Friday, April 29, 2011

A somewhat lazy post

Yeah, I know: I've not blogged for, like, FUH-EVAH. Well don't get your hopes up here; this is probably the laziest thing I've written since that fateful birthday card I sent my first girlfriend.

(Hint: IT DIDN'T GO DOWN WELL)

So what have I been up to, you're probably not so excited to know? Well, y'know, this and that. Possibly most thrilling of all is the news that, following my last post, I managed to get my car insurance down from £834 to a far more agreeable £470 (which is actually cheaper than last year) just by going on Mini Cover's website and posing as a new, rather than existing, customer. Yes, it's weird that they're able to offer this fee to a newbie but not to someone who's been with them for 10 years, which does make it look like they're trying to push existing customers away, but hey-ho I won't complain too much because I saved almost £400. I did complain to them in writing though, and they were very apologetic, so I think we can put our differences aside now and just move forward with our relationship.

I'll 'ave 'em if they try it again next year, though.

What else? Oh, yeah, so I took three days off work this week which, thanks to the Easter break, assorted bank holidays, and some couple getting hitched, gave me 11 days of blissful freedom.

And how did I use those days?

Well, I got plenty of this.

Which resulted in a lot of this…

And that's a tan, not dirt, I'll have you know.

Also read some books, one of which featured this page:

Which reminded me somewhat of something that my pal Grum drew based on a story I wrote back in 2003.

I'm saying *nothing*.

Um … Ooo, saw some oven gloves that looked like a skinned dolphin!

And some classy Royal Wedding souvenirs at bargain prices!

Elsewhere, watched Tron Legacy for the second time and loved it even more than I did the first time. Seriously, I actually understood the story this time round. And I preferred it being in 2D rather than 3D. Anyway, this has of course led to me wanting a Tron costume. I would totally rock this. I would look so awesome playing frisbee in the park dressed like this.

Tron fever has also led me to consider buying a Tron iPhone dock…

… and - ooo, squeal! - light-up Tron headphones!

Right: got to go. Big Bro is coming round in a bit to watch Tron.

What? I told you this was a lazy post.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Insure-angst

It's around this time every year that I brace myself for a scrotum-tightening assault on my finances. Not because I throw caution to the wind and decide to buy myself a new spring wardrobe (let's face it, I do that all year round not just seasonally), but because it's when my car insurance is up for renewal.

I won't go into my entire insurance history, but the Cliff Notes version is this:

• First car (old, slightly trampy Fiesta) + inexperienced driver = EXPENSIVE
• First car + a couple of years experience = REASONABLE
• Second car (Mini Cooper) + experience + four years no-claims bonus = EXPENSIVE
• Second car (Mini Cooper) + more experience + more no-claims bonus = REASONABLE
• Third car (Mini Cooper S - more vroom vroom) + MORE no-claims bonus = ACCEPTABLE
• Fourth car (Mini Cooper Clubman, less vroom vroom) + EVEN MORE no-claims bonus: WIN

Seriously, going from a Cooper S to a Cooper Clubman sliced something like 100-odd quid off my insurance costs, and it's more frugal at the pumps, so all in all buying Clubbie was a total financial win.

Anyway, last year I was a smidgeon distressed to find that my insurance premium had actually gone up by 100-odd quid to just above the level I had been paying for my Cooper S, which quite frankly was ridiculous. So I phoned up the insurance company, told them this, and they activated a little-known loyalty clause that dropped it back down to the previous year's level. Why they didn't just do this in the first place I do not know, but, like, WHATEVS.

And so let's fast-forward back to the present day; well, not necessarily the present day, because the following event happened on Wednesday, but you get the idea. Anyway, I get home from a delightful evening out to find a letter on my doormat: my insurance renewal documents. I tear the envelope open - which wasn't terribly difficult bearing in mind it had barely been stuck down (obviously spittle is being rationed in the fast-paced world of high-finance) - to find that…

MY INSURANCE PREMIUM HAS DOUBLED!

I shit you not. They wanted over £800 for me to renew my insurance! I remember when it used to drop every year - not go up! Anyway, I was straight on a price comparison website (confused.com if you were wondering; proof that the whole 'price the meerkat' thing did nothing except introduce the word "simples" done in a Russian accent to the nation) where I found that basically everyone would offer me cover for around £4-500.

It is around about here that I should point out that I've been with the same insurance company for 10 years, and have exclusively insured every Mini I've owned with them. I have 14+ no-claims bonus, a clean driver's licence, and have never (touch wood) been involved in an accident where I was at fault. And let's not forget Clubbie is a Cooper-spec car, which means it's peppy but hardly a Ferrari. Basically, the way I see it, I am awesome insurance customer numero uno.

So, anyway, I decided I'd give them a call about this. Rather than screaming down the phone at them like a lunatic, I decided my best approach was to play dumb, which if you've been unfortunate enough to meet me you'll appreciate as something that comes quite easily to me.

That being the case, my opening line was something like "well, I got my renewal documents and there simply *must* be a mistake because it's, like, TOTALLY DOUBLED!"

It was so convincing that the man on the end of the line, like, totally agreed with me and put me through to the customer loyalty team to "see what they could do" for me.

The answer was: NOT VERY MUCH. Basically I was put through to some bored-sounding jobsworth who gave the impression that he was doing me an immense favour by knocking it down to £790. It was at that point that I dispensed with the dumb act, told him it was ridiculous, and said there was no way in hell I'd be renewing my insurance with them. Which I feel is a great shame because this particular company have been nothing but great in the past, to the point I've even gone so far as to pay a little bit extra to them when I could've got insurance cheaper elsewhere. I won't stoop so low as to name and shame them, but if you're interested they are Mini Cover.

Any-hoo, INCENSED, I decided to have another play around on the interwebz and ended up on the website of More Th>n (yes, the '>' thing is a bit wanky, but that's how they spell it so who am I to argue), the company who Big Bro insures his car with, and who he speaks vey vey highly off. So I got a quote - a good one - and then decided that as I was at work I probably should, y'know, do some work.

Ten minutes later, though, my phone rings. I answer it and find myself talking to … well, we'll call her Debbie. Because her name was Debbie.

In contrast to the feckless jobsworth at Mini Cover, Debbie was an utter delight to speak with. She made me laugh, I made her laugh; she gave me a great quote, and then when she couldn't get it down any further threw in a personal representative thingy worth £25 that means I deal exclusively with the same person whenever I need to call them (except, I expect, if that one person is ill, on holiday, or gets another job - these are questions I will have to ask). All in all, then, Debbie was brilliant, and while I haven't accepted the cover yet, I will be calling her back at some point in the coming week to ask her out take it out.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to write a sternly-worded letter to Mini Cover explaining exactly why I'm leaving them. It'll probably go straight in the bin, but the mere act of writing it will doubtless prove extremely therapeutic.

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And as I'm writing this, I come across this blog on the Autocar website where the writer discusses the very same thing I've been harping on about, even going so far as to say "…the whole system is skewed against us. I have a 28 year plus record without blemish so really I should be paying 9p. But apparently not." It's an interesting read.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Getting my plumbing sorted

So, here was an interesting problem: I was having a shower a while back (let's take a moment for you to bathe in that glorious image) and after lathering and rinsing (again, have a few seconds to reflect if you wish) I went to turn the shower off and … it stayed on. I had to twist the knob a few more times (watch it, filth-bag) before it eventually went off, but still it was a bit perturbing.

To confound matters, the issue got progressively worse over the days and weeks that followed; often the shower would continue running for something like five minutes before clicking off, which was a bit annoying because I shower quite often (when your sense of humour is as dirty as mine you need to find some way of staying clean). At one point out of sheer fury I tried punching the shower unit in the knob which, surprisingly, actually rectified the matter for a couple of days. Like the Borg, however, it subsequently adapted to my fists of fury, and I had to resort to wedging the shower head under the bath mat to prevent it from spraying all over the bathroom while I patted myself dry and toddled off to do something more exciting. Oh, and did I mention that while the knob was in the off position and the shower was still running it would do so at scorching hot temperatures? My bathroom got well steamy.

So I put up with this for … well, look, I'd like to say a couple of weeks, but I'm actually really quite lazy so it was more like a couple of months, before deciding that I really needed to call a plumber to sort it out. This revelation hit me while I was 'enjoying' a bath (and I use that term loosely because I always find the concept of a bath is better than the actual experience of having one) and staring up at the manky old shower head having gotten bored of watching fluff lazily drift out of my belly button.

