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Gosh! A Hawk

A SparrowhawkI woke up this morning to be met by a very unusual and rather exciting sight just outside the kitchen window.

A bird – I believe it is a Goshawk [correction: A Sparrowhawk, so the article title is now a bit off] – had caught a pigeon and was eating it. It was quite macabre, since the pigeon was not dead and remained alive for at least 30-60 minutes while the hawk tore it to pieces and ate it. The whole business took a couple of hours, and it ate everything except the feathers.Another angle (Sparrowhawk)

Then, just before dusk, I looked out of the window and saw it – or at least another bird – had caught another pigeon. This one was dead, and it flew off with it this time.Sparrowhawk close-up

It was a magnificent creature, though – nature is both cruel and beautiful – but it was so close I got a couple of dozen great pictures from the open bathroom window and through the kitchen window glass.

We do get the occasional evidence of a major incident in our garden (which is quite large) judging from the explosion of feathers we see. I’ve mentioned before that I came home one Sunday afternoon some years ago and saw a large bird of prey eating a pigeon at the far end of the garden.

But I hope it sticks with a pigeon diet and leaves the smaller birds alone.

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Driving Tests and Lessons In Snow

Originally posted in 2009. Updated annually, so here’s the 2021 version. It’s the end of November and we’ve had some early snow. The papers are full of photographs of people’s dogs in snow, children sledging on frozen mud with some sleet on it, and dire warnings about the coldest winter since 10,000 BC (the last Ice Age). Same as every year. The original article follows.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum a couple of years ago someone getting all excited about how there might be a market for specialised snow lessons at premium prices. As of October 2018 (and it hasn’t got even close to snowing yet), some instructors are already going on about not doing lessons.Snow on road scene 1

Let’s have a reality check here.

Until February 2009, it hadn’t snowed to any appreciable extent in the UK for around 26 years! We had two bad winters, but since then they have been relatively mild ones with almost no snow. Even when we get a little of the white stuff it is usually gone inside a week or two at most. Snow – and especially in the UK – is usually extremely localised. The media talks it up so it sounds like the whole country is blanketed in a metre of the stuff, especially if a few wet flakes fall in London. This  is enough to have people cutting down each others trees for their wood-fired stoves, and panic buying Evian at the local Waitrose. It can keep the BBC news bulletins going for days at a time.

Every year, incompetence and bureaucracy at local councils typically means that every time there is any bad weather, it’s like they’ve never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are. Having a ‘specialised snow Instructor’ in the UK (especially in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing the Mediterranean: bloody stupid!

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Back here on Planet Earth, I will carry on doing things the way I always have done: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

One bit of advice. Make sure you have the right mixture in your wash bottle, and a scraper for removing any frost or snow. A further bit of advice. Never, ever, ever be tempted to buy a metal-bladed ice scraper. Always plastic. Trust me, I’ve tested metal ones for you, and you are welcome. Don’t use metal.

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

It depends on how much of it there is, how far advanced you are with your training, and your instructor’s attitude to teaching in snow. There is no rule that says you mustn’t have lessons in snow. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to do them if you can to get valuable experience. But beginners perhaps shouldn’t because it’s just too dangerous for them. It’s your instructor’s decision, even if you want to do it.Snow on road scene 2

Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?

Yes. It depends on how much snow and how advanced you are as a learner driver. If your instructor cancels then you should not get charged. If you are, find another instructor quickly.

If the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea. That’s when they’re likely to be cancelled.

Also bear in mind that it doesn’t matter if you’re learning with the AA, BSM, Bill Plant, or any other driving school. The decision is down to your instructor based on the weather in your area.

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

Yes. If he or she doesn’t (or just doesn’t turn up without telling you), find another. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask.

My instructor says he isn’t insured for icy weather

Someone found the blog on that search term (February 2018). I’m telling you in the most absolute terms possible that this is utter nonsense. I have never heard of insurance which says you can’t drive in certain weather, and especially not driving instructor insurance. If anyone tells you this, find another instructor quickly.

