Tuesday, 22 January 2013


When one door closes, another one slams in your face.

Things had been going pretty well here for once. It couldn't last.

On Friday evening, after finishing my work for the day, I attempted to turn sharp right into a sideroad. The road was covered in compacted snow, and I was going too fast for the conditions. The wheels turned. The car didn't. I tried to brake but there was nothing I could do, and I slid across the road, and banged into the kerb.

It was quickly obvious that the car wasn't driving properly. They're robust when the forces acting on them come from the expected directions, but apply any significant force from a direction it shouldn't come from, and you'll quickly find they're also delicate things, dependent upon the balance of many complex components. I thought I might have punctured the tyre or even fractured the alloy wheel, but the car was drivable with care, and I got it home and took a look with a torch. The tyre and wheel were both fine, but the energy of the impact had to go somewhere. I took it to a garage first thing next morning, and they put it up on a ramp and found the wishbone for the near front assembly had become deformed. I asked them to order a replacement part, and we established that this part would arrive today, Tuesday.

So I had an unexpected holiday, and had to cancel a whole load of lessons. I'd expected it to be sorted for this afternoon. I took the car in this morning, and went home to await a phone call.

That call came, at about 2pm this afternoon. The news wasn't good. The replacement part would not now arrive until early February.


I have driving tests. I have to earn a living. So there is absolutely no way I can just let things lie. I'd originally intended to just pay for the repair myself, but I now urgently need a replacement vehicle, and so I contacted my insurance company and made a claim.

So now I've cancelled the lessons I'd still got booked for this afternoon, and I'm waiting for the phone to ring from a company who will collect the car and take it to an approved repairers. I'm also waiting for someone to call to say they will get a car to me as soon as possible.

And so this will now drag on into Wednesday, and possibly for weeks. All this from a moment's error.

It's also caused a rethink about how to deal with bad weather with my pupils. I've tended to use bad weather in the past as an opportunity for my pupils to learn how to drive in bad weather. This now seems foolhardy. In future, if they want to learn about skid control, they can go and book a session on a skid pan.

Friday, 11 January 2013

the relationship between information and confidence: Being an exploration after the fact of why someone who can do hills would want to do hills...

Knowledge is confidence..

It's a modification of the old cliché, but in some ways it's true none the less.

When I took Elaine out, a few days before my check test, we dealt with several uphill situations, and she was fine with them, as she was by and large on the check test lesson itself. Yet when asked, without hesitation she identified uphill situations as a weakness.

Yet there were other weaknesses in her driving technique, that may just have a bearing here.

What Elaine has is not an inability to deal with these situations, but a lack of confidence in her ability to deal with these situations, and I suspect that this lack of confidence goes some way beyond the specific area she identifies.

So here's my reasoning. My analysis. My hypothesis.

Confidence comes from control and knowlege.

If you are able to make decisions based upon a position of awareness, and if you have the control required to act upon those decisions, then with a little repetition, you will gain confidence.

The test marking sheet reflects this idea. Almost all of it is based around control and observation.

If you do things on the basis of chance and unawareness, this carries a psychic cost of knowing that you just might be about to smash into something. A lack of confidence is inherent in a lack of observation.

Here's an example. In my last post, I wrote,

Elaine was struggling a little with roundabouts. Specifically the routine for moving from the middle of a roundabout to the outside when you're turning right. She wasn't using her left hand door mirror, relying instead on her interior mirror, which tells you next to nothing about what's going on to your left, just slightly behind you or alongside you.

We were now on Derby Road in Birkenhead. A notoriously challenging road because of it's combination of lots of parked cars, tight narrow road, and heavy traffic. We got through OK. It required a lot of changes in road position to negotiate the parked cars, and once again, Elaine wasn't really using her door mirrors to make sure it was safe to move before moving.
Every time she had to turn right at a roundabout, she was taking a risk. She was putting herself in danger. Every time she changed lane or her road position without checking to make sure it was safe to do so, she did nothing to bolster her self confidence, and everything to undermine it, even if nothing happened.

I might not be getting across the magnitude of how this feels to me. If you're not an instructor, it may seem straightforward, so let me put it this way:

The check test I've just done has given me new insights, and therefore new tools that I can use to do my job.

As a driver, I am extremely confident, and rightly so. I leave absolutely nothing to chance. Usually anyway. I sometimes make mistakes. I sometimes have a bad attitude.

As a teacher, my template is always my own driving. The better I understand my own driving, the better I can teach others.

Linguistically, the phrase "psychic cost"  means something to me that I'd never really thought of before, except fairly dimly.

The reason most people fail their driving tests is not because they can't drive properly. It's because they're nervous and/or lack confidence.

So if I develop this idea, through practicing it with my pupils, I might just really get under people's skin and get them smashing through whatever issues are holding them back.

