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December 2007 - I Don't Feel Well

Hello there, happy viewers.  So I trust we're all feeling cheerful, festive and really ready for the Christmas season?  No, funnily enough, I thought perhaps we weren't.

So have we all got stinking colds and are we all fed up to the back teeth with the traffic jams caused by the wheel falling off Santa's sleigh as it was being towed into the town centre for him to stand on whilst turning the bloomin' Christmas lights on in the middle of bloomin' November?

Yes, I think you've probably got the message already this month, haven't you madam?  The words "bah" and "humbug" come to mind, together with a string of expletives, far more suited to the more sleazy areas of the world wide spider's domain than to this lovely, family friendly area.

You know, folks, in the last few weeks, I've worked out why it is that huge teams of nurses get wheeled out by the NHS every autumn to stick needles in men's arms and fill them full of flu vaccine.

I always thought it was just a nice gesture, because I'm now old and frail and ought to be protected against such unpleasant illnesses.  It isn't though, is it madam?

It's just so that when us men complain about how bad we're feeling with our streaming colds, and we try to say that we feel as if we've got the flu, the female of the species can instantly put us down with the quick one-liner "You can't possibly have the flu, you've had the jab".

Well, sorry world, but I feel like I've got the flu.  It's probably a new and rare strain which this year's vaccine doesn't yet protect against.  And if you really want to put me down for saying that, then for goodness sake do it properly, with a shotgun!

And whatever happened to that old saying my Mum used to come out with in my youth?  The one about a cold lasting a week if you treat it, or seven days if you don't?

I'm sure I've had this one for the best part of a month; and all you regular Comment devotees out there will verify that Nick Harvey has never been known to exaggerate, won't you?

To modify a very old phrase, used by a Mr U of Wiltshire, on the radio of all places, many moons ago, I feel like a load of hits, or could that "s" be at the wrong end?

It's been a very bad month, you see.  It all started in the queue for the toll booths for the Second Severn Crossing, on a bright Friday morning about a month ago.  All was well with the world up to that point.

Then it hit us.  Quite literally.  Right in the tailgate of the rapid racer.  The individual in the huge four-by-four thing behind, had already stopped, but reckons his foot slipped off a pedal as he hunted in his pocket for change.

Why does the flamin' bