Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Forks and spoons

I had a car load of stuff to take to the charity shop. It took me several trips from the car to the shop.

I handed over the roller blades.

Sorry. We can't take them. Health and Safety.

OK. I took them back to the car and grabbed some more bags. One of them contained a set of cutlery. These were recieved with thanks, and I went back for some more.

They had taken all the cutlery knives out of the set and gave them back to me.

We're not allowed to sell them, explained the shop manageress.

Not talking about machetes or flick knives here. Just the ordinary things you'd use to eat your dinner.

It's health and safety gone mad, I tell you!

Anyway, if anyone is interested, the Shelter shop in Wallasey has a perfectly good set of forks and spoons for sale if anyone wants them. If you do happen to buy them, get in touch, and I will give you the knives for free. Just don't tell anyone. I'd hate to get in any trouble.

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Sunday, 5 November 2017

You and me against the world, Kid...

I've found myself embroiled in something of a battle.

It started with a driving test. During that test, my pupil was driving along a road that split into two lanes, one of which went towards the Mersey Tunnel, the other, towards Birkenhead. The examiner should have told her which way to go in good time, but for some reason, failed to do so. Eventually, my pupil asked him which way she should go. Instead of telling her, the examiner responded by asking her if she'd ever gone through the tunnel on a driving lesson. I was there. I was sat in the back of the car, watching it all happen, and to me, his tone was aggressive and badgering. It felt to me like he'd been caught napping, and had responded by pushing the blame away from himself, and onto my pupil. At any rate, her standard of driving deteriorated markedly after this incident, and she picked up both a serious fault, and too many "minor" faults.

At the end of the test, after telling her she hadn't passed, the Examiner consoled her and told her she needed to be more confident. After he'd left the vehicle, I took her home, and while driving back, we discussed the incident. My pupil was unhappy about it, and felt that his actions had badly knocked her confidence.

So I decided to contact the DVSA to ask for a retest, and to ensure that she didn't get the same examiner next time. I composed an email, explaining what I'd seen, and asking them to investigate. Technically, an appeal on the grounds that the test was incorrectly conducted should be done through a magistrates court, but generally, if a complaint is made to them and they find something didn't go right, they will sort out a free retest without the rigmarole of going through the courts.

Appealing is not something I did lightly. If I put a complaint in against a particular individual, I then have to meet that same individual in the course of my job on a fairly frequent basis. And this particular examiner is generally ok. We get on well as a rule. My sitting in on frequent tests is a standing joke between us.

Yet I'd seen this happen, and to me, it clearly breached the guidelines. Those guidelines state this:

Examiners should ensure their instructions are absolutely clear. Candidates must not be left in any doubt about the route to be taken. Directions should be given in good time, especially where marking of traffic lanes indicate an option. At complex junctions and gyratory systems, a request simply to turn right or left may not be enough to indicate the route clearly.

Candidates should not be given any grounds to complain of being flustered or uncertain. If you are aware a candidate has dyslexia or dyspraxia you should tactfully establish if it affects their driving and if any adjustments are necessary. This may include confirming directions by pointing or using hand signals.


My pupil had to ask for directions, so I thought it would be straightforward. The DVSA would read my mail, speak to both the examiner and my pupil to establish what had happened, offer her a retest and an assurance that she would be given a different examiner, and presumably give the examiner extra training to ensure that a future lapse of attention was dealt with differently.

Off went my email, and I quickly got an automated confirmatory mail through telling me that in order to deal with my enquiry, they would need a couple of bits of information, driving license number and test reference number. I'd forgotten about this, so I contacted my pupil through facebook, asking for these details, and when she'd sent them to me, I added them as a further email.

Time passed. Nothing happened. More time passed. Nothing continued to happen. After about 9 days, I phoned them. The customer service person I spoke to asked me when I sent the email. I told her, and she informed me that I would have to wait for 10 working days. I had to call back in another 3 or 4 days. I explained that I was concerned that my pupil had not been contacted but the person on the phone insisted.

Well, OK then.

So I called again a few days later. I spoke I think to the same person. Once again, she asked me when I sent the mail, and after establishing that ten working days had passed, she put me on hold while she made some enquiries. After some minutes she was back, and told me that the details I had provided were wrong, and that the DVSA had sent out an email to me telling me this a couple of days after I sent my mail. I had my PC in front of me, and I looked, both in my main email account, and in my spam/trash folders. There was no mail from them on or around the date she claimed one had been sent. She advised me to resend my mail with the correct details.

Once again, I contacted my pupil, and after carefully checking, she realised that she'd got one digit of the reference number wrong. I sent a new email off, but now I made a mistake. Instead of sending her license details, and the now amended test reference, I accidentally sent the reference number twice.

Once more I waited, and as the days stretched out, I wondered what on earth to do. As the ten working day limit for the new mail approached, I had a look at the mails I had sent, and at this point realised that I'd put in the wrong details in. I sent an addendum with the corrected information.