My first question to Elaine, next time I see her will be "Why did you want to do hills?"

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Thursday, 10 January 2013

Check Tested

Almost the last thing I did last night was watch a video on youtube. The thumbnail showed someone with bandages around his head, and a sling on his arm. The video promised to show a guy being sucked into a jet engine.

I was intrigued. How could you get sucked into a jet engine and end up with just relatively minor injuries? So I watched it.

In the video, a man on the flight deck of a US aircraft carrier attaches the front wheel of a navy jet fighter to a catapult. As he moves away, he straightens up too early, and enters the "suck zone" of the jet's intakes. What happens next happens very quickly. In an eyeblink, the man disappears into the engine. A sheet of flame pulses from the rear of the plane, and it's all over. Or would be if the video didn't then replay it in slow motion. I didn't watch any further.

If I had watched further, I might have been reassured. The guy somehow got caught in a narrow bit of intake. Some of his kit went through, which caused the flash of flame, and made the pilot kill the engine. He emerged almost unscathed from the intake a couple of minutes later. He had indeed suffered injuries to his head and arm.

Last night though, I didn't know this. I thought I'd just watched a particularly gruesome snuff movie. Every time I awoke (and I did awake several times, because I had today's test on my mind, and because Bren too kept waking up and moving around) I had these images on my mind. Empathy is not always a good thing.

So I am tired. I got up at 7am, had a strong cup of coffee, and tried to relax until it was time to go pick up my pupil, Elaine.

We drove to the test centre and spoke briefly together with the examiner. He asked Elaine to wait in the car, and he asked me a few questions about where she was up to, and what I planned to do, then we went out to the car to do the lesson.

I'd intended the lesson plan to be a collaboration between ensuring that certain issues from the previous lesson had been dealt with, and whatever Elaine felt she needed to deal with. As expected, Elaine wanted to do hill work. And off we went.

The first thing we came upon was a school. At just before 9am the road was absolutely stuffed with hazards. There was a lollipop man, a million and one parked cars (I used to walk half a mile to school - what is it with people these days?, bah, grumble) children, women with pushchairs. The works. We got through, carefully and on tippytoes. Then we were off. Elaine was driving OK, and we were able to relax and talk to each other.

I was being rather formal. Talking her through too much. We got into Birkenhead, and Elaine was struggling a little with roundabouts. Specifically the routine for moving from the middle of a roundabout to the outside when you're turning right. She wasn't using her left hand door mirror, relying instead on her interior mirror, which tells you next to nothing about what's going on to your left, just slightly behind you or alongside you.

Onward though. We had some slightly uphill traffic lights to deal with. Elaine approached at a good speed, got everything sorted out, balanced the car nicely on the clutch, and was away smoothly when the lights turned green.

"Well done" I said.

Having gone through the middle of Birkenhead's main shopping area, we now got to a traffic light controlled crossroads, with a filter light. This filter had just gone out, so we hung back until we had a safe gap. Elaine anticipated well, and once again moved away smoothly, choosing a good road position well to the left.

Next up was a bus lane. I pointed out the sign, and she correctly checked he right hand door mirror, found a safe gap, and moved over in plenty of time.

We turned left into an uphill side road, and I asked her to park on the left. Before moving away uphill, I asked her what she didn't want to happen when she moved off. Elaine answered correctly that she didn't want to roll back or stall.

We tried to move away, and rolled backwards instead. Oh no!!! I stopped her, and we tried again with a bit of prompting about the correct sequence of events, and once again, she moved away really nicely. In my mind's eye there was an uphill junction at the top of this road, but when we got there it was actually pretty flat. It was also pretty wide, but Elaine correctly positioned herself well to the left, and was creeping up to a point where she could see and make a decision about going.

Just at that moment, a lorry came up alongside us, completely blocking her view to the right. After a moment, the lorry started to move forward. Elaine wanted to go, but I stopped her. After the lorry had gone, we had a clear view to the right, and we emerged from the junction. We were now on Derby Road in Birkenhead. A notoriously challenging road because of it's combination of lots of parked cars, tight narrow road, and heavy traffic. We got through OK. It required a lot of changes in road position to negotiate the parked cars, and once again, Elaine wasn't really using her door mirrors to make sure it was safe to move before moving. I prompted her to do so, but that was all I did about it at the time. At the end was a downhill junction. I asked her about how to control the car on approach. She gave the correct answers, and we turned right up towards the top of Holt Hill. (once again, a van pulled up along side us, and I made her wait until we had a clear view to the right before emerging) Then a left, and back down a steep and twisty road back into Birkenhead. I got her to use a low gear, and to let the car roll down, just using engine braking to moderate the speed. I explained how doing this helps keep the car under control without making the brakes get hot, so that they're there for you if you need them.

