Sunday, August 28, 2005

Kids & water...

We took another trip up to the Alnwick Garden on saturday, 12 months since we visited and it was a bit of a building site then.

There is still a lot of construction ongoing for a new pavilion to replace the tented restaurants & portaloos, however the serpent garden is a particular delight, full of water features that amuse, entertain and intrigue. My particular favourite was the whirlpool, a variant on an exhibit at Magna where a bowl shaped structure is progressively filled then allowed to empty. This one is allowed to overspill, however, cascading down the sides of the stainless steel, but not before splashing onlookers with random waves. Had David brought a change of clothes, the Torricelli tower would have ensured he got soaked. (A description of the sculptures can be found in this press release)

We also saw a street theatre performance by Avanti, doing the same show they performed last year, Mr. Lucky's party. This appeared to be a fluke on our part, as they have a bigger repertoire and only appear occasionally, the Garden having a wide range of performances over time. This is a very wet performance, water is a recurring theme in the gardens, although it all pales into insignificance compared to the grand cascade.

One thing slightly disappointing was the Poison Garden, more non-latin names would have been useful as most of the plant we hadn't heard of. A few were contained in large cages, including a Cannabis plant which appeared to be growing very healthily. It seems they have guides but we went in there first thing in the day & they were busy.

The treehouse is a splendid structure, although it has to be said that it seems to be built in amongst trees with the occasional protrusion rather than requiring structural support for them. It has a couple of wobbly bridges delighting young and old alike and is also a rather novel setting for a restaurant. The Cherry & Chocolate toasted bread was very pleasant and also rather unusual! You could also walk upo spiral stairs to "the nest" right at the top of the building, as well as watch an informative (but somewhat PC) video on giant plasma screens in "the roost".

Even to people like us to whom cutting the grass is a chore, a visit to Alnwick is a joy and is highly recommended.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Factor "X"

I got sucked into watching X factor on Saturday, I have to say that it is strangely compelling, the occasional talent in amongst the ungifted and the whackos. However, I got to thinking. If 75,000 people auditioned and they spent an average of two minutes with Simon, Louis and Ozzetta (the three celebrity judges), that is 78 eight hour days so it is implausible that everyone gets to see them... although that is how it comes across on the box.

The reality, however, appears to be a lot more mundane. Teams of production judges do first (& sometimes second) interviews before anyone gets anywhere near the celebs (& serious filming). They then get sorted into very good, really, really terrible and characterful fruit-loops, all in the name of good television.

Thanks to the X factor forum for the insight, and of course, Google for pointing me in the right direction.

I wonder if it can solve the rumours about the Chuckle Brothers?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Messing about in boats

During the mid eighties, I went on a number of narrowboat trips with two other lads that Digger the lodger used to refer to as "the choirboys". I had met them both at Maidenhead Eighteen Plus and we were drinking buddies for many years. Alan was the odder of the two, still living at home and with an unhealthy interest in public transport & terrible puns. However he was very knowlegable about pubs & beer as well as being happy as the designated driver. Chris was more down to earth (although he also still lived at home) & we tried to avoid ganging up on Alan, although the temptation was always there.

The thing about narrowboating is that it is basically a very long, thin, museum of industrial archaeology. There is always something interesting to look at and there is the occasional lock or tunnel to navigate and break up the journey. The other thing that appeals to blokes is the large number of Pubs, most of which do food as well. We'd merrily chug along at 3mph, comparing the view to our Nichonson Ordnance Survey guides, with a short(ish) stop for liquid lunch and timed arrival for a pleasant tea. There would be the odd location where we'd have to break out the emergency rations (i.e. breakfast food) because the pub no longer did food or had closed down but mostly our planning worked out well and we must have enjoyed it or we wouldn't keep doing it.

I don't recall the last time we holidayed, although it was probably 1986 or '87. Needless to say, we developed other interests. For Chris & myself, it was girls and travel, for Alan it was Routemasters...

