Monday, 13 October 2014

Lazy bones

I like my job. I enjoy driving. I enjoy teaching. I've been doing the job long enough to know what works, but I'm forever trying to develop and evolve what I do. I enjoy doing that too!

After years of struggle, I eventually got a break, and am now in a stable position. My diary is consistently full. The enquiries continue to come in, and I have the skills, experience, and bedside manner to keep the vast majority of new business well beyond the loss leading first lesson. Without spending a penny on advertising, my business has taken off in the last couple of years, and I'm in as good a position as I possibly could be as a sole trader. I could capitalise a litle further by increasing my lesson price - balancing price of supply with demand in accord with the standard economic model.

It would be relatively easy from here to increase that demand. Here are some reasons why...

  • I've just got a DS3 Dsport as a tuition vehicle. It's almost certainly the poshest learner car on the Wirral right now. The DS3 is now a popular choice of vehicle for driving instructors (I was one of the first around here to teach in one, and it definately generated some business for me) but the Dsport pushes things a little further, both in terms of performance and style. As far as I know, I'm the only instructor in this area teaching in one. There are other instructors teaching in premium cars, but most of them have had these cars for several years. Right now that gives me an advantage.
  • I have a good name in the industry, and few enemies. What I do doesn't always work with people, and I have made mistakes. But I've always tried my best, and when things haven't gone right, I've gone out of my way to try to make amends. What has sometimes cost me in time or money has generated a degree of goodwill, or at least a lack of active animosity.
  • There are several methods of obtaining work, with little cost, that I don't really utilise. In particular, facebook, if I took the time to use it effectively, could generate a lot of new business for my school. In addition, I could incentivise word of mouth by offering free lessons to existing pupils if they generated work for me. This is something I've done in the past that I don't do at the moment. I do get a substantial percentage of my work from recommendations, but if I needed to, I could increase the volume at the cost of time, and a bit of fuel.
  • I could of course spend money of advertising. When I first tried to generate work for myself, I would use paid advertising in the local free press. This coincided with the rise of the internet, and was not good value for money, but I'm a little more savvy these days
I've been toying with the idea of expanding for a good few months now. Although I enjoy the front line, chalk face experience, I'm working long hours and I must admit, I'd quite like to take things a little easier, if I could do so without sacrificing the income.

I could certainly fill the diary of an additional instructor within weeks, without breaking sweat, and by exploiting some of the unused methods detailed above, I could probably go further.

The prospect of doing so though, scares the shit out of me.

The mathematics of the benefits of franchising for me are a little complicated. On the face of it, if I charge £22 per lesson, and an instructor gives me, say, £100 a week to provide them with the means to earn a living, then I can spend about 4.5 hours less a week teaching without losing any income. But that takes no account of my overheads, and they are a fluid thing. I don't get £22 per hour. I get that minus what it costs to do my job - mainly car, fuel and insurance. I could with a little work, go through my diary, and work out exactly how many hours I work, and relate it to my income. Indeed I should, if I'm going to do this, but if another instructor gives me that £100, I don't have to spend any more on car fuel or insurance. So really, it equates to more like perhaps 7-8 hours per week. This has to be set against a degree of responsibility. A weight upon my shoulders. I've been on the other side of this equation, and have often got the thin end of things. I don't want to treat others this way.

Socially/Interpersonally, I'd be setting myself up as a sort of employer. In a sense that's not really the case. Another instructor would be giving me money to provide a service to them - They're paying me, but psychologically, they'd be working under my banner, and that's just the way things seem to go. In addition, I'd want anyone who worked with me to take something of the way I do things into how they do the job. It's my name and reputation afterall.

I've now spent almost a decade trying to make people do things the way I want them to do it, in exchange for money, but it's still a little uncomfortable to think of doing what I do with learners, on a similar but undeniably different basis, with instructors.

I think I may have found a way of doing it though, if I choose to do so.

