Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

This just came through. Driving tests are cancelled across the country for the next two days (19/20 March). Test centres are closing down. They will review the situation after that.

I’m not affected this week, but I have already warned my pupils with tests in the next month to be prepared for them not going ahead. I don’t see how they can do them with the situation developing the way it is.

It isn’t looking good.

Update 19/03/2020, 1.00pm: I have been speaking with many of my pupils who have tests in the next two weeks. I have explained to them that in my opinion there is a strong likelihood that tests are going to be cancelled for the foreseeable future. I pointed out that DVSA only sent out this communication at 9.40pm last night, and it means that ‘after that’ will fall over the weekend – so any further communication is unlikely (based on experience so far) until early next week.

One pupil decided we had better move his test back. I had booked it, and the earliest dates available are mid-June. From what I have heard elsewhere, DVSA is not allowing booking until then, so reading between the lines that is how long the test centres might be closed for. It’s three months.

I’m not saying that will happen. But at the moment it is a distinct possibility.

Update 19/03/2020 5.45pm: All tests have been cancelled in Northern Ireland for three months. Note that this is for Northern Ireland, which is a different agency to DVSA in the rest of the UK.

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Curly KaleLast week, I took the decision to do my weekly shopping online for the time being. I shop in Asda several times a week, and usually spend upwards of £150 there on groceries, and similar on fuel (I have a 2% cashback credit card with them, which is one of the drivers for that).

I placed my order last Wednesday, and the earliest delivery slot was Saturday. No problem. But when I came to do it this week, on Tuesday, the entire delivery calendar was booked out (it went as far as next Friday). Click & Collect goes further out, but that was fully booked out until April.

I went on to Morrisons’ website, and their delivery slots are booked out until mid-April. I since read that their site has crashed several times due to demand.

Then I tried Ocado, and was met with a page that said ‘you are no. 687 in a queue of 687. Approximate wait time is 10 minutes’. That was just to access the site! A family friend tried today, and was eight thousand and something out of eight thousand and something! I have since read that Ocado has stopped taking on new customers.

So our wonderful government has overlooked starvation (because you can’t buy anything online) vs infection (because you’re forced to go out) as an outcome of their poor handling of this situation to date. Should be fun if they impose a lockdown, so you can’t go out.

But I decided to go to Asda last night for some essentials. I shouldn’t have bothered. The shelves were nearly all completely empty – no fresh vegetables, virtually no fruit, no meat, no milk (except the kind that often goes off five minute after you open it), no tinned goods, no noodles or pasta of any kind, no bread of any kind, no frozen food except a few pizzas and Yorkshire puddings.

I did manage to get a few things, and when I arrived at the checkout there was a middle-aged couple there before me. They were that type you just want to shoot (and which I have mentioned before). For a start off, there didn’t need to be two of them there at all, but there was, and they did everything as a couple. Of course, they allowed everything to be checked through before even thinking about bagging it, and they bagged everything as a couple before even thinking about paying. Then he got his wallet out, took out a credit card, gave it to her, and she had to lean over the trolley to push it in the card machine and slowly enter the PIN because he was much closer to it to start with.

But what mostly caught my eye was what they had purchased. About twenty bags – and I mean somewhere around that number – of curly kale. I mean, curly kale? What the f—?

I immediately had my suspicions, so when I got home I did a quick Google and – surprise, surprise – some twat (a ‘wellbeing coach’, which explains perfectly) in Malaysia has claimed kale prevents you from catching Coronavirus! And that’s why they had bought the entire shelf stock of it.

The ironic thing is, too much kale is suspected of being bad for you, and the potential problems it can cause looked as if this couple might be susceptible in the first place. Idiots.

Today, I went into Morrisons and did manage to get a few bits. Only a few, though. It seems like every idiot out there has suddenly discovered Kidney Beans, Borlotti Beans, Chickpeas, and so on. I wanted some kidney beans because I’m making a chilli to freeze into portions – something I do regularly, as I do with homemade pasta sauce (there was none of that in Morrisons, either, I noticed). The shelves were empty. The thing is, no one usually touches these things.

Fortunately, the cash & carry wasn’t quite as bad (though it was still bad), and I managed to pick up a couple of catering cans of kidney beans and chopped tomatoes (though they’re not Napolina, but you can’t have everything, I suppose). Far more than I wanted because of the cans sizes, but it was that or nothing. I’ll just have to make more chilli than I intended.

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DVSA has sent out an email relating to Coronavirus. I suspect this is especially for the idiots still intent on doing lessons and tests, even if they are unwell.

Basically, do not take anyone to test if you or they feel unwell. Test rearrangements will be free of charge, even if at short notice.

You need to call 0300 200 1122 (8am to 4pm, Monday-Friday) if it’s a short notice cancellation.