Do [driving school name] cancel lessons due to bad weather?

Cancelling lessons due to bad weather is down to the instructor and not the driving school they represent. So it doesn’t matter which school you are with. But yes, lessons can be cancelled for bad weather.

Any decent instructor might cancel lessons due to too much snow – either falling, or on the ground – making driving dangerous. They might also cancel due to thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain/flooding. The decision lies solely with the instructor. If you disagree with their decision, find another one.

Will I have to pay for my lesson if it’s cancelled due to snow?

There is no specific law which says your instructor can’t charge you, but if he or she does it goes against all the principles of Common Decency. You should not be charged for bad weather cancellations initiated by your instructor. If you are, find another instructor as soon as possible.

However, if it’s you who wants to cancel, but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson, it’s a little more tricky. You being nervous is not the same as it being genuinely too dangerous. I had someone once who would try to cancel for light rain, bright sun, mist, and wind when she didn’t feel like driving. You’ll need to sort this out yourself, but as in all other cases, if you’re not happy just find a different instructor – being aware that if the problem is you, the issues won’t go away.

I want to do the lesson, but my instructor said no

You need to be realistic about the conditions. Just because your test is coming up, for example, and you don’t want to have to move it doesn’t alter the fact that the weather might just be too dangerous to drive in on the day of the lesson. When I cancel lessons in snow it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. On the other hand, if the police are advising against travel, or if the roads are at a standstill, I will cancel a lesson no matter who it is.Snow on road scene 3

As an example, one day in 2016 it began snowing heavily about 30 minutes before I was due to pick someone up late one morning. The roads quickly got covered and traffic began to slow down. His house was on a slope, and it was clearly becoming difficult to drive without slipping. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson. The snow lasted for about as long as his lesson would have, but was gone by the afternoon. Cancelling was the right decision.

Do lessons in snow cost more?

No. If you’re charged extra for normal driving lessons in snow, find another instructor immediately.

I’m worried about driving lessons in snow

Don’t be. You’re going to have to do it when you’ve passed, and it makes sense to learn how to do it now while you have the chance. A lot of people never see snow until they’ve passed their tests, then they don’t know what to do and end up crashing, like the red car in the picture above.

You should never drive in snow

That’s total rubbish. Unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’, doing lessons on snow or ice is extremely useful for when you pass. Partially melted snow is ideal for doing ‘snow lessons’ if you have the right instructor. The one thing you do need is to make sure you are suitably equipped in case you get caught out. A scraper, de-icer, the right liquid in your wash bottle – and perhaps a pair of snow socks.

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Do YOU do lessons in snow?

Generally speaking, yes – as long as I feel it is safe to do so, and unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’. I do not do lessons in snow because I am desperate for the money – I will happily cancel if I believe it is too dangerous. And sometimes it is. For example, in this 2021 update, I cancelled two late afternoon lessons on the day it began snowing hard (after finishing the one I was on while it was coming down), because the first is trigger-happy with his foot at the best of times, and the other would have been after the slush froze (and it froze bloody hard). And I didn’t know how long it would snow for, or how much we’d get.

Why do YOU do lessons in snow?

Several years ago we had two winters where it snowed properly for the first time in around 26 years. I had not experienced it as an instructor before, and I cancelled a lot of lessons. After several weeks I realised I was being over-cautious. It was one of those head-slapping moments, and I recognised that I could actually use the snow as a teaching aid. Not with the beginners or nervous ones, but the more advanced ones definitely.

Snow - bad enough to cancel or not?Basically, if the snow is melting and main roads are clear, there’s no reason not to do lessons. We can dip into some quiet roads and look at how easy it is to skid. If the snow is still falling and main roads are affected by lying snow, then doing lessons carries a much greater risk. A bit of common sense tells you what you can and can’t get away with.

I can state with absolute certainty that every single pupil has benefitted from driving lessons on snow if the chance has arisen for them.

