Thursday, 31 December 2015


The usual half arsed:

Try to lose weight, drink less, be a better person, etc.

Have at it!

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April Skies

I rarely remember my dreams in any detail. I suspect partly because I went to bed so late (about 5am) and yet still struggled to go to sleep, and partly because my sleep was disturbed at some point, last nights installment stuck with me.

Other people's dreams are boring as hell, and I'm sure this will be no exception. Here's how it went...

Somehow, for no good reason, I ended up a long way from home, with nowhere to turn. Presently, I remembered that my mate, Dave lived somewhere nearby. (London) and my location transformed seamlessly into the inside of a posh and spacious flat.

Dave left the room to smoke a cigarette and left me to mess around on his computer. I found myself playing some weird, highly detailed sandbox game that seemed to rely on my bodily movements more than pressing buttons on a controller. Presumably there were cameras located around the room that were reading my movements, in the same way Kinect does for the Xbox.

It was supposed to be a first person shooter game, but it wasn't. The grim greys and drabs of the usual point and zap environment were not there. The palette of my dream was much brighter, and imbued with much less menace. More like the famous picture that Windows XP users got to see when they first logged in than some grim warzone. I zoomed in on a person walking up a grassy slope somewhere opposite me. (I must have had a rifle with a scope?) and he was only too aware of me. He turned and looked at me, shrugging, as if to say, "Mate. Don't be a dick." I couldn't shoot him after that.

At some point, Dave returned from wherever he'd been, and instead of being inside the POV of my character, I was looking at it from outside. Before, it was generic. A nothing. Now it looked surprisingly like me. The cameras recording my movements had been busier than I realised. It also reminded me of the Python character, Biggus Dickus. I'm currently more hirsute than I've been for a while.

The game was called "April Skies", and having woken at the crack of noon, I went and looked online for it.

It's a song by The Jesus and Mary Chain, although I've never heard it. There may be a less than subtle reference to "No Man's Sky" in there though.

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Sunday, 27 December 2015

Got it sussed!

Movies tend to appeal to the emotions. Adults are rational. Children are emotional. There is a child within us all.

The most successful movie franchise of all time is Star Wars.

A ten year old boy's wet dream. Space and fighting. George Lucas was always going to be onto a winner.

So what else are boys into?

Football, and dinosaurs.

So here's the plan. I arange the crowdfunding of a movie about  a team of cute but socially challenged dinosaurs, that somehow beat the odds and go on to win the World Cup.

Key scenes include:

inept stegosaurus puncturing ball with spiky tail and being ostracised by other players during pre tournament training.

Wise but slow dinosaur (probably a diplodocus or similar) taking up challenge of coaching team of misfit saurians and not getting off to a good start. Has heart of gold though, and has the respect of the team, except for aforementioned stegosaurus.

Up against progressively more difficult challenges. First qualifying round against somewhat lightweight pterosaurs, but in the semi final, find themselves pitted against uberjock team of tyrannosaurs, who are not only bad ass dino footballers, they're also evil cheating scumbags of the first order. Yet somehow they prevail.

The final is against an equally hard, but essentially decent team of fast, intelligent raptors. Inept, wrongheaded steggy makes error. One Nil down. Then another. And busts another ball. Two nil down, and boos from the crowd.

Half time. Wise slow coach finds another gear. Tells life story. steg has road to damascus moment and scores hat-trick in the last five minutes (just as he was about to be substituted)

Crowd roars.

Roll credits.

Well, whaddaya think? I just need a few million quid to sort out the wages for the artists, and the super high tech cgi tech.

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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

All done for 2015

Well, driving wise anyway. Not had more than a few consecutive days off since mid April, so I'm not working between Christmas and New Year this year.

It's been a year of flux.

I've wanted to expand the scope of my role by going into instructor training, and progress there has been good. From a sketchy start, I've managed to sort out a venue, schedule, pricing structure, etc. I've also managed to work out methods of helping trainees get through the various parts of the tests they have to get through.