There's an instructor I know and like, who I haven't seen around for a few months. I looked online for him, and found a facebook page that hasn't been updated for a while, and a link to a dead webpage.

The internet has an inertia to it. It contains links to the dead websites and contact details of instructors who no longer do the job. Some of these ex-instructors will have dropped by the wayside because they weren't up to the job, and no effort at further training on my part would make them into what I'd want them to be. Some though, like me a year or two back, are perfectly competent, but just didn't have the breaks to survive. We're all self employed. This industry is a Randian paradise.

A carefully crafted letter to some of those people could possibly lead to me expanding my business in a way that benefitted them, without treading on anybody's toes.

There is of course, more to it than this. Contracts would have to be devised. Solicitors would have to be paid. A lot of thought and effort would be needed on my part for this to happen in a way that didn't lead to problems downstream.

But wouldn't it be nice to capitalise on what I've achieved, and not have to work quite so hard?

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Wednesday, 8 October 2014


Posting while drunk, huh? Often I am. While sober, I don't have much to say for myself. I often find, when reading back what I've written, that the spelling is impeccable, the grammar is ok, and the overall coherence is sometimes questionable.

It's rare that I unpublish anything I've blogged, although I quite often don't publish something I've written, or I fail to finish something I've started to write. Reading it back sober the next morning, I am no longer happy with it and it languishes unfinished, and eventually gets forgotten about. Going through my post list, I find many unpublished drafts, often trying to say the same things time after time, but always failing to do so in a way that I am happy with.

But usually, if I've actually hit the "publish" button, it stands, as a record of what and where I am. If it's crap, well, that's ok. It's as much part of me as the polished stuff, and why blog if not to try to project something of yourself?

I did though, unpublish  my most recent post, which was written while I was drunk, and mainly concerned a teaching method I'm pleased with, and which, on sober reading, was particularly incoherent.

While on a lesson, the other day, the word "bricolletage" popped into my head.

"Bricolletage" I said to my pupil.

"What?" he replied?

"I don't know. The word just popped into my head."

We googled it and drew a blank. Google suggested some place names, and the word "Bricolage", which I think is what I really meant to think. What I'd thought of was a portmanteau of "Bricolage" and "Decolletage"

Male pupil, by the way.

I know what decolletage means. I didn't consciously know what bricolage means.

Here's what it means, according to the internet...


[bree-kuh-lahzh, brik-uh-]
noun, plural bricolages [bree-kuh-lah-zhiz, ‐lahzh] (Show IPA), bricolage.
a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things.
(in literature) a piece created from diverse resources.
(in art) a piece of makeshift handiwork.
the use of multiple, diverse research methods.
 So for this to pop into my head was a happy accident. Bricolage plays a big part in what I do.
The pieces I draw from are often little set pieces that I've developed over time, but I'm forever incorporating new methods, and developing and modifying old ones. Sometimes things don't work, and I discard or change them. Sometimes things work with a particular pupil, but not with another. It's almost always ok to break the fourth wall, and to share what I'm doing with my pupil, not as a driving technique, but as what I'm trying to achieve as a teacher.
It's an approach that has taken me a long way beyond the basics that I was taught, although those core skills also have to be in there. 

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

What I've been doing for the last week or so...

It's been a strange and difficult few weeks. It's hard to know what to write.

We buried Mike. We've just come back from a brief holiday in North Wales. Life goes on.

On a personal level, that was notable for a couple of things. Finally getting to the top of the Glyderau, and swimming in the sea in Abersoch.

I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to personal discomfort, but it was a beautiful warm late summer afternoon, and after paddling about for a bit, I stripped down to my undies (we just went out and had no intention of getting more than our feet wet) and and I gradually went all the way in. The shoulders were the hardest bit but once in, it was almost pleasantly warm, at least in patches. The temperature was in no way uniform. There were swathes of cold and warm all moiling and mixing. There were fishes too. Thousands of little pipe nosed things that shoaled and darted around me. Bren took a few photographs but without a polarising filter, they didn't show much.