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

It is very likely. You need to phone up the test centre on the day using the number on your email confirmation and check. Otherwise, you must turn up – even if they cancel it at the last minute. If you don’t, you’ll probably lose your test fee – or end up having a drawn-out argument over it. Make life simple and follow the guidelines.

At one time, tests wouldn’t go out if there was any snow at all in Nottingham. In February 2018 during the visitation by ‘The Beast from the East’ (aka the ‘Kitten in Britain’), I had an early morning test go out with substantial snow on the side roads, repeated snow showers, and a temperature of -4°C showing on my car display. My wiper blade rubbers were solid, and making that horrible sound when they bounce instead of glide. I was amazed (but the pupil passed anyway). You can never be certain, but be prepared.

If my test is cancelled, will I have to pay for another?

No. They will send you a new date within a few days (or you can phone them or look it up online). And it will not count as one of your six ‘lives’ for moving your test.

Can I claim for out of pocket expenses if my test is cancelled?

No. Neither you, nor your instructor, can claim any money back. And you shouldn’t be charged for your lesson or car hire that day.Snow on road scene 4

Will snow stop a driving test?

YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test could easily be affected. They tell you all this when you book it.

Driving tests cancelled due to snow [insert year here]…

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1821, 1921, 2021, or any other date. If there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy then your test may well be cancelled. It doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says, or – in 2021 – that there’s a long waiting list for test dates due to COVID. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

Driving in snow is potentially dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets will likely be covered in sheet ice and compacted snow and you will skid if you even drive carefully on them. You could easily lose control. That’s why there are so many accidents in snow and icy conditions. You are a new driver and you probably haven’t driven on snow before. DVSA cannot take the risk, and you have to accept it.

PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED AT THAT TEST CENTRE BEFORE YOU SET OFF – YOU WON’T FIND THE ANSWER GOOGLING FOR IT. DECISIONS ARE MADE MINUTE-TO-MINUTE AND YOU CAN ONLY FIND OUT BY CALLING THEM.

In the past, I have had 8.10am tests booked in the middle of winter and sometimes I know for a fact that when I pick the pupil up at 6.30am the conditions are so bad the test is going to be cancelled. But until the examiners get in just before 8am there is no way of checking. That’s why I advise against my pupils booking early tests in winter – cancellations are far more likely when it is cold and icy, and it is more likely to be cold and icy (and foggy) first thing in the morning before the sun has come up properly.

Video Doorbell Project #1 – Overview

DIY Doorbell Schematci LayoutA few years ago I bought a Ring video doorbell. After a bit of fiddling setting it up, it has worked reasonably well, though it isn’t perfect.

For a start off, it relies on Wi-Fi, which is a bloody nightmare at the best of times in the home environment. It is also totally dependant on Ring’s own cloud system (it isn’t an ONVIF camera, which I will go into later). But my main niggle is that I have no control over my data – and Ring is trying to make access to it even more difficult, thus enhancing the imperfections.

You see, the Ring system can currently be accessed via a desktop app, a smartphone app, or via a browser. I use the desktop app to monitor my system, because I can see absolutely no point in having a HD camera and only viewing it on a small smartphone screen. Furthermore, the smartphone app has a tendency to alert you up to a minute or more after an event has been triggered (I often get in my car and drive off from my house, only to have my phone vibrate when I get to the end of the road informing me I left a short while ago). And the browser interface has two-factor authentication and logs you out every five minutes, so if you get an alert, it can take some seconds to log in, by which time whoever was at the door has left. The desktop app is always connected (albeit with a tendency to decide not to give a live feed after it has been triggered). And another niggle is that the system only records several seconds of footage when an event occurs – it doesn’t record continuously.

But a couple of months ago, Ring unilaterally announced it was discontinuing the desktop app – initially, in mid-October, and currently (following uproar across the community), in December.

As I said, the Ring doorbell and the Ring system are not perfect. It can be glitchy, and it could do things better (like record continuously). But it’s a million times better than just ‘ding-dong’’ when someone calls, especially when that someone knocks instead (which most seem to do). However, without the desktop app, the glitchiness factor increases in significance considerably – the variable time lags with the other two methods are simply not acceptable. And as the Ring is a subscription device, I was rather miffed at this drastic change.

Running in parallel with all this is a very relevant separate story. During the summer I installed a birdbox with a camera in it in my garden. Once I’d assembled it and powered it up, it was immediately visible on my home network. That’s because it is an IP camera, and it uses the ONVIF protocol (as I mentioned at the start, Ring doesn’t do that, and forces you to use its own cloud service). Being ONVIF also means I can stream the camera feed live. Admittedly, my birdbox camera is a Wi-Fi system in this case (it’s at the end of the garden, after all), but ONVIF cameras can be wireless or wired – it doesn’t matter, and they just have to be discoverable on your network, which the ONVIF protocol takes care of. Better still, with my NAS system – which has Surveillance Station software pre-installed – I can continuously record the footage. Obviously, there’s no point saving every minute of every day forever, so I have it set to automatically delete anything older than (in my case) two days. This gives me time to manually save any particular footage I want to keep. It has motion detection, and I can edit the zones I want to monitor (and edit detection sensitivity as necessary). And best of all, all the data belong to me, and they are free – no subscriptions of any kind.

You can probably see where this is heading. On the one hand, you have the Ring doorbell – which taps into your network, but which has to communicate with Ring’s own ring-fenced servers across the internet, and those have to communicate back across the internet (or by SMS) to send any messages. It doesn’t record continuously, and no internet (or no Ring cloud) means no functioning doorbell. On the other hand, you have an ONVIF camera, which doesn’t require an internet connection, just a local network, which records continuously, and which has virtually the same overall functionality as far as the camera is concerned (just not a bell push feature).

I mean, come on! Is there a DIY project here or what?

I discovered that you can build an ONVIF camera using the Raspberry Pi. You can get open source motion detection software specifically for the Pi (though my Surveillance Station software already has that). And you can include various event detection features – button presses, for example – in a multitude of different ways.

The schematic diagram at the top of this article shows what I am planning right now. I will have a camera system based on a Raspberry Pi Zero with a bell-push button on the outside of my front door. This will connect to a hub, based on a Raspberry Pi 4, on the inside of the door (most likely, by a wired connection through the door jamb, but with Wi-Fi as a back up for the short distance of a couple of inches if necessary). The Pi 4 will be on the network, and almost certainly wired. Finally, I want two remote alarm units (one upstairs, and one downstairs), and I haven’t decided yet whether these will be wired or wireless – a lot comes down to how prepared I am to lay network cables, and the routes I could take if I did. I also haven’t decided whether to control them from the Pi4 or via the network. These remote alarms will be audio-visual – they will chime and flash.

If anyone is thinking I will end up with something the size of a fridge on my front door, just bear in mind the Pi Zero is 30mm x 65mm x 13mm in size. Camera modules are smaller, though the lens adds height. What I have in mind will certainly look different to a Ring doorbell, but it will be of a similar overall size if I assemble it  in an appropriate way. And a Pi 4 is only 57mm x 86mm x 11mm, so it will hardly be out of place if suitably enclosed behind the door.

This will be fun. Watch this space…

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Turning Right at Crossroads

I originally wrote this in 2011, and updated it in 2013, then again in 2021.


There seems to be a lot of confusion over how to turn right at crossroads when another vehicle is turning right from the opposite direction.

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) – that’s the official DSA guide to driving – says the following:

Turning right when an oncoming vehicle is also turning right

When two vehicles approaching from opposite directions both want to turn right, there are two methods that can be used. Either method is acceptable, but will usually be determined by

  • the layout of the crossroads
  • what course the other driver decides to take
  • road markings

Turning offside to offside

The advantage of this method is that both can see oncoming traffic.

In congested traffic conditions, leave a space for approaching traffic to turn right.