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A press release from DVSA lists some of the reasons given by people for not taxing their vehicles. You can read the article yourself, but I will repeat the list they give here:

  • I’m about to start a prison sentence, so is there any way you could hang on to my ice cream van for six months ‘til I get out?
  • I would’ve taxed my van but my bitter ex put four live chickens in it
  • I know it was untaxed, but I didn’t think you’d clamp cars in a heatwave
  • I forgot to tax it as I was looking after the kids (aged 19 and 26)
  • I couldn’t tax my car as I’ve had man flu and have been stuck in bed for 4 weeks
  • I would’ve taxed the car, but you clamped it so early in the morning (the car was clamped at lunchtime)

I love the one about looking after the ‘kids’.

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It’ll be March in a couple of days. My birch is already showing catkins at the end of the branches. It’ll be getting its first feed of the year in the next week or so. With all the rain we’ve had, it won’t need much watering in, though.

Our Silver Birch in June 2017I originally wrote this article back in 2014. At that time, our tree began to produce a lot of yellow leaves in mid-June, and after a lot of research I managed to figure out the cause and remedy – and that’s what this article was originally about.

However, 2018 was the hottest year on record. The heat lasted for months, and it introduced another problem (which may or may not have been a factor back in 2014 without me realising it) that affected pretty much every tree in the country. Heat stress.

The article becomes popular each year, but things kicked off much earlier in the season in 2019. I suspect that this was down to a combination of the mild end to a dry Winter, which jump-started Spring, and the lingering effects of the 2018 drought.

Yet another problem in 2019, possibly another knock-on effect from the previous summer and mild winter, was green fly. In Spring and early Summer they were merrily chowing down on the new leaves on my tree. I bought some Ladybird larvae and released them into the canopy, and they seemed to do the trick.

To summarise everything I have discovered about premature yellowing and leaf drop in Silver Birches over the last few years, it can occur for the following reasons:

  • nutrient deficiency
  • iron deficiency
  • lack of water and heat stress
  • manganese deficiency

And I now know that it’s easy to get all of them at once (note that manganese deficiency is something I found out about recently and have been experimenting with during 2019).

When the yellowing first occurred back in 2014, we were worried. Googling for an answer was next to useless, since most of the technical advice was North American, focusing on the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches), or the perils of trying to grow trees in either a desert or a swamp. And that was only from the experts – the general public was quite prepared to believe that it was an alien conspiracy, and was more than prepared to defend that view. Our trees had none of the beetle infestation symptoms other than leaf drop, and although the British never shut up about the bloody weather, we were not growing ours in anything other than normally-drained British garden soil.

After a lot of research, and after sifting out the utter crap, I discovered that yellowing/leaf drop is usually caused by deficiencies of nutrients and/or iron in the soil. In 2018, with the hot summer to contend with, I further discovered that lack of moisture and/or high temperatures can produce the same symptoms – it’s called heat stress, and I’ll discuss it later (I wrote a separate article about it in August 2018).

Note that the problems described are not confined to Silver Birches. All trees and plants can be affected by nutrient deficiencies or heat stress, though you may need a different fertiliser to address the nutrient issues.

The problem we had in 2014 was characterised by bright, canary yellow leaves – just like in the Autumn, though not as widespread throughout the canopy – which began falling off the tree. I can’t honestly remember where I found this now, but somewhere in the hundreds and hundreds of forum pages and obscure “ask the expert” sites rattling on about the bloody Birch Borer I came across a single one-line comment mentioning two easily-applied ideas that made absolute sense, and which could be implemented without calling in David Attenborough and Rentokil. Fertiliser and Iron Treatments

Nitrogen (nutrient) deficiency is resolved using ericaceous fertiliser (for lime-hating plants, which is what birch trees are). It is available from various manufacturers, such as Miracle-Gro, and can be bought from most decent garden centres and from many online retailers (including eBay and Amazon, where I usually get mine). It only costs about £5 for a box of the granules (you often get multi-pack deals), and there’s enough in one box to manage a small-medium sized tree for at least half a season (note that for larger trees, you might have to use a lot more of it). You can also get liquid varieties, which I’ve switched to since 2018 because of my new irrigator toy; and slow-release granules, which work for up to three months, and which are great for those treating small areas (I use them in my containers of Blueberries).

Normal fertiliser is no good for birches – it has to be the ericaceous stuff – and you just dissolve it in water and spread it around the tree. The slow-release granules are just sprinkled on the ground and watered in (I just wish they’d make the damned things in camouflage green, instead of the “hey, look at me all over the lawn” multicoloured mix they actually are).

Leaves suffering from chlorosisLeaves that look like those in the images here are suffering from iron deficiencyknown as chlorosis.

