Let’s do cheap

Let’s do cheap

Dumbing down the price

I’m not sure if it is only the blinds industry that seems to want to innovate and then kill the opportunity by competing to sell for the lowest possible price, but recent chances to make anything other than a quick buck would suggest that is the case.

Nigh & Day

Cream Duo roller

Duo blinds have been around for a long while but only in the last couple of years have they become mainstream. So why are there so many people trying to sell for the lowest possible price? I looked at the pricing last year and as a manufacturer, I decided that I would rather have a small share of the market than try to push this time consuming and expensive to make product for as little profit as possible. Consequently, I don’t lose money on a single blind I sell to the trade and the retail sales show a healthy margin. An added bonus is that I do not have to keep carefully wrapped offcuts in the hope that the next customer will want the same fabric and colour.

This year has seen all the main manufacturers doing the same and increasing the number of different products to the levels far in excess of what the market can bear. The years end for a lot of the big players will see them writing off a lot of overstock. Must be nice to have the option to show that loss against the profits.

If you have the buying power of the larger M2M guys and the space to store the offcuts properly then you can make a decent margin selling to traders who don’t make their own blinds but only if you don’t have to keep so many less popular fabrics in stock and there is still the possibility that this particular bubble could burst sooner rather than later. As I stated at the start, these have been around for a long time and weren’t always so sought after for a reason which seems to have got lost. They’re not anything other than a gimmick and all the traditional types of blinds still retain a healthy share which currently keeps on growing.

Night & day

Caramel duo night and day blind

I’m not going to give up manufacturing these and other high end blinds but I am going to maintain the prices I believe they are worth making them for and I’ll settle for less to make and a greater profit level per blind and at the year-end I can chuck out any over-stock and not worry about how much money I’m losing to do it.

Rick Grain Monday, March 13, 2017




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Motorway driving part two

Motorway driving

Motorway driving Part two

Back in the 70’s and early 80’s the government Department of Transport used TV advertising space to give useful information in the form of guidance for various new (ish) road systems and things like Panda crossings. Quite why these have disappeared I don’t know but it is probably to do with money or the lack thereof.

One thing which would be useful and always will be as long as new drivers keep coming into being is motorway driving and especially joining and leaving motorways. As there is no requirement for any formal training for motorway driving, experienced drivers often find that the joining and leaving lanes are not used properly due to that signal lack in any education.

Motorway driving

Part two. Lane discipline

I know a lot of people have difficulty in maintaining lane discipline because they haven’t been taught to use their mirrors as part of their initial training. Quite why this is the case is easy to understand when you think that teaching people to drive begins on the road and not where it should happen

Looking backwards should be second nature to a driver and on a motorway, and is essential for safe driving. The correct lane for driving is the leftmost lane and any other lanes are only for overtaking which is why the large majority of drivers are in the wrong lane almost all the time. A recent addition to the laws available to traffic cops is the ability to pull over and ticket someone who doesn’t believe they should stay on the left. It isn’t much used for a couple of reasons in part because police are also badly trained as far as to how far in front of a vehicle you should be to pull back in after overtaking, and also because to stop someone on a motorway to ticket them for this offence is a particularly unsafe procedure. Any traffic policeman will tell you that stopping on a motorway is a risky and potentially life threatening thing to do which is why if you break down and have to stop on the hard shoulder you are advised to get out of the vehicle and retreat past a safety barrier until help arrives.

Driving lanes, motorway driving, lane discipline

Treat a motorway as a single lane piece of road and pull out to overtake and then pull back in when you’ve passed. Of course, it isn’t as clear cut as that but this is the basics of the procedure and for this to be safely completed use of your mirrors is the key. Look twice at the minimum before signalling and pulling out to gauge the speed of the traffic in the lane outside you so you can adjust your speed to join the faster moving traffic or, if you have a large enough gap or there is nothing coming, pull out. It is this part of the manoeuvre which traffic cops don’t like to see occurring if you get too close the vehicle in front because they are told that it takes half a mile to complete this safely at 70mph and if you start moving out when you are a hundred metres behind the vehicle in front and then pull back in when you are a hundred metres in front of it that is probably about right but that isn’t necessary nor particularly any safer than pulling out from seven car lengths behind and pulling back in when three or four lengths in front. Another piece of advice which is frowned on by the ever vigilant traffic guys is to speed up to overtake as the shortest time spent in the wrong lane is the safest time to be there. Of course slowing down back to the speed limit after the manoeuvre is safer for your licence and for you and every other road user but this isn’t either taught nor looked at from the right angle.