Last time I swam in the sea was in Cornwall about 12 years ago, and by the time I'd managed to pluck up the courage to go in, it was time to get out. Minor bucket list thing ticked off I suppose.

I went part way up Glyder Fach (or fawr - they're part of the same mass really) a couple of years ago with Bren. In retrospect, big kudos to her for getting as far as she did. It's a long steep ascent for those of us who's idea of mountaineering is a gentle ramble up Moel Famau. We got to the top of the first bit, Llyn Y Cwn, but found there was further to go. It was getting a bit late, so rather than push on, we turned back.

This time though, I set out with Alex, my stepson (and all round active bloke) and we got right to the top. What had seemed like a short further climb to the summit from Llyn Y Cwn turned out to be a long and steep scramble of several hundred more vertical metres. The cloud base was a long way beneath us, and visibility was appalling. At times it was far less than 100 metres. The high Glyderau massif is an incredibly rugged place. Glacial action from the end of the last ice age left it a fractured and almost pathless wilderness. There are low cairns spaced every so often. By going from one cairn to the next, right at the limit of visibility, we were able to make progress along the top, but all too frequently, the line would end, leaving us lost. And we did indeed become lost.


This is not a good place to be stumbling around in the dark. There are sheer and vertiginous cliffs, and it would be inky black once the daylight had gone, even if the moon managed to penetrate the fog. Eventually we heard voices, and made for them. A group of well organised walkers had a good idea of where they were going, and did enough for us to find our way down, although they had their own agenda to follow.

 An autostitch pano. Click image for bigger pic.

 At Idwal Youth Hostal. Raring to go!

  The three images above were shot on the banks of Lake Idwal, at the bottom of it all. Well paved and relatively flat. Already the fog is thick.

The word, "Glyderau" comes from the Welsh, meaning "Pile of stones".

 We'd hoped to get to Castell Y Gwynt (the castle of winds) and the famous Cantilever Stone. In the event, we found neither, although the whole damn place looked like Castell Y Gwynt, and the picture below shows the closest we got to finding the Cantilever Stone...

 Murphy's Law dictated that as we made our way back down, the clouds would clear.

This is what I look like when I'm totally shagged out.

In the end we spent 8 hours dealing with slippery rocks, steep uphill scrambles (my lungs and muscles complained) and rocky steep downhill plods (my knees and ankles bore the brunt) I'd had little choice but to keep pushing and pushing, long after I'd had enough, and when I got back to the car, I cried real tears. Just a little. I did on the way out too, when REM's "Everybody Hurts" came on the car stereo.

Which brings me to the third bit of this post: Mike's funeral.

It took several weeks for the coroner to carry out the inquest and release Mike's body.

The cause of death was compression of the arteries in the neck, due to hanging. The toxicology results aren't with us yet, but I'd expect them to show significant levels of alcohol in the bloodstream. I'd be surprised but not flabbergasted if there was anything else.

So Mike would have lost consciousness quite quickly then, as the blood supply to his brain was cut off, rather than over several minutes through asphyxiation, as I'd assumed. I hope so anyway.

Mike's partner, Jenny wanted a woodland burial. The most local site is in Frankby but it's right next to a proper graveyard, and she didn't want to see a load of old stones. We found another site in South Wirral, close to the start of the Manchester Ship Canal, and right on the final approach path for Speke Airport. Truly a place of quiet reflection and meditation!

Bren was the main organiser in it all, and it was a memorable and special ceremony for us all. We'd expected optimistically for around 100 people to attend, but in the event, there were far more than that. Perhaps 150 or more. The bulk of the service was in the main building. Bren spoke at some length about Mike, and introduced a number of other people, who'd chosen to say something. Bren also spoke about how suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 50 in the UK. That's something I didn't know before.