One square peg aside, the trainees have been making good progress with me, and this year has finished on a positive note, as one of them today passed his advanced driving test. He's now free to focus on working towards his teaching test and becoming a fully qualified ADI.

So I'm off now until 4th of January. That first week back is already almost full, and there's generally a surge of new work in January. I'm going to be working my socks off for the next few months by the look of things.

For now though, I'm going to enjoy 11 days of not teaching anyone anything.

Merry Christmas.

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Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Well, alright...

Self image matters much. I'd once have described myself as small.

In the absence of confidence, ego projects itself as arrogance.

I once worked in a factory. One of my workmates wouldn't say boo to a goose. I read his reticence as shyness. Most of my workmates read it as standoffishness.

Anyways. I used to be shy. I still am in many contexts, but these days I'm a lot more comfortable with myself.

This Sunday, I found a way of getting trainee instructors to get into the most difficult part of their teaching test.

Today I found an old song, and it's not at all bad, given that it's just me, on a 300Mhz pc and a duplex sound card, doing a load of shoegazey bollocks. Mike Oldfield it ain't, but I'd managed to construct something both complex and appealing, even if the quality wasn't brilliant. I'll never be totally comfortable with hearing my own voice.

So second one first. Here it is:

The instructor bit needs a bit of explaining.

To become a driving instructor you first have to sit and pass three tests. The first part is a theory test. This is generally straightforward as long as you put the revision in. The second part is an advanced driving test. This is complex, but as long as you have a thoughrough understanding of the techniques involved, it's do-able. Where most people fall short is on the teaching test. Not only do you have to have an in depth knowledge of your subject, but you have to be able to put it across effectively and powerfully.

The test is divided into two parts, but in a way it's divided into 4 unequal parts.

It's all based on role play. The first half is an examiner playing the part of someone who's never done something before. The second half is of someone who has done it before, but who may not be doing it very well.

So for the first part, a reasonably deep briefing is required. This takes up perhaps ten minutes, or a third of the first half of the test. The next twenty minutes is spent talking through in real time, and dealing with any issues that occur. For the second half, a few brief questions are asked, and then you go out and find out why the "pupil" is struggling while on the move.

The hour, therefore is broken up something like thus:

10 minutes, phase one briefing.
20 minutes, talk through on the move.
5 minutes, phase two briefing.
25 minutes, fault analysis and solving on the move.

It's the first ten minutes that everyone (including me) struggles with, and since I started doing instructor training, it's the but that I've found hardest to teach my trainee instructors. Yet the answer was right there in front of us all the time.

The marking sheets are freely available on the internet, and contain the marking criteria. Here, for example is pre set test 5. The first part is about the emergency stop, and use of mirrors.

And there, towards the top of the left hand side of this document is the marking criteria. The first one, "briefing on emergency stop/mirrors references the fact that you're talking about it first. It's possible to do it on the fly, but to do so is a risky strategy. Because the option of doing it without a briefing is available, this marking section is included.

The next two deal with the exercise itself. It has to be done quickly and effectively, and in a controlled way. After this, since the exercise deals with hard braking, the issue of skidding should be covered.

The last three marking sections deal with how why and when you should check your mirrors.

Bear with me here. The subject doesn't actually matter too much at this point. Only that the requirements are spelled out in the marking sheet. On some pre set tests, there is a little more that needs to be added, but essentially, the means of doing the exercise are contained within the text of the marking sheet.

The bottom half of the left hand side deals with the second half of the test, and the right hand side of the sheet deals with the core competencies of the role. These are identical on all of the tests.

Now here's the thing.

Teaching test candidates treat such things as the information above as something surreptitious. What they actually are is a way to structure a briefing and involve the "pupil/examiner"

So to take the example above, the trainee instructor might open their briefing with something like,

"Hi, Fred (insert name of "pupil here"

These are the things we need to talk about.

Now first on the list is "Quick reaction".

