Thursday, 24 May 2018

Cheques

What a nuisance cheques are. I've presently got two cheque books for the same bank: one that I've spent a very long time using up, and haven't got to the end of yet; and another the bank sent me a while back, that is still untouched, and may never come into use at all.

And yet these things, if found by a housebreaker, will tell that person who my bank is, and what my account number is. I can't leave them behind when I go away on holiday - where indoors could I hide them safely from an experienced thief? - and so they have to come along with me. To and fro, every trip. Just extra to pack.

And a useless extra at that. I simply don't use cheques nowadays. I looked at my Money Diary spreadsheets, to find out when I last did. It was early last year. Three cheques in January 2017. Two of them were birthday cheques to my nephew and niece - they still get a token birthday present from me. The other was a donation at a funeral.

Since then I've decided to send birthday money in the form of a suitable banknote tucked inside the card - surely a much more sensible option, as the worst that can happen is that somebody steals the banknote; a cheque would give away my key banking details, and what my signature looks like. And it saves the birthday girl or boy all the humdrum hassle of taking it to a bank.

As for donations, that can easily be done online.

With tradespeople coming to my house, it's mainly been cash all along, and not cheques. Cash is (rightly) associated with tax-evasion - something I should know a lot about, considering what I used to do for a living! - but tradespeople may genuinely need a lot of cash for out-of-pocket expenses, lunches included, and it's getting harder for them to get to a bank or cashpoint to draw some more. So I'm happy to help them out by having banknotes ready when we settle up. At least for smaller amounts. I'd expect a £500 bill to be settled in regular fashion - which nowadays means an electronic transfer of some kind. But not a cheque: that embroils them in handling charges, and it's an unfriendly way of making payment. Putting it another way, if the job were done well enough, but I didn't quite like their attitude or manner, then I'd 'punish' them with a cheque. Message: I won't be using you again.

The poor cheque! It's been in decline for decades now. But when I started work in 1970, payment by cheque was the usual thing, even for quite small amounts. You wouldn't pay for a lunchtime sandwich with a cheque, but you might well use one for most other things of any value. A crisp cheque glistening with ink, freshly written in your own fair hand. That's what fountain pens were invented for, surely! It was vulgar to reel off banknotes from a thick wad, like a flash tycoon or a used-car salesman. Cheques were the genteel way. Indeed, to have a cheque book at all meant you were a salaried person with a regular job, someone with a bank account, in an era when hoity-toity banks were still picky about whom they accepted as their customers - and precisely what services they would extend to them. To be trusted with a cheque book said something powerful about your creditworthiness. So to flourish one was the equivalent of showing off a solid credit rating - a glowing Experian report - in contemporary times.

And in the early 1970s, cheques became colourful, artistic and pretty. I was with NatWest then, and they had a beautiful line in cheque designs - flowers, birds, pastoral scenes too I think. That's chiefly why I chose them for my current account, rather than the Midland, or Barclays, or Lloyds, who stuck with the traditional, no-nonsense, staid designs in their house colours: yellow for Midland, blue for Barclays, green for Lloyds. Given a choice, I'd have had a prestigious Bank of England account, but by 1970 it had become impossible for an everyday customer to open a new personal account there, unless you were an employee (a girl friend was). So I settled for NatWest and their beautiful cheques.

But soon the advent of direct debits and heavily-promoted credit cards reduced the need to write a cheque at all, and their long decline set in. Ever one to adopt modern methods, I was using a Barclaycard from 1973, and an Access card (my 'Flexible Friend') from 1974, and those two cards became my new, trendy way of paying for things in boutiques and department stores. I still liked using cheques where or when it was expected, or if the trader wasn't geared up to accepting a credit card; but those occasions became fewer and fewer, until I used a cheque only for solicitors, my dentist, and at birthday-times. A point came when retailers were no longer keen to accept cheques. The first real sign of their impending death. The withdrawal of  the 'cheque guarantee card' was another mortal blow.

It used to be well-known advice that if you ever attended one of those evening talks in plush hotels where an 'expert' would lead you through 'property investment' or 'retirement planning' or 'luxury holiday opportunities', then always leave your cheque book at home. Well, that's advice that needs updating - maybe to credit card. I say 'maybe' because the era of plastic cards may itself be drawing to a close, as electronic methods take over. There is already a perfected electronic solution to almost any payment situation where handing over notes and coin would be impractical. Solutions that don't include the handling of paper cheques with pen-squiggles on them. 

