Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Well, bugger me sideways!

He passed!

Nah. Just kidding.

Just as in the mock test, he failed to give anything like a proper briefing on the phase one part, and never got to grips with things in the phase two.

Result? A 2-2, just like on the mock.

This means I guaged things correctly, which is good to know.

I got a text stating that he plans to do his second attempt in Liverpool. If you're struggling to spit out the words on roads you're familiar with, doing your test on roads you don't know is going to be that much harder. I've told him that if he plans to do his test over the water, he will need to find a Liverpool based trainer, who knows the roads, as it would take a lot of time to get there and back from here, and I don't know the roads that well. I will not be going over to Liverpool with him. That's absolutely certain.

But why do such a thing?

To get from where he is now to where he needs to be is a huge task. A massive effort is needed to make the required changes. Faced with this, and unable to recognise his own deficiencies, this is a displacement activity. Make inconsequential changes instead of getting to grips with the changes that need to be made.

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Tuesday, 17 November 2015


Having been busy for a long time past, it's been a while since I bothered seeing how things are going with my website.

When it first went live, it shot up to almost the top of page one for google searches for "driving lessons wallasey" and stayed there.

But now, I have to go to about page 6, regardless of which browser I use. Ditto Hoylake, and any other relevent search I can think of. There are sites for instructors that left the profession several years ago ahead of me in the listings. I wonder what's happened.

It doesn't matter too much at the moment. I'm getting enough work through word of mouth, but one of the trainees plans to work with me when he's qualified, and I will need to generate pupils again when and if this happens.

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Monday, 16 November 2015


Let's just imagine that instead of teaching people how to drive (and teaching people how to teach people how to drive) I teach people how to dance.

One day, I get an email from someone who desperately wants to learn how to dance.
He's desperate. He wants it so so badly. He's prepared to pay good money. He's been turned down by 29 different dancing teachers, but he's heard that I'm a total hotshot when it comes to getting people dancing.

I agree to give him a lesson and find that  he has only got one leg, and a withered one at that.

Well, ok. Maybe we can somehow incorporate his crutch into his moves? If he's keen enough, why should only having one leg be an obstacle?

Over the next few lessons, it becomes apparent that he's also as deaf as a post, and can't hear the music, and is unable to learn the moves unless I write them down and point to them at the appropriate time with a pointy stick.

Ah. I can see I have my work cut out for me here, but hey! Wouldn't it be a coup? If I could get this guy dancing, wouldn't that make me just awesome?

So we carry on with the lessons, and find that he has problems with his vestibular system that mean he has severe problems with balance, and would probably keep falling over even if he had two fully formed legs.

But my one legged deaf dancer has staked a lot on this, and has spent quite a lot of money already. He's also decided that he wants to make a living as a dancer, and has quit his day job in anticipation. He has every faith in me. He shows me pictures of his wife and children. They look up at me with beseeching eyes. The kind of dancing he wants to do involves swinging buckets of sulphuric acid around, and if he gets things wrong, he might just kill or injure himself or his dancing partner, or a member of the audience.

There is of course, an ethical question here. The best dance teacher in the universe is not going to turn this person into a professional dancer, even if the wannabe dancer spends all of his life savings and ten years of his life on the project.

So is my job to do try to help him achieve his dreams to the best of my ability? Or should I tell him that I doubt anyone can help him, and refuse to take the gig? And at what point does the former become the latter? The warning signs were there, even before I'd met him for the first time. Why had he been turned away by all those others?


My first trainee instructor has until January 2nd to pass his teaching test. He gets three attempts to do so, and the third and final attempt must be booked before then, although if the date of the third attempt is later than that, the DSA will honour it as long as it was booked and paid for before the cutoff date. His first attempt is this coming Wednesday. Today he did a mock test. I did my best to put myself in the role of an examiner, who is himself in the role of a learner, and we did a full blown mock test.