Anyway, today the Grey family had a brief canal trip, although it was only 500 yards into a tunnel. However this wasn't just any tunnel, it was the highest, longest, deepest & probably dampest one in Britain, the Standedge tunnel which is on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal that crosses the Pennines to reach Ashton under Lyne. The visitor centre is near Marsden, otherwise known as Skelthwaite in TV's Where the heart is. You can catch a 15 seater narrowboat (which will actually seat more than thirty as it has seats in the front and back cockpits) but if you are not in the cabin, the god of health'n'safety decrees you must wear a hard hat (in case the tunnel collapses on you, but only in a way that would otherwise protect you from head injury of course, you are perfectly safe in the glass roofed main cabin as it is obviously brick-proof...)

The tour boat is actually a sideline, the main function is to tow narrowboats through the tunnel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Westbound in the mornings and Eastbound in the afternoons, £6 one way trip. The flotilla is shadowed by someone in a vehicle driving through a nearby (disused) railway tunnel who will rendezvous at several key points on the journey, as the tunnels are interlinked with cross-gangways en-route. It is £2 for the trip & well worth it, the guide makes it come alive & the time flies by.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Theatre in the round

I was browsing in Halifax a few weeks back & took a look in an old-fashioned non-chain record shop in the Borough Arcade. It is the very antithesis of an HMV, with a very 70s feel (other than vinyl being replaced by CD of course.) It reminded me of some of the alternative stores in Newcastle of my youth, particularly in the Handiside Arcade and down the West Road.

After an appropriate rummage, I bought a Janis Joplin greatest hits album, although I wasn't entirely certain why. Eventually, I placed the reference...

At the top of the Pavilion Building in Piccadilly Circus, used to live an exhibition run by Madame Tussauds, known as Rock Circus. (now sadly extinct).

After visiting the various set pieces, you made your way upstairs (up the Stairway to Heaven, no prizes for guessing the background music there!) You were then ushered into a revolving theatre for a remarkable animatronics show hosted by Tim Rice and starring the Beatles, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, a couple of others, and... Janis Joplin.

The first time I saw the show, I had no idea who she was and this must have been very common, because next time I visited, her name was projected using Gobos so there was no doubt. She was sitting on a park bench (with hedgerows either side) and after a brief talk, she hauled herself to her feet & sand a bit of "Me and Bobby McGee" accompanied by authentic 60's style hippy lighting. The tune has obviosly lurked in my subconscious for the last decade or so, enough to buy an album on spec all these years later. Assuming Tim Rice had a hand in the content, he may well be a JJ fan. I'm not certain I am yet...

Two other memories of the rock circus- the preparatory music was "Song for Guy" whilst you took your seat (bench) and they played the guitar riff from "Peaches" as they rotated the auditorium between the three major sets then back to the original position for the Beatles to perform (& recreate) Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's club band.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

24 hour drinking

I have been listening to debate on this for a while now and decided to put forward my own views. Then Sean Gabb beat me to it with a piece from his free life commentary that says it so much more eloquently, coherently and forcefully than I ever could have. Whilst I'm not in the habit of regurgitating or me-too-ing posts, on this occasion I reproduce it below...

The Reform of Alcohol Licensing in England:
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
by Sean Gabb

Next Monday, the 22nd August 2005, I have been booked to
go to Birmingham for a television debate in which I shall
put the case for there being no restriction on the hours
during which alcohol can be sold in this country. As is
always the case, I have no idea how long I shall have to
make my case, nor what points I shall be able to raise. So
I will now write out in brief what I regard as a
libertarian response to the Licensing Act 2003.

Before the 20th century, there were no restrictions on
when and for how long public houses could open in England.
Anyone who wanted to sell wine and spirits had to obtain a
licence from the local magistrates. The Beer Act 1830,
however, effectively deregulated the sale of beer, ale and
cider. Anyone who could pay two guineas (£2 2s) could as
of right buy a licence; and this fee was later abolished.
Restrictions began with the Wine and Beerhouse Act 1869,
and were strengthened by the Intoxicating Liquor
(Licensing) Act 1872, and by the Licensing Acts 1902 and
1904. These gave magistrates much greater control over the
number of licenses granted and over the conduct of
licensed premises.

