Is anyone else getting this when trying to visit my site? I hope not. I’m getting it sporadically, and in more than one browser. It’s annoying. I get the message – the blog is hosted at a WordPress domain, but I do of course link it to my own domain name. But I pay WordPress cash every year to map the domain. So I don’t expect problems. Although I know browsers, their add ons and other bits and bytes can do weird stuff. Maybe it’s just me. Still, I like the idea that it’s Obi Wan Kenobi warning users away from my blog. If you’ve made it here, welcome to the Dark Side…
I am a career dreamer. For much of the last forty years, I’ve had plenty of plans, intentions, applications, ambitions and goals. They all share one thing in common. They were but dreams. Captaining Liverpool FC and England was always unlikely, and I sensibly decided to have a Plan B quite early on. Just in case it didn’t happen. By age 13 I’d have settled on a career in palaeontology, brushing the dust of millions of years from the fossils of dinosaurs. The prospect of a life in criminal law and/or politics has long held great appeal.
Owning a dusty old bookshop on Charing Cross Road, or some other corner of central London. A worn wooden railed spiral staircase down to a camped basement was a must. The prospect of a lifelong career in the RAF tempted me. As does a career as a travel photographer. Alas, they were all just dreams. Some were fanciful. Others had false starts. Some were just too much like hard work. So I sell home insurance instead. Which was most definitely never the dream.
But what is life if one can’t daydream from time to time? I have a new one. It most definitely comes under the category of ‘fanciful’. But I can’t help but dream my little dream every time I walk past the Bingo Hall in Westbourne. It wan’t always a bingo hall, although it certainly seems to be a successful business in its present guise. Minibuses disgorge gaggles of elderly patrons every evening, all with their own dreams of finished cards, rowdy yells of victory and a cash prize. There are ashtrays overflowing with cheap brand cigarette butts outside, smoked to within a thousandth of an inch of the filter. A sure sign that Lady Luck doesn’t grant everyone their dream every night. Let me introduce you to Westbourne’s favourite bingo hall.
My photo doesn’t do the building justice. It’s a glorious example of yesteryear architecture. The stone carved ladies sitting atop the structure are beautifully detailed. The shops that have incorporated themselves into each side of the foyer entrance are a blight. They’ll have to go. But at least the original signage is there for when my grand plan comes to fruition, and the Grand Cinema reopens to the general public of Westbourne and Bournemouth. This will happen shortly after I win the lottery. Which is another dream altogether, filed under the category of ‘extremely wishful’, which is a grade up from fanciful, but not quite at ‘miracle’ status.
What movies will I show? Not the latest blockbusters from Hollywood that’s for sure. There’s a couple of big cinemas in Bournemouth and a large complex in Poole already catering to that sort of customer. I don’t want grotty teenagers in my cinema anyway. Nor chavs. I’m focusing on a different market. Which I’m sure is wise. The Grand Cinema undoubtedly tried the traditional cinema market before. Now it’s a bingo hall. That tells a story in itself.
Almost all the traditional, smaller cinemas in the UK long ago shut up shop, unable to compete with the corporate giants screening endless productions of explosions, shooting and general drivel. But the UK has changed, demographically. Perhaps there is now room for a niche player in the market. There are hundreds of thousand of Europeans living and working in the UK. It’s time to bring foreign cinema onto the High Street. I find Europeans to be generally more cultured. More sophisticated. Subtitles don’t put them off.
Perhaps some of it will rub off on their English friends, and they’ll come along too. Even if only to pretend they are sophisticated too. I’m inspired by Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City. For opening night, I will play Cinema Paradiso, a thoroughly charming movie. All about a boy who dreams of running the town’s cinema. And his friend, the incumbent, who dreams of anything but running it. It’s a delightful film. Movies in my cinema should be either emotional experiences or thought provoking. Not just a sensory bombardment of noise and light, death and destruction. Although, sure, those films can be good too.
Mrs P can help me select the best of Mexican cinema to cater for the growing Latin American and Spanish populations. Like Water For Chocolate is a must. Perhaps old Santo movies on Saturday mornings? For the kids? Hmmm. Then again, perhaps not. One can take one’s loyalty to Mexico too far. But I will show some more up to date Mexican flicks, such as Nosotros Los Nobles, which Mrs P and I watched and enjoyed recently.
But it won’t all be foreign fluff on the big screen. Perhaps our Johnny Foreigner residents would like to be introduced to classic British cinema. What counts as a British film? Technically, movies like Star Wars and Gravity are British films. But they’re not what I’m thinking of. There are plenty more overtly British films to show. Shaun of the Dead, Trainspotting, Nil By Mouth, The Killing Fields, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, A Fish Called Wanda, The Wicker Man and the legendary Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence has plenty of local landmarks in Dorset. I could hand out Treasure Maps to the audience. Visit all the locations and get a free ticket for their next visit to the Grand Cinema. All of these flicks are worthy of your time.
There’s a large elderly population too. I have to walk past a dozen old folks homes to get to the cinema. And it’s just a five minute walk. Whilst the long term repeat custom of seniors can’t be taken for granted, places in these care homes in Westbourne are highly sought after. There’s a waiting list to join the ‘waiting list’. Beds aren’t empty long enough to get cold. New customers will replace the old ones.
We can play matinee performances of old classics. Gone with the Wind for the ladies on Mondays and Wednesdays. A Bridge Too Far, Zulu and other assorted war films for the gents on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They can wear their uniforms to the show if they wish. The occasional Carry On film too, to fill any gaps when I haven’t gotten round to sourcing new films. If I play my cards right, I’ll keep the bingo crowd too. Just give them a card, show them to their seat and shout out a few random numbers through the performance. They might never know the difference. So long as they last long enough to get them out the door at the end, then all’s well.
I’m bringing back the Intermission too. The half time break for drinks and choc ices has been sorely missed. Seeing as smoking won’t be allowed in the auditorium, I’m guessing the break will be appreciated by my cigarette toting customers too. On Wednesday evenings, the Intermission will feature a slide show of my Mexican photos. Just because. I’m open to the use of tech too. Anyone checking into Foursquare or Facebook will get an extra flake in their 99. Bad reviews come with a further extra ingredient. A bodily fluid of some sort, I suspect. You’ve been warned.