Leaves are green because they contain chlorophyll. Simplifying the subject, chlorophyll allows plants to convert light energy into sugars they can use via the process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is green – hence the colour leaves usually are – and it contains iron, so if there isn’t enough iron you get less chlorophyll (hence the yellow colour). The plants compensate for the subsequent lack of food by shedding leaves and going towards a shutdown state. That’s what you can see here.

Chlorosis is resolved using sequestered (or chelated) iron, such as Maxicrop, shown above. It’s a seaweed extract, so perfectly natural, and it comes as a liquid. You can mix it in with your fertiliser and water it in at the same time. I’ve recently discovered a source of Maxicrop in commercial 10L containers, which is more cost-effective than buying it in 1L bottles. It stains like hell, so be careful not to drop the concentrated liquid on pathways and decking.

Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosisAnother symptom of soil nutrient deficiency is that new leaves may be small and misshapen, instead of the classic Birch leaf shape. Some of ours were like that in that first season.

Back in 2014, after a single application of fertiliser treatment, leaf drop stopped almost immediately once the already-dead leaves had fallen. The tree even threw out some catkins, which had been absent up until then. In subsequent years, I started feeding every few weeks from March with both fertiliser and iron and we had no leaf drop at all until 2018. In May 2017 our tree looked like the photo at the top of this article, and here’s a close-up of the leaves from that year. Does that look healthy, or what?

Close-up of our tree's leaves in June 2017An additional iron treatment for the longer term is to water-in iron (ferrous) sulphate periodically. This replaces iron in the soil, too, but it also acidifies the ground over time, which is beneficial for ericaceous plants. It’s also very good for your lawn – iron sulphate is a moss-killer and a grass-greener (it’s sold for these purposes, and I use it several times a year to kill moss in the lawn).

Why does nutrient deficiency occur? Well, bear in mind that when trees and plants die back in winter in the wild, the leaves they shed decompose and return nutrients to the soil as they do so. In urban gardens, though, leaves are usually swept up and taken to the tip to keep the garden looking tidy. That means the soil becomes depleted of those nutrients over time and you get problems like this. It’s fairly obvious looking at it now, but I was like everyone else in thinking that when you planted a tree you just forgot about it and let it grow. It turns out you need to look after them almost as much as you would a tomato plant or an ornamental cactus.

You have to keep the treatments going at least once a month between March and September, and you have to follow the same routine each year (or at least over alternate years). If you don’t, the problem will come back at some point.

Now we come to the extremely hot summer of 2018. Around the end of June, I once again noticed a few sprays of yellow appearing. I briefly wondered what was going on, but I guessed right away it might be linked to the prolonged high temperatures and low rainfall we’d experienced up until then. After Googling it I concluded my tree was, indeed, suffering from heat stress. The solution to this is to get water down to the roots – it’s called deep watering – but that’s easier said than done.

One way of doing it is to use deep watering spikes. These are tapered tubes that are hammered into the ground around the tree, and into which water is fed slowly so that it gets to the roots deep down. I didn’t have time for that in 2018 (with the ground as dry as it was, it’d have been like trying to hammer a nail into plate steel), so I went for the longer-term sprinkler method. Every night, I set the sprinkler going and watered for a couple of hours in each of several zones to ensure even saturation (we didn’t have any hosepipe restrictions, and I wouldn’t have continued if we had). This allowed water to seep down deep into the soil, and it fixed the problem in less than a week (it also turned a completely brown lawn into a lush green carpet).

With hindsight, all trees in 2018 had much thinner canopies than usual – as I mentioned earlier, heat stress isn’t just confined to birches. The leaves on my own trees were smaller than they were in previous years, but about a week after starting deep watering the birch produced some new shoots and the leaves that appeared were much larger. And some very fat catkins also appeared.

As a result of the heat stress problem, and still needing to keep the other treatments going, I have now invested in a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. I can highly recommend that device – the Access Irrigation Static Dilutor.

I’m updating this in late August 2019, and our birch has been fine and is still completely green.

Can you rescue leaves which have turned yellow?

No, probably not. The important thing is that by feeding and watering the tree you can stop any further yellowing – and believe me, the first time you do it the effects will be quite noticeable within a short time.

I would imagine that chlorosis could be reversed if it is caught early, since pale leaves are not necessarily dead – they’re just iron-deficient. In that case, you might be able to save some partially-yellowed leaves by applying the chelated iron treatment. As an example, in early June 2018 (before the heatwave really kicked in) I noticed my neighbour’s usually-dark green Cherry Tree leaves were very pale and many yellow ones were falling. I told her about the iron treatment and she bought a bottle. The leaves on that tree turned dark green within a few days and no more yellow ones were produced.

Do you have to keep treating the trees?

Yes. If you don’t, the problem just comes back once the tree has used up what you’ve fed it, especially if you bin the leaves again the following autumn. Huge trees will suck up all the nutrients and water, and if you’re raking up and binning the leaves each year (or if the soil is dry and there are no prolonged periods of rain) nothing gets returned to the soil.

Treat your trees from March until September. Feed at least once a month (even two to three times during the earlier months) – and water regularly in hot weather anyway, as they do need moisture.

How often should you feed?

I do it once or twice a month.

Can heat and drought cause them to lose leaves?

Yes. If they are stressed you may get them dropping leaves, and if not treated the leaves can even go brown and die on the tree (I saw a lot of Silver Birch trees on road verges like that in 2018). It’s a good idea to water them deeply during hot, dry periods. Once or twice a week should be enough, though more frequently won’t hurt if the dry period is prolonged.

As I explained above, the hot weather we experienced in summer 2018 caused my tree to produce some sprays of yellow leaves. I commenced deep-watering from June, as well as feeding regularly. This was the first time heat/drought had been an obvious problem, so it caught me out a little. However, after a week of deep-watering leaf-yellowing stopped completely, and the tree was healthy throughout the rest of the heatwave (as was the lawn, which was parched brown, but ended up lush green).

Remember that after a period of drought (or prolonged dry weather) it needs an extended period of rain to wet the soil again, especially deep down. A few heavy downpours won’t do it, and you will still need to help things along.

Will a Birch recover from drought?

It depends on whether the drought killed it or not. A reader wrote to me in 2018, mentioning that his tree had lost its leaves, and I advised that the only thing he could do right then was to feed and water – and hope for the best. He wrote to me in 2019 to tell me the tree had started to rock in the wind, and that a tree surgeon had subsequently declared it dead, and had had to remove it. Apparently, the roots were rotten.

There’s no way of knowing if it was just the drought that did the damage. The tree may have been weakened by not feeding and watering over previous years, and the drought was just the final nail in the coffin. But the 2018 heatwave certainly caused problems.

Birches were showing profuse growth of leaves and catkins (mine was) as early as mid-April in 2019. If yours is still struggling, then it doesn’t look good. The 2018 heatwave did a lot of damage, and since not many people do the feeding ritual that I have covered in this article, trees may already have been struggling. That said, mine has certainly recovered, although I did catch on very early and stopped it becoming a major issue.

All I can say is: water (if it’s not raining much) and feed.

Is there any other way to deal with the problem?

You have to get nutrients and iron back into the soil. And you need water in order for the roots to be able to access those nutrients. Yes, you could use your own mulch or bought compost, but obviously this is not so attractive in a normal garden (removing it is what got you here in the first place). It would also take longer to have an effect. But it would still work, given time.

When do Birch trees normally start to shed their leaves?

The short – and very obvious – answer is: in the Autumn. It can vary a little up and down the country (just as Spring tends to start earlier the further south you are), but in the Midlands they usually start to show sprays of yellow from late September to early October. It often seems triggered by a noticeable drop in night time temperatures. The leaves will begin to fall from that point – very lightly at first, then increasing as the yellowing spreads.

Why do birch trees drop leaves so early?

They don’t. They drop them in Autumn, like all other trees which shed their leaves each year. If yours is turning early, you may have a problem – probably one which can easily be sorted by reading through this article.

How do you apply these treatments?

You make up the required solution as directed on the pack, then water it into the area specified. I have now invested in a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. However, you can use a watering can and hosepipe/sprinkler as necessary. Note that if the ground is dry, a watering can won’t get the nutrients down to the roots, so a heavy watering is essential.

I do this up to twice a month between March and September. In 2018, I was deep watering every night during the heatwave.

How much should I use?

Like I said, the mix ratio is on the pack. Make sure you scale things up, though. The pack might well say use a capful or a spoonful in 4.5L of water, but this is for a small area of border and the plants therein. If you’re feeding a large tree, it may well be that you need to use a half a pack of the stuff dissolved and spread over 100m².

Why are fallen leaves sticky?

You’ve got greenfly! Specifically, the birch aphid, Euceraphis betulae. They feed on the European Birch, Betula pendula, and they increase in number during warm and dry weather – which is what we have right now (and did have for most of the winter). Aphids secrete honeydew as they feed, and that’s the sticky stuff you’re seeing. Apparently, you can get different species of greenfly that feed on specific trees.

Someone found the blog on this search term in late May 2019. Right now, my tree is very healthy, and is putting out a lot of new growth – but I have noticed something is eating the young leaves. When I looked closer, I saw a lot of greenfly. You will also get a few leaves falling with this problem.

You can kill them with a soap/water mixture, though no one has ever been able to tell me precisely how you apply that to a 20 metre high tree. And the same goes for any chemical method relying on direct contact.