Controls on how long public houses could open were
introduced during the Great War under the Defence of the
Realm Act. It was claimed that the working classes were
spending too much of their overtime pay on drink, and that
restriction was needed for the sake of "national
efficiency". Drinking hours were limited to 12pm to 2:30pm
and from 6:30pm to 9:30pm. This limitation was kept in
place after the War, and, with a few relaxations, has
continued to the present.

One of the stated aims of the Licensing Act 2003 is to
allow public houses - if their owners wish - to remain
open all day and all night, or for any shorter period.
Though the Act was passed in 2003, some of its provisions
have yet to be put into effect, and the reform of opening
hours will come into effect next October. It is this
potentially unlimited extension of opening hours that has
been the most controversial feature of the Act, and is the
feature that I shall be discussing next week.

Now, on libertarian grounds, any relaxation of opening
hours is to be welcomed. It is not the business of the
State to tell consenting adults where, how and when they
should enjoy themselves. If someone wants to walk into a
supermarket at three in the morning to buy a bottle of
wine, or to go into a bar and buy a pint of beer, that
should be his unquestioned right. To deny this right is an
act of petty tyranny.

Of course, there may be attendant circumstances to the
exercise of a right that compel some limitation. But these
attendant circumstances are always fewer than is claimed.
And where the sale of alcohol is concerned, there are none
whatever. Consider:

First, it is claimed that if people can buy alcohol at any
time of day, there will be more drinking. This is true.
But so what? If people choose to drink themselves
paralytic, that is their problem. No doubt, excessive
drinking is bad for the health. Again, so what? As said,
it is not the business of the State to tell people how to
live - that business is to protect life and property from
attack and to defend the realm. It does not include
protecting people from their own weakness or stupidity.
Moreover, it is unlikely that the only barrier to mass
drunkenness is the limitation of opening hours. Anyone who
claims otherwise will have to work hard to justify his
belief in universal adult suffrage.

Second, it is claimed that if people are drunk more often,
there will be more public drunkenness and disorder, and
that this is a matter affecting third parties. This is a
false argument. Most disorder related to drink is caused
by the fact that the public houses all close at the same
time, and throw all their drinkers out into the streets.
If they could close at different times, or not at all,
there might not be any great increase in the total amount
of public drunkenness. But that drunkenness would be more
evenly distributed, and less likely to result in disorder.
Even otherwise, it is both stupid and dangerous to try
preventing crimes by trying to regulate the states of mind
in which they are committed. We need effective punishments
for attacks on life and property and violations of the
public order - punishments that take drunkenness into
account as a severe aggravating factor. Make the
punishments heavy enough, and even the most inebriated
will be more inclined to creep home than to pull out a

Third, it is claimed that even private drunkenness
adversely affects the interests of third parties. For
example, a married man who drinks all day is hurting his
wife and any children. This is true. But such harm does
not fall into the category of evils that the State is
entitled to prevent. To say otherwise is to grant a
principle under which a man could be prevented from
leaving a well-paid job to start his own business: after
all, that might put his dependants into just as much want
as if he were to keep his job but drink away the salary.

Fourth, it is claimed that people who drink excessively
place a greater burden on the National Health Service, and
that is the right of other taxpayers to ensure that this
burden is minimised. This is one of those claims that is
made again and again in radio studios, regardless of how
often it has already been answered. I doubt if it is a
claim ever made nowadays in good faith. Look at the main
heads of the answers. First, let us take the - probably
inflated - costing made by the Institute of Alcohol
Studies (,
that the health-related cost of excessive drinking is
£1.6bn. Balance against this the £12bn in taxes collected
on alcohol every year, and we see that drinkers more than
pay for any increased burden they place on the National
Health Service. Second, if we accept that lifestyle may be
regulated for the sake of reducing the health budget, why
not ban homosexual acts and rugby and eating Indian food?
These are all associated with illnesses that are expensive
to treat. Third, if the answer to this is yes, it would be
better to abolish the National Health Service. It was set
up, after all, supposedly to keep us healthy - not to make
us into slaves.