Sadly we all know this won’t come to pass. I don’t buy lottery tickets, so I’m unlikely to win the big one. And that is pretty much my only route to cinema ownership. And quite frankly, if I did win millions, I’d move to London and spend the rest of my life buying every decent new camera that came to market and going off with it travelling. So I’ll keep on dreaming about the cinema I’ll never own. And Westbourne’s elderly population can live safe in the knowledge that a big win might still come their way, in what will remain the town’s premier bingo hall.
Once upon a long ago I taught a diverse bunch of chaps and chapettes in Mexico City how to speak English. Real English. British English. Olde Worlde English. The original. Oh, those were the days. Am I playing on my particular version of English? Well, there is a point to that. There are plenty of English teachers in the US. Mostly from the United States. A few from Canada. Not so many from the UK. It was my selling point. One of them, anyway.
Rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly as it happens), Mexicans have a favourable view of British English. For a whole load of reasons. Yet, ironically, none of the Mexicans I ever met understood a word I’d say for the first few weeks. I can’t say with 100% certainty that they understood much of what I said after a few years! My accent perhaps sounded exotic. But I’m told it also sounded a bit Double Dutch.
Some of my students would mock my pronunciation. In, so I always assumed, an affectionate manner. They’d exaggerate the invisible R’s that us Brits surreptitiously insert into random words. Carn’t. Warter. But I think they were secretly envious of my accent. Maybe. I should have asked. But then, their envy would have ceased to be a secret. I did have one chap who wanted me to teach him how to ‘speak British’.
Which raised the obvious question. What sort of British? This sort of British? I did once turn it on to BBC Alba and watch it intently until Mrs P felt compelled to say something. She wasn’t fooled. Well, not for long anyway. But I digress. Back to speaking English. The accent in particular, rather than slowly dying ancient tongues that were once spoken widely in parts of this land.
Accents are hard, bordering on the impossible, to learn and successfully replicate. There are a million examples of linguistic travesties in the movies, but one can see why Dick Van Dykes casting in Mary Poppins caused PL Travers to shudder. Although Renee Zelwegger did show that it can be done. Bravo to her. There are, of course, many types of British English. Do you want to learn Glaswegian? Cornish? Cockney? Welsh? Geordie? Brummie? BBC English?
I’ll offer my tuppence worth of advice. Don’t bother. Invariably, the result – regardless of the particular accent you are trying to mimic – will be Fake British. It’ll sound odd. Weird at best. Laughable at worst. If you absolutely must mimic the accent of one part of the UK, then I suggest Welsh. As the video explains, the Welsh accent has certain…shall we say, qualities? If you sound like you’ve had a drink too many, then at least you have an excuse for your abomination of an effort.
Many, many moons ago, on this very blog – albeit on different hosts – I earned a small fortune churning out posts with paid links in them. I’ve told this story before. Paid links can bring in a pretty penny, although not the fortune it used to make me. Last year I must have earned a couple thousand shiny British pounds from posting ads and including specific links in my posts. I even started another blog, Gary Denness Photography, with the intention of monetising it.
Alas, there’s a major slump in the Page Rank Spam industry. There have been slumps before. But this seems altogether more terminal. All of my revenue sources have dried up. Totally. Which is a pity – the money came in very useful. What has happened to paid posts? It’s hard to say. But at a guess, Google has had some input. A lot of input. I’ve had ‘representatives’ of companies who have run paid posts on my blog in the past emailing me en masse, pleading with me to take the ‘Google unfriendly’ links down. Matt Cutts should also be listened to. And other platforms have clearly come a cropper.
Whatever. It was nice while it lasted. Perhaps the platforms who used to organise paid posts will find a loop hole and reinvent themselves and bring blogging revenue back into my life. But I have not enough faith in that happening soon enough, or in a meaningful enough way, to justify running two blogs. Pft. I barely have enough time to post to one blog. So, my obituary of the paid post industry is accompanied with an obit for my photography blog. It is still there for the time being, till I figure out what, if anything, I want to do with the garydenness.com domain.
I’ve already imported all the posts from that blog into this one. I’ll fix the Camera Lust section into the menu soon. And I’m sure I’ll continue photography themed posts here. Just as I used to. I did like the ability to play around with the photography blog, which was a WP.org site, not WP.com. But I feel more secure on WordPress.com. Less likely to be hacked. Does blog hacking happen? Oh yes, for all sorts of reasons. My blog isn’t too tempting a prize for hackers. But whilst in the Import page, I backed up the blog as well. It seems a sensible thing to do from time to time. You should too, if you have a blog.
The UK is littered with airfields and RAF bases, past and present. Mostly past. The majority were opened at the outbreak of WW2 and closed again at the end of the war. There were no airfields terribly close to my current residency in Bournemouth. There were RAF Stations nearby, as you’d expect on the south coast. Radar installations, watching out for Jerry.
Still, Bournemouth has become a destination for fans of flying, both civilian and military. There is a small airport offering cheap flights with RyanAir to places like Barcelona, Pisa, Faro, Malta, Ibiza and more. And in late August, early September the annual Bournemouth Air Festival draws huge crowds to see four days of aeronautical displays. It’s a fantastic show, especially when the owners of the last, creaking Vulcan manage to get that delta winged beast into the skies.
But there is a lesser known, almost hidden corner of Bournemouth’s aviation scene. The Bournemouth Aviation Museum. It’s just £6 for an adult entry ticket, and it’s situated, appropriately, right next to the airport. Perhaps the fact it has a children’s Wonderland park the other side is a hindrance. Or maybe it’s not. Either way, for those that make the trip, there’s a fascinating walk down RAF Memory Lane waiting for you.
First impressions aren’t perhaps that great. Museum or mortuary? There’s a lot of carved up jet carcasses littered about the site. Mostly cockpits. It’s as if an aircraft industry version of al-Qaeda turned up, decapitating planes left right and centre. But having said that, there are a fair few complete models to look at. And besides, this is very much a hands on museum. And if you can get your grubby mitts on any part of an airplane, then the cockpit is the place to be.