An alternative solution is to introduce predatory insects – something that eats aphids. The best one is the Ladybird, and you can buy them online. There are other predatory insects you can buy, too.

My tree is losing branches and twigs

If the tree is weak then it is understandable that twigs and small branches might fall off. Once they’re stronger this will stop. In any case, if it is windy, a few dead twigs are bound to fall off. It’s just nature.

Early in the year, another likely problem is crows (the winged variety). From March (February in 2019) they will be nest-building, and they are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose. We get them nesting near us, and they will tear off a hundred twigs and drop them until they get the one they want. It’s nature, so we don’t worry.

Why do Silver Birches drop so many twigs?

As I said above: crows (and similar birds). As of February/March 2019 they were actively nest building (it’s usually March, but the warm end to winter has kicked them off early).

They will carefully select the twig they want, but the sods will tear off loads more before they find it. I watched one on a dead Birch tree when I dropped a pupil off after a lesson, and he (or she) had broken off a huge twig – almost a branch – and was trying to get into a position to fly out of the branches with it.

Also note that high winds might knock a few loose twigs down.

When do birches start to show leaves?

In spring, obviously, but the precise date varies depending on both the tree and the weather. In 2019, they were about a month earlier than 2018 in the UK.

Someone found the blog in mid-April 2019 on this search term, and I suspect it is because their own tree hadn’t yet shown any leaves. I refer again to the hot summer of 2018, and the effects of heat stress. I’m sure that many trees – not just birches – were killed by the drought, but people wouldn’t realise until the following Spring. In 2019, my own tree was in almost full leaf by mid-April, and certainly by May, with lots of catkins.

My tree is taking a long time to show any leaves

I’m not an expert, but if this happened to me – and knowing what I know now – I’d start feeding it pronto. Of course, it might just be slow – some trees do seem to lag behind others – but a good feed can’t do any harm. Mine was in full leaf by May 2019, whereas neighbours’ trees were still in the process of producing leaves. In hindsight, and following my observations throughout the year, the heatwave seemed to have stressed trees to the extent that their canopies were sparser than usual (leaves were smaller), and this may have been what you were experiencing.

In the worst case, your tree might not be in good condition at all, but you’d have to call the experts in for that.

I’ve got catkins but no leaves

Someone found the site in April 2018 with that query. You’ll probably find that in a couple of weeks you’ll have lots of leaves. As I have said in this article, I start feeding mine from March onwards. Leaves start sprouting a week or two earlier than my neighbours’ trees, and the foliage on mine is usually much denser. The catkins often come before the leaves.

I strongly recommend feeding them regularly as a matter of course – and watering if the ground is dry.

Are the leaves changing early this year?

This was a generic search term used to find the blog in mid-July 2017. The short answer is no, they are not – not in July, anyway.

In hot and dry weather, many trees can become “distressed” and start to shed leaves. Silver birches are affected by this. Also, greenfly infestations can cause leaves to die and fall. If a lot of leaves are turning yellow on the tree then you have a problem – quite possibly one of those which are the main subject of this article. However, a few leaves falling is probably nothing much to worry about.

Do Weeping Silver Birches lose their leaves in Autumn?

Yes.

When do Silver Birch leaves go all brown?

They don’t. The leaves should go yellow and fall off in the autumn.

I had quite a few visitors from this search term in 2018, and when I looked it up it seems that extreme cases of chlorosis and heat stress can result in leaves turning brown (see this supplementary article). It could also be a disease or infestation which you could treat, but the tree itself might also be dead – especially if it has been having any of the problems I mentioned above over previous years. Best to call in the experts.

Could the 2018 heatwave still cause problems in 2019?

It’s possible. Remember that we’ve had a relatively dry winter, too, so there may not be much moisture for the trees to draw upon. If they were weakened by the hot weather in 2018, and there’s still not much moisture in the ground come Spring, it could mean that they are still struggling at a time when they really need a lot of energy to put out new growth.

The hot summer of 2018 almost certainly killed off a few trees, so it is safe to assume it must have stressed the hell out of many others. That was why many started shedding leaves early – they were going into shutdown to protect themselves.

My tree is doing fine, because I water and feed it regularly. So there’s a clue to what you need to do.

Does this advice only apply to Silver Birch trees?

No. Chlorosis can affect many plants, and lack of nutrients is going to be a universal issue. You might need a different fertiliser to address any nutrient problem, but iron will likely fix chlorosis. Lack of water can kill virtually any plant.

Recently, someone found the blog as a result of premature leaf drop in their Betula utilis. This is the Himalayan Birch, famed for its peeling paper-like bark, and it is a member of the same family as the Silver Birch. In the Himalayas, it often grows among Rhododendron plants (look at that fertiliser again – are you seeing the connection, here?), so the advice given above would work for the Himalayan Birch, too. And it also worked for my neighbour’s Cherry Tree, as I mentioned earlier.

