Notepad on Life

December 29, 2016

I want your best quote, insurer, not your opening gambit

Filed under: business,Consumer,Finance,Motoring — - @ 1:25 pm

pic courtesy of Gerry Balding

“Sorry to hear that, Mr ********. Can I just ask why you’re cancelling your cover with us?”

“Yes: the renewal quote you sent me was undercut by another firm by 38 pounds. I’ve taken out cover with them instead.”

“Oh…right…Actually, it’s a shame you didn’t get in touch with us first, because we could have probably undercut that, depending on whether any circumstances had changed.”

“But how’s that? You’d already sent me a renewal quote. I assumed that was your best offer.”

“Weeeell…not necessarily…”


Now, I’m not so naive as to have been completely taken aback by this conversation, when renewing my car insurance recently. What did surprise me is the way no attempt was made to mask or even obscure another painful truth about the financial services sector. You know, the sector whose TV ads are often based on the premise that they are your best friends.

Those renewal quotes aren’t their best offer, after all. Just the most they think they can get away with.

Which  is what friends are all about, of course.


December 19, 2016

Smart motorways need education before electronics

Filed under: Motoring — - @ 11:44 am
Tags: ,



Pic courtesy of Patrick Hoesly

Just heard a Spotify ad for something called ‘smart motorways‘. It only entered my consciousness late in the clip but it sounded like something to do with picking your spot to park when your car is in trouble. Apparently there are ‘refuge areas’ for such contingencies now, just in case the hard shoulder may be needed to defuse congestion.

I had to smile. It reminded me of those ‘Green’ campaigns where the little guy – often in the form of school children – is busy jumping through all sorts of hoops to minimise his carbon footprint, while world leaders and their entourages continue to fly great big jumbo jets to their climate change summits, even in this age of video conferencing.

I’m sure the smart motorway concept will already have guzzled down millions in funding. Sadly, I’m equally certain that in all the man hours involved, not once will the elephant in this particular room have been acknowledged.

I use motorways extensively each month and I believe one particular form of ‘smartness’ would cut traffic snarl-ups considerably in this country, given that many traffic queues – as I learnt several years ago – are prompted by a simple wave effect . Something causes a few cars to slow down momentarily and the delay ripples through the traffic behind them until that initial slowing translates into several minutes of standstill further down the road. If you’ve ever found traffic moving normally after a 10-minute crawl, with no sign of any accident, and wondered what the hell the problem had been, chances are  it was that.

And a prime cause of this knock-on effect? Lorry drivers who decide to overtake a lorry in front even though five or six cars are clearly approaching in the overtaking lane. Lorry pulls out and takes a minute to crawl past the one in front, and so the wave begins.

I’m prepared to cut the culprits an inch of slack here, in that I have no doubt some of them work to punishing deadlines set by bosses sat in comfy offices, rejoicing in their new tracking software. If an HGV driver simply has to get by a slowcoach in front and the traffic from behind is relentless, then he can be excused. Too often, though, when conditions are far more forgiving, I see overtaking manoeuvres that could easily have been postponed briefly until a decent gap opened up in the traffic behind.

You want to make our motorways smarter, start by getting the haulage industry into school.

June 18, 2014

One way to stop people texting while driving

Filed under: Motoring — - @ 9:00 am

As one who only found out afterwards that his son was once driven by someone who did this – a schoolteacher, no less – I sincerely hope this clever idea for a cinema ad catches on…


June 17, 2014

Honda has my number; almost…

Filed under: Advertising,Consumer,Motoring — - @ 12:03 am
Tags: ,

Just heard a Honda ad on Spotify, based on ‘the filling-up game’, where you try to get the petrol dial bang on the right total at the petrol station before releasing the lever.

Thank goodness, I thought that was just me. Although letting it eat away at you for ten minutes afterwards, when you go a penny over the desired total; that probably IS just me…

July 19, 2013

Dumbed down and sucked in, whether I like it or not

Filed under: Motoring,Travel — - @ 9:06 am
Tags: , , , ,
English: portrait of Alfred Camus

Albert Camus (Photo: Wikipedia)

He’s not easy at the best of times, Albert Camus. An atheist philosopher so morose that not even finding himself in sensual places like Florence or colonial Algiers can do anything other than hone his awareness of death.

I think I only bought the book because he was a goalkeeper in his spare time. How far up his own fundament can a football man go, I may have reasoned.

Miles, as it turns out.

“We need ten years to have an idea that really belongs to us – that we can talk about…”

I’m on the bus, really trying to concentrate and give the world’s all-time most self-absorbed goalie/intellectual his due. Ultimately, however, I cannot deny the leaden voice to my left.


This has to be repeated.

Come on. Focus.

“…and realise that my whole horror of death lies in my fervour to live…”


“Above all, I have seen dogs die. It was touching them that overwhelmed me…”


Eventually, the brutish mundanity floors me. I lower the book and stare at the dusty red floor. Camus? I’m not sure Confucius and Nietzche double-teaming could have withstood this.

On existentialism, I am no further forward. I know emphatically, however, that somewhere in Peterborough’s bland sprawl, lies a house whose owners need lose no sleep over the boundary on the left, because that’s the council’s problem.

Not helped by the heat, I am genuinely depressed.

November 5, 2012

Good citizens? Politicians see only taxable ones

Filed under: Consumer,Finance,Motoring,politics — - @ 4:21 pm
Banner indicating a toll road

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought it was just some weary battle-cry of anarchists too old to get a grip on themselves, the lament that all governments exist only to squeeze their electorate dry. I was optimistic enough to fall well short of libertarianism, believing that a little government in all our lives kept us honest, calm and comforted; a bulwark against the occasional excess of private enterprise.

It has taken 34 adult years but that innocence has gone now. If spitting in the face of financial prudence over student loans gave me food for thought, the proposed two-tier road toll system has scraped the last traces of naivety from my rose-tinted spectacles.

“The proposal is one of several options currently being considered by ministers as part of a Government review of transport funding, which follows concerns that increased fuel efficiency could lead to a decline in revenue for the treasury.”

That’s right; the same grandstanding politicians who urged us to lose the gas-guzzlers and go green, would now punish us for doing precisely that. They don’t want to support the good guy, they just want to bleed him dry, whether good, bad or indifferent. And like a Mountie‘s bastard twin, they always get their man.

Did I mention ‘bulwark’ earlier? I was actually talking bulwarks.

October 30, 2011

Motorway service finally delivers

Filed under: Consumer,Motoring — - @ 7:50 am
Tags: , ,
A418 crosses the M40 near Wheatley. The rounda...

Image via Wikipedia

Think of all the scenarios in which you can imagine bargain hunters at work en masse and motorway service stations are unlikely to be among them.

The only commercial scenario in which these ‘hike’ houses are likely to feature prominently, let’s face it, is the  Milking a Captive Audience category.

So hats off, briefly, to the midland motorway service area that offers a bit of a killing to those customers who show up sufficiently late in the day, as I did on Thursday evening.

“Oops, we made too many…now only £1,” read the sticker on a range of sandwiches.

Customers were responding to this rare largesse with such gusto, it occurred to me that with the addition of just a single word, motorway services could be onto a real winner.

“Oops, we made too many profits…now only £1,” plastered on a far greater range of foodstuffs, could revamp the sector’s image.

But then, as the very same service station was retailing cups of tea for £2.10, it’s probably best we don’t hold our breath.

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