Bulb Energy: Impressive customer service

I had this email from Bulb Energy today. Impressive stuff – particularly as I’d rung off before the call had been answered. As it happened, I’d found the answer I needed on their website while I was waiting. Such a different experience to the unlamented Iresa Energy, who were nothing but trouble in the year we were with them. Fortunately I’d managed to switch from Iresa to Bulb a few weeks before they went under.

Bulb £10 credit email


If you’d like to switch to Bulb, using this link will get you a £50 credit towards your energy bill. Full disclosure – if you use it and switch, I’ll also get a £50 credit.

Father of the bride – my speech

Saturday 7th October was an amazing day.

wedding order of service

As is traditional, I delivered the fourth best speech of the day. Here’s (approximately) what I said.

Marriages, like births, signal new beginnings.

When Emily was born, one of my most vivid memories (apart from being useless in the delivery room) was collecting her and Jane from the hospital, driving them home, and wondering how good at parenting we were going to be. It felt a little overwhelming.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry too much, because despite my many shortcomings as a parent, Emily and I were both fortunate to have Jane in charge.

Today is another new beginning. I hope that Emily and Ben aren’t feeling too overwhelmed by it all!

I’m proud to call Emily my daughter. She has many, many excellent qualities.

One of these is her geekiness. Her love of science fiction, her Tardis themed 21st birthday cake and of all things Buffy for example. Her plays “wot she wrote” about being marooned in space, the perils of social media and her latest play, coming to a theatre near you soon, about the computing pioneer Ada Lovelace.

And even, yes even, Pokemon. (sigh) She shares this “interest” with Ben of course. I trust that this is a good thing? I still remember taking Emily and her sister to watch “Pokemon the Movie” at the cinema some years ago. It’s a morning of my life that I’ll *never* get back.

But I think the quality that stands out for me most is her determination. It was evident at an early age – her catchphrase as a small child was, of course, “My do it!”

This determination stayed with her throughout school, university and continues to serve her well today. Emily is not afraid to challenge the status quo and call things out when they’re wrong or an injustice is being committed. I hope that she continues to do this – it’s an incredible strength.

And what can I say about Ben?

Well, it’s been a genuine privilege to get to know him. Especially over this summer, when he lodged with us for a couple of months – while he was claiming to be a time-travelling gardener at Chatsworth House, no less. I understand that he was able to offer some good advice to the Duke and Duchess, even if the location of our lawnmower remained a permanent mystery to him throughout his stay.

Seriously though, it was good to have you staying with us and both Jane and I know that you and Emily will continue to make a great team together. We’ll both be there to offer our love and support along the way.

Thank you all for coming to take part in this special day.

I’d like to especially thank everyone who has helped to make this day possible and for your individual contributions of time and resources. It’s been great to meet your family and friends, Ben, as well as catching up with ours. It genuinely means a lot to Jane and me to see everyone here.

I have one duty left to perform. If you could all please stand for the toast …

Emily and Ben, I wish you both health and happiness for the future.

My toast is “To the Bride and Groom”.

Emily and Ben
Emily and Ben (Image by Lucy James Photography)

Wallpaper stripping: messages from another century

A time capsule from 1999, found as I was stripping the wallpaper from my old room at my parent’s house. The discovery of these messages from 18 years ago affected me more than it probably should have done. Emily is still at school – it’s just that it’s bigger and she’s not a student! Jessica is still lovely, obviously. Steve is no longer at Acordis (but then again, no-one is).

Finally, Dad put the wallpaper up so well it’s been a real so and so to remove. Good job!

Emily is still at school
Emily still at school
Jessica still lovely
Jessica still lovely
Steve still at Acordis
Steve still at Acordis
RH did the work Nov. 1999
RH did the work Nov. 1999

Caterham 7 ownership – 3 months in

Towards the end of August, I realised a long-held ambition of becoming a Caterham 7 owner. Six months earlier, I’d walked into the Bookatrack dealership at Donington Park, specified a yellow 270S (series V, as I’m too big to fit comfortably in an S3), paid my deposit and walked away, hoping to forget all about it until I’d safely completed my MSc. I couldn’t, naturally. Time that I should have devoted to my research was spent clearing out the garage and building a shed.

By the time I take the 7 back for its 3 month checkup this weekend, I will have covered a little over 600 miles, mostly on short trips in and around Derbyshire. It will then stay tucked up in its hutch over the winter as I’m led to believe that road salt and aluminium don’t mix all that well. I’ll be counting the days off on the calendar until it’s safe to emerge again.

After I’d ordered the car, I decided to splash out on a personalised registration for it. This is something I’ve always sworn that I’d never do, primarily because people who buy them and then deliberately misrepresent the mark are one of my pet hates. But, in for a penny, in for a pound I suppose. The C7 part of the registration chose itself, but the letters – GNU – go back to my very first car. A yellow Skoda S110L.

GNU 706N
Gnu I

I’m hoping that the colour will be the only thing they share, as gnu I was temperamental, to say the least. I remember the pain of the breakdowns (usually in really inconvenient places, like the hard shoulder of the M1 at 1am or in the middle of the Severn Bridge), the first time someone ran into me and the police coming to see me when something unsavoury had been stuck onto his rear window. But I also remember him with a great deal of affection – something I’ve not really felt about a car until gnu II arrived.