For the present, cheques remain an option despite their half-proposed abolition. Traditionalists have howled in anguish, and have had their way, so far. Just as they have, for now, preserved our equally-useless low-denomination copper coinage. Who are those people? Why hang onto something that ought to go the way of the postal order and the telegram? Cheques are a relics from a past era, an anachronism. I'd prefer to see them get a well-deserved and honourable retirement. 

You know, I've convinced myself.

I was thinking that, in the end, I would tear my cheque books up, and not think of using them any more as a means of paying somebody. It sounds drastic! But I've just done it.


And no regrets - just relief. In a stroke, this fixes a worrying hole in my financial security - having cheque books lying around at home that give away my banking details. Perfect pickups for a thief in a hurry, searching my cupboards and hoping to find something good.

And doing without a cheque book won't inconvenience me in any way. I suppose that if it became absolutely necessary to give somebody a cheque, I could go to my nearest bank branch (with ID and debit card at the ready) and get them to specially write out a cheque to that person, drawn on my bank account. But I can't easily envisage the circumstances in which that would have to be done, not in these days of instant electronic money transfers for any amount.

Not when buying a car. Not when buying a house. Not for a round-the-world cruise.

Well! That's another item I won't need to take on holiday with me any more, simply to keep it safe and sound and beyond the reach of any burglars waiting for my next departure for sunny Northern climes. Those gentlemen need to take note! There's nothing left in my home now that's worth all the effort of breaking in. I've taken it all with me. Unless you want my vast collection of old Ordnance Survey maps.


Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Fiona's eventual replacement?

A week ago I was loaned a late-2017/early-2018 version of Fiona, my cherished Volvo XC60. The loan car still smelled new, so I'm going to call it a 2018 car, eight years younger than Fiona.

Here are shots of the car that the Volvo dealer let me play with for two days, while my own car was having her annual service and MOT - which included new rear springs and front brake pads that couldn't all be fitted in one day.


This new-model XC60 went launched in the UK only a few months ago, replacing the original XC60 that had been boosting Volvo's popularity and sales since 2008. An impressive-looking car inside and out. The body shape contains fewer curves, and more straight lines, than the old model. The back end is not much altered, but the front end has become a thought more assertive. One could almost say aggressive. All done to emphasise more strongly that this is a worthy alternative to the offerings of BMW and Audi. 

Here are a few shots of Fiona, to show how the old model looked (at Breamore, Banff, Newport, somewhere deep in the Aberdeenshire countryside, and in the Black Mountains of South Wales). 


I like both versions. 

Inside, the 2018 car is a complete redesign, with more flat surfaces (Fiona's curvier interior lacks these) and entirely digital instrumentation, with a huge screen on the centre console. 


Fiona's interior is decidedly Old School, with unfashionable pale-cream leather seats, and pine wood in her own centre console:


That said, Fiona's interior is, to my own mind, psychologically lighter and airier, and much less intimidating. But her 2010 letterbox-shaped SatNav screen doesn't compare, even if it still does the job:


The 2018 car had done 4,000-odd miles and was available for cash purchase. The asking price was £35,000. Fiona had cost me almost exactly £40,000 in May 2010, less £1,000 from the government's scrappage scheme, and £5,000 from Volvo in part-exchange for my previous car - a net £34,000. Clearly Fiona was, and still is, the higher-specification car. And indeed a glance at the summary purchase details in the 2018 car's rear footwell confirms that it had only the entry-level specification. Many would however still consider this more than adequate:


My Fiona was ordered from the factory with the best specification available in early 2010, plus most of the options. For instance, all of the then-current electronic safety features (along with the sensors and software to go with them). She also had a rear-view camera, so handy for caravanning. The 2018 loan car didn't have a camera. Fiona also had various extras built into her interior, for more driver (and passenger) comfort and convenience. As for power, the 2018 car had only a four-cylinder diesel engine (albeit willing and mostly quiet), whereas Fiona's is a five-cylinder affair with more grunt (but more noise). 

I went onto the Volvo website and from all the options put together a 2018 car that was as close as possible to Fiona's particular specification. The price became £46,625. That's what I'd really have to pay, to get a new XC60 that was as well-equipped and capable as Fiona.  

That's an awful lot of money! It makes me inclined to hang onto Fiona for as long as possible, spending money on her year by year to keep her in fine fettle for my everyday and holiday requirements. 