In the space of a few minutes I got to act and feel my ages. All of them. I leapt into the single seat of the English Electric Lightning fighter jet with huge enthusiasm and promptly demonstrated the mental age of a four year old, flicking every button and switch and pulling every lever in the cockpit. What’s this one do then? And this one? And this one? None of them, of course, did anything. But that didn’t put me off. I imagined life as one of the glorious few who got to fly this awesome piece of machinery, setting their sights on enemy MiGs. The Lightning was a phenomenal machine, Britain’s first supersonic jet fighter, capable of Mach 2+, the most ridiculous vertical climbs and the ability to fly high enough to intercept a U2.
Then I extracted myself from the plane, and all of a sudden I was no longer a youthful four year old, but a creaking 40 something. It wasn’t a dignified exit. There was bashing of knees and elbows, curses, a pained back, and I ended up crawling away on hands and knees. These jets have seriously cramped cockpits. I had been pleased to see I had the place to myself when I had first entered the park. I was doubly grateful there was no one else about to witness my ungainly departure from the Lightning. But nonetheless, it was worth it. Totally worth it. I repeated the exercise with a few other jets.
Each cockpit was a model of functionality. Very mechanical. These were not computerised fly-by-wire planes. Masses upon masses of dials and switches. With yards of messy, exposed wiring that would be enough to give Steve Jobs a nervous breakdown. It all seems delightfully primitive, in a 1950s and 60s way. Until you get to the cockpit of the Vulcan. You aren’t allowed to sit in the cockpit seats. Nor one of the three rear facing seats for the navigator and his two chums. But there’s an distinct step up in tech with the Vulcan. Still lots of dials and switches. But it’s a different beast.
You can see a few photos below. Click on one of the images for the gallery view. Or go see the whole set on Flickr by clicking here.
In February 2011 I found myself back in the UK in need of a job. I had high hopes of a career as some sort of an online community manager. I had realistic expectations of resuming my career in retail management. Neither option was particularly fruitful in the first couple of months of job hunting. I generally despise agencies, but needs must, and along I went to a couple of Bournemouth recruitment specialists. Bournemouth employment is dominated by two industries. Tourism and finance/insurance. But surely there’d be something else that suited my skills better than those two.
The first agent had a job in a call centre selling home insurance. I had my own preconceptions of life in a call centre. Not good ones. We’ve all had those evening calls from persistent salespeople. Nothing else, I asked? Nope. Bin man? Mortuary assistant? Nada. Bag packer at a supermarket? Zilch. No big pharmas looking to pay for human guinea pigs to test risky new drugs on?? They didn’t have a thing. Just call centre jobs. I think they detected my reluctance to embark on a new career in extreme telephonic boredom. I wasn’t to hear from them for six months*.
But before I left the office, I heard someone in the next room mention the name of the insurance company. I went home, looked them up on the internet and applied directly for an Outbound dialling vacancy. I got a call back and an interview was arranged a couple of days later. I still wasn’t keen. But I did need a job. So I put on my best garb – my wedding suit – and lumbered into their office block, feigning as much enthusiasm as possible. I was given a cup of coffee. It was a vile concoction. I drank it all, just so as not to offend. Make a good impression etc. I needed a job that much.
The interview consisted of a few questions to see how motivated I was. Oh really, really motivated. Honest. I did a quick spelling and math test. How do you spell ‘kill me now’? Then I had a chat with a lady who ran one of the Outbound dialling teams. She was really quite pleasant and we had a nice talk. She asked about Mexico. She asked about my wife. Well, she’s still in Mexico at the moment. She asked when she was coming over to join me. Well, visas are expensive – I need to get a job first! I saw the empathy and even pity written all across her face. Bingo! The job was mine. And why not? You think I cheated with that bit of emotional blackmail? Absolutely not. That was my first sale for the company. It’s all about rapport. You’ll see…
I left the interview with a start date. The nice lady had gotten me a job with the Inbound department, which is not only a better job, but the start date was a month earlier. The difference between Outbound and Inbound roles is as their titles suggest. The former is the guy you hate. The guy who calls right in the middle of dinner to offer a quote. It’s extraordinarily repetitive, combative and competitive. The latter is the guy you call to accept or get a quote, to amend or renew your policy or to let off steam when something doesn’t go your way. It’s more varied and less pressured.
So on April 4th 2011 I went along for the first day of four weeks training. For the first two weeks we learned about the home insurance product we sold. We learned about the computer and dialling systems that we used. We were introduced to the script. A lot of what we say is scripted, to ensure we are compliant. That’s to say, to ensure we sell in accordance to the defined regulations for our industry. Which has, if we’re going to be honest, a pretty shabby reputation.
We were taught sales techniques. Fact Find – what does the customer have, what does he want, what does he need? Match and Demonstrate – make sure we offer a product at least as good as he has, and demonstrate the benefits of being with us. Objection Handling – how to overcome (or overwhelm!) a customer who keeps fobbing us off. And, of course, Rapport!
People buy from people they like and trust. Build up a relationship. If the customer mentions something you are familiar with, the start up a conversation. Or else talk about the weather! It works. During the first couple of months, I received a call from a chap who had just moved back to the UK with his family from Mexico City. He’d been working for a large international company. Yes, we talked about Mexico. Yes, of course he bought a policy from me!
Week three was training on the phones, calling real customers. Although I was going onto an Inbound team, everyone who joins the company has to prove they can sell on the phone. I had to sell one policy in a week. In the event, I sold three in my week. Others just couldn’t do it and disappeared, either through their own choice or on a less voluntary basis. People come and go in this industry as in any other industry. Just a lot quicker. An Outbound agent who has served a year in the same company is something of a veteran. Two years is a rarity. Anyone who lasts three years deserves a medal. The Inbound department is quite different. On my team of eleven agents, I am the longest serving employee. But there’s a whole bunch who’ve passed the two year mark. Even the newbies have been here a year or more.