We got down towards the docks and Twelve Quays, and I got us to turn off onto a quiet road. We parked up and I got my whiteboard out, and I went over the difference between crossing a lane of traffic, and joining a lane of traffic. We headed back over the bascule bridges on the docks, back towards the test centre. I'd meant to go via the Pool Inn junction, an uphill junction with a filter light - just putting it all together - but one of the bridges was up to let a tug through. Good thing too as we'd have been a bit late back otherwise.

While we waited I told Elaine that the lesson plan for the next lesson was definately going to be getting her to use her door mirrors more, and we went straight back to the test centre. We debriefed, then Elaine went and waited in the test centre, while the examiner gave me feedback and told me what grade he was giving me.

As ever, the examiner was pretty much spot on with his assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. He could see that Elaine didn't totally have the MSM routine sorted out, and felt I should have done more to analyse this and offer a solution. He liked the fact that I incorporated some elements of coaching  - coaching is where instead of the instructor autocratically handing down lessons to the pupil,.the pupil themselves identifies their strengths and weaknesses, and the instructor addresses the issues the pupil raises.

There was some other stuff too, which I can't now remember, but he put a load of ticks in boxes, and wrote the number, 5, in the grade box. He thinks I have the potential to be a grade 6 instructor with a little more work. I agree with that too.

So I was a humble grade 4. Your common and garden bog standard instructor until today. Now I can leap short buildings in a single bound, if given a bit of a runup, and I'm more powerful than a speeding o-o guage locomotive.

I feel a lot more relaxed with this particular examiner after today, so hopefully, next time, things will be more fluid and relaxed. It's likely though, after getting this good a grade, that they won't ask me to do another check test for four years.

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Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Check Test

How do I know I can do my job?

Well, I break down the complex thing that is being able to drive a car safely on the public highway into simpler blocks of varying degrees of size and complexity. If a pupil can do a simple thing better at the end of the lesson than they could at the beginning, I've done my job. I know I can do my job because I'm producing measurable improvements in the levels of ability and confidence in my pupils. The feedback I get, both verbal and non verbal, is almost entirely positive.

How do my pupils know I can do my job?

Because my methods involve repetition, my pupils can measure the improvement in their level of ability. The rise in confidence stems partly from that, and partly because I insist that making errors is part of the learning process. I'm not the right instructor for everyone, and I sometimes get things wrong, but if there was some way of defining "The best driving instructor in the world", if you were to find such a Godlike being, they would tell you pretty much the same thing. We do what we can, but there are many variables, and what works for most does not work for all. Still, it's gratifying to find that I'm asked regularly, "Why didn't my last instructor teach me this?"

How do the DSA know I can do my job?

If you're on the register of qualified instructors, you're required to periodically do what's called a check test. Generally this means teaching a pupil while an examiner sits in the back watching what you do. It can also be done as a role-play lesson, with the examiner pretending to be a pupil. The lesson takes place over a little under an hour, and it's at the instructor's discretion what area is covered. At the end of the lesson, the instructor is given a grade.

The top grade is a 6. The lowest grade is a 1. If you get less than 4, you're required to do a second test within a few weeks. If you still score less than 4, you have to do a third test, this time with a different examiner. If you fail that, you're removed from the register. Grade 4 is OK. Grade 5 is good. Grade 6 is what us instructors all aspire to.

I had my first check test just a few months after qualifying. I'd planned my lesson carefully, then was forced to abandon my plans on the day because the examiner ( a guy who'd come across from Liverpool) couldn't make it to my local test centre, and I was required to go to a different centre with my pupil. So I winged it, conducted a useful and wide ranging lesson, and got a grade 5. That's a good grade for a newly qualified ADI, and they left me alone for 4 years.

Then, 2 years ago, I had my second check test. The examiner was the same person I'd had to try to teach for my teaching test. That was the most nerve racking experience of my life, and it's left psychological baggage. That particular examiner scares the crap out of me. I didn't acquit myself well. I got a grade 4, and quite rightly. My pupil was making errors, but I was so focussed on the primary aim of the lesson - the parallel park - that I failed to deal with the issues she was raising. The difference is not just the examiner. It's also the plan or lack of plan. I have a thumbnail sketch of a lesson plan in mind when I turn up outside someone's house. What actually happens on a lesson is a dynamic, fluid thing. I make it up as I go along as I gain insights into what my pupil is doing and thinking.

So anyway, having got a grade 4, just two years on, I have another check test. This is both a cause for concern and an opportunity. The examiner is once again, the guy I had to try to teach to become a qualified instructor. Hence the concern. It's just possible that nerves will lead to trouble. He's an extremely competent examiner, and a nice guy to boot, and I hope I can overcome the nerves. It's also an opportunity to set matters straight. I'm bloody good at my job too, and I think I can do much better than a grade 4.