Motorway driving, lane discipline

Keeping in the leftmost lane will also help you to practice the overtaking manoeuvre more often as there will always be lorries going at a governed 58mph so constant use of your mirrors is necessary to allow you to change lanes to complete the manoeuvre. The more you use them the easier it gets to gauge the speed of vehicles coming up from behind you.

I will add here that the term undertaking is misnamed because if you are maintaining a constant speed while the outer lanes are full of vehicles going faster, and then for reasons outside of your control and over which you have no part, they suddenly slow down to below your speed why is it your problem? It is almost inevitable this will have been caused by someone going slower than you are far in front and who has lane hopped without giving any thought to those going faster and who will then probably have hopped back but only into the middle lane and not into the nearside lane where they should be.


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Motorway driving part one

As I have already blogged bout the madness of allowing fresh new drivers access to high speed roads when they have no training or experience, I thought I should share a bit of my knowledge and experience to help anyone with the basics.

better driving, motorway driving

Back in the 70’s and early 80’s the government Department of Transport used TV advertising space to give useful information in the form of guidance for various new (ish) road systems and things like Panda crossings. Quite why these have disappeared I don’t know but it is probably to do with money or the lack thereof.

One thing which would be useful and always will be as long as new drivers keep coming into being is motorway driving hints and tips, especially joining and leaving motorways. As there is no requirement for any formal training for motorway driving, experienced drivers often find that the joining and leaving lanes are not used properly due to that signal lack in any education.

Motorway driving, driving, light traffic, better driving

Part one. Joining.

So, to begin this section I will start at the beginning with joining a motorway. From a roundabout, usually there is a section several hundred metres long before the adjoining lane, with short dashed lines, next to the motorway proper which is often two or three hundred metres long. The idea of these two sections is simple. The first allows nearly every vehicle on the road, apart from heavy lorries, to accelerate to the speed limit for their vehicle. This is important – note that you should use this to do that and not drive along with nary a care in the world and gazing at the scenery. The second section is where you assess the speed of the traffic on the motorway and adjust your speed to safely slot into a gap in the traffic at the same speed. Note that you will find it difficult to achieve this if you arrive at the end of the first section doing only 35 or 40mph if the motorway is full of drivers on the speed limit because you will likely run out of space to increase your speed before the joining lane runs out.

At this point if you haven’t got the speed to join safely do not, under any circumstances stop. I have seen this on a number of occasions because people don’t use their brains and translate what they are doing as an emergency. If, for whatever reason, you have run out of proper joining lane then carry onto the hard shoulder section and accelerate until you can join the traffic safely. If you stop you are more likely to cause others to crash trying to avoid your parked car.


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Know your road signs

Know your road signs

Today’s idiot prize goes to the monkey who doesn’t know how to interpret the give way signage at a traffic calming slalom.

Slalom sign

I’m not a fan of these as they don’t do anything other than create a temporary disturbance in the force and only encourage drivers to slow down and speed up whilst negotiating them causing more pollution than going at a constant speed.

The car in front was approaching the sign with a large white arrow pointing upwards and a smaller red arrow pointing downwards. This sign means you have the right of way and traffic from the opposite direction must give way to you. A van the other side of the slalom had pulled into a gap between two parked cars but chummy in front either didn’t know what the sign meant or mistakenly thought he didn’t have enough room to pass between the van and the pavement so pulled into the entrance of the street on his left. I took this to be his intended destination and pulled around him only for him to turn back thereby halfway blocking the road at the same time as the van driver set off towards the obstruction which was now going to be me. I had to mount the kerb to give him room and clearly, due his flashing me up, the less educated driver was flashing me as a protest against, presumably, me knowing more about road signs than he did.