Therefore, the arguments against the principle of longer
opening hours fail. Though I am not myself much of a
drinker, I want to live in a country where adults can go
lawfully into a kebab shop at any time of day and by an
untaxed bottle of gin. As Dr Magee, the Bishop of
Peterborough, said in the debates over the 1872 Licensing
Act said, "England free better than England sober".

Sadly, in spite of its stated aim, the present Licensing
Act is unlikely to take us practically towards such a
world. One of its provisions transfers the granting of
licences from magistrates to elected councillors. These
are more likely to be pressured by the health fascists,
and so the effect of the law may be more to limit opening
hours than to relax them.

Then there is the increased complexity of the licensing
system. The cost of getting a licence has risen, and there
has been a great increase in the paperwork needed. The
process of applying for conversion and variation of
existing licences was supposed to be straightforward.
However the Government did not publish the forms until the
last minute and then redesigned them. The guidance notes
accompanying them are ambiguous, and no guidance has been
issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on
its website.

Not surprisingly, few present licence holders have applied
for renewal within the time required, and we face either a
further delay in bringing the relevant provision into
effect or the closure of thousands of public houses next

No one should be surprised by the probable effect of the
new law. The function of government in New Labour Britain
has moved decisively from providing common services to
providing jobs, income and status for those in the
Establishment and for their various clients. The greater
complexity introduced by the present Licensing Act is not
a sign of government incompetence. Rather, so far as is
opens up new excuses for the employment of officials, and
creates advantage for those businesses big enough to buy
their way through the regulations, it is a notable success.

But this takes me beyond my present intention, which is to
defend the principle of unlimited opening hours for pubic

Monday, August 15, 2005

The crazy world of Telco power struggles

Energis was formed in the mid 90s as the third carrier to take on the BT & Mercury Duopoly. Its unique selling point was that the network mirrored the national grid- the fibre optic cables are wrapped around the earth wire- the one at the top that links the pylons together.

I actually spent half a day working for Energis when I was at Nortel, I had a trip down to their main Network Operations Centre opposite the redundant Bankside Power Station (now Tate Modern). Their problem was that the network switching infrastructure was in place but they had hit some contractual hitches with rolling out the fibre, in the form of Wayleaves, a Telco construct for compensatory payment for utilising and getting access to land for running cabling etc. (the obligation to cooperate is enshrined in statute, an explanation of Wayleaves & Easements can be found here (towards the bottom). It seemed that the existing Wayleaves with farmers that covered power did not include any form of telemetry above and beyond that required to support the electricity network so haggling was required.

Whilst it was being sorted out by the lawyers, the launch date loomed, so to meet their pre-order committments, they were building a smaller scale network- using private circuits from BT & Mercury as a stop-gap measure!

My job only lasted half a day as I was "loaned" the the Energis project by a friendly Director with the best of intentions as a troubleshooter, but all they actually needed was an administrator.

Energis went down the pan a couple of years ago and managed to survive after a rather dodgy pseudo-adrministrative semi-receivership where bankers bailed the Company out, but at the expense of the shareholders. It has kept going but has been somewhat under-capitalised.

It recently emerged that Cable & Wireless (the owner of Mercury) had made a bid which was being considered but Energis were holding out for more. Today, th deadline for the negotiations, the sector was stunned to hear that Thus (the former Scottish Telecom) put in a counter-bid. Energis turned it down somewhat quickly as it was for £600m cash & £200m shares, when the total net worth of Thus is only thought to be £200m (& C&W had offered more cash).

The rumours are that C&W have been successful. I know staff in all three Companies involved so it will be interesting to see how the market develops.

I wouldn't personally invest in a Telco, they are going to blink one day and the ISPs will overtake them, already Tiscali are shaking up the Business DSL world with more powerful, more flexible offerings. It is a dilemma for BT because they will lose business from their legacy products (i.e. leased line access either as direct Private Circuits or links into Frame/ATM services), so they are walking the thin line between losing customers to other Operators and keeping them but on much less margin.

An interesting take on this can be found on my website here which i have mentioned previously in a previous posting.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Fifty Years New

We are back from holiday, a week spent at Ribby Hall near Blackpool, entirely unremarkable apart from an unexpected discovery in "Ripley's Believe it or not" on the Blackpool Pleasure Beach sea front.