Gnu II has so far proved to be reliable, even if I’ve been slow in learning to use a clutch properly again, causing much hilarity at traffic lights. The lack of driver aids and the occasional feeling of being ever so slightly out of control at times definitely adds to the fun – and reminds me, in a good way, of gnu I. Anyway, I’m sure you’re more likely to be interested in pictures of gnu II than gnu I, so here are some from our recent adventures

Gnu II - Ashbourne, November 2016
On the road between Leek and Ashbourne last weekend
At Mercia Marina
At Mercia Marina
Looking through the windscreen (complete with dead fly) over Kedleston Hall's parkland
Looking through the windscreen (complete with dead fly) over Kedleston Hall’s parkland

Gnu II has been a great introduction to Caterham 7 ownership. I grin stupidly every time I get behind the wheel and start him up. I’m looking forward to continuing our adventures in 2017 – which will hopefully include the North Coast 500.

My favourite possessions: a cereal bowl and mug

I can be a grumpy so and so. I can be even grumpier than usual in the mornings. The phrase “not a morning person” could have been invented with me in mind. I get particularly grumpy if two of my favourite possessions – an old cereal bowl and much newer Eeyore mug – aren’t available for my use. There’s a picture of these possessions below so that you can admire their awesomeness.

Favourite possessions - a cereal bowl and Eeyore mugThe cereal bowl is the last remaining of six identical ones that Jane and I acquired when we were married in nineteen eighty ei-was it really that long ago? It’s the ideal shape for a bowl of cornflakes. It’s not so deep that you accidentally overfill it with milk, making them go all soggy (I hate soggy cereal, apart from Weetabix, which I like to think of as a type of nourishing grey soup). It’s not so shallow that you end up with dry ones cutting your mouth to shreds. It’s perfect. It’s mine (if that’s all right with everyone else in my house of course). I would hate for it to be broken, but I expect that in an emergency I might just be able to pick one up from a well-known online auction site.

Then there’s my Eeyore mug. That’s wonderful too, as it takes about a gallon of coffee to fill it (I exaggerate, but only a little) and I need all of that stimulation in a morning to make me feel half human and perhaps a little less grumpy.

Mel, our esteemed editor-in-chief over at Post40Bloggers, has observed that “you take your life in your hands for instance if you use [his] special cereal bowl and/or his Eeyore mug“.

I hope you now all understand why.


This post was inspired by the 90th Post40Bloggers writing prompt to write about something that you are attached to, and the gin and tonic consumed at our recent editorial meeting.

Caterham highs and lymphoma lows

I’ve had a strange week. Last Friday started well enough. I went over to the Caterham dealer at Donnington Park and test drove a 270 SV. I was grinning like an idiot all the way around the route. It was definitely the most enjoyable road car that I’ve ever driven. I was hooked. I sat down in the showroom. I drank coffee. I ignored the nagging voice in my head that was telling me a car price list with paint, windscreen, doors and assembly on it as optional extras can’t possibly be a good thing. I ordered one. My flexible friend has never had to be quite so flexible.

For the avoidance of doubt, I feel that I ought to add that I’ve bought a full-sized Caterham 7, not the toy version illustrated above. Although it looks very cool too. My car will be a similar colour though, once the optional paint has been applied of course. Fortunately “Brum” (as my newly ordered car has already been named by my beauty blogger daughter) won’t be arriving until I’ve just about finished my MSc, so it won’t be distracting me from the many hours of transcription and analysis I need to do for my dissertation, not to mention writing it all up between now and mid-September. The other good thing that’s happened this week was getting a good mark on my final module assignment, so if I’m not motivated to finish the MSc now I suppose I never will be.

However, the lymphoma beast seems to be rearing its ugly little head. I’ve never felt so physically tired as I have done this past week and the enlarged lymph nodes in my neck are throbbing constantly. Unusually for me I felt so out of sorts this morning that I decided to work from home. It’s probably a good thing that I did as I needed to sleep for a little while this afternoon to get through the day. Blergh.

I make that two highs to one low this week (even if the lymphoma low has hung around since Sunday), so I’m still winning on points.

Exceptional customer service – take a bow Premier Inn, Bagshot

Having complained on here more than a few times about the way in which some organisations fail at customer service, it’s really good for a change to be able to write something praising an organisation that got it right. Take a bow Premier Inn, Bagshot.

I checked in there early yesterday evening and was told about a partial power failure they were experiencing, due to a problem earlier on in the day when a contractor had tried to replace a sign outside the hotel. SSE was already on site – in numbers – trying to fix the fault so the receptionist apologised, explaining that the restaurant would be closed that evening. I went into Camberley to eat instead and came back at around 9pm to find the hotel in darkness, lit only by emergency battery lighting!

It was impressive that a senior manager for Premier Inn was on site throughout. He and his staff did their very best to keep us informed of progress – and regularly. It was also impressive that one member of staff went home and brought back a couple of candles to help light up the bar area as a number of us sat there and watched SSE’s progress. Fortunately, power was restored sometime after 10.30pm.