Why do you think it's important that we react quickly?"

This approach can be non-linear. They could just as easily talk about skidding or when to check mirrors. It involves the pupil. Most importantly, it puts everything the trainee needs right there in front of them.

Our next few training sessions will be working with this idea, and creating the required bulletpoints.

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Friday, 11 December 2015

A glimpse into the past/future


Last evening, I took my wife out for a meal. We left about 4pm, and returned home at about 5.30.

I live on a closed little estate. Our electricity is provided by means of prepaid card meter, a change that was implemented without consultation or consent. There is no provision for emergency credit, and if we contact site staff outside working hours to obtain electricity, they charge us £50 for the priviledge.

Getting home at 530 meant that we missed office hours, and we got home to find that our supply had run out.

Well it happens. We should have replenished the card when we used it, but we didn't. Our chickens came home to roost at the most inconvenient time possible.

It's winter. The sun goes down at this latitude at about 4pm, and stays down until about 8am. 16 hours without natural light.

We did have some unnatural light. The streelight outside once we'd opened the blinds. A couple of LED torches/magnetic stick on lamps. The gas fire. The light from a couple of battery powered bits of tech, such as my wife's kindle, and my ipad.

Despite the dead router, there were still a couple of methods for getting online with my ipad, while the battery lasted, either by using my mobile phone and a personal hotspot, or by using British Telecom's hotspots. I could read a book. I could listen to an audiobook or music. I could surf the net. I could play a game. The more intensive my choice of activity, the shorter it's duration.

We got home to find darkness. I found myself falling asleep. I went to bed, and surfed the net/listened to an audiobook. The battery on the ipad reached critical levels, and I switched off and went to bed.

There was always the option of going to the car, switching the engine on, and using the 12 volt supply to prolong my access to light, heat and entertainment, but by this time, my body had warmed a bed that is normally prewarmed by an electric blanket, and the low levels of light promoted sleepiness.

I slept.

Bren had other arrangements. She was out for the evening, (hence us going out for an early meal) She came in around midnight, and woke me up.

Having slept for a few hours, I could not get back to sleep.

Normally, I'd go into my man cave and surf the web or play some inane game, or something. If for some reason, I couldn't get online, I could read a book, or watch TV. But now I could do none of those things. LED torches are the 21st century equivalent of candles or rushlights, but to be up and about at night without the benefit of mains electricity was alien. Uncomfortable. Discomfort and boredom got me out of bed. Cognitive dissonance drove me back to bed again. The was nothing familiar to do.

Actually, there was. When I was a child, I used to read voraciously. Once lights out time arrived, I would sneak my light back on, and continue my journey into the imagined reality of someone else (usually Willard Price, or Enid Blyton, or Robert Heinlein) and once I'd been rumbled, I'd use a torch.

But for now, it was easier to lie in bed and try to get to sleep.

The fruits of civilisation were within a gnat's whisker. They were kept at bay by a beaurocratic oversight.

Yet 20 years ago, there was no internet to speak of.
30 years ago the best computers were 8 bit morons like the ZX Spectrum and the BBC B. Awesome compared with what what went before, but in retrospect...
40 years ago, there were no computers beyond pong in our homes.
70 years ago there was no TV.
100 years ago, there was no radio,
150 years ago, there was no widely available electric light.

I endured the commonplace. Just a glimpse. Light is not just a tiny part of the electromagnetic spectrum, It's also just a tiny part of the experiential spectrum too. Try repeating the above using pain management/anaesthesia as a useful analogue, or the ability to travel 20 miles.

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Sunday, 6 December 2015

Backgammon board II

Well the first one wa far too big for the pieces, and anyway it fell to bits.

So I went down to my Dad's to see if I could use his tools to make something more fit for purpose but he took it on himself to do it for me. It took a couple of weeks but I got the wooden case back today, and painted the board this evening. Apart from letting the paint dry and adding a couple of spacers to the side compartments it's done.

Here's how it looks...

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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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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

eggs and bacon

putting a couple of obviously smarmy young conservatives face to face with the demonstrators was always likely to lead to someone chucking an egg. or a brick.

i am reminded of when, a few years ago, there was a big demo in london (i forget which one) and an unoccupied old police van was left in the middle of it all. the smoke and flames would have made all the headlines. instead, a group of demonstrators formed a protective ring around the van, and stopped the angrier elements of the crowd from going too far.

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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Random Massacre Sweep for next month.

Congratulations to Mrs Irene Chambers of Florissant, Missouri, who guessed that this months massacre would come early. She thought it would happen at a baseball match in Texas, but her guess of 10 victims and the correct date was good enough to claim this month's prize.

 If you'd like to have a try for the November competition, just use the format below, and fill in the blanks. The closest wins a glock and fifty rounds of ammo.

Your prediction:

Date: ______ / November / 2015

State: __________ (50 to choose from)

Location: ____________ (eg, school, shopping mall, church, etc)

Number Killed: __________

Happy predicting, folks.

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Monday, 28 September 2015

And then there were three...


Three trainee instructors.Bip. Bam. Bop. Three. Michael, Steve and Helen

Helen contacted me via my website last week, and I called her back very shortly afterwards.

She's just moved back to Wirral after living in Cambridge and getting some instructor training there. She wasn't sure if she wanted to continue training, and had a lot of questions. I asked her to come along to our session today (now yesterday - the midnight oil has been burning for a couple of hours now)

Because I wanted to involve her right from the off (and the other trainee present, Steve) I sent them out together to do a brief assessment drive. This is something that could easily have backfired. I sent someone I've never met before out on a drive with a man she didn't know. I'd given it all quite a lot of thought in the days before Sunday, and had planned to leave Steve at the car park, and take her out myself, before getting Steve to duplicate the exercise with me sitting in the back watching, but it somehow came out wrong, and it happened otherwise.

And it turned out to be serendipitous, largely due to Steve's natural affinity for the role. His instructions were clear. He was able to answer her questions ably, and the feedback generated from this drive will have bolstered Steve's confidence. Steve's assessment of her driving was positive also, and this has helped Helen to feel more confident about her suitability for the role, and her ability to deal with the tests that will lie in front of her if she ultimately decides to pursue this career.

There is work to be done here. Steve is already a professional driver (of buses and coaches) Helen lacks confidence, and her driving will need some work to get her to the standard required to get her through her advanced driving test.

Helen brackets Steve and Michael. Steve is a very good fit for the role. Michael is the squarest of pegs attempting to mould himself into a round hole. Helen is somewhere in the middle.

And for now, this role of instructor is not as profitable as my usual line of work, but it adds diversity, and I'm thoroughly enjoying doing it. I'm charging far less than most, if not all training organisations, and the £30 that Steve gives me for my 4 hours work is far less than the usual £24/hour I charge. But what if ten people are giving me £30 for that time? If it gets to that point, then I will employ another qualified instructor, and pay them for the time they're spending at my beck and call, but if I give them £100, I end up with £200 for 4 hours work.

That's where I plan to be in a year or two. Or less. It might well be worth paying Google, and/or my web guy some serious money to make this happen.

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Sunday, 6 September 2015


Coaching is a teaching method that is non-authoritarian.

Rather than the Instructor setting the agenda, it is characterised by the instructor asking the pupil what they think they need to work on.

Another way of doing it is to have no plan, but to just go and do stuff until errors are generated, and then to deal with those errors, effectively targeting the tuition where it is needed.

So that's something I've tried to incorporate into my methods for some time now.

Years ago, I read Luke Rhinehart's vaguely autobiographical book, "The Dice man".

The premise is simple. He dictates what options he gives to the dice, but he obeys what the dice select from the options he gives them without question or hesitation. The point being to have experiences that he would never have considered having. For good or ill.

If you haven't read it, I think it's a good read. A classic of late 60's US counterculture literature.