We finished our holiday with a day trip to Scarborough and a rather special one-off show called Fifty Years New, a five night commemoration of the Steven Joseph Theatre.

Housed for the last nine years in the former odeon, I had the pleasure of visiting it very early on after opening on a trip organised by the ABTT, an organisation I have sporadically been a member of since my schooldays. The celebrated Sir Alan Ayckbourn himself took the trouble to tell us about the building & the Company. We also arranged to see a performance of "By Jeeves!" and I was so taken with the show that Karen & I returned a couple of weeks later to catch it again and we also saw it when it ran in the West End for a Season.

The show was held in "the Round" which always struck me as a bit of a daft name as it is actually square! It refers to "in the round" where the audience surrounds the stage on all four sides. Whilst I enjoy that type of staging for its intimacy, I actually felt that By Jeeves! worked better in a proscenium setting.

Something else unusual about the Round is the ceiling- the clutter of lighting & roof fixings are semi-hidden behind a mesh grid which is strong enough to walk on. I have indeed done so (wearing a Hard Hat) and it is a strange experience, colloquially referred to as a Trampoline Grid. The minor downside is that the lights splodge pools of light on the mesh to show up their beam shapes but it doesn't affect the beam quality on the floor to any particular extent.

Lighting in the round is tricky as there is the need for the actors to be seen from all four directions without the light spilling onto the audience from both the intrusiveness and the glare. The standard wash comes from 36 barn-doored fresnels (soft-edged variable spread spotlights with flappy bits on the front for rudimentary beam shaping) covering nine areas lighting in all four directions. There are numerous additional light fixtures up there (referred to by traditionalists such as myself as "Lanterns") used for specials and the use of colour etc. so it is rather busy aloft. There is a central bit of the grid that doesn't have wire, this is a convenient point for getting gear up & down, as well as for simple flying effects, such as lowing a Mirror Ball.

Last night's show consisted of reminiscences by Sir Alan interspersed with readings from a number of plays from the last decade. (the fifth reading was from Miranda's Magic Mirror, a kid-centric piece that kept David's attention. The interval was announced with him being presented with a drink in a novelty illuminated glass on a silver salver, which he described as a commemorative cocktail. We bought one (for a fiver, mainly because David wanted the glass!), it was a very sharp grapefruit lemon base.

On returning after the interval, practically everyone in the theatre had a glass and we all rose to toast the Theatre, something that had become a tradition over the five night run (& I got the impression that most of the middle-aged audience had been there each night).

We were then treated to the first (& probably last) performance of a fragment of something called simply "untitled farce" that involved an MP, visiting guests, romance, intrigue and a lot of trademark Ayckbourn humour. Something that particularly tickled me was the MP meeting his new Wife shortly after the death of his old one who had urged him on her deathbead to remarry- he actually met her at the Crematorium...

So what was the remarkable discovery in Ripley's? Almost entirely un-noticed in one of the galleries, was what looked like some sort of Organ-like musical instrument. It had one keyboard (with strange use of colour and black note positioning) and several rows of cinema-style stop keys in a rather splendid wooden cabinet. It wasn't labelled like the other exhibits, although there were still Dymo labels over the stop keys announcing items such as STAGE, ICE and FRAME.

I immediately recognised it as I had seen it a few years earlier in the Pleasure Beach visitor's centre and was disappointed to see that it was no longer there. What was being exhibited was a Strand Electric LIGHT CONSOLE, that particular (small) model having originally been installed in the Ice Arena, home to the Hot Ice shows. If you follow the link, the Blackpool design is similar to the Caracus University one (third photo) which is small compared to the massive ones at Drury Lane, the Palladium & the Coliseum. The single manual version was also made for the Royal festival Hall in a much neater compact layout and the style was once described as a "light harmonium".