I'm pretty sure I won't get less than a 4. I certainly won't get less than a 4 on 3 consecutive occasions, so I'm not going to have to stop doing what I'm doing, but I want that grade 6. I want to be able to put a big post on this blog, and on my driving school website saying "TOP GRADE INSTRUCTOR"

You won't have too much of a wait to find out. My test is on Thursday 10th January. My pupil is a mature and competent driver, who's approaching test standard, and who I have a good rapport with. I have a rough idea of how the lesson will be structured, but I'm prepared to be flexible. On our last lesson, this partucular pupil had an issue with filters at traffic lights. We dealt with this at the time, and that will form part of the recap at the beginning of the lesson. I know she lacks a bit of confidence when dealing with uphill junctions (she has the skill but not the confidence, so she sometimes panics) so will should end up with a collaborative lesson plan involving filters and uphill junctions.

I know just the place.

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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Progress on the home front.

If you've been reading this blog over the last month or so, you'll know that these have been difficult times.

The move from house to static caravan is still going to go ahead, but it's not such a bleak near future. For one thing, my work is starting to really pick up. Go to google and search for driving lessons wallasey, or driving instructor wallasey, and you'll see me there on page one. The phone has been ringing, and I've had  quite a few new pupils since Christmas already. Things are happening the way they should for once. One guy called because he liked the car. Another liked the January deal I am offering. A third liked the bit about helping nervous learners. The point is though that they're actually seeing this stuff. When I did it all myself, I was buried somewhere down on page 19. From this point onwards, as long as I continue to update it reasonably often, it's going to stay up there. So I add news items every few days. I'm blogging on my driving school website, and there's nothing there I haven't done before a thousand times.

Secondly, our perception of events has changed. I asked Bren if my work picks up so much tha we can comfortably afford to continue living here, would she still want to move to the caravan? She scarcely needed to give the question a though. Yes, she said.

You see, we've always been towards the bohemian end of things. It's a word that's sort of got naff connotations these days, but it's a good word to describe the lives we've lived. We're going to live in a caravan next to a beach in a semi rural part of Wirral. We're close enough to civilisation to have all the benefits within easy reach, but we will have dark skies, no traffic noise, a wild and windy open-ness just a stones throw to the north. We will have the money to buy stuff we want. Our overheads will be much lower than they are now. If the roof springs a leak, we can just climb up and fix the damn thing without having to hire a roofer and scaffolding.

Finally, a huge weight has been lifted from us by my eldest Stepson, Alex.

As well as being the oldest of Bren's children, Alex has long been the most mature, steady, and high achieving. He has two degrees under his belt, works as a quantity surveyor. He climbs cliffs, rides bikes very fast down mountainsides. He's a go-getter, and is a sweet, helpful all round good guy to boot. As soon as he heard our news, he offered to get a mortgage and buy the house. We initially refused because we didn't want him to drag himself down with us. Yet we all gave the matter some thought and came up with some conclusions that made it seem possible. Alex, if he bought the house for the amount we needed to sell it for, would still be getting it for well under market value. Possibly a good way for him to get his foot on the property ladder. If he had the money to then make the necessary repairs, he could rent space, sell it for a profit, etc.

Alex went to the bank and took advice, and it looks like the repayments on the mortgage will be less than the rent he's paying on the flat he lives in now. Because it's all being kept in the family, there is no chain, lower legal costs, no estate agent fees. Probably no surveyor as long as we don't set the value of the house too high. It also means less urgency to sell/chuck stuff, or for us to actually move out for that matter. We can decorate the caravan before we actually move in once it's paid for.

So it looks like that's how it's going to happen. If it does, it should take about 8 weeks for the money to come through. In the meantime, it looks like I will be earning enough to keep the wolf from the door until that happens.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Best Guess...

I asked for a solid state hard drive for christmas. It's much faster than my old hard drive. From switch on to up and running takes maybe a minute, as opposed to perhaps 4 or 5 minutes with my old cluttered magnetic disk based drive.

This meant putting all kinds of things onto the drive, like Itunes and AVG and Gimp and Firefox and Google Earth (of course) etc. I'm importing a whole load of CDs into Itunes, and this latest version looks at the CD I'm importing, consults a database, and fills in the details of track names and what have you.

I imported a CD containing 4 songs I recorded a decade ago. Itunes reckons it's called "Victory Records Sampler", and that the 4 tracks on it are "Wake the Dead" and "Talk is Cheap" by Comeback kid, "The Colour of Money" by Bury Your Dead and "Blood of the Moon" by Dead To Fall.

Can't say I'm familiar with any of the above.

If you want to significantly increase the performance of your computer, get yourself an SSD drive, and put your operating system on it.

Happy new year to all my readers by the way. This year, I'm going to pretend to try to lose weight and stop drinking until the middle of January, same as last year.

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