My working day is simple. I turn up, turn on the computer, log into the dialling system and wait for the calls to come in. Some days are non stop. Others can be rather slow. Some days I’ll get a steady flow of customers renewing their policy. Other days I’ll have a stream of customers calling about quotes they got on Compare the Market, Go Compare of the MoneySupermarket. My job is to sell as many policies for as much money as possible in the quickest possible time whilst remaining compliant. And also remaining civil – there are plenty of customers who will put your patience, even your sanity, to the test. But at least I don’t work for the guy in the video above.
Some agents are really money focussed. Most, almost all, call centres have bonus schemes. A lot of those schemes are based on commission per hour figures. I despise this, as it encourages poor behaviours and penalises good customer service. The most successful agents bonus wise will get rid of you as quick as they can. That may even mean ‘accidentally’ hanging up on you if you are taking up their time but are unlikely to earn them any commission. I’ve seen these sort of agents rack up bonuses of £1,000 to £2,000 per month.
Fortunately, my company has backed away from this system and is now rewarding staff for service and hard work with a simple share of the commission they earn. This means the bonus pool is more fairly shared around. I can earn three, four maybe soon five hundred pounds in a month in bonus. But I can still be conscientious and offer decent service. Which makes me happy.
There are good days and bad days.I’ll work harder for a nice, pleasant customer. I’ll still work hard for an average customer. I’ll do the bare minimum for a rude SOB. Only a couple of times have I had to end a call and hang up on a customer for being abusive though. It’s like anything else in life. Treat people like you’d want to be treated yourself. My hours of work are reasonable. Some Saturday mornings, no Sundays. Certainly a lot less anti-social that in convenience retailing. I get all the bank holidays off. And I get to sit in a reasonably comfortable chair in a nice modern office in the warm and dry. The people I work with a a nice bunch, which counts for a lot. Although every now and again we get a new person who is quite, quite mad. They don’t last long.
So, in short, I’ve had many worse jobs. There are frustrations. The company I work for gets things wrong sometimes. Occasionally they screw up spectacularly. There are some reservations I hold about the way they do business and the way they handle employees. But life is never perfect. If they stoop below a level that is acceptable to me, there are plenty more call centres in the area. And vice versa – if I don’t perform, there are other agents waiting for my job.
But what, you might ask, has any of this got to do with you buying insurance, other than giving you a brief run down of my career history within the industry? How will this help you in anyway in getting the right cover at the right price? Well, there’s a point to this that is so obvious that a majority of callers seem to miss it entirely. When you speak to a call centre, you are dealing with a human being. He or she will have their own story. Some will be better than others. They are unlikely to want to bleed for their company. What you get out of them will largely depend on you. Be nice!
- I received an email from them six months later, telling me that I hadn’t got the job. Of course I replied. Just to inform them I had got the job, was still going strong, and how much commission had they lost for not sending me along for an interview? I got another email from them about a year ago, asking if I was interested in a job at the company I work for. I despise recruitment agencies like you despise call centres…
There’s a low rumble of a drum beat in the distance. A drum that beats to a samba rhythm. A beat that is building, the closer we get. Yes indeed, the 2014 World Cup draws near, with the kick off in Brazil, the host country, less than three months away. Four years ago I wrote a series of posts on the World Cup in South Africa as the sort-of-official Mexico based Guardian blogger. It was fun. Let’s do it all again. Without the Guardian this time. I’m not exactly in Mexico any more.
The first World Cup I watched was in 1982. It was also the first World Cup that England had played in during my lifetime. We failed to quality in 1974 and 1978. Nonetheless, despite those back to back set backs, we went to Spain in 1982 in high spirits. After all, our sole World Cup win was still only 16 years in the past and English clubs had dominated in Europe for the previous decade. We beat a talented French side 3-2 in the first group stage but crashed out in the second group stage, despite being unbeaten.
It was a disappointing end. And a sign of things to come. At Mexico 86, Italia 90, France 98 and Japan/Korea 02 we sent decent squads capable of mounting a challenge but crashed out in each of them, twice on penalties. Our ‘golden generation’ went to Germany 2006 as the bookies favourites but failed to live up to the hype. Last time round in South Africa, our golden generation were fading, but we still had hopes they might deliver. They didn’t.
High hopes and a disappointing end is the English World Cup story of the last 30 plus years. How hopeful are we this time round, you might be asking yourself? To put it bluntly, we have no hope. Not a chance. In the next few weeks England’s manager Roy Hodgson will name our 23 man squad to take to Brazil. Make no mistake, it will be the weakest England squad that this country has ever sent to a major tournament. The weakest by quite some margin. There is every chance we will exit the tournament in the group stage.
England have been drawn with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D. We are the third best team in that group, which is a problem. Only the top two teams will progress to the knock out stages. There’s not only a chance we might go out at the first hurdle. It’s the most likely outcome. Our best chance for progression is if Italy implode. Uruguay have a good enough strike force to have a serious impact in the latter stages of the competition. They will surely take one of those top two places.
Where do we start? Why not with the manager, Roy Hodgson. Tactically inept, unable to either read or react to the play in progress and with a history of iffy selection choices. Our back four, the centrebacks in particular. There’s a serious lack of talent at centreback. So much so that the (highly unlikely) return of an ageing John Terry to the fold would prove a genuine boon. We lack a midfield general. Steven Gerrard is being touted as a defensive midfielder for this tournament. He’ll do ok. He’s been doing something similar for Liverpool this season, but I suspect England will ask him to play a more defensive role still that he does for his club. It’s not his best position. But there is simply no one else to do it.
There is a massive question mark over our star striker, Wayne Rooney, given his previous poor form on the big stage. Who else can we turn to who has proven themselves in the domestic game over any length of time? No one. There is a serious lack of depth in this squad. Very little experience. We’ll go into Brazil 2014 with a whole bunch of players with just a handful of caps between them who are genuine contenders for a starting place in the first eleven. We are that desperate.
Cause for hope
Having slated those inexperienced players, they are also our main reason for taking any sort of hope to Brazil at all. Lallana, Sturridge, Shaw, Caulker, Townsend, Sterling, Barkley, Chamberlain and Rodriguez are all youngsters who have had seasons ranging from impressive to outstanding in 2013/14. Although only one of them has any Champions League experience. There is no Messi amongst them. But can two or three of them rise to the occasion and shine? That’s the one plus of throwing youngsters in at the deep end. Maybe they’ll surprise you.