Anyway, put the two things above together, and you get to incorporating randomness, quite deliberately, into driving lessons.

For example:

Plug in the satnav, select a nearby town, then ask the pupil to pick a letter, then another letter. Then see what roads come up. There might be one. There might be twenty one. A number is picked at random, and the corresponding road is driven to by following the route shown by the satnav, and anything that occurs on the way is grist to my mill.

This places the onus squarely on the pupil to drive as independently as possible, while pinpointing real world weaknesses in their techniques. Plus, it's fun. And sometimes, it gives me a clear idea of what I need to do with them next lesson. Hence it's not something I'd do all the time. It's something to be mixed with other more structured lessons.

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Saturday, 5 September 2015



[mahy-gruh nt]

migrating, especially of people; migratory.

a person or animal that migrates


[ref-yoo-jee, ref-yoo-jee]
a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc.

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Saturday, 29 August 2015


It's exactly one year since Mike took his own life. Almost to the minute as I write this.

Today I will be working to arrange a surprise party for Bren's 60'th birthday. She knows we're doing something but doesn't know the specifics.

We have not been back to the burial site since his funeral. Bren's way of dealing with it, and my way of respecting her wishes.

It's hard to think about but the physicality of death comes into my mind every time I think about Mike.

What's left of him now?

Life is about consciousness. The body is just a chalice, or a cage. If you're not thinking, you're not living, although there are potatoes that might disagree.

He died, and what there was of him went from something to nothing, or something to something else, if you believe that there is something after something.

Yet I dwell upon the physical realities. Is he just bones yet? He didn't have a lot of hair. I don't know about his pubes. What else is there? Fingernails teeth and toenails I suppose. Those already partially mineralised bits of us.

People that believe in the hereafter don't believe that an afterlife  prevents decomposition. We Transcend.

I bought her some flowers this evening. Not because of Mike. Because she's got restless legs, and she can't get to sleep at night, and is so utterly tired and worn out all the time.

We're getting old. She more than me. And I love her. And I want somehow to make life better for her if I can.

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Friday, 21 August 2015

Not just the lesser of two evils...

As I joined the Greens a few months back, I didn't register to vote in the Labour Leadership elections. If I hadn't been in that situation, I would have registered, and I would certainly have voted for Jeremy Corbyn.

The reasons for voting for Jeremy Corbyn are expressed extensively elsewhere. This is one of the best of the things I've read...

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Sunday, 9 August 2015

scientifically incorrect lyrics II

This... a rainbow.

They always appear at the anti-solar point, so everyone get's their own personal one.

As everyone knows, the colours are in the following order:

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. ROYGBIV.

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.

I can sing a rainbow. It just doesn't scan very well. The same couldn't be said however, for Arthur Hamilton, who could sing a list of colours that were in the wrong order and included colours that are not present in rainbows.

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Thursday, 6 August 2015

70 years on...

Reslilient fuckers, aren't we?

Back in 2004, almost a quarter of a million people lost their lives in the Boxing Day earthquake and Tsunami.

It took less than three days for the global human population figure to recover.

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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

dust in the wind

my mum has cancer.

encapsulated ovarian cancer in at least one ovary.

she will be having both ovaries surgically removed in the very near future.

more than that I do not know right now.

worrying times.

it looks like it has not spread beyond her ovary(ies) but it's too early to say for sure yet if the surgery will suffice to give her the all clear.

my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple of years ago, and underwent various treatments including radiotherapy and HRT to shrink the prostate gland. He responded well, and is doing fine.

Bren now has diabetes, anaemia, fibromyalgia and restless leg syndrome. she's on so many pills, she rattles when she walks.

every fucker is falling to bits, including me, although I have been eating a lot more healthily recently.

once upon a time I was young, and there were two generations between me and old age. now it's only a matter of months or a few scant years before I start losing those closest to me.

this, I'm aware, is an entirely selfish perspective, and of course things are exactly the way they're supposed to be, but still...

holy fuck.

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Saturday, 11 July 2015


make the same response to a given stimulus a thousand times, and it becomes difficult to do anything else.

Fair nuff?

If, having done so, you then wish to do elsewise, it takes some effort of will, but having made that effort of will a thousand times, a new habit becomes emplaced.

Such a change though, has to start with that effort of will.

Dear reader, I've been unhappy for quite some time with what I've been seeing in the mirror, and about a week ago, I made a spontaneous and frivolous decision to download a calorie counting app for my ipad.

Having made a few inputs about my height, weight, lifestyle and goal, the app set me a daily target of 1740 calories per day.

I can eat lard, drink beer, eschew lettuce, eat three eclairs and a cheese and onion pasty, but that's my limit. 1740 calories. How I get there is up to me.

Making a conscious decision to do things differently has actually been quite easy. Just a simple tap on an ipad screen got the ball rolling.

Doing things differently has been easy too. Since I'm making a conscious effort, maintaining the old habits but in a different way is straightforward.

I spend a few hours working, and I'm hungry. I drive to a supermarket and buy something to eat. My brainstem says "buy easy energy - pasties, cheese sarnies, etc) my conscious mind over-rides this. Result being a full belly, energy being released over a longer period of time, and both fewer calories, and more of the good stuff.

Today I popped in to a shop for lunch, and I got an apple, a banana, a reduced fat egg and cress sandwich, and some short dated organic on the vine cherry tomatoes.

It cost a little less than the sugary fatty usual, and meant that tonight, having only eaten about 600 calories, I have a surplus of about 1000 to use however I want.

I'm getting drunk on 4 or 5 bottles of strong ale. Huzzah!

Initial results have been spectacular. I've gone from 14 stone 8 pounds to 14 stone 1 pound in a few days. Only the greek economy is shrinking faster.

I'm told that such a rapid loss is unhealthy, but that I should normally see such initial gains when I start dieting. Fat cells, when depleted, dont just cease to exist, they just shrink. So, I should expect to find the pace of weight loss slows, and that it's all too easy to regain.

But for now, I'm enjoying the task I've set myself, as much because I've tasked myself as because of anything else.

The hard part is to take the time to input everything I'm consuming into the app. But the specifics don't matter. If I get through 1900 calories because I didn't bother inputting the scoop of icecream I had at the end of yesterday, It doesn't affect the bigger overall trend.

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Is this the most beautiful infographic ever?

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Monday, 6 July 2015

Greece is the word

If, a year or so ago, someone had suggested that we could see people starving in a developed European nation within the decade, they'd have not been taken all that seriously.

The left blame the bankers. The right blame the feckless spendthrift masses.

The people in my blogroll to the right of your screen have, by and large, a different take on things.

And so it begins. We live in interesting times.

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Thursday, 25 June 2015

The good, the bad and the ugly

more vague ideas coalescing into more solid intentions.

Firstly, I don't really want to recruit current instructors. I'd rather train people to do things in a certain way, and get the best of them working under my name, until they've developed what they need to make a go of it for themselves.

I now have two trainees. One is the guy I blogged about back in January. The other is a bus driver, who did some instructor training about 10 years ago but never took it too far. He's been with me for a couple of sessions now.

Back in January, I wrote,

Anyway, the other night, I took someone out for an instructor training session. As I mentioned in a recent post, this person didn't seem ideally suited to the role, but without ever meeting him, I couldn't really form a judgement...