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Death of a King

I have written previously about my time working in Norway back in 1981. I have had a vague inclination to also write about the following year spent in Saudi Arabia but it would take up several articles and I’ve misplaced my round tuit. However, the death of King Fahd this week transported me back to June 1982 when King Khalid died whilst I was working in the Kingdom for Aramco (The Arabian-American Oil Company, although it was 100% Saudi owned by then) as a (Nortel) vendor Consultant.

The first clue that something was wrong was that both of the Aramco radio stations were playing the same output, from what I recall it was somewhat sombre classical music. A check of the Arabic stations brought forth just chanting from the Quoran, a fairly regular occurrence for prayer time but unusual in its ubiquity. The news gradually filtered down that the King had died. Whilst there is not an Arabic tradition of formal mourning, the majority of Saudi Nationals drifted away later in the day in order to say prayers in their own Mosque.

The day passed reasonably normally, although it was somewhat like a Thursday with the lack of faces. (The Arabic week runs from Saturday through to Friday, with the staff weekend being Thursday and Friday. Friday is the holy day on the same basis as the European Sunday used to be. Contractors generally worked a six day week so Thursdays were known as “ServOrg Sunday” on the basis that not too much work got done by the Service Organisations with the Bosses out).

Aramco had its own TV channel, receivable across most of the Eastern Province. Every day, there was a fifteen minute news programme in English, although it was particularly Saudi-centric with world affairs getting a very minor look-in. It tended to be somewhat formulaic, starting with the arrival of important dignitaries. That particular episode struck me as somewhat surreal to the extent that it sticks in my mind some twenty-three years later.

The presenter was male, (of course, females don’t work in Saudi Arabia), British, well dressed and well spoken. His delivery was always flawless but you sometimes caught a glint in his eye which conveyed the unspoken thought in the back of his mind, something along the lines of “who writes this crap?”

The programme started with the announcement that the King had died. It then showed all of the dignitaries arriving at the airport in their private Jumbos and entourage, being greeted by members of the Saudi Royal family with the traditional embrace & triple cheek kiss. Each dignitary received air time befitting their status and the TV order appeared to be based on order of arrival when there was any doubt as to protocol. Needless to say, death of a King brought all of the Gulf neighbours over along with other Countries that had an Islamic system. As there wasn’t too much for the presenter to say after the full titles of greeter & greetee, military brass band music was generally played to fill the gaps.

There then followed a rather clumsily edited footage of the King’s final journey from the morgue to the grave via the Mosque. The royal family are based in Riyadh, the inland Capital City and the King had probably died in the King Faisal Hospital there. He was transported by ambulance and the Saudi version of an ambulance is like the American version, i.e. more akin to an oversized hearse in Range Rover style rather than the casualty room on wheels. On arrival at the impressive Grand Mosque, the King was unloaded on a stretcher and carried in with a large throng. Saudis don’t use coffins but I was rather surprised to see that it looked like the body was wrapped in a burlap sack. I was later to find that it was actually a robe, or more likely, several of them as he was completely shrouded from head to toe (& he was a big chap, as most men who live a life of luxury tend to be).

The Saudi traditional national dress is a one piece long sleeved garment called a Thobe which is shirt-like above the waist and dress-like below the waist down to the ankles. They tend to be white cotton (for summer use) but I even saw tailored pin-stripe versions. They also wear a small skull cap called a Tagiyah, a square tea-towel-like garment called a Ghutra (often white or red gingham check) and a sort of double-rope black hoop thing to keep the Ghutra in place called an Agal. The clothes are incredibly practical for hot weather in the desert and are much more comfortable than western garb, I did buy a set to bring back home for fancy-dress but have lost them in the mists of time. The garb is similar throughout the Gulf States but there are interesting variations, for example, Bahrainians have tassels on the back of their Agals.

Whilst the Royal family wear similar clothing (although much better tailored as befits their wealth) they tend to distinguish themselves by the use of sweeping capes (often with delicate golden embroidery tracework) which does make them look particularly regal.