Clearly, if I want a direct replacement, meaning another XC60 with the same capability and features, I will never now be able to afford a new car. It will have to be used, perhaps an ex-PCP model that somebody handed back after three years. (One good thing about PCP schemes: their draconian rules encourage you to drive and maintain the car with obsessive care, so that it stays unblemished and within its strict mileage limit)

Actually. my game plan with personal transport is to wait for the next-generation of hybrids, or (preferably) the next-generation of all-electric cars. So, willy-nilly, Fiona will be my car for some years yet. That will allow time to save up for a very fat deposit on a new or nearly-new car. The problems will be two: keeping my nerve if another big bill crops up on Fiona; and resisting the allure of glitzy new cars like the one loaned to me. 

The PCP way of having a new car is horrendously costly. Look at that purchase summary again. You'd have to put down a deposit of £7,000. Then pay £521.43 for thirty-six months (that's £18,771.48). And finally, if you wanted to buy the car outright, there would be another £15, 675 to pay. (You'd need to save that up - a big extra expense). Making £41,446 altogether - as opposed to a cash price of £35,000. Running costs - fuel, insurance - would mostly be extra. (Tax and servicing are generally part of the PCP deal, and effectively free, but represent only a small part of the outlay) 

So that's £41,446 (with running costs on top) to pay in the space of three years. And by the way, that's with an annual mileage limit of 10,000 and not a mile more. I do 15,000 miles a year, and to add those extra 5,000 miles would mean paying even more in a PCP deal.

In contrast, my all-in cash expenditure on Fiona, including running costs and the present bank loan repayments, will work out at no more than £8,250 in 2018. That's the equivalent of £25,000 or so over three years. (It will actually be only about £18,000 for three years, once the loan repayments end in 2019). 

Thus hanging onto Fiona is a far more sensible proposition than having a swish new motor!

Still, it looks as if Fiona will remain the only car I will ever have owned from new. The only one never in someone else's uncaring hands before mine. That makes her very special to me, of course.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Shopping trolley hassle

We've been hearing reports for a long time now that the budget supermarkets - like Lidl - are gaining ground among shoppers in general, and among shoppers with an eye to lower prices in particular. This is bound to continue, of course. But if low price isn't the overriding concern, then one will shop elsewhere, for particular reasons.

I'm one of those who can afford to do this. I go to Waitrose, and not Lidl.

Of course I'm conflicted about it. It's daft to pay more than necessary for an everyday item. On the other hand, I do get something worthwhile for the extra money. I get decent, supervised parking; a pleasant, well-organised and very well-stocked shopping environment; extra-helpful staff who seem brighter and more cheerful than most; at least some offers to counteract the generally steeper prices asked; and, overall, an upmarket experience in which I feel valued as a customer. In my local Waitrose, at least, my face is known, and some members of staff even know my name - which is pretty good for a national supermarket. I'm not saying I haven't had a delightful reception elsewhere, but Waitrose has been, over the years, consistently welcoming.

Cynics may say, 'Oh, you're just a snob. You like Waitrose because only your sort of person shops there. Well-dressed, polite, middle-class foodies who went to good schools, speak well, know about the finer things in life, and have secure jobs or ample pensions. People with no conscience, who will never have to use a food bank. People who voted for Brexit because it will make no difference to their standard of living. People who always vote Conservative. Smug, complacent people who don't have to watch every penny.' I can hear it muttered, like the faint but menacing drone of angry bees.

But I deny being such a snob, nor a deserving victim of proletarian violence, come the Day of the Glorious Revolution!

There is, however, something in that sneering jibe. There's a social-layering thing going on. Birds of a feather flock together. I will risk seeming non-PC by asserting that the British Class System is alive and well in every one of the country's retail outlets. Even in 2018. And not just in Waitrose, but in ASDA too (at what you might call the populist end of the retail spectrum).

I think it's all wrong, and old-fashioned. I was teenage in the 1960s, the decade in which we all became classless and free, and the old social bonds were broken with flowers and sex and rock music. Well, supposedly. But like all persistent religious and sectarian differences, it's there, it hasn't gone away, and it has to be acknowledged.

Every local chamber of commerce and every local estate agent knows about the 'Waitrose Effect' - that the opening of a Waitrose store in a town gentrifies the area, be it otherwise ever so ordinary, and has a knock-on effect on local house prices and the attractiveness of the town as a place to live in, which can only assist other businesses. Opening a new ASDA, or Morrisons, or Sainsbury's, or Tesco, doesn't have quite the same impact.

But you do pay a price if you shop at Waitrose. It's definitely more expensive! I notice that immediately, if ever I'm holidaying in an area where I must use an alternative. But it's also very pleasant and serene, and they sell all the nice things that I want to buy under one roof.

And in Waitrose, you can escape all those garish notices on every aisle that bombard you with 'SAVE MONEY!!!' offers. There's no background X-Factor music, no kids scream, and there are no bickering dour-faced parents in sloppy sports clothing and trainers. Everybody is considerate and well-mannered. Nobody darts suspicious, resentful glances at you, as if you were a thrill-seeking tourist, mixing with the common people.

I feel way out of my comfort zone in stores like ASDA - just as a down-and out on the street feels uncomfortable when people either stare at them, or - worse - look away in disgust, as if they are subhuman or even non-human.

Extreme language? I know am overdrawing the situation just a little. And you may think me rather too sensitive to atmosphere, too self-aware, too wary of people of dissimilar backgrounds and life-history. But I don't think that, all in all, I'm very different from most other people. Nearly everybody tends to seek out places where they feel the most welcome, where they fit in best, where they will be free of hassle.

As you must by now see, where I shop is as much determined by the social experience as by what they charge for their goods. There's nothing strange about that. Whether it's a foodstore, or a place to eat, or really anywhere that you spend money and get things in return, you will frequent the places that tick your own particular boxes, and avoid the ones that repel you.

And little things can matter. Anything, for instance, that seems inconvenient. Such as having to pay to use a trolley. 

In the past, some stores charged and others didn't. I'm talking about any store that made you put a £1 coin in a slot in order to free a shopping trolley from its chain. This was most annoying. What if one didn't have a handy £1 coin? Many people didn't, and you'd have to wait around while they dithered and searched their purses or pockets for the vital coin. What a time-waster! How very frustrating, when you want to grab a trolley, whiz inside, do a fast shop, and then go.

It was done to encourage the return of the trolley after unloading it at the car,  and not just dump the trolley in some far away corner of the car park, or a side-street. Who wouldn't want to get their pound back? I do see that. Trolleys are expensive items, and it's annoying for the shop if they aren't returned to the proper points.

Waitrose, I'm glad to say, did not impose a charge. But that's now changing.

When I went to my local Waitrose this week, I found the trolleys chained up, and a returnable £1 being asked for their use. It was lucky that I had the necessary coin in my bag. Now that I'm using Google Pay successfully - and so much - my usage of banknotes, and especially coins, has markedly decreased. In fact I rarely now have much more than three or four £1 coins on me, mainly for the odd parking situation. And not spending cash much means that I don't accumulate a lot of change in my little purse. The imposition of chained-up trolleys, which can be released only with a coin, seems a retrograde step to me!

I asked about it. Yes, it was to get customers to take their trolleys back to the designated collection-points for a £1 refund, and not leave them scattered around the car park. OK, fair enough. (A pity, though, that a more modern, electronic method of releasing the chain hadn't been adopted) And here I was, trying to go cashless, and Waitrose now requiring me to keep a coin handy.

Ah, said the lady on the Customer Service desk, I can sell you - for 99p - a pound-shaped metal Cancer Research token that will work in the trolley coin-slot. A token you can attach to this handy key fob. I bought one, of course, and attached it to the inside of my Cath Kidston shopping bag:


It worked as intended. A fairly neat solution, then - except that anybody who doesn't have one of these, nor a regular £1 coin either, is going to hold up everyone else. Sigh. 

Monday, 14 May 2018

Grandparenting

There are people around who never knew any grandparents, who never brought children into the world and raised them lovingly, and who therefore do not have grandchildren. Although now at an age when they could have been a grandparent themselves, they do not have that role, and never now can. I am such a person.

On Dad's side, the persons who should have been my grandparents lived in rural Devon. My Dad's mother (Eva Annie Broom, who became a Turner and then a Dommett) died in 1922, when he was only two. This is the only picture I have of her, taken around 1920:


His father (William John Dommett) never wanted to look after his son, and farmed poor Dad out - first to aunts and uncles, and then latterly to a rough farming family (the Trumps), who took money for Dad's keep. Dad grew up without knowing any parental love. Here is Dad's father doing manual work in a garden around 1930 (the child on the hobbyhorse isn't Dad):


Again, that's the only picture I have of him. He was born around 1880, so would have been about fifty then, and had clearly not made much of his life. He would have been a man of old country ways, full of narrow-mindedness and daft prejudices.

By the late 1950s, he was approaching eighty and getting infirm. To his credit, Dad had his father stay with us for a while, giving him a room to himself in our house in Barry. I have an idea that Mum wasn't at all happy with this, regarding Dad's father as undeserving of any special kindness and consideration after his shameful behaviour towards Dad as a boy. But Dad must have insisted. He was no fool, and firm with people; but on the other hand kind, and never one to bear grudges.

My little brother and I had to call William Dommett 'Grandpa'. I remember finding that hard to say. I hardly knew him, and found him gruff, and not very likeable. I was rather wary of him. I was a fastidious child, and quite possibly recoiled from his minimum personal hygiene, and whiskers, and tobacco-stained fingers. We did not bond.

His own attitude to me may have been quite different. Perhaps, late in life, he had seen what a poor figure he had cut, and wanted to make amends. I think he might well have made efforts to be pleasant, or at least give no trouble, and try to be a proper grandparent to Wayne and I. But I did not get to know him well at all. To me he remained the old man in the dimly-lit middle room downstairs.

He did give me a thrilling present one day. It was an ancient and battered pair of binoculars, all brass and glass. They didn't magnify much, and the lenses had rainbow aberrations, but I was entranced. Such a well-judged present might have led to something, but soon afterwards 'Grandpa' fell ill, and was taken to Aberdare sanatorium. I never knew why, although in those days people went to sanatoriums most often because of tuberculosis or other chest complaints (Aberdare was in the heart of the South Wales coal-mining area). I remember just one visit to see him, although I have forgotten the details. Soon after, I understood he had died. This was 1960, and I was eight years old. I did not grieve. I had never really known him as a person.

So that was Dad's side of the family.

On Mum's side, I fared no better. Her mother (Eva Johanna Carlson) had married a chap called William Edward Thomas in 1916. It sounded like a wartime wedding, and was probably ill-judged. It did not last. I have no picture of Mum's father, only this information on Mum's 1921 birth certificate:


This says he was a Civil Servant, an Employment Officer in the Ministry of Labour. I expect he dealt with people on the dole and looking for work. There were tensions at home, and Eva left him when Mum and her elder brother Desmond were still quite small. An uneasy truce was set up, William and Eva each having one child. Thomas looked after Mum, and Eva looked after Des. Rather an odd way of sharing the children really. I wonder whose notion it was? According to Mum, her mother had a special affection for her son, less for her. But Eva couldn't bear to be without both of her children for long, and one day, choosing her moment carefully, knocked on William's door, asked to see Mum, then just a little girl of course. When Wiiliam produced her, Eva immediately snatched her and ran for a bus that had been due, leaving an astonished William gaping on his doorstep. Of course there was a stink. It was in the local paper. But things quietened down, and parental access was put on a formal basis that lasted for some years. Naturally the children's own wishes carried no weight. I recall Mum telling me how, in her teens, she was forever wanting to make excuses not to visit her father.

It's difficult to gauge what sort of man William was. Eva clearly disliked him, and Mum said she would never discuss him in later years. Although permanently separated, I don't think they ever divorced.

Eventually he moved to London, still employed in the Ministry of Labour - presumably after promotion. I have thought of trying to trace him, but the chances of tracking down a 'William Thomas' of unknown London address are too small to warrant the attempt. I dare say he may have fathered another family, who would of course be relatives of mine. Well, if they read this, I hope they get in touch and tell me about William Thomas. I don't suppose he ever heard of my arrival in 1952, when he was probably not much more than sixty, and could have been a grandfather to me. But instead he was yet another potential grandparent who was not around when I was young.

That still leaves Eva, Mum's mother. But sadly she died of diabetes in 1948, four years before my birth. Diabetes was a killer back then. My younger brother Wayne had diabetes too, but he had access to insulin, and could live with it. So far it hasn't afflicted me, and I hope never will, as I carefully watch my sugar intake, especially now that I'm older. Fingers crossed, though!

The only series of pictures I have that show Eva were taken immediately after Mum and Dad's wedding in 1947. This one, for instance:


Eva is in the chair. Next to her is Des, who died in 2007, and was the uncle who provided the money for me to buy Fiona in 2010.  On the far left is Peg, the auntie who has just died this year, and whose funeral I will shortly attend. She was, like Mum, only twenty-six then, but had already known Mum some ten years. 

So there it is. For one reason or another, I never had the opportunity to develop a relationship with a grandparent. I don't know what is so special about it, from the child's point of view. It's a defect in my life-experience that can never be remedied. I have come to know a variety of old persons through the years - the parents of friends, for instance - but none of them have ever been my very own grandmother or grandfather, and it's very hard to imagine what it would be like to have such a person in my life. Not knowing, I feel socially handicapped.