...The training session went quite well. The feedback I got was positive. My pupil was about what I expected. Essentially bookbound. This is inevitable. To teach, you have to know, and when you first start, you need the props. My wannabe instructor, who'd come across as something of an oddball from what I'd seen on the internet, turned out to be a nice guy, who was trying very hard. There's a lot of work to be done, but I can work with that. Nice guy, trying hard. That's not at all a bad starting point
Six months down the line, and we're really no further on. For all the good intentions, this guy has absolutely no idea what he's doing, and no amount of training will turn him from the sow's ear he is into the silk purse he needs to be. He won't give up, but after 3 attempts at his teaching test, the option to continue will be taken from him. Meanwhile, he's spent thousands on a second hand car to teach in, and is now attempting to teach real people on a trainee license. Poor sods. He's already had to take one of them home in floods of tears after trying to get her to be able to reverse into a parking bay on her second ever lesson. He blames her for this rather than himself. I explained that really the second lesson should be about consolidating from the controls lesson, and that apart from a few very specific circumstances, you leave reversing until they have some idea how to drive forward. Today I saw him doing reversing in a quiet side street. I got my pupil to do a quick u-turn and we hightailed out of there.

I do feel some guilt about all this. It would perhaps have been better in retrospect to have just told him that I could not get him to where he needed to be, indeed that he was attempting to fit himself into a role for which he had no aptitude, yet all I've done is try my best. I didn't realise that someone could be quite so unreflective and unresponsive to their training, and by the time I did, we'd both invested a lot of time, effort and (for him), money. It seems we're locked into a rather macabre path, who's end I can see only too clearly, and which he seems to be oblivious to.

So it was good to get this new guy. He's keen, motivated, amenable to change, and has the makings of a good instructor. O happy day!

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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

old tune

Found this on an old CD. A lot of the stuff I used to record was pretty dire, but I'm quite liking this.

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Monday, 22 June 2015

Lyrics that don't stand up to scientific scrutiny

Their name must surely be legion, although I can think of only a couple at the moment.

Here's one that might be appropriate for the longest day.

"The darkest hour is just before dawn"

This comes of course from a song called "This is dedicated to the one I love" by 1960's West Coast minstrels, The Mamas and the Papas.

As the diagram above shows, the deepest shadow will actually occur more or less equidistantly between dusk and dawn, and the hour before dawn will generally see things start to lighten a little.

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Sunday, 21 June 2015


"It's hard to give a shit these days"

- Lou Reed, Romeo had Juliet

I may expand on this soon, if I can be arsed.

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Sunday, 7 June 2015

It continues here...

It's been just over 6 months since I posted this in the new year...

I never really did anything I said I was going to do.

Last night I weighed myself for the first time in 6 months.

I've lost 4 pounds!!!

Woooo! Go Me!!!

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Monday, 1 June 2015

what would happen if you towed an aeroplane backwards?

wings generate lift because of their shape. A given quantity of air has to travel further to get from the leading edge to the trailing edge when going over the wing than when going under. This means the same number of atoms is dispersed over a greater length, and therefore, the pressure is lower than for the same quantity of air travelling below the wing.

So if you put the plane into reverse somehow, and go fast enough, presumably the wing would still generate lift, and the plane would rise.

I'm assuming that putting the thick bit of the curve towards the front is more efficient, which is why they do it that way.

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Monday, 11 May 2015


holy shit, I've been busy. Had 64.5 hours work in my diary this week, although that subsided with some late cancellations to somewhere around 55.

In part, this was due to taking a holiday. The caseload had to be crammed into the following week.

In part, it was because I had 6 driving tests this week. People tend to put in a few extra hours in the week or so before their tests.

In part, this was because one of those tests involved an intensive course. - someone putting in about 10-12 hours in the week before their test.

That someone passed, and passed well, despite, or perhaps because of a mistake early on in their test. Convinced that he'd failed, he relaxed and just got on with it without expectation or pressure, only to find the examiner had viewed the error as just a minor fault.

And as he goes on his merry way, another intensive course looms.

But still, I finally submitted the content for my website to the guy who does this stuff for me, and he'd promised to get it sorted this week.  There are two blocks of content. One relates to instructor training, the other to franchising. The first is a way of diversifying, of adding variety to my role. The second is a way of earning money without having to put so many hours in on the road. It's also about trying to build something. Turning my successful one man operation into something bigger and more complex. Training instructors may also lead to people working under my name, although in the short term, it means more hours working.