The teaching test is in two parts. For the first part, the examiner will play the role of someone who hasn't done a particular thing before. After half an hour, that part of the test ends, and the examiner becomes someone who has done a particular thing before, but who may not be able to do it particularly well. Each part of the test is graded, and the overall result is two numbers. X/Y

Here are the criteria: To become a fully qualified instructor, at least a 4/4 has to be obtained.

Grade 6 - A very high standard with no significant instructional weaknesses
Grade 5 - A good overall performance with some minor weaknesses in instructional technique
Grade 4 - Competent performance with some minor deficiencies in instructional technique
Grade 3 - Inadequate overall performance with some deficiencies in instructional technique
Grade 2 - A poor overall performance with numerous deficiencies in instructional technique
Grade 1 - Overall standard of instruction extremely poor or dangerous

I gave my trainee a 2/2 but that was being generous. He needed to go through it in some detail with the person who'd never done it before, but had no words and gave up, instead electing to try to do it all on the fly. The pupil was being told to check his mirrors, without knowing what mirrors to check, to sort out his position, without knowing what that position should be, to slow down without any idea of what speed was required, and to change gear without knowing what gear to go into. The scope for mayhem was vast, and mayhem duly ensued. This is something that has happened before, when we've been training. He gave up on the briefing, and I drove on the edge of recklessness. I bollocked him for it too. To no avail. He's not going to miraculously acquire the extra leg or functioning set of ears that he needs, and no amount of training from me or anyone else is going to make any difference.

He's already stated that if he does fail, he intends to start the process again, but when (not if) that happens, I will have to tell him that I can take him no further.

I'm really not looking forward to it.


And now his car has broken down. To get a replacement, he's signed up as a franchisee with a driving school. Because of the way he is, he's vulnerable to people for whom the bottom line is all that matters. It would have been simpler and cheaper to contact a specialist car hire company and get a temporary vehicle for until his own car was mended. I don't know the precise details of what he's arranged, but he still intends to do his training with me.

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Monday, 26 October 2015

Sometimes, I feel like I have the best job in the world...

Someone came to me, because I taught one of her friends to drive.

This particular lady had been doing driving lessons, on and off, for about ten years, and had tested the patience of several instructors beyond breaking point, before deciding that she didn't want to do it any more, and taking a break.

Her problem? She couldn't reverse around a corner if her life depended on it.

She'd been given wrong information and poor technique from one instructor in particular, and had convinced herself that this manoeuvre was beyond her abilities.

I met her for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and she drove from her home, on a tight residential street without any real problems. I got her to drive to East Street, in Seacombe, which is a quiet road close to the banks of the Mersey. A couple of light industrial units and warehouses front this road, and there is very little traffic, particularly at the weekend. It has another very quiet road joining onto it at it's end called Kings Wharf. The junction is open, sweeping, and traffic free. An ideal place to find out why she was finding it so difficult.

Her problem was that the whole thing was totally stressing her out, but after spending some time talking about it, and constructing some visuals on the whiteboard, and with me doing the footwork, she got round reasonably well.

Fine. Job done, I thought. We went off and did some other stuff.

Next time, encouraged by what had happened on the first lesson, I took her to Trafalgar Road in Wallasey to do the same thing in a more challenging context. The junction, with Lea Road, is one that is used regularly on driving tests, and offered a sterner test, for several reasons.

It's a less open situation, on a much busier road. We did it at rush hour, in fading light, and as well as a lot of passing cars, there were other hazards such as pedestrians, children playing nearby, and what have you. The picture above represents the location, but not the conditions.

This was a disaster. She freaked. I couldn't get through to her, and found myself getting frustrated with her. We tried some ideas, but the whole thing was just awful. After battering ourselves against it for 15 minutes, I thought it best to move on and do something else. My usual methods were ineffective because she was too stressed to be able to follow them, and the longer we spent trying, the more it was damaging her confidence, and our professional relationship. If she hadn't needed to drive so much because of her personal circumstances, she'd have probably jacked it all in again.