Puzzled monkey

I carried on regardless as this ignorance doesn’t warrant my time stopping to instruct people who should not have been awarded the privilege of driving without an instructor beside them. My instruction to him would have been to send his licence back to the DVLA and book a course of driving lessons with a competent instructor who would know when he was sufficiently trained to re-take a test.

© Rick Grain 20th December 2016

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Motorway madness

Motorway madness, driving, busy roads

Not sane

Motorway madness?

I know that this term has been used to describe multi vehicle smashes, most often when drivers get lost in the fog. Well they’re not really lost just unwilling to slow down when everyone around them isn’t but it really is too thick to keep going at motorway speeds.

What are motorway speeds? Why is there a 70mph limit? Why do so many people drive at more than the limit? And so many well below the limit?

Let me begin with the 70mph limit introduced in the 70’s. At a time when oil production was falling and a recession led to the three-day week to save jobs and energy introducing a motorway speed limit seemed a good idea in principal. No mention was made of safety issues except for a minority and the major marketing by the government was based on reducing fuel usage. In fact, due to the three-day week there were a lot less vehicles using the motorways so the net reduction was probably more due to that rather than the new speed limit. Strangely, it was originally only proposed as a short term measure but the safer roads lobby managed to produce figures backing up their claims of less crashes or at least less deaths from crashes at the lower speeds and the limit has remained. While this is true it doesn’t mean that the limit of 70mph had any basis or substantive evidence from any research that it was safer than allowing cars to go as fast as their drivers dared to go. And in fact, it was a figure plucked from thin air. Who by seems to have been lost in the mists of time.

Motorway driving, driving, light traffic

So from the technological point of view the cars of that era were probably less than half as safe as today’s vehicles and many of them would have struggled to maintain a constant speed of much more than 70mph anyway. Up to date cars with all the latest features like proximity warnings, lane keeping assistance systems, collision warning and auto braking systems, vehicles in blind spots warnings and the ability to maintain a cruising speed above 100mph are so far different from those old Ford Cortinas, Escorts Vauxhall Vivas Hillman Avengers and of course the original Mini that there is no real comparison.

Fuel economy in a modern vehicle also means that even at higher speeds and with larger engines they will use less fuel than their 70’s counterparts. The fly in the ointment or the elephant in the room as far as todays cars being safer and faster is concerned is that the drivers are no better trained today than they were back then. In fact they are not trained at all and have never been and there are no plans to introduce anything other than voluntary training courses and even those you have to find for yourself.

Truly mdaly deeply, higway madness, driving me insane

Why on earth do successive governments, having been warned consistently by the major and minor motoring organisations that this is a critical piece of legislation waiting to be introduced only listen to people who propose stupid measures like an overall 50mph limit? While this measure, if it gains any traction, will no doubt be introduced it will only have the effect of more low speed crashes bunging up the motorways and more banned drivers who cannot keep their foot off the gas pedal. The only safety result will be less fatalities but this can be better achieved along with almost zero incapacitating injuries by introducing a countrywide 10mph limit. Yes I did say that to get your attention because only at those speeds can you be certain that a fatal or life threatening injury would be due to a monumental combined set of unusual circumstances.

complicated signs, road madness, difficult driving

Consider this scenario for a moment:

  • Driving standards are dropping due to the complexity of modern roads and driving conditions
  • The driving test does not test even half as much as a competent driver would need in terms of skills to remain safe on the road
  • There is no testing for skid control, no useful testing for emergency braking and no high-speed testing

And yet once gifted the magical full driving licence a person who was a learner two or three minutes ago, and who might have never driven above 40pmh all the while they were learning can join a motorway and accelerate to 70mph and over. That is the true madness of the motorways.

© Rick Grain 5 December 2016

Images courtesy of Pixabay

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Red light spells danger

Red light, stop, stopped, no go

There are a couple of blogs which have been screaming at me to write them for years now and I really should get them both out there so here is my take on traffic lights.