That being the case I dug out an old invoice from the plumbers I called out a couple of years back to fix something to do with my boiler or something (I don't know what these things are), and gave them a ring because they were good and efficient and resolved the problem. A lovely lady emailed me back the next day, and booked me in for Wednesday.

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An aside:

I don't know about you, but the mere notion of getting a plumber in just makes me think of awful seventies porn with big moustaches, lame jokes about wrenches, and - oops! - burst pipes. And while it's recently been pointed out to me that a significant proportion of my readers would consider this at worst a welcome distraction, and at best marriage material, the notion isn't quite so appealing to me. Although that said, I am sitting here writing this while amusing myself by rocking back and forth in a chair that's making slightly pervy squeaking sounds, so, y'know, each to their own.

video

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So this morning at around half 10 this guy turns up. I show him the bathroom, and the errant behaviour of the shower unit, which in contrast to how these things usually play out when a professional comes to look at them actually did the whole not-turning-off thing, and he says "yeah, we ain't gonna get parts for THAT." I'm actually quite pleased at this turn of events because quite frankly regardless of whether it turns on or off the thing is lilac in colour which makes it stand out rather horrifically ever since I painted the entire room white, and would look even more out of place if I follow through with an idea I've had about painting half the room lime green (don't ask).

That being the case I say "yay!" and we look through some catalogues for new showers, which is initially confusing because he keeps saying "bar mixers" which I hear as "bar mitzvahs" and at least twice I say "but I'm not Jewish."

Any-hoo, we eventually select a nice chrome BAR MIXER, and then he announces that he needs to pop up into my loft to do something with my water tank (which I pray is not poo or bash one out into it like some of those horror stories you read about in the newspapers), and it is at this point that PLUMBING EMERGENCY NUMBER ONE kicks in.

Back just before I bought Sparky Towers, y'see, I had a survey done on the house - this being before the time of HIPS (that's Home Information Packs rather than the actual joints - I've not owned it that far back in human evolution). One of the things that came up - aside from a peculiar fascination that the surveyor had with limescale around the rim of the toilet – was that the wood underneath the water tank had at some point gotten damp and REALLY SHOULD BE replaced. But me being me, I moved in and quickly did nothing about it.

Having owned the house well for well over five years, it may come as a surprise to you to find that I've never actually ventured up into the loft until today, when plumber chappy said he'd really rather like to show me something up there and it seemed like I didn't really have much say in the matter and my excuse that I don't really like ladders wouldn't hold much water (unlike the bath while I'm waiting for the shower to turn off). So I follow him up the ladder, half expecting to find a decomposing body, or a wasps' nest, or a family of Albanian asylum seekers cowering in the corner. What I was not expecting, however, was a massive lump of wood under the water tank that had bowed waaaaaaay more than you'd imagine wood could possibly bow without snapping in two - so much so that instead of expressing something akin to shock, I look at the plumber and say "holy shit, is that even possible!? Look at it bend - it looks like Dawn French sat on it!" Which was, I'm guessing, not quite the reaction he was expecting.

After getting over this remarkable sight, I then realise that he's suggesting it's probably wise that I let him fix this, although the only things going through my mind by this point are the fact that this is a) going to cost a bit more than I'd anticipated, and b) the loft would be a rather awesome chill-out room if I popped a few beanbags, a lava lamp, and perhaps a teasmade up there. Eventually I snap back to the point at hand and agree that, yes, I've somehow gotten away with not having done anything about it for five years so I probably really should do something about it now instead of waiting for it to crash through the ceiling and kill me while I'm enjoying the delights of my new shower for the first time.

On a side note, as I descend the ladder, I notice that idiot girl who used to own my house actually left a Christmas tree in the loft, along with a plastic Halloween pumpkin with a scary face on it that I am going to have to go back up to retrieve and subsequently smash to smithereens because I genuinely think it looks like the sort of thing that would come to life and murder me in my sleep now that I know it's up there.

Anyway. Plumber dude ended up being round here for most of the day and did a brilliant job. I now have a water tank that's sitting on a massive expanse of well-hard, decidedly non-saggy wood, and a sparkly new chrome shower thingy that looks a bit like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica, although I'm not allowed to use it for 24 hours because he used some silicon stuff to plug some holes where the old shower used to be and that needs to dry. Unfortunately, since he pointed this out to me I just want to go into the bathroom and touch it, which would be bad as we all know how that turned out the last time this sort of thing happened. The next 20-odd hours are going to be VERY DIFFICULT.