Turning nearside to nearside

This method is less safe because the view of oncoming vehicles isn’t clear. Watch out for oncoming traffic hidden by larger vehicles. Motorcyclists and cyclists are particularly vulnerable, as they would be hidden by any type of vehicle.

Be ready to stop for oncoming vehicles.

Police control or road markings sometimes make this method compulsory.

Defensive driving

Try to make eye contact with the driver of the approaching vehicle to determine which course is best. Your speed should allow you to stop if the other driver pulls out across your path.

What is the difference between nearside to nearside and offside to offside turning? Well, the nearside of the car is the one nearest the kerb, and the offside is the one farthest away from the kerb (the driver’s side). So, the two methods look like this:Crossroads - Turning Right

With offside to offside turning, the two cars go round the back of each other (with their offsides closest). As a result, both can see clearly down the road and both can see if it’s clear to turn or not.

Nearside to nearside turning (with their nearsides closest) creates a large blind spot (coloured purple here), the size of which is governed by the size and proximity of the other vehicle. You cannot see easily down the length of the road, and neither can the driver of the other vehicle.

As TES says, either method is perfectly acceptable.

Another thing to remember is that every junction is different and rarely will you find one that corresponds exactly with the schematic layout I’ve shown above.Crossroads in Mapperley

Let’s look at some real examples. The junction above is in Mapperley, Nottingham. It has clear road markings to guide drivers offside to offside – but since the junction is staggered, offside to offside is what any decent driver would want to do  anyway.Crossroads in Ruddington

This one is in Ruddington, Nottingham. It is marked for nearside to nearside turning because the volume of traffic turning right from both side roads would cause gridlock if people attempted offside to offside. Crossroads in West Bridgford

Finally, this example is from West Bridgford, Nottingham. When turning right from the main road, offside to offside appears to be the best option. In reality, there isn’t enough space and what usually happens is that oncoming traffic either steals the priority and turns in front of you – in which case you just hang back and let them get on with it – or it flashes its lights and you take priority (after making sure they flashed at you, and not one of the vehicles waiting in the side roads), and turn in front of it.  This is simply the kind of thing you have to learn to deal with.

This is an important learning point: learn from roads you drive on regularly, and modify your behaviour accordingly. If you’re unsure about being able to turn, hang back and give way – then the problem usually goes away!

If you’re turning right from either of the side roads in these examples, and someone is doing the same opposite you, who has right of way? Officially, no one does, and the main road is too narrow for either offside to offside or nearside to nearside turning. Some people out there (including some ADIs) would have you and the other driver sit looking at each other until you both keel over from exhaustion. In the real world – if eye contact doesn’t achieve anything – someone will either just force their way out (and the problem goes away) or flash their lights to tell you to go. The unwritten rule tends to be whoever gets there first is given right of way – but you can’t assume that under any circumstances, since there are plenty of arrogant drivers who will do their level best to go whether you’re there or not.

Remember that the Highway Code says you shouldn’t beckon other drivers and road users. It doesn’t say you shouldn’t communicate with them. It mentions eye contact… but what then? Smile? Wink? Nod your head? A simple hand gesture with a flat palm, as if to say “well, what would you like to do?” is NOT beckoning.

What happens when both cars are turning right at crossroads?

Neither car has priority. The options available to you are to turn nearside-to-nearside or offside-to-offside, as explained above. However, in some cases there will be insufficient room for both cars to go at the same time and priority has to be given (not taken).

When you reach the junction, make eye contact with the other driver. It isn’t a contest, so be prepared to give way – you haven’t lost anything by waiting for a few seconds while he gets out of the way. Obviously, if he gives way to you sing some sort of signal then you should check that it’s safe and proceed.

Can you flash your headlights?

Some people out there will be having kittens at reading this, but many other drivers WILL flash their headlights to tell you they are giving way. It’s your responsibility to check there is no traffic coming from your right or left (or from ahead), and that they’re flashing at you, but you can then proceed. If someone is giving you a reasonably clear signal that they’re giving priority to you, only a fool would ignore it. And you don’t have to stretch your imagination very far to work out how this could cut both ways.