Back to the funeral, and King Khalid is being carried shoulder high on a plain stretcher by the throng. I have vague recollections that he may have been on an ornate carpet, of the style known as a Persian rug (although not in Saudi, where the term Persia was being tippexed from history, the Persian Gulf being renamed the Arabian Gulf). He was taken into the Grand Mosque (which was indeed very grand on the outside) and the cameras followed. At first, it was difficult to see what was going on but the camera slowly made its way down a side aisle to the front. All of the people inside were going through the ritual of prayer (which all Muslims do five times a day) and were facing towards Mecca (which is west of Riyadh). The western wall of the Mosque was comparatively plain, with frosted windows and a row of rather incongruous looking air conditioner units below, the sort of self contained ones that remove the heat from inside and dispose of it to the outside in the same way that a fridge does. I then realised that the King had basically been dumped on the floor in front of the worshippers whilst they went through their abolutions. My memory may be playing tricks, but I seem to recollect that he may have even been wrapped up in the carpet as well.

The next step of the process was to collect him again and put him back in the ambulance. After he was slid back in, the bearers started to pile in with him and some even hung onto the back of the tailgate in a scene reminiscent of a Keystone Cops movie played backwards. A couple of the final boarders were wearing western jackets and I noticed that one of them was armed, his jacket swung open, exposing a pistol holder, presumably part of the Royal Bodyguards (King Faisal had been assassinated in 1975 by another family member so they were always conscious of security).

The ambulance arrived at the graveyard which was to be the final resting place of the body. He was carried aloft, with a large crowd clamouring to touch him as he passed. The burial was very quick and straight-forward in an unmarked grave. The Gulf states traditionally bury the dead before sundown, presumably because this was the only practical course of action for nomadic tribal desert dwellers which are the origins of the area.

Of course, the news was far from finished. If the arrival of the dignitaries was the first course and the funeral the main dish, we were finally treated to the dessert, namely everyone important flying back home again with due recognition, accompanied by Colonel Bogey and the Liberty Bell (the Monty Python theme tune), both of which were inspired choices.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Circling vultures

A few months back, I was involved in a low speed accident causing minor damage to the two respective cars. The other driver admitted liability & his insurers were quick to offer to sort out my repairs, loan car etc. Having previously worked for an insurance underwriter, I was aware that getting in touch with the other party quickly is essential in order to mitigate costs as otherwise they are likely to be seduced by attractive offers by the motor trade equivalent of ambulance chasing lawyers. What I hadn’t appreciated, however, was that the phenomenon is actually part and parcel of the process.

My own broker set the ball rolling by advising that as I had legal cover as part of the policy, the retained solicitors would contact me to ensure my inconvenience was minimal. Their forms emphasised the aspects of injury & included diagrams to explain the consequences of whiplash and how I might not actually realise that I had it. On subsequent phone calls, I could detect subtle vibes of disappointment when I repeatedly emphasised that I wasn’t injured, the car was roadworthy and the damage was trivial.

Meanwhile, I tried to contact the third party department of the other insurer who had left a phone message. I tried several times on the Friday evening and over the weekend but although their phone system constantly advised that all of their agents were busy and that my call was important to them, I never actually managed to talk to anyone. When a letter turned up from them during the week, it became obvious why, the department only worked regular office hours, a fact their phone system was unable to grasp. It still took a couple of goes to actually get hold of someone and they advised a suitable assessor who would be contacting me as a matter of course but they didn’t actually follow through and when I contacted them it was going to be at least another week or so before they could take a look at the damage. In the meantime, my own broker got in touch and recommended a garage that was happy to do the assessment later that day on the way home.

I was originally keen to take up the other Insurance Company offer but on reflection, although their principle was right, their practice left something to be desired and I went down the path of least resistance via my own broker.

All went well for the actual repair and the replacement vehicle was no problem at all other than being somewhat shorter but an inch or two higher than my regular car. I normally have to park my car well in to my garage and I was lulled into a false sense of security by the clearance at the back so not being quite as diligent on one occasion was horrified to hear an almighty clang on closing the garage door; the internal handle had clipped the lip of the tailgate, causing a small but deep dint, removing the paintwork and derailing the garage door.

I immediately informed the car hire Company and thanked me for being forthcoming and advised that the worst-case sum would be the excess. So far, touch wood; they have not followed through so I may have been let off. (Cue letter from hire Company with demands for excess…)