Nor does it help never having had children of my own. That was always my own choice; but looking back on it, I do now have mixed feelings. I've missed out on a major human experience; and I will never know what that special bond between parent and child is really like. Again, I feel socially deficient because of it.

Without any children of my own, I cannot be a grandparent myself and enjoy whatever it is that grandparents seem to get out of their role. I haven't the slightest doubt that grandparents genuinely dote on their grandchildren, even if, from my outsider's viewpoint, it seems like hard work and not much else. And yet I've seen grandfathers getting literally misty-eyed over their little charges. And what grandmother hasn't - for years on end - acted as a super-reliable and endlessly patient childminder? No doubt some grandparents are shamelessly taken advantage of, their unrewarded assistance taken for granted. But all grandparents possess magical powers: where exasperated maternal pleading and cajoling has not availed, the sudden appearance of a loved grandparent will cure tears and tantrums instantly. 

A child treats a grandparent with a respect and veneration denied to mere parents. I dare say that fact is occasionally resented by parents who find it hard to cope, but if so the resentment is suppressed and kept secret. A willing grandparent is an asset to be treasured, not put off. And I imagine that savvy grandparents sometimes capitalise on their strong bargaining position -  although (I hope) merely to see more of the children they love. 

I wish I knew what actually goes on, but I can't relate to any of it, have no insight, and can only make guesses. To be honest, my gut feeling is that grandparenting should be left to those who know what it's all about, and have the experience to do it well. And that I shouldn't be wistful on one hand, nor too smug on the other, for not being in line for any grandparental duties.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Renewing insurance policies

It's an annual pain, multiplied by the number of policies one has. And one can have many of them. My personal circumstances mean that thankfully I don't have any of these:

No life insurance (no dependents).
No pet insurance (no pets).
No medical insurance (I have a healthy diet and lifestyle, and do nothing physically dangerous. I'm also 'in the system' with the NHS, a patient being monitored and regularly having tests. Besides, I can't afford the extraordinarily high cost of the premiums at my age)
No mortgage or payment protection insurance (No mortgage; being retired, job redundancy can't touch me; and illness will never affect my pension income).

But of course I do have these:

House insurance, structure and contents.
Car insurance, on a market-value basis, comprehensive with a protected no claims bonus.
Caravan insurance, currently new for old, but without any contents element (as I never leave valuable items in the caravan at home or on holiday).
Road rescue insurance (free if I keep on using a Volvo dealer for annual servicing. I have another policy that includes mishaps with the caravan I tow on my holidays)
Travel insurance (free with my bank account).

I am well aware of how little one can pay for decent insurance cover, if prepared to look around and switch. At the moment this is no more than an interesting point as regards my house and caravan insurance, as the premiums I pay for these items aren't so large that I'm strongly tempted to change the insurers. (It was £178 to LV for the house last November, and £364 to the Caravan and Motorhome Club for the caravan in March)

The car insurance is the one to take a hard look at.

It gets renewed in May. Last year's premium was £465. It would have been less, but I had a bump with the car in October 2014 - I was backing out of a tight space in a North Devon car park, and slowly reversed into another car, a hired car, that had suddenly appeared, parking directly behind me. I was concentrating most on not scraping the vehicles on either side of me, and didn't notice the arrival of the other car. It was a case of not having enough eyes to watch every side, and the warning 'bleep' of the rear parking sensors came too late. Still my fault, of course, although I carefully followed accident protocol and admitted nothing.

There was not the slightest damage done to Fiona: her fixed rear towball acts as a stout battering-ram, protecting her rear end but inflicting harm on whatever gets too close. (I don't fear tailgaters: they will suffer very badly if they venture too close!) It was a slow and soft collision. The plastic towball cover wasn't even scratched. But I'd popped a small dent into the hire car's nearside wing.

There was no claim on my side. But that dent had to be fixed - and it has cost me dear ever since, in higher premiums, even though it was a very minor accident. If I hadn't touched that hire car I'd probably have been paying something closer to £350 in 2017, not £465.

And the knock-on effect of that accident lasts for five years. It's evidence that in late 2014 my driving was not perfect, and may still not be. I am presently a riskier proposition than average. Time will show that it was a one-off, and not typical of my current driving. Once that accident drops out of sight - and it will for my 2020 car insurance renewal - I expect to be treated once more as a driver with a low insurance risk, who deserves to pay less. If LV don't offer me a significantly lower premium in 2020, I'll become an insurance tart and switch like lightning.