Work continues to restore power to the Premier Inn, Bagshot
SSE working to restore power to the Premier Inn, Bagshot on 15th September 2015.

Sadly, that wasn’t the end of the problems, as around half past midnight the fire alarm went off. The member of staff on duty apologised to us all as we assembled in the car park, noting that we’d all had a rather difficult evening already (as had the staff, of course). I eventually got back to my room just before 1am.

Premier Inn offer a good night guarantee, offering a full no-quibble refund if they fail to give you a great experience. So when I checked out this morning, I smiled at their receptionist and suggested that she knew what I was going to say next. She smiled back and told me that they’d already refunded the room charge to my credit card and hoped that I’d stay with them again. With customer service as good as that, it’s certain that I will do.

In my experience, it’s only when organisations suffer problems that you see how well or badly they treat their customers. Premier Inn got it right last night – and their Bagshot staff deserve huge praise (and hopefully, cash bonuses) for the manner in which they responded to a crisis.

Never auto-renew your car insurance with Allianz (or with anyone else, probably)

Martin Lewis over at moneysavingexpert.com offers this excellent advice when it comes to car insurance:

Never auto-renew. Loyalty is expensive

Nothing better illustrates car insurers preying on loyal customers than Sarah Cooper’s tweet. “My car insurance renewal is £1,200. New policy with same company is £690. How do they justify this?” They don’t. They just do it.

I’ve had my car insurance renewal notice from Allianz today. Comparing it with last year’s premium, they want an additional 51%! Nothing has changed – except that I’ve had another claim free year, bringing my total to 10. A quick check of a couple of price comparison websites showed that for the same cover the cheapest quotation was around £15 less than I’d paid this year, with 10s of quotations clustered around £10-£20 more expensive than last year. There were three or four (out of a hundred or so) that were more expensive than the Allianz renewal, but they were offering free unicorns as well. (OK, I’m fibbing about the unicorns).

I rang Allianz up. I was calm. I politely explained the situation. I was reasonable and persuasive. I asked that they considered renewing my policy at around the same price as last year, or perhaps on or around the median quotation I’d found for this year.

Their call handler was lovely, but her response was:

We don’t price match sir. I could re-quote you, but the result would be the same.

They wouldn’t budge by even a penny. I hate being taken for a fool and her excuses became less and less convincing as I suggested that they were guilty of sharp practice. I’ve cancelled my policy with them and I’ll do everything I possibly can do to make sure that I don’t use Allianz again any time soon.

So if customer loyalty is as worthless as it appears to be from this example, I wonder why so many software companies are marketing customer experience management and customer loyalty solutions?

Perhaps they’d be better off trying to sell customer disloyalty solutions instead.

Memory stuff

Going through my parent’s house over the last few months has taken ages. They’d lived there since 1963 until my father died at the end of 2007. Mum had subsequently lived there alone until she needed to go into a nursing home in 2013. Now that they’re both gone, the task of sorting through the house and the memories that are attached to it has been left to me and my brother.

Before we started, we’d made a plan. We both like plans – we’re good at those. First pass – sort through the house and throw out the obvious rubbish, such as tins of food that were long past their use by date and the like. Second pass – work out what we wanted to keep for ourselves, give away to relatives and friends or sell. Final pass – everything that didn’t find a new home would be thrown away. We estimated that it was going to take us until last Christmas. As I write, we’re still not quite at the end of the first pass.

I had no idea how much stuff was in the house and quite how much I’d be affected by sorting through it. It’s not the items of furniture, ornaments or even the mountains of clothes that we’ve considered that has been the biggest surprise. It isn’t even dad’s photographs and cine film or mum’s paintings (I’d prepared myself for dealing with those). Little packets of old birthday, Christmas and get well cards, letters, school reports (theirs, not mine!) have been harder to cope with.

But hardest of all, at least for me, has been finding piles of old ticket stubs and travel receipts for holidays and other events long past. Some of them probably hadn’t been looked at in 50 years before I stumbled across them.

I suppose that they were there at all shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, I do the same thing. I know that hidden away in my sock drawer, the cupboard above the bed and the attic there are little piles of my old tickets and receipts waiting to be found once I’m no longer around to care. Sometimes, when I’m looking for something else, I’ll come across a pile of tickets from (say) a holiday I took ten or twenty years ago and I’ll spend a few minutes reflecting happily on the event. And crying of course, naturally.

This weekend I found the folders of ticket stubs, hotel brochures and letters to the Swiss National Bank about Italian petrol coupons from the holiday to Italy that my father and his best friend took in 1961. It was wonderful to look at them alongside the photographs he took (here’s a few of the first photographs he took on that holiday). Doing that also made me cry, of course.

I also found a collection of receipts and notes from a holiday we took together as a family in Scotland when I was 15. I haven’t looked at these yet, because I’m finding it too difficult. I obviously wasn’t even alive at the time of the Italy trip – but I remember the Scottish holiday vividly.

One day soon, with the photographs that we both took on that holiday, I’ll sit down with a glass of whisky and look at all those receipts and notes. I think I know what the result will be.