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UK Banks montageSomeone recently found the blog on the term ‘what bank should I use as an instructor’?

The answer is simple: It doesn’t matter who you bank with.

All you need to be able to do is pay money in and get it out when you need it. As a sole trader, you really don’t need a business account (which usually has a monthly fee of between £5-£10, and extra fees for depositing cheques), but if that’s what you want then it’s up to you. Some banks will try to insist you have a business account if you bank with them, but my advice would be to find another bank unless you’re happy to be charged for something most will provide to instructors and sole traders for free,

Personally, I bank with Halifax, and all my money goes into and comes out of the same personal account. The vast majority of my driving instructor income goes in via my PayPal Here card reader and PayPal account. Less often, it goes in via bank transfer or a direct PayPal payment. I never accept cheques as lesson payments now, and I only ever get one if I’m being paid by a corporate source (another bank, insurance companies, and so on).

Cheques were the only source of payment problems I ever had. I can’t remember any ‘bouncing’ because pupils didn’t have the funds, but I was always conscious that they could. The main source of problems was how they were filled in – missing numbers or my name spelled wrong, or smeared. It didn’t happen often – but it happened, and it was made worse by the fact that the bank can take weeks or months before sending it back, which you wouldn’t know unless you were looking at your account every five minutes. However, the main drawback was that cheques have no immediate value until you have banked them, and when I first started, the vast majority of pupils paid this way. So if I wanted to maintain my cashflow – and when you’re starting out, you most certainly do – it meant frequent trips to the bank.

Unfortunately, though, even now about 20% of my turnover is still cash, and I can easily accrue several hundred pounds in little more than a week. So I still have to physically pay money in occasionally (though I’m no longer in a major hurry to do so) by way of the ancient pantomime known as ‘going to the bank’.

I have to be honest and say that Halifax is utterly crap as far as its branches are concerned. To start with, they don’t have many left, and those they do are located in places where you find a lot of idiots (e.g. West Bridgford and Arnold shopping precincts). First of all, you have to find somewhere to park, and in West Bridgford that means having to pay (and the traffic wardens hunt in packs, ready to nab you if your ticket has a crease in it or is placed crookedly on your dashboard). In Arnold, if you’re lucky you can find a free roadside spot, but if not then you have to pay there, too. West Bridgford town centre during the day is like a geriatric village of the damned, and even if the car park has spaces, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to get to them because of elderly and disabled drivers stopping next to the fully-occupied disabled bays waiting for someone to move (or trying to avoid buying a ticket while they wait for their partner to come back from shopping). In the afternoon, mummies in Chelsea tractors do the same as they pick their kids up in the car park, or wait for a space near the shops instead of driving round the other side where there’s lots of empty places.

If you do manage to park and get into the Halifax branch, the size of the queue at the till (and the complexity of the transaction each member of it is trying to complete) is inversely proportional to how big a hurry you are in. There’ll be women with pushchairs whose kids are running around screaming, people with bags of coins, those making withdrawals as if they’ve never heard of a cashpoint, and several elderly people with bank books who behave as though they’ve never done this before when they get to the till (and who then go straight to the cashpoint to make sure the money has gone in, and often to take some out again less than five minutes after putting it in).

The number of cashiers on duty is not proportional to anything. They only ever have one unless the number in the queue is approaching three digits. Then they still have one. But sometimes two, although that isn’t proportional to anything either.

On the rare occasions I have used the cashier, the simple act of paying cash into your account takes five minutes. This, too, isn’t proportional to anything. It just takes five minutes – possibly a bit longer if you have a lot of cash and what they count isn’t the same as what you counted. The vast majority of that five minutes is taken up by their printing device, which takes nearly that long to chisel your receipt on to small clay tablet.

Of course, there is the Fast Deposit machine. This miracle of technology does exactly the same thing as the cashier, and it even takes exactly as long as the cashier. All without involving the cashier at all. Brilliant. Except that Halifax branch staff have been encouraging as many people as possible to use it to try and keep the queue for the till inside the building. Many of those thus encouraged seem incapable of understanding that those little metal things called ‘staples’ and ‘paper clips’ are not supposed to go into the machine, so it is frequently not working. And even when it is, if there’s more than one person waiting to use it, you’re no better off than standing in line waiting for the till. It was that which led to my last ever visit late last year.

I went in, and there was the usual queue for the single cashier. There was only one person at the Fast Deposit gizmo, but it quickly became clear he was having a financial discussion of some sort on his phone. He had several cards and a thick wad of cash. He wasn’t actually using the machine, but he was going to, and the supernumerary cards suggested the money wasn’t all going into the same account. So he was effectively three or more people – all of them f***ing stupid – all by himself. I stormed out – I swore audibly – and when I got home began looking for another bank.