Meanwhile my researches this year suggest that there is little advantage in trying to switch to another insurer until that blot on Fiona's escutcheon has been removed.

For instance, this year I obtained an online quote from Volvo insurance, which is underwritten by Allianz. The initial quote undercut LV's by £40 odd, worth switching for, although I had to accept a heftier excess and a less generous personal accident payout (so was the saving in premiums really worth that loss in cover?) But then when checking the details I'd entered, I saw that I'd selected the wrong description for that October 2014 accident - having put in 'no claim, no fault'. Changing it to 'my fault' immediately sent the quote rocketing up by another £100, to £550 odd. No way.

LV had held their quote to £464, fractionally less than last year, despite the hyped-up media reports of woefully big increases in car insurance over the last twelve months, and the ongoing effect of my 2014 accident. Oh well. £464 wasn't too bad for a big, powerful Volvo driven by a lady with a blemished reversing record. I paid by credit card, and the renewal was out of the way for another year. Task ticked.

To end, here is my personal list of Car Insurance Tips, designed to keep the cost of car insurance to its lowest:

# It is always, at all times, worth going online to check what other insurers might be quoting. Try at least two of the big price-comparison websites, if only to get a general picture of what's presently happening with car insurance. It's also worth looking at the insurance companies individually, if you have heard about one that is highly recommended. Not all of them are on the price-comparison websites.
# As regards cover, it's essential to compare like with like.
# To speed up any Google search, try using a phrase like 'Insurance Volvo SC10 CUR' (or whatever your car's make and registration number is). Nowadays all insurers have access to the full specifications of your particular car, if you enter its registration, and they can speedily provide an accurate quote for your car in particular.
# It's no crime to stay with your existing insurer if you want to, and no justification is necessary. Sentiment shouldn't come into insurance, nor blind loyalty, but there's no point in severing a long connection for the sake of a very minor saving.
# It's clear that cheaper premiums with another insurer may come with disadvantages, such as reduced cover. All companies need to be profitable and none really want to give value away. So with some low-cost insurers, reporting a minor motoring offence might lead to an increase in premiums, on the basis that it may be a minor transgression but you are clearly now a riskier person, and their slim margins won't tolerate the extra likelihood of a future claim.
# As already mentioned above, any accident you report may reveal you as a high-risk customer. Your existing insurer may be more understanding about this than a new insurer. New insurers don't know your record in detail, and may be averse to offering a low cost deal, at least until the accident is spent.
# A vital consideration is customer service: if the existing insurer is great with that, and deals with the aftermath of an accident smoothly, sympathetically and reasonably, then that might be a very good reason to stay with them.
# There is no need to cover very unlikely risks, nor those covered by other policies.
# If you can easily stand the loss from your own pocket or purse, then don't insure it. What is the general excess? If that's (say) £350, then you will never be making a claim to fix or replace any item costing that or less, and it's not worth insuring.
# Don't 'auto-renew'. They tell you it's to ensure continuity of cover from year to year, even if you forget that the annual insurance needs to be dealt with, or you happen to be on holiday and can't get in touch. What nonsense. You don't have to be super-organised to make a big red note on a calendar. Besides, they contact you with the renewal quote weeks ahead of the expiry date, to secure your renewal agreement before rivals have a chance to poach your business. In any case, I rather fancy that if you refuse to auto-renew, they know they must woo you afresh every year, because it's so easy for you to let the connection lapse and embrace some other insurer, and be gone forever. Who knows - maybe they offer people like me, who challenge them to do some wooing, a deal midway between the ultra-attractive one offered to new customers and the poor-value one heaped onto lazy or unsavvy auto-renewers.
# If you possibly can, pay the annual premium outright, and not in monthly instalments. It avoids the expense of finance (i.e. interest on the premium) and gives you more to spend in other ways every month. (So this is one reason to save up)

Saturday, 12 May 2018

My wave ring rebooted with diamonds!

My friend Jo is a star. She's a lady with many friends going way back, and I'm not her best friend by any means. But we get on really well.

Mind you, I can't figure out why! Nor indeed why people in general seem to take me to their hearts, when really I'd say that I'm no more than pleasant, helpful and supportive - perhaps a good listener too. Broadly-speaking, I'd characterise myself as a 'good value' person to spend time with. But then surely most other people strive to be like this, and surely most succeed - as well as, or better, than I do. I'd certainly claim to be inoffensive, and always upbeat and ready to chat in a cheerful way; but otherwise nothing very remarkable, or different from most others. I was certainly not much valued in my past life. Not much going for me then, to be sure.

