) I spoke to in each case was breaking the rules.

So, the only way I could have handled any of those tests last week – officially – would have been to phone the pupil, get them to talk to the TC, and then call me back with the status of the test. Since most of the tests were early morning ones the pupil would still have been in bed, so I would quite possibly have had to go to pick them up as agreed and then get them to call the TC in my presence – meaning a journey in hazardous conditions and often of a good few miles in rural areas, plus further wasted time and money (on top of the lost money from the cancelled test in my diary anyway).

It’s ironic that edicts like this come down from Government departments who appear to specialise in losing huge quantities of highly sensitive data concerning individuals, and yet they employ hundreds of people whose job it is to try and plug every tiny hole of flexibility and commonsense that exists without any problems whatsoever elsewhere.

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Last week turned out to be a real stinker.

Thanks to the weather, I lost 25 hours of work. That’s £600 I didn’t get, but which I would have done if it hadn’t snowed.

Anyone thinking of becoming an instructor should bear this in mind. It isn’t easy to earn that £30,000 they keep telling you about on those ads when you lose 50% of your work without warning like this (could anyone have predicted we’d get that much snow after 20 years of the occasional bit of wet hail?)

On the plus side, those pupils I did take out – ones near enough test standard to be able to handle it, and only later in the week – benefited greatly. It might be another 20 years before they see the like again, but at least they’ll now know how easy it is to skid, and how slow you have to drive.

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I’m writing this just as a response to various things I’ve heard from other driving instructors.

I posted a few weeks ago about how Vauxhall is feeling the pinch and has decided to stop supplying tuition cars to BSM for free. I must admit that I didn’t know BSM got these cars for free. I do know that BSM instructors can pay a lot of money for their franchise and I simply questioned if this might cause that franchise fee to rise still further.

The news seems to have sent nearly all other instructors totally crazy, though! And I don’t mean BSM instructors.

The common desire seems to be that BSM should collapse and all its instructors ‘be made redundant’ (demonstrating the typical instructor’s total lack of understanding over salaried- and self-employment). One thing I learn from this is that membership of the Human Race isn’t clear cut and fringe membership is possible – how anyone could wish redundancy on their fellow man in these times is beyond me.

Another one is that this should cause BSM to put its lesson prices up. The belief amongst some instructors here seems to be that if BSM puts lesson prices up, other big schools like The AA , Red Driving , and so on will follow. Then, all the hapless instructors who are currently charging silly prices to try and steal work away from everyone else will be able to put their prices up as well (no doubt to a level which still undercuts the big schools so they can continue to try and steal work away).

Also heard more than once is an attitude to learning that BSM got the cars for free that is so strong your ears nearly catch fire. "How dare BSM get its fleet for free!" is what it amounts to – and this from people who aren’t franchised to BSM and have no business poking their noses in like that. How BSM gets its cars is BSM ‘s business. They don’t come and tell these people how to run their businesses, so what gives them the right to try and tell BSM how to run theirs?

The overriding attitude is one of glee. The world is getting more and more full with very sad and very malicious people, I’m afraid.

Being serious and objective for a moment… it will be interesting to see how BSM resolves this. If you think about it, it would be surprising if any large national school actually paid for its fleet – an agreement with a manufacturer is more likely because they get the major advertising and the school gets the cars. Yes, it’s a pain that the individual man in the street can’t get the same deal, but at corporate level strange things can and do happen. Vauxhall is quite likely to end up closing plants and making redundancies, so giving away a couple of thousand cars that can only be sold on for perhaps half their value is an expense it has to address first. Hopefully, BSM will resolve the issue from its own side and source its cars from elsewhere without having to charge its franchisees any more money – I was told by an instructor it is in talks with FIAT, but I cannot confirm this. I have no affiliation with BSM , by the way, but I do not want to see it fall.

Just to add that this post is starting to get a few hits and I suspect (judging by the search terms used) it is from BSM franchisees worried about what is happening. This is just my opinion, but it is also a realistic summary of the situation as it stands based on available information…

BSM is in talks with Vauxhall to come to an agreement over the deal. It may end up having to pay for the cars it previously got for nothing. It may be that Vauxhall and BSM part company. I heard a rumour that BSM was talking to FIAT, but I have seen nothing written about this anywhere. The only official information at this time is that Times story.

If you’re a BSM instructor, don’t worry. Something will happen and there’s no way Aviva is going to just close down the driving school. The BSM franchise is already easily the most expensive out there and no one in their right minds is going to ask you to pay more. BSM’s driving school is too successful to let fail.

Ignore the stupid and malicious rumours you keep seeing and hearing. Just wait and see what happens.

*** Click Here! BSM and FIAT sign deal (23/07/2009)***

EDIT 13/10/2010: And note the latest change here, as BSM decides to switch back to Vauxhall and Corsas.

EDIT 28/6/2012: And don’t forget that BSM is now run by The AA.

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In the Midlands we didn’t have a huge fall of snow, but on Monday evening it was as bad as it got. An additional problem has been the freezing temperatures overnight causing slush to freeze solid.

I’ve had a test booked every morning this week – and I have another tomorrow. The three so far have all been cancelled and the test centre has already told me tomorrow’s will be as well because of the low temperatures (that’s good of them because they say if I cancel now they’ll put me on the ‘bad weather’ list so the pupil doesn’t have to pay and I don’t have to waste my time turning up when it isn’t going ahead).

On the one hand it is costing me a bloody fortune. Four tests (2 hour bookings) and 4 hours of beginner lessons means nearly £300 lost income!

But on the other hand those pupils nearing test standard have benefited greatly from being able to drive on snow and see how easy it is to skid if you drive or brake even a little too quickly.