If I’d have calmed down a bit, I would have realised that it was going to be the same whoever I banked with if I needed to visit a branch. Years ago, while I was with HSBC, I went into the now closed branch in Keyworth, only to get stuck behind a local farmer who was paying in hundreds of pounds in coins! And whenever I used to go in NatWest or Barclays, the cashier getting up and disappearing in order to deal with whatever the idiot at the front of the queue was trying to do would make my blood boil. But it was while I was angrily looking for a new bank that I discovered I was now able to pay into my Halifax account at the Post Office.

At first glance, this might not seem the panacea it has turned out to be. That’s because the people who frequent Post Offices are a hundred times more stupid than those at the bank branches. I recently got stuck behind someone who was apparently an eBay seller, and they had at least 30 small packages, each of which had to be individually bagged and labelled for some unfathomable reason (when I sell on eBay, I bag and label at home and only use the Post Office as a drop off if they won’t fit in a post box). Or in the village branches, they are gathering places for the elderly to have a chat, often with the elderly Postmaster (who also runs the tiny general store it is attached to), and if you walk in as an unfamiliar face, that chat takes absolute precedence over whatever it is you want to do. But the major advantage is that there are a lot of them, parking is usually a doddle, and there is always one either very close to home, or along the route as you are driving between lessons. And paying cash or cheques in at a Post Office is quick – I am usually in and out in less than two minutes.

I don’t know how long I’ve been missing out on this, because I looked into a it a few years ago for precisely the same reasons as I did this time and the service was only provided to the big banks (which didn’t include Halifax). But it seems to be almost universal now.

Why don’t you accept cheques?

There is no need. Anyone who uses cheques to pay for stuff will have a cheque guarantee card, and these days those things are chip & pin cards. Since I can take card payments, a cheque is a pointless complication. The only possible benefit to a pupil who wanted to do it would be to defer payment by however long it takes for me to bank it, plus however long it takes my bank and theirs to process it. If I didn’t pay it in immediately, there’s an increased chance that they will be skint again by the time I did. For me, there is no benefit at all, since it forces me to go to the bank if I want the money, and that is just wasted time and all of the hassle I have already outlined.

Other instructors take cheques

That’s because they can’t take card payments, meaning that unless they get paid in cash (including driving the pupil to a cashpoint to obtain it), or do it by bank/PayPal transfer, a cheque is the only alternative. Getting pupils to pay by bank or PayPal transfer is a hassle in itself, as is driving to cash machines a lot of the time (especially when they’re out of order or there’s traffic). When mine do it by transfer, I often have to keep chasing them because they ‘forget’. I’ve got better things to do,

What if people can only pay you by cheque?

I would imagine the number of people in the entire country who are truly in that position could be counted on the fingers of one hand. If they can write cheques, they will need a cheque guarantee card, and that doubles as a chip & pin – which I can accept directly. If the bank won’t give them one, there is probably a damned good reason for it, and I have no desire whatsoever to find out why by accepting non-guaranteed cheques from them.

As I said, I can handle cheques. I choose not to as a routine method of payment because there is no good reason for them these days as a way of paying for driving lessons. It has not been an issue, and if it ever became one then I would consider each case on its merits. It isn’t one of my accepted methods, that’s all.

Why bother with a card machine?

It’s quick, and I get paid immediately. There’s no chasing, and no risk of loss to me. Since I started using such a device nearly seven years ago I have taken well over £100,000 that way (and yes, it all gets declared when I do my taxes, as does any cash I take). It also means I have good records for tax purposes. Frankly, I wish everyone would pay by card, but it isn’t uncommon for people to have their own reasons for insisting on cash – even if it involves as much as £700 for a complete course!

Isn’t it illegal to use a personal account for business transactions?

No. You only need a business account if you are a limited company. Sole traders – such as ADIs – are operating perfectly legally if they use a personal account. The only reason for choosing a business account would be to keep things simple for when you do your tax return – but it isn’t that hard in the first place for instructors.

Note also that some banks don’t like it if you use a personal account this way and will expect you to open a business account – and close your personal one if you don’t. That’s between you and the bank’s policies, and not a legal issue.

HMRC will audit you if you use a personal account

Well, I’ve been doing this for long time and I have never been audited. I wouldn’t be worried if I was, because my accounts are clear (and true). HMRC are far more interested in you if your numbers don’t add up properly – if your profit ratio isn’t what it should be, or if your declared turnover doesn’t ring true, for example.

What I have noticed is that at least some ADIs who make this claim will also have boasted at some point how little tax they pay, and if they’re saying it because they’ve been audited, well, there’s the real reason right there. In my case, I simply pay what is required after all my overheads have been subtracted from all my turnover. If you’re honest, and doing this full time, there’s no escaping the fact that you need to pay taxes – and the annual figure when you complete your Self Assessment isn’t going to be very attractive if you haven’t been planning for it throughout the year.