So, it was a surprise when, late last February, Jo said to me that she wanted to enhance the right on my right hand with a little diamond, as a gift. A gift for what, I wondered. I mean, a diamond. However small, that would cost. I demurred, hoping she'd drop the idea. But she didn't.

Jo reminded me that she had an account with a local jeweller we both knew - Pruden & Smith in Ditchling - and regularly recycled her own jewellery, getting the workshop people there to make new things for her from old pieces. They were holding several little diamonds from old rings. She wanted to put one of these in my silver ring, to add a nice bit of glitter.

So it was to be only a very small diamond then. The fitting-work would cost more than the value of the stone itself. Even so, I was still inclined to say no, not being able to see how a good but not outstanding friendship could merit such signal generosity. Be it a mere speck, a diamond is still very valuable. Or at least very, very special.

But I was not allowed to resist - I got a metaphoric kick-under-the-table from Jackie. I handed over the ring for its upgrade. It seemed to me that those two - Jo and Jackie - had been discussing the gift, and weren't going to let me refuse. OK, I didn't want to thwart Jo's wish!

The hand-over was on 16th March. I departed on holiday. Jo then decided that she'd make it two diamonds, not just one. Two? Crikey! Oh well, I was determined to enjoy her generosity like any normal person would, and not spoil it for her.

So no quibbling! It seemed out of my hands anyway.

Easter was early in 2018, and Pruden & Smith developed a backlog of work to be done. So I went off on holiday again without the ring. I missed it. I'd worn it 24/7 since buying it from Hi Ho Silver in Lyme Regis on 18th September 2009. For only £12.

The next development occurred on 23rd April. Jo texted me with a photo of the ring now fitted with the two little diamonds in her gift:


Presumably she took the picture, and that was Anton Pruden's finger! Jo said this in the text:

Check out your ring. Was thinking that two extra smaller stones either side might work what do you think? Hope u r enjoying your trip away. Lol Jo x

The following rapid exchange then took place (I've excluded any non-ring or non-holiday stuff):

Lucy: Is that a real image of the ring as it now is? Gosh. It looks fabulous! I've been missing my ring, and eagerly look forward to being reunited. You are SO generous. Trip half-over today: I'm now at Cheddar. The fine weather keeps on coming. Luby XX

Jo: Yes its yours for sure. Do envisage smaller diamonds either side of ones there already nearer the middle bit, would that be too much !! might just finish it off what do you think. Happy for you to have them sweetie. It would just be £25 per stone to fit them. The first two already in are on me. Hugs Jo x

Lucy: I took a screenshot of the picture in your first text today about the ring, and have been considering it carefully. In its original state the ring was a beautifully simple piece of design. Now some sophistication has been added, greatly enhancing its appearance (and status) as jewellery. But the design remains clean and uncomplicated. There's a definite risk that the ring could begin to look fussy if more gems were added. That said, I do see what you mean about finishing it off properly! Yes, a small diamond on either side, just inward of the existing larger gemstone, would look very good indeed. Is that £50 I'd have to pay? No problem. Please go ahead. Luby XX

Back from holiday, and with that £50 in Jo's hands, I waited with excitement for news of the ring. Yesterday, after several phone calls in the previous couple of weeks to chivvy them along, Jo got a phone call to say that it was finally ready. So was another ring that she had had remade for herself. After an apr├Ęs-pilates lunch, helping her choose plants from Lidl for planting, and a visit to her Mum, we drove out to Ditchling - and at last I was reunited with my very-much-missed ring.

Gosh, it did look good. Here I am in the shop.


My thanks to Jo were heartfelt. What a nice job they'd made. The ring looked new again! I quickly stepped outside while she paid up - I didn't want to learn what her gift to me had cost her. A lot more than the £12 the ring had originally cost me in 2009, I'm thinking. I took her off to the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft for tea and cake, dropped her off with her plants, and went home.

Back indoors, I could study the ring rebooted.


It was subtly done. The ring's original character and appeal hadn't been compromised, only improved. For the first time in my life I had diamonds to wear! Thanks to Jo.

Reluctantly, I soon decided that the turquoise ring had to be taken off and put away. My diamond-laden ring needed a hand all to itself. It was the right decision. Less is more.