We have no hope of winning Brazil 2014. There’s no point in trying to drag the last few drops of blood out of the 30 year old plus regulars, with one or two exceptions. I would use this tournament to blood our next generation. To give them experience. There’s really no pressure and little expectation. Getting out of the group is a bonus. The heat and humidity in Brazil will probably suit younger, fitter players anyway.
I would only take Cahill and Terry because there are no truly decent English centrebacks under 25 years of age – Phil Jones is the best we’ve got and he is far too inconsisten. Gerrard goes because, well, he is the team captain. You do need some experience to glue the rest of the team together. A leader. But Ashley Cole, Jagielka, Carrick and others can stay at home and watch it on television. My starting eleven, at this moment in time? Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Terry*, Shaw, Gerrard, Lallana, Chamberlain, Wilshire, Rooney, Sturridge. With Caulker, Barkley, Sterling, Henderson, Townsend and Butland on the bench.
*But Terry won’t be picked and is unlikely to accept a place were he offered one anyway.
The internet and mobile app stores are awash with photo sharing and editing sites. There are millions of them. They all do a very similar thing, but each tries to put it’s own twist on their product in an effort to stand out. Some are more successful than others. Flickr is popular largely because of its maturity and it provides an excellent place to store large file sized photos. Google has become very popular because it’s always had a free option and it comes hard baked into Android phones. Facebook is popular because…well, everyone and their uncle has a Facebook account – it’s easy to share stuff.
But what if I were to stand in the street and ask people to respond with their first thought to a prompt, and the prompt is ‘digital photography’? I’ll wager that you’d get quite a lot of people respond with ‘Photoshop’. If they’re being flash, they’d say Adobe Photoshop. No doubts about it, Adobe has been all about photography since….let me check Wikipedia. I’ll bet it’s ages and ages. Let’s have a looky see – brb. Ok, I knew it was a while – 1988! The program dates back to the late 80′s. Adobe snapped the fledgling company up straight away and the next iteration, Photoshop 1.0, was released for Mac users in 1990.
Since then Adobe have produced a pretty comprehensive range of digital photography and video products, including Lightroom, my favourite photo editor. So you’d think Adobe would have been all over the digital photography world or the web and on every mobile device going. You’d think they’d be pioneers. Leaders. You’d be pretty far off the mark. Or, in plain English, just plain wrong. It’s often the way, isn’t it?
But they are playing catchup. The big photo market these days is in the smartphone market. Facebook, Flickr and Google are all there. Instagram too, albeit now a Facebook division. And plenty more. Adobe has finally joined them, with Revel. I know Adobe has had a Photoshop type app available for a while, but that’s not what people want or are using, and besides, it’s pretty rubbish compared to the competition.
So what does Revel offer? What is it’s magic ingredient? It’s killer feature? It has auto upload, just like the competition. It has a range of filters and editing tools, just like the competition. But there is one stand out feature that the competition lacks. A hefty price tag. Whilst all the others are free, Adobe has decided that it’s new to market product will ship with one sole differential, and that is a $5.99 per month price tag. Seriously. One just wants to slap ones forehead. Admittedly, there is a free option. Limited to just 50 photos. Per month. Pft. It’s not worthy of consideration.
It’s a shame, because Revel is a very smooth and slick app on Android. But it’s not $5.99p/m smooth and slick. Not by a long shot. This is such a massive missed opportunity. Because there are obvious features which would attract customers. The stand out feature would be to bake Revel into Lightroom. The user can take his phone (or even an Android capable camera!) out for the day, snapping away. He or she comes home, fires up Lightroom, and hey presto – there’s a Revel library full of the days shooting. Ready for processing and sharing. Adobe tends to be a premium product and I dare say there’s a paying market for the right product. Revel is a long way from being the right product.
Blogger has a great feature which is the envy of many a WordPress user. Are you reading Mr Calypso? This one is, perhaps, particularly for you. Bloggers like to keep a list of their favourite fellow bloggers in the sidebar, but only Blogger provides a built in widget which is automatically updated to show the most recent post at the top. I have been promising to try and find a way to replicate this in WordPress for an awfully long time, without ever getting around to it.
I was pretty sure the solution would be a pretty simple RSS based widget. In the end the solution was exactly what I thought it would be. Not quite a simple as Google’s built in Blogger widget. But just as effective and truth be told, it’s not much work. Requirement number one is to choose a feed reader and load in all the websites/blogs that you wish to be included in your widget. I’ve gone for Inoreader but any reader will do providing it enables you to make a folder public with it’s own RSS feed. Quick tip – when adding feeds manually, make sure you hit the + button not the magnifying glass, which is what I kept doing. Much to my frustration. It won’t work. Enter the URL of the blog and hit enter. Voila.
Step two is to create a folder by right clicking on the Subscriptions text in the left hand bar. Then drag and drop all your feeds into it. I just called mine ‘feeds’. Once you have done this, right click on your new folder and click on Manage Folders. You’ll get a pop up window, and your feed folder should be listed in there. To the right of the folder it will say RSS Feed, in between a couple of other bits of text. You’ll need to right click on that and Copy Link. Done that? Cool, then we’re done with Inoreader.
In WordPress, you now simply need to add an RSS Widget to your sidebar, and in the options paste the RSS link that you just copied from Inoreader. You’re done. You now have a dynamic blogroll and need to envy Blogger bloggers no more. You can of course customise your widget, choosing whether the widget displays content or just links and how many posts you want displayed. The maximum is 20. And of course you will want to bookmark your feed reader in case you want to go back and add some new blogs or delete some old ones. It is a slightly more cumbersome approach that with Blogger, but once done maintenance is pretty close to nil. Unless Inoreader goes belly up and disappears, of course. There are some screenshots at the bottom to provide a little extra help. By the by, your blogroll will initially be dominated by a single blogger. Fear not, as new posts are published, this will right itself. Give it a day or two.