Alex had wanted to pay his respects to his brother by being a pallbearer. This is something I'd also wanted to do. The funeral directors were happy to oblige, and organised us carefully. Six of us, Me, Alex, Pete (Mike and Alex's Dad), Peter (Mike's half Brother), Pidge (Mike's best mate and partner in crime) and one other who I can't remember carried the coffin in and out of the building, then it was put into the hearse, and driven up to the plot. We didn't linger long by the graveside. Jenny has been to his grave since. We haven't yet. At some point, a tree will be planted, and as the site matures, it will change from being wildflower meadow to woodland. My Mum and Sister represented my side of the family. Both would now like to be buried there.

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Sunday, 31 August 2014


person = person.

person + drug = different person

there was a time a few years ago when Mike lived at home with us.

Every so often, we would get a midnight phonecall. A drunken Mike had got into some kind of scrape. Tried to jump off a building, or had the crap beaten out of him/beaten the crap out of someone. He's done himself real harm before today, and there were times where his rampages put us in danger too. But somehow, he'd got through and once sober, was back to his usual self.

I understand the compulsion to do self destructive shit. It's a behaviour I've engaged in many times.

Mike had problems for years. He longed for a normal life. The whole family/home/job deal. Eventually he got something like it, living with Jenny, and having a child, Zach. Yet it couldn't banish the demons.

On Friday night, Mike had been out with Jenny for a birthday party. He'd been drinking spirits. He left early.

Some time later, Jenny came home to find him hanging from the bannister. She cut him down and phoned 999. Mike wasn't breathing. The emergency people talked her through how to do CPR, and the police and paramedics arrived. They continued to work on Mike as they took him to hospital, and there the work continued for about an hour before finally, Mike was pronounced dead.

I'd like to think he didn't really mean it. Maybe he thought Jenny would be back sooner, or that he'd be able to get out of what he got into. I know he wouldn't have done it if he'd been sober.

I went out to my monthly backgammon meeting on Friday night. I'd been up since 7 that morning, so I was very tired when I got home from Liverpool. Bren was watching Suburgatory on the telly. I went into my cave and went on the internet. About midnight, the phone rang. It was my other step-son, Alex. We knew straight away that it would be something to do with Mike. I must confess, my initial thought was "For fuck's sake, Mike. What now?" Alex couldn't tell us much more than that Mike had been taken to Arrowe Park hospital. I would have gone with Bren, but I should have been working early next morning, so Bren went on her own. She even took a book with her, expecting it to be the usual long wait in A and E while they patched him up.

I stayed up for half an hour or so, then went to bed. Lying there, somehow I had a sense of foreboding but eventually I slept. I was woken by Bren about 3 in the morning. She didn't beat around the bush.

"Mike's dead." She said. "He hung himself."

Dark dark dark. I sent texts to the pupils I was supposed to teach yesterday, cancelling. We cried. We slept. A little. I was shaking with shock. Bren was in a strange place. Too numb to feel anything at all.

We woke early to find nothing had changed. It wasn't going to go away.

We went for a walk along the shore while we were killing time. I looked out at the wide expanses of sea and sky. There were black clouds over New Brighton.

Bren's daughter, Lisa, had been staying in Liverpool, and we had no way of seeing her. We knew she was coming home the next morning and wanted to tell her face to face, rather than by phone, and Bren was scared that someone would post something on facebook. So we went for a walk, then headed to the house in Wallasey.

Lisa hadn't heard. Bren told her. More fucked up despair and disbelief.

A lot of people knew by then, but nobody had said anything on social media until either his girlfriend, Jenny, or Bren had said something publicly.

Bren said goodbye to him on facebook this morning and finally had a good cry. A premonition to doing it for real when he has his funeral.

As far as that's concerned, we don't know anything about that just yet. Until the coroner releases the body, we can't make any arrangements.

Right now, the initial raw grief and shock have subsided a little. It will take a long time before things get back to any kind of normal though. It takes very little to make the tears flow.

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Saturday, 30 August 2014


My Stepson killed himself last night.                                                                                      
There's a big hole that I keep falling into.                                                                               
my poor poor bren. nobody should have to bury their child