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Watching the news last night and it struck me how pathetic we have become in this country! I mean ‘pathetic’ in the sense that we can’t look after ourselves and go all mardy (look that one up) when the going is less than easy.

Admittedly London had a fair bit of snow but was it really enough for the entire transport system to freeze up? Someone somewhere isn’t doing their job properly if this can happen – especially when a few hundred miles to the east Scandinavia manages splendidly every year in much worse conditions.

No, the bit that caught my attention was the fact that the entire system shut down in places where there had been no snowfall at all. Schools were particularly ready to shut up shop for no sensible reason and there have been complaints from parents and businesses – parents were forced to stay home to look after kids, and businesses lost their workforce as a result, all at a time when they can ill-afford to lose revenue. It is estimated that up to 3,000 business already close to bankruptcy could be sent over the edge as a result of closures due to snow.

Even on the BBC News last night they had their roving reporter standing in a big empty car park telling us how health centres had shut and ‘this car park would normally be full’. There was easily less than 2 inches of level snow on that park…

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I’ve posted recently about various prog rock programmes on the BBC, but there is really only one band that is worth listening to these days. And that’s Rush .

I’ve been following them since the 70s and they’re still going strong – not in the crusty ‘reformed’ sense, but in full and continuous flight. This video is an oldie from the Moving Pictures album (1981).

They last toured in 2007 and I made sure I went to every UK show. It really was awesome.

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I hope you’re all sitting comfortably, because today we’re going to learn how to build a proper British snowman.

‘Snow’ in the UK has – for the last 20 years or so – amounted to a spot or two of cold rain that looks a bit grainy when it hits your windscreen (windshield for American viewers) as you’re driving along. Even with the relatively vast covering today it was still nothing compared to what we used to get – and what almost all of the rest of the world still gets on a regular basis.

British Snowman

British Snowman

This dearth of decent snow has given rise to a very British creation: the British Snowman .

To build one you will need the following:

  • a thin layer of wet snow
  • several dog turds
  • some grass clippings
  • oil from road
  • mud or soil
  • masonry removed from someone else’s property

Begin by having a snowball fight. Throw snowballs at moving traffic then, when bored, place snowball on the ground amongst the mud and grass exposed in the previous activity. Roll it around until it gets too big to move any more – by this time it will have acquired a non-white exterior consisting of mud, grass, oil, and any dog turds lying around. It will be roughly spherical depending on how soon you realised you couldn’t move it for much longer.

Repeat this process to make a smaller sphere. Place it on top of the first. Ideally, the primitive snowman will be located on a pavement or in the road – because that’s really funny.

The snowman now needs a face. The nose is usually created using a ‘carrot’ – the typical snowman architect will need to look this up on Wikipedia, not being familiar with vegetables in general, and especially not carrots in particular. The eyes and mouth will be carefully fashioned out of stones or small rocks taken from someone’s garden. The adventurous snowman builder will use clothes and possibly shoes to adorn his creation.

Since the majority of British Snowman builders are students, optional extras include genitalia and bosoms.

Suggested further activity: wait until dark, then go and demolish as many snowmen as possible – ideally by pushing them on to paths or into roads.

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Following on from the Mail’s highly embarrassing crusade to prevent energy-inefficient and environment-destroying incandescent bulbs from being phased out (and all because of those damned Johnny Foreigners in the EU. Eh. What), it reported this week that a bulb costing only £2 with a life expectancy of 60 years had been developed.

A lighting revolution is on the way that could end at the flick of a switch the battle between supporters of conventional bulbs and the eco-friendly variety.

It goes on to describe this ‘brand new’ invention:

Cambridge University researchers have developed cheap, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that produce brilliant light but use very little electricity. They will cost £2 and last up to 60 years.

Despite being smaller than a penny, they are 12 times more efficient than conventional tungsten bulbs and three times more efficient than the unpopular fluorescent low-energy versions.

Erm, Mail-guys! They may cost £2 each, but a typical usable light bulb will need perhaps 5-10 of them inside. So your later comment involves a little bit of misunderstanding:

But until now the production costs have been too expensive for widespread use because the material had to be ‘grown’ on sapphire wafers, meaning a single household bulb would have cost £20.

A household bulb using these LEDs will still cost anywhere between £10-20, depending on how many LEDs it has inside. And the Maplin LED Strip I mentioned in the original story only costs £19 and has 36 ultra-bright LEDs on it (that’s about 53p per LED, Mail-guys!)

Maplin LED Light Strip - type 1

Maplin LED Light Strip – type 1

I suspect the Mail is trying (very badly) to dig itself out of the huge hole it dug over that free lightbulb offer to its crusty, middle-England readership – who, incidentally, are still flooding this site with hits based on the search term ‘Daily Mail free lightbulb offer’.

Of course, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that high-brightness LEDs have been around since at least 2007 . No, wait! Maybe since 2005 (and they’re made of Gallium Nitride – the same Philosopher’s Stone the Mail claims this fantastic new discovery is fashioned from). The Mail’s journo’s are a real joke sometimes – they can’t research any science story properly.

The cost of high-brightness LEDs will come down – everyone knows that. It’s just a shame that the kind of people who would happily sacrifice the planet to prevent the EU telling them what to do can’t get it into their heads that even now £20-30 for a bulb which never wears out and uses a fraction of the power is better than paying 70p repeatedly for something which breaks every few months and costs a fortune to run by comparison.

But that’s the typical Daily Mail reader for you. It’s no wonder we’re still stuck with a nonsensical Imperial measuring system and Sterling when metric and the Euro are just sitting there begging to be used.

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