I have put my own dynamic blogroll into action. The usual suspects are there as far as Mexican based (or wannabe based) bloggers go. They need no introduction. I’ve also included Ian Visits, one of the most informative and interesting London blogs going. Ben’s Prison Blog is there too, although his posting has been significantly less prolific since release. The title of his blog also appears to be less than accurate these days too, althought the additional tagline of ‘Lifer on the Loose’ does go someway to making amends. I’ve even included a brand new blog, which is struggling to get off the ground. The author sits two desks down from me at work. The blog is titled EG Cramer. That sets a tone, with a double initial, doesn’t it? We’ll just have to wait to see if there is a potential Wodehouse, Rowling or Salinger in the making. I wish him well!
The United Kingdom is made up of four separate countries. Each with their own patron saint. In England, the chap concerned is St George, after whom our flag is also named. I believe his special day is in April, but I could be wrong. There is a fringe campaign to get the general public interested in St George, but it isn’t working. Perhaps because St George is actually Turkish and not even English.
Scotland’s patron saint is St Andrew. But our Scottish friends prefer to raise a glass to their world famous poet, Robert Burns. Wales? St David. Never heard of him? I have no idea who he is either. The Irish, on the other hand, have St Patrick. And everyone celebrates St Patricks Day. You don’t need to be Irish, although if you are from the US you will no doubt be able to trace some part of the family tree back to the Emerald Isle.
I assume so, anyway. Every president in the last hundred years or so has managed to do so. We are just days away from St Patricks big day, and the image below has a few interesting facts and figures about the parties that are about to commence.
This one is just for fun. I came across the video in one of my tech feeds, and it’s worth sharing. I know a lot of what is discussed is obvious. But it’s an interesting video nonetheless. How does an iPhone camera compare to one of the many Android or Windows phone cameras though? I’m not an iPhone user.
Could I be persuaded? Sure. The next generation just has to meet two very specific criteria to meet my needs. The screen size has to increase. A 4″ screen is soooo last decade. On the other hand, I don’t want a phablet. I’ve decided that the 4.7″ screen on my HTC One is the optimal screen size for a phone. Rumour has it that the new iPhone 6 may come in two sizes, with 4.7″ and 5.5″ screens. So they may be catering to my needs there.
The second criteria? Price. Apple products have always been given a premium price. I don’t mind paying a little more for a superior product. The iPhone remains the most expensive of the mainstream smartphones. But it is not the best. The premium is purely for having an Apple badge. And that’s not what I’d pay extra for. Heck, I can put an Apple sticker on a phone for free.
Getty are providing a huge chunk of their image catalogue available. For free. It was inevitable. Welcome to the 21st century. I like to take photographs and if possible sell a snap or two. But I surrendered a long time ago. No, that’s not quite true. Actually, I never even entered the fray. I recognised the internet for what it was pretty early on. Perhaps I was influenced by the fact that I was a taker before I was a giver. I admit it. I stole images and shared them on the internet. Very occasionally, I still do. Very, very occasionally.
Did I (do I) hurt anyone through my deviant actions? Financially, or emotionally? Nope. Never. Because I would never have paid for an image if that were the only option available to obtain it – I would have used an alternative or used no image at all. And I’ve never used anyone’s image for commercial gain. I am pretty sure that I am not the only blogger to have ever used a photo or image without permission.
Getty have awoken to this reality: “In essence, it is admitting defeat. By offering the ability to embed photos, Getty is saying it cannot effectively police the use of its images in every nook and cranny of the internet”… BBC. On the Guardian: “People who were previously not paying for Getty images, and were never going to… now do not need to pay for Getty images. Instead of chasing infringers, Getty is offering them a deal.”
Both of those articles also describe the anger of photographers who sell via Getty. A lot of them are unhappy with their photos being given away for free. They, sadly, haven’t awoken to the reality of the internet. Commercial use of their photography earns them money as usual. Nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is that images that were previously ‘stolen’ by bloggers and the like are now ‘loaned’.
Getty now knows where their images are. And I dare say that at some stage Getty will monetise these images. It’s a brilliant move. WordPress have jumped on the bandwagon. Which can only help increase exposure of photographers work. Photographers complain that exposure doesn’t feed their kids. Sure, but what sort of feast did their kids dine on from the proceeds of stolen images? And if a photo goes viral and gets bought by commercial users as a result? That’ll help put a bite or two in their offspring’s bellies.
I’ve had a quick search through Getty’s catalogue to find a nice photo to embed as an example. Hey, this place looks familiar…
I’ve previously explained why policy prices might go up. So shop around. I’ve also explained some of the major pitfalls of getting your insurance wrong, with Rejected Claims. So let’s go through the process of getting a quote. It’s simple right? Log on to a comparison website, enter your details, pluck some numbers from thin air for your cover levels, and voila. Maybe you then choose the very cheapest price available. Plenty do. These are often the same people who’ll write angry reviews on websites when they are ‘screwed over’. More on that later.
Others will pick a nice looking policy that’s cheap but not the cheapest. Preferably with a company they know of. They think of themselves as savvy buyers, who know what they’re doing. Yet a good deal of them are still buying policies based on numbers they plucked from thin air. Others will make sure they buy a like for like policy, entering into the comparison website what is on their current policy. They’ll think of themselves as careful buyers. And yet they are still buying policies based on figures that were plucked from thin air last year, or the year before that or the year….etc. Or figures that are hopelessly out of date.
How about this for an idea. First of all, imagine how your life would be if you lost everything. Every last brick, every last cupboard door, every last shirt on or off of your back. You’ve got nothing. At all. Tonight, you’re sleeping on the street. Seriously, really picture it. Pretend it’s happened. Got this image in your head? Great! We’ve established that your home and possessions are reasonably important. Dedicate the time and care to their protection that your entire future warrants. It’s not something that you should approach with the idea of getting over with as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible. Does this sound obvious? Judging by the calls I receive, this is brand new information for a majority of home owners.
Part one – get your current documents, or your renewal pack. What are you covered for? Make a check list of key facts. I’ll provide one in a later post. You can write down everything your current policy offers. Does it fully cover all your needs? Most people have this comfortable feeling with their current policy. It’s been ok this last year, so the same again will do. But will it?