And I finally got the backgammon board finished, apart from a few minor bits and bobs. I will get the chance to use it in anger at the end of the month.

Edit: Yup. Site down again. This almost certainly means work is being done.

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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Instructor training - the big idea

This post starts about 12 or 13 years ago.

I was doing agency work in various shops and factories, and getting heartily fed up with it all.

I've always enjoyed driving, and thought of myself, as I suppose most people do, as being a good driver. At the time, the jobs pages in the local free press were full of adverts.

"Become a Driving Instructor! Be your own boss! Earn a zillion quid a year for sitting on your arse!"

So I made enquiries, and ended up going to a building in Birkenhead where they took me out for a test drive, and had a brief Q and A session with me and a few other people. then we talked about money. For about £2500 they would train me. I was enthusiastic. I went home, full of excited determination. I was going to do this!

Not so fast, Bren advised. You don't know if this is a good deal or not. Shop around, and make a few more enquiries before you commit yourself (and a huge wad of our cash)

To cut a long story short, I ended up speaking to a guy in Lancashire, Neville, who I instantly got on well with.

He didn't have a building. He just operated out of a car park in a macdonalds on a quiet industrial estate. No classroom. No big shiny adverts in the press. And no money up front. Just turn up. Do a few sessions and if you like it, take it from there.

So I went, one sunny sunday. It was about 30 miles away, and a bit daunting, not really knowing what to expect.

There were perhaps ten people there. One was Neville. Another was a fully qualified instructor. The rest were all trainees at various stages of development. It was all roleplay, and the focus was almost entirely on the teaching aspect. Neville organised things but it wasn't that hierarchical. Everyone was just bouncing off each other. Trying stuff. The other fully qualified guy would play the role of pupil, while a trainee tried to get him to learn, and in the back would be 2 or 3 other trainees watching what was going on, and commenting and questioning. Sometimes Neville would be involved, either teaching or in the role of pupil, but mainly he just organised everyone else. Person A, go with Person B and do X. And persons C, D and E can you sit in and watch? People who had passed their advanced driving test would teach those working towards it. People who had become fully qualified would come and be a part of things. Trainee instructors working on a trainee license would bring their own pupils along so that it was as real as it could be.

It was a wonderful fluid system, and because of the nature of the teaching test, one that prepared us well for what was to come.

There were other benefits too. We'd sometimes get people who'd been learning with one of the major training companies, and they'd spent a lot of time in a classroom, basically learning scripts. We ran rings around them. We were teaching. They were reading scripts out of a book. I got to spend time sitting in the back of Neville's car as he taught real students. He was teaching them the same advanced techniques he was now teaching me, right from lesson one.


Normally, this job pays by the hour. I give a particular period of time to one other person in exchange for a particular sum of money.

Neville was spending 4 hours every sunday at this location, regardless of whether 3 people turned up or 33. With minimal overheads, and this way of getting paid for the same time slot by lots of different people, rather than just one, he could afford to do two things that other trainers couldn't. One, make his prices far lower, and Two, offer unlimited hours of training. No skin off his nose. He's there anyway. I ended up spending hundreds of hours training, and it helped me to hit the ground running when I finally got my green badge.

Even MacDonalds were happy about it, as we'd have a break half way through, and go and buy coffee.

 So right there is my model. I have set aside sunday afternoon/evenings (people who are not yet driving instructors often work monday to friday) to do this.

I'm doing it from a pub car park, close to a place where lots of learners go. I'm offering it far cheaper than others, and I'm offering the same unlimited hours deal.

I currently have three people potentially doing this. One has already been doing it with me on a one to one basis. Another had some refresher lessons with me, and my competence and enthusiasm inspired her to consider becoming an instructor herself. The third contacted me today through my website. He wont be able to make it to our first session this coming Sunday, but has promised to try to get to the one after that.

The first one though may just be me and one other.

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