Still, we sorted out another lesson, and I decided I needed to change tack. Every instructor she'd been with tried to sort out the Left Reverse by doing Left Reverses. If it hadn't worked with them, it wasn't going to work with us either, so I wanted to do something with her that explored the same skill set, but without the scary and stressful context of the manoeuvre itself.

So I took her to Grove Road Station Car Park, the far end of which is almost always empty, except at the busiest times.

As you can see, it has a load of space, some speed humps, and a small island of kerbing and shrubbery in a sea of tarmac.

I got her to drive forward over one speed hump, around the island, and back over the other hump. then I got her to do the same thing backwards. By getting her to look for, and aim for the speedbump she wanted to end up going over, she was able easily to get her hands and eyes working together and achieve her objective. We spent pretty much the whole lesson at this car park, and she came away from it feeling like a penny was starting to drop.

We had planned a daylight lesson this weekend, but she had to rearrange, and we ended up doing a lesson in darkness this evening. This wasn't ideal, and I'd thought about perhaps doing other stuff than the dreaded reverse, but in the instructor training session I did this afternoon/evening, one of the trainees expressed concern about his ability to do the left reverse correctly, so we spent some of the last two hours of the session on getting that sorted out. In the course of doing this, I found a well lit, quiet (at least on a Sunday evening) open junction where St Anne Street joins Cathcart Street in Birkenhead.

Take away the parked cars, and add both darkness and bright, even street lighting, and you get the context of what we were doing.

The instructor training session ended, and I headed off to my lesson with my pupil. I went back to the junction on the way to see if anything had changed, and reversed into the sideroad myself, just to assess things. Then I went and got her.

I explained that I had concerns about doing it at night but that I'd found a place that was as good as we could possibly get in the conditions. I stressed that we'd just try it once, with me doing the footwork, and that if it went wrong, we'd abandon it until we could try it in daylight. She confessed to feeling a bit nervous about it as we drove there, but was happy to try. We parked a few yards short of the junction, and had a look at it. There was a parked car 20 yards or so into the side road - ideal as something to aim for, then we did the reverse.

And she got it. I kept the speed at a crawl. She looked where she was going, and when the road appeared in her rear window, she straigtened up and reversed straight down the road.

Then she did it again, this time, doing the footwork herself. Once again, she was able to get round the corner and reversing straight down the road. And then a third time. And a fourth at another slightly less open junction nearby.

Happy bunnies! I still have to be careful not to chuck her in too deep too soon, but we've broken the back of this I reckon and can move on to other things.

It's nice to get the money and all that, but really, it's stuff like this that makes me want to get up in the morning and put in a shift.

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Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Final Frontier

Space is hard, so it's said.

Like many people who were children at a time when men were playing golf on the moon, I grew up with the romance and adventure of it all. I dimly recall some childhood book that told me that if I answered the ten questions on the page, I could be an astronaut. Since I could recite the order of the planets, and knew that Saturn was the one with the rings, I was almost convinced, at least for a short while, that my destiny lay in the stars.

Dear reader, by the age of ten, I'd pretty much decided that I didn't have The Right Stuff, but I've maintained an interest in all things spacey ever since.

These though are the days of miracle and wonder, and I can now experience the thrills, with none of the effort or danger involved in being a real astronaut, thanks to a game called Kerbal Space Program.

Despite the cutesy minion-esque characters that populate the game, it places a strong emphasis on realistic physics. Completing the increasingly challenging tasks is no easy task, and so far, I've killed hundreds of the little buggers.

I've managed to work out how to take off, and land again without generating too much shrapnel, but I've yet to develop any real finesse with the game. After days of playing, I've managed to get first a pilot, then a pilot and a passenger into orbit and safely back down again, but getting to any given location with any accuracy is a skill that mainly eludes me. Getting enough mass high enough to do useful stuff requires a lot of thought and trial and error. Space is hard afterall.

Some screenshots...

 On the launchpad, t-plus about 3 seconds

In orbit

Final stage seperation


The final stages of descent

There's also a bit with planes, but I haven't explored that aspect of the game much yet.

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