Can you wave people through?

Holding your palms out and shrugging as if to say “well, what are you going to do?” is not the same as waving madly to beckon people out. I certainly wouldn’t do the latter, but the former is perfectly acceptable. In most cases, you won’t have to worry, though. The majority of drivers are generally quite arrogant and will try to take the advantage anyway, and that sorts out the problem for you. Even a small hesitation on your part is often signal enough for them to go.

But should you do this on your test?

The short answer is no, don’t flash your headlights or gesture to people on your test. As a learner/new driver you may not be very good at it and it could easily go wrong. However, it is possible that a situation could arise where the only sensible thing to do is to flash your headlights or gesture to someone – even to beckon them.

You have to assess, be confident… and be safe.

Pupils don’t understand what offside and nearside mean.

Then educate them! It’s what they’re paying you for.

Offside to offside turning is stupid – people don’t do it.

No it isn’t, and yes they do. Sometimes it is the best option. Sometimes it is road marked that you should do it. If people don’t do it when it is clearly the best (or the marked) option then they are the stupid ones. As TES says: either method is acceptable.

Marked crossroads are invariably nearside-to-nearside anyway.

No they aren’t! Just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are at least two in Nottingham which are included in test routes.

This comment was picked up from a forum which was visiting this article at the time it was originally published, and it is simply untrue. As I’ve made clear, either method is acceptable and which one you use depends on:

  • the junction involved
  • road markings
  • road layout (i.e. is it symmetrical or slightly skewed/staggered?)
  • the time of day (i.e. how busy is it?)
  • what other road users are doing (rightly or wrongly)

Offside to offside is unquestionably the safest method wherever it is possible to use it. Blindly trying to do nearside to nearside without understanding what you’re doing often means cutting corners, forcing others to stop or slow down, and taking needless risks. It points to ignorance of road rules and poor attitude.

Why should you check your mirrors when turning right?

One word: cyclists!

You ought to do a quick shoulder check, as well, just to be on the safe side. Trust me, not that long ago I saw a cyclist race up to a car which was turning right into Netherfield near the Colwick test centre, and turn right on his offside just as the car moved off. I’ve also seen them go round the nearside and do it.

To be fair, it isn’t just cyclists (though it is mainly them who are the problem). Motorcyclists (especially mopeds, which are just powered bicycles when you consider the idiots who usually ride them) will do it, and I’ve even had a van overtake (on the offside) when turning into a side road (I reported him to the police).

Who has priority at crossroads?

The short answer is no one does. That’s because you can never be completely certain what others are going to do, so even if there was a rule which said you had priority, and no matter how many road markings there are, there are far too many people out there who simply wouldn’t follow that rule.

However, as a general rule for yourself, assume that if you are going to cross the path of anyone else, then you don’t have any sort of ‘priority’. In other words, if you are turning right at a crossroads, and someone on the opposite side wants to turn to their left or go straight ahead (and they might not be signalling even if they’re going left or right), don’t take any risks and just let them get on with it.

Make eye contact with the other driver. They may indicate with a gesture that they are allowing you to have priority – priority can be given, but never taken or assumed.

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) says:

  • if you’re turning right and the other vehicle is going ahead or turning left, you should normally wait for the other vehicle to clear the junction before you make your turn. Otherwise, you’d be cutting across their path

People come up with all sorts of ‘what if’ scenarios for this situation, but the simple answer is not to take risks, and not to assume other people are good drivers. For the sake of a few seconds, it is a minor inconvenience at most. Just give them priority (or let them assume they have it). That way, you are driving defensively even if they aren’t.

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Another BirdCam Visitor

It might be the same bird as the first time, but this time he stayed for almost ten minutes – some of the time above the camera (you can hear him tapping with his beak). He gave the box a really good going over before finally leaving.

I’m hoping that such a long check means he likes the place.