When the light goes to amber as you approach, your speed and likely reaction times should govern whether or not you can safely stop. The reaction time doesn’t include checking your mirror the see how closely following traffic is because you won’t have time for that. If you are driving with the habit of checking behind you as you approach traffic lights you would know if you can brake heavily (i.e. no-one behind you) or if you would need to consider the tailgater who would be unlikely to avoid crashing into you. Either way this governs whether you opt to stop as much as how much space you actually do need to stop.

oops, rear end, no brakes, no brains

Traffic lights generally are timed pretty well to allow you to come to a halt from the speed limit at gentle deceleration aided by the brake. This is probably true for 30mph and 40 mph limits but only if you see the amber light as the signal to stop. If, like a lot of idiots, you think this means “hit the gas pedal there is plenty of time”, one day you will arrive to find me in front of you. I would most likely have been already moving because I was braking but not stopped just as my light changed to red/amber so I lifted the brake foot and carried on over the line now accelerating under a green light.

My dash cam will show that I crossed the junction stop line on a green light and your insurers will get the full bill for my repairs and any injuries I suffer. As this has happened twice to me recently and only because I have lightning reactions did not result in a crash, I have not been able to test the option of claiming off someone else’s insurers without going through my own insurance company. (This means you won’t lose any no claims discount)

Ask any traffic cop or fireman about the last time they had to dig someone out of a wreck because some moron jumped the light and you might reconsider thinking you can just make it and stop rather than risk your life or kill somebody you don’t know.

Red light, stopped, jam up, run the red

I must say here that I live in the West Midlands and drivers in this neck of the woods seem to see traffic lights going to red as some kind of personal affront as almost none of them take any notice of the amber. I’ve lost any kind of count of the number of times I have rolled gently to a halt at the red light only to be passed in the next lane by more than two other drivers going at it hell for leather. They must have seen the lights changing from more than sufficient distance away to safely stop yet they carry on anyway.

Last word on this is to traffic agencies responsible for timing the lights on faster stretches of road. There is a set not far from where I live on a 60mph limit road and even on maximum possible braking I cannot stop within the time allowed. Fortunately it is mostly not an issue because hardly any drivers can manage to get above 40mph on the approach but even that speed means the time allowed dictates you having to almost perform an emergency stop and the red will already be glowing before you stop.

® Rick Grain 3 December 2016

Images courtesy of Pixabay

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Slippery Roads

Frosty roads give me a chance to use the 4wd option and it does make driving a whole lot easier when the roads change from yard to yard. As the early morning sun glistened off the snowy appearing surface, you might think this could be time for a little driving fun but as it had rained at first, then snowed and finally froze the white appearance hid a lethal problem. For more about starting the day see my blog Frosty morning driving

Given the test results of that initial 100 yards I go into one of three slippery driving modes: Number one is the standard wet road mode which is to leave a longer gap and maintain observation further ahead to ensure I can slow down, in the event of the traffic suddenly stopping, at a steady rate of reduction rather than becoming part of a problem for those following by hard braking on a slippery surface.


Second mode is best called snow mode as soft packing snow can be driven over quite quickly which policemen hate but on a busy motorway I have had the outside lane to myself to blast along while the inner two lanes are doodling at 40mph or less. While that may seem chancy you have to remember that we often have that kind of discrepancy between lane speeds and as long as everyone stays in the near side lanes there is as little risk as normally occurring speed ranges.

Number three mode, which I’ll term ice mode is the slowest due to the inherent danger of having almost nil grip. Snow on top of frozen water is the worst except for black ice but both require top attention and concentration so if you are driving in ice mode do not answer a phone even if you are hands free and don’t engage with passengers as you don’t need any distractions. For ice mode, you test more than in the first few moments of driving and pay particular care to road cambers especially on corners as these can see you off-roading at best or wrapped around a lamp post or tree at worst.


Black ice does present a slightly different challenge in addition to ice mode normal options, which is simply that often black ice appears in small patches on fast trunk roads, usually in low lying stretches due to them being frost pockets, so if you hear a traffic announcement warning of black ice do not immediately hit the brakes to reduce speed but do so gradually and don’t make any sudden movements with the steering wheel. If you feel the car is slipping, then maintain a soft but firm grip and don’t turn the wheel at all until you feel confident of the grip.

Images from Pixabay

© Rick Grain 13th November 2016


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