Too many people start in this job, end up working 30 hour weeks, but don’t put their taxes aside as they go along. Then, at the end of the year, they need to find around £1,000 to pay their bill – usually, just after Christmas to make matters worse. Fair enough, you pay half in January, and the other half in July, but it’s still a lot.

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Heavy Snow in Nottingham - 10/2/2020Caution – contains swearing.

It’s been an absolute joke, today. The A52 is still closed southbound, so traffic is having to find its way across the Trent elsewhere. But that’s why I made sure I wasn’t teaching during the rush hour.

Or, at least that was the plan. You see, I didn’t take into account the Met Office – a weather forecasting agency that gets it wrong even when it tries to tell people what it can see out of its windows.

I had a lesson at 1pm. As we drove away from his house, it began to rain. A few minutes later I commented that it was now sleet, as you could see the ice crystals on the windscreen as the drops hit. By this time we were heading up Woodborough Road towards Mapperley, and I said ‘ just watch when we get to the top – it’ll be proper snow at that altitude’. And it was, although it wasn’t settling.

Mapperley is one of the highest points in Nottingham. If it’s drizzly in the city, it’s pissing down in Mapperley. If it’s a bit hazy in Colwick, there’ll be thick fog in Mapperley. And as I predicted today, if there’s a bit of sleet down below, Mapperley will have lying snow. But I wasn’t worried, because no weather forecasts today had said we’d get any heavy snow in Nottingham. I checked.

We drove down Arnold Lane towards Gedling, and the snow got wetter as we descended and eased off. We did a circuit through Burton Joyce and Stoke Bardolph, then finished up at the Victoria Retail Park to have ago with the road layouts around there and a manoeuvre. While we were there, the snow got heavier – it was those little balls that bounce off glass – and I noticed it began to accumulate around kerbstones.

Then we headed home towards the city centre at about 2.20pm. Traffic was light around the Retail Park, and it was the same all the way back up Arnold Lane – until we got near to the top. By now, the snow was falling heavily in huge flakes, and the road was covered. The traffic came to a complete standstill and was not moving, most likely because some twat had slammed their brakes on at the bottom of the first dip and couldn’t get up the other side. We turned around and headed back down to go via a different route. Traffic was still free-moving, and we managed to get all the way through Gedling, up Carlton Hill, and through Carlton itself. Then, we were at a standstill again, just before Porchester Road. And this time there was nowhere else to go.

That was just after 2.30pm. To cut a long story short, I finally dropped the pupil off outside his house at just before 5pm. It took us over an hour to move from Nottingham High School to Russell View (a quarter of a mile) along Forest Road, and his 1.5 hour lesson had lasted 4 hours! I didn’t get home until just before 7pm. I’d cancelled my evening lesson because the pupil lives off Porchester Road with all the steep roads, and he’d told me they were bad.

The snow began at just after 1pm, and by 2pm it was falling heavily higher up. When I got home, I went to the BBC website and discovered those f***ing twats at the Met Office had issued a Yellow Warning for snow in the Midlands at 3.07pm! Over a f***ing hour after it had already fallen and caused traffic to come to a standstill.

Can someone please explain to me what the Met Office actually does? Because it sure as hell doesn’t involve predicting short-term weather conditions.

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Ben BardsleyYou have to laugh. Ben Bardsley, of Warrington, was having a pond built at his house, and while he was watching the work he was struck by a digger bucket and knocked into the pond. He claimed that the accident had caused damage to his neck and back, meaning he couldn’t lift weights anymore (he’s a bodybuilder and gym owner), and that it had also given him a fear of heights.

Reading into the story, it seems that if he’d have accepted the offer of £4,500 the insurance company had initially made, that would have been the end of it. He’d been involved in an accident, after all, and the claim was legitimate in that sense. But Bardsley was greedy, and wanted up to five times that amount, claiming extensive physical as well as psychological damage. That was when Aviva became suspicious and instructed lawyers to investigate further. Reading into it again, they didn’t have to investigate very much to flush him out.

They uncovered multiple photos he’d posted of himself lifting heavy weights in the gym after the accident. Best of all, he showed how badly vertigo – a fear of heights – had affected him by posting a video of himself going down the Verti-Go slide in Benidorm, which is 33 metres high, and you travel at 62mph down it. He even showed his muscles off to some kids at the bottom.

So, from having a guaranteed £4,500 pay-out, he’s now been stung with no pay-out – and an order to pay the £14,000 in legal costs.

I have little time for insurance scammers. Every time anyone has hit my car – or cars my ex-pupils have been driving – they have tried it on.

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