Part two – evaluate your needs. Remember, there’s no real problem being over insured. If you’ve got far more cover than you need, that’s fine. There can be serious problems if you under insure yourself however. So don’t simply look up what you’ve had covered and how much for. Work out what you need to have covered and how much for. Go room to room and add every little thing up. Remember to work out it’s current retail price. And the fitting costs if necessary.
Not sure how much something is worth? Look it up. The internet is your friend. If you are going to pluck numbers from thin air, at least give yourself a little bit of protection by grossly over estimating. Is that sofa worth £600 or £700? Let’s say £1,000 to be on the safe side. There’s no problem with being over insured! Are there any special things you want to make sure you have covered? List them separately.
Ok, so you’ve got an idea what your contents need. How about the building itself? Most insurers these days offer blanket cover with £500,000, £1 million or Unlimited policies. Great. But why not check up the estimated rebuild cost of your house anyway, using the Association of British Insurers calculator? Just to make sure.
Consider your excesses. Most policies, if not all policies, come with a standard (or compulsory) excess. You can add voluntary excesses, which may reduce the premium you pay. May. It very well may not, or the difference may be negligible. Check with the insurer! Ask how much difference it makes. Get a price with and without the voluntary. An awful lot of people wallop on large voluntary excesses automatically, and sometimes for little to no benefit.
Also consider whether or not you could actually afford the excess if you needed to claim. A reduced premium might sound a great idea today to save you £20, £40 or £60. It’ll not seem such a great idea if you claim for something worth £800 and discover you’ve got to pay the first £500.
Don’t Show Your Whole Hand
If you are speaking to an insurer, be it face to face or over the phone, then they will also fact find. They want to know what sort of cover you have currently, so they can match it as far as they can. That’s fine, tell them. They’ll want to know what your excesses are. That’s fine, tell them. Why not? Do you want a comparative quote or are you looking for random prices. You’ve done your fact finding. Share it with them. Get a like for like quote to establish how they price for comparative cover. You can always ask how much extra cover will cost later.
I regularly get customers call for a quote who stubbornly refuse to disclose anything about their current policy. They won’t get their documents. They don’t know what cover they have. They just know the price. We go through a pointless quote and I give a pointless price which is either more or less than their current deal. The customer will then either buy it or reject it purely on price without a second thought for the cover. Would you ring up car showrooms and just ask, how much for a car? You’d be asked what sort of car? Saloon, hatchback or estate? One litre engine or a juicy V8? Convertible two door or a five door? Would you respond, ‘just want a price for a car mate’. Hopefully this isn’t how anyone would buy a car.
They’ll then want to know how much your current insurer is going to charge you and/or what is the best price you’ve had from any other insurers. For the love of God, keep that to yourself! As much as I’m surprised how many people refuse to disclose their cover, I’m equally surprised how eager some customer are to reveal everything. How can it hurt to tell the agent how much you’re paying? Ok, so you disclose that your renewal is £500. He goes through the quote and finds a price of £200. That’s what he finds, but that’s not what he’ll necessarily quote. He’ll add cover and uplift the premium and quote you £400. You’re delighted at the saving! You’ve also just been royally ripped off.
You’ve got a good choice of comparison websites to hit. GoCompare, MoneySupermarket and Compare The Market are the big three. You type in your details and press the button and hey presto, there’s a big selection of policies ready for you to choose from. What could go wrong? Possibly nothing. But here’s the deal, just to give this some context. I started my job about three years ago. I spent a month in training, after which I had about 5% of the knowledge that I have today. And 0% the experience. For that first month after exiting training and getting on the phone I made an absolute ton of mistakes. I didn’t know I’d made those mistakes. Nor did the customer. They are not always obvious. And had my poor customers needed to claim? Ouch. Fortunately, we have a quality control department to pick up on those errors and put them right.
So. You’re on the comparison website. You’ve got my job. There’s just one difference – you’re without the month’s worth of training. And none of the experience. Good luck! On the plus side, you’re doing my job with only your interests at heart. No conflict of interests. And to be fair, you can probably get it right. Probably. Maybe. Lots of people do. But again, it comes down to risk. The onus of getting the policy right is 100% on you. Not on the insurer or broker. You’ve entered the details. You’re responsible. Did you miss something? Your tough luck. An awful lot of people get it right. A rather sorry number don’t. And this is something that you need to get 100% right – 99% isn’t good enough.
There’s potentially another catch. The comparison websites and the insurers websites don’t always play kindly together. You don’t always get what you ask for. Because the comparison websites have a template designed to fit everyone, they rarely fit anyone perfectly. They can make quite a few assumptions that you must check with the insurer, because the valid quote can quickly turn into an invalid policy. Trees, watercourses and flooding are common ones. So should you steer clear of comparison websites? Not at all. I would simply recommend that you use them to give you an idea of what might be available. Whittle down the list of candidates. Then call the insurer directly to discuss the quote. And by doing so, share the responsibility for getting it right!
Honestly, give them a miss. My employer would hate to hear me say it, which is one reason why I don’t reveal who my employer is. But give cold calling home insurance sales people the elbow. There are two simple reasons for this suggestion. Employee turnover in the Outbound dialling industry is quite high. High enough that there’s every chance that the person who calls you hasn’t really been doing the job very long. Not an expert. Although he might sound like one.
Which brings me on to reason two. They are pushy. They have to be. It’s their job to sell to you, not offer you a quote. Not many quotes turn into sales later on. So the pressure is on them. And they will turn the screw on you. They’ll say what you want to hear. If you put my two reasons together, and can add 2 + 2, you’ll appreciate that mis-selling is not exactly unheard of!
That’s not to say all policies sold from a cold call or dodgy or that you can’t get a good deal. It’s just about risk. There’s just more chance, in my opinion, of a cold call purchased policy not being quite the policy you should have bought.
It couldn’t be simpler. Call an insurer and get them to talk you through it. Hey, you never know, maybe you’ll talk to me. This is what I do. On the other hand, you might not get to speak to me. That’s a shame. But console yourself with the fact that call centre staff who deal with inbound calls tend to stay in their jobs a lot longer than cold calling agents. They tend to come across a greater diversity of issues. So they tend to have greater experience and product knowledge. Sure, you can get some good agents and some not so good agents. Bad agents? The industry is tightly regulated. A bad agent won’t last long at a reputable firm.