This time, the response was pretty swift. The next day, I got a mail back telling me that the DVSA had spoken to the examiner, and had decided after listening carefully to what he had to say that we had no grounds for appeal. It also said the following:

We received your email on 7 October however, [my pupil's]’ driving test reference number was incorrect. We requested this information on 18 October and we received it on 20 October. We have no record of any further emails. We have 10 working days to reply to enquiries and complaints; today is the tenth day.

This runs contrary to the customer service lady's assertion that a mail was sent  informing me of my error a couple of days after my original mail.

So here's an uncharitable view of what's happened.

I've sent in a complaint, and despite being an experienced and competent instructor, who's sat in on many tests, I am being seen as a troublemaking crank. For whatever reason, the email that should have been sent informing me of the incorrect details was never sent, and this was compounded by my being fobbed off with "come back after ten days" when I phoned them, instead of them telling me that the details were incorrect. Then they gave factually unverifiable information to me about an email being sent when I phoned for a second time. After  a further error from me, they have once again failed to inform me that the details are incorrect, and nobody has taken the time to read through both emails and combine both correct details. Then, after most of the 10 working day response time, I have added the correct details, they've rushed through a judgement so that they could squeeze off a response within the target time limit. Their investigation did not include actually getting my pupils side of the story.

I've mailed a response explaining that I disagree, and that they really should take the time to speak to my pupil before coming to a decision.

And that's where we're up to.

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Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Worried Man Blues

Taking in the sweep of dark coastline that cradled an expansive bay of ink dark water, and a sky that was studded with stars between puffy groups of cumulus, I considered the magnitude of my folly. There was hardly a light to be seen. I turned back into the hotel/store/tavern and spoke to the proprietor, a stocky guy in perhaps his late 60's with a bushy grey moustache.

Where am I? I asked. Australia?

You're just near Christchurch, he replied, with a distinctly antipodean twang

New Zealand?

That's right.

He turned away to serve a customer. I went through the contents of my pockets. It didn't take long. I had perhaps £70 plus a bit of loose change. No plastic. No passport. No balloon. And although I was off today, I had work to do tomorrow.

I've been in a balloon before of course, but somehow, earlier that day, I'd ended up flying one myself. This was an extremely stupid thing to do as I was very tired. I suspected that I might have had a couple of drinks too.

Once, years before I drove home to Wirral from Milton Keynes, but because of a head on collision meaning the police had closed the road, I ended up having to take a very different route that added hours onto my journey. Getting very drunk and having almost no sleep the night before didn't help either, but despite drinking a huge cup of ice cold coke at the previous services, I found myself drifting off into a dangerous torpor, and I knew I had to just get off the road as soon as I could. There were perhaps 15 or 20 minutes when it took all my will to keep my eyes open, but I got into the next service station, parked up out of everyone's way, and slept for about 3 hours before completing my drive home.

And that's how I was feeling now. As I piloted the balloon low over some parkland, I felt that same drifting detachment and I should have found somewhere to land. Instead, I found myself waking up from a doze and realising that without the occasional input of hot air from the burners, I was going to hit the ground anyway. I must have only been asleep for a minute or so because I was still drifting over what now looked like a golf course. I opened up the burners but the balloon responded, not by drifting serenely upward, but by rocking violently forwards and backwards. Almost to the point where the basket was horizontal. Still, it steadied, and as it drifted onward, I drifted back into oblivion.

Only to wake. This time, I'd obviously been asleep for much longer, and I was drifting very low over some built up suburban stuff. I quickly turned on the burners, sending a blast of flame up into the canopy above. This time the balloon reacted even more violently, rocking backwards and forwards with so much force that it almost threw me out of the basket, as it somehow turned through 360 degrees. Only centrifugal force kept me in place.

Shee-it! I said, but I was still very low down, so I applied another blast of heat, and the balloon, again responded by rocking wildly. This time it threw me out of the basket and left me clinging on to its edge as it fell, completely out of control, and hit a road.

I picked myself up and looked around. The basket was on its side. Around me were it's contents. The balloon itself had burst violently as we hit the ground. There were bits of fabric strewn about and I could see the neck of the balloon, bizarrely knotted like the neck of a party balloon.

My wife was not going to be happy. I don't think she even knew I'd gone up in a balloon, and it was an expensive thing to wreck. Plus I had no idea where I was and it was getting towards evening.

And now it was night, and I'd somehow ended up in the lobby of this place that overlooked the sweeping bay with almost no lights to be seen and a sky full of clouds and stars.

And then I woke up again, and after a bit of confusion, I realised I was tucked up in my bed. Boy was I glad to be home!

I don't know about you, dear reader, but when my sleep is particularly badly disturbed, I get some incredibly vivid dreams. Last night I had perhaps 3 hours of sleep, so having done my early morning driving test lesson, I came home, and with a break of a few hours, I decided to get some more kip. And at some point, I ended up flying a balloon to New Zealand.

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Driving vehicles into crowds of people seems to have become the new mode du jour for terrorists,

If only those poor cyclists and pedestrians had armed themselves with cars of their own...

driving lessons in North Wirral? learn to drive in Hoylake? driving instructor in Birkenhead?