This is how I would buy a policy. Correction, this is exactly how I recently bought my insurance policy. I knew what cover I wanted. I knew what is important to me. I’d done my online research and gotten a quote on both a comparison website and their own website. Then I called them and got the guy to talk me through it. He has a duty to tell me about any catches or ‘hidden’ details. If he made a mistake, or mislead me, then I am still covered. Albeit by the broker and not the insurer.
For the record, I took out a policy with John Lewis, underwritten by RSA. They were very good. Good cover, good price, good service, decent documents. I don’t work for John Lewis. The company I work for wasn’t competitive for me. I’m not really their target market.
The brokers and the banks. You can find both on the High Street. A lot of people feel more comfortable talking to someone face to face. That’s fair enough. This isn’t my greatest area of expertise. I’m very much a phone jockey. I’ll make two observations from what encounters I have had. The high street brokers don’t seem to offer the best value for money. But then if the extra cash you’re paying buys you greater peace of mind, then it may well be money worth spent.
The banks. I have nothing nice to say about banks whatsoever. Their policies tend to range from so-so to plain old fashioned low grade. The bank staff are ever so friendly, I’m sure. They’re also Jacks-Of-All-Trades, and clearly not specialists. I’ve had to speak to many of them on the phone, when they call up with a customer to try and get them to switch.
There have been some classic moments. One of them pretended to be the customers grand daughter. Not only unprofessional, but completely illegal. Another starting contemptuously telling me that my company ‘only provide £1,000 worth of cover for water leaks’. Never mind the fact that she was trying to sell a policy that would blatantly under insure the customer. If she lost a £1000 of water, the utilities bill would be the least of her problems. I’ve had agents in banks blatantly lie. That happens with shocking frequency.
They will also set up policies for their customers and tell them that ‘they will cancel their old policy for them’. That’s another lie. They cannot cancel a policy on behalf of the customer. They just cancel the Direct Debit. Then let the customer deal with the problem later. It’s sleazy. My suggestion would be to avoid banks when it comes to insurance. Like the plague.
When customers phone up and ask for a quote because they feel their current insurer is charging a bit much, I’ll ask how much. They’ll sometimes tell me a figure which is quite astronomical. Ridiculously expensive. I’ve seen policies which should be £200 to £300, and the customer has been paying £500, £600, £800. I know two things straight away. They’ve been with this insurer a long time. And that the insurer is a bank. Throughout this article I have generalised a lot. This last point is not a generalisation. I have never come across a ridiculously over priced (at least treble our price) premium that wasn’t from a bank. Ever. Ever ever.
I will also name and shame the worst of the banks from my experience. Santander. Of course, my experience is limited. Although, as we’re moving on to the review sites, I might mention that they’ve been hovering between rock bottom and fourth from bottom over at Which? for quite a while now. So my experience doesn’t appear to be far off the mark.
So how good is your insurer, or a potential insurer? You can always Google the customer name and get real life testimonials from actual customers! But. Don’t bother. It’s a pointless exercise. Did you read my article on Rejected Claims? You’ll be reading their testimonials. They are, sadly, confessions of ignorance. Not reviews. People with happy experiences rarely post reviews.
Two of the most popular and relevant review sites are Which? and Defaqto. Although, to be honest, the Defaqto star ratings are a little bit meaningless in my opinion. Everyone and their uncle gets five stars. Those stars don’t show the whole picture and focus exclusively on the cover. But still, it is at least one further measure you can use to help choose your insurer.
So there we are. The quote process. I trust you didn’t buy a policy straight at the end of any of those quotes, did you?! Get them to post their quotes out. If an insurer tells you that they don’t post quotes, the agent is probably trying to coerce you into buying a policy. You never ever need to give bank details or card numbers for a quote. If an agent tells you that you do, he’s lying and is trying to set up the policy.
It’s a common trick, and they offer explanations including ‘it’s to save that price’ or ‘it’s so we can get the full set of documents out to you’. It’s a ruse. Although you will get the full set of policy documents through rather than just the quote, but that’s because you just bought a policy. In either case I would ask to speak to a manager (if he or she refuses, take a note of their name, hang up and then phone the company back) and explain to them why you won’t be buying a policy from them.
So you have your quotes. You now know what options you have as far as cover and price are concerned. You also know how quick these guys answer the phone. You can see what their documents are like – some are definitely better than others. I’ve come across some document packs which are just Double Dutch. I have a vague idea what I’m doing and what to look for, so if I’m confused….well! Tut tut. You can read through all the quotes at your leisure. You can now make an informed choice, based on multiple factors. Not just the price. And you can examine the cover. Which is what I will be examining in my next article.
Once upon a long ago, as a youngster, I went on day trips to the most famous and fabulous palaces, castles, gardens and other tourist destinations that London offers. I went with family and on school trips. We never, mysteriously, went to Kensington Palace. Once upon a long ago, but not quite so long ago, I lived and worked in Kensington. I’d go up to Kensington Gardens to have a kick around, or perhaps just to sit in the shade of a tree to have a quiet read. One summer I got through Le Carre’s Russia House. One of his longer works. Not his best. I needed the quiet to get through that. I could see the palace from my spot under the tree. I never did have the urge to check it out. It all looked a little bit…well, meh.
Kensington Palace looks more stately home than traditional palace. It’s not even the most impressive stately home I’ve ever seen. But Mrs P and I have pretty much run out of palaces and castles in the London area. So we paid up and plodded in. Given the history of the palace, and it’s notable residents (Will and Kate today, Lady Di previously) we were convinced that we’d find the interior to be more…palatial. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
The interior. It has its moments. But it is, I’m sorry to say, largely ‘meh’. The most disappointing palace we’ve visited yet, on these shores or beyond. The Russia House seemed like hard work under the shade of that tree in the gardens. With hindsight, I can now appreciate it was the easier option. You really have to try to be impressed by Kensington Palace. There’s some photos below. The full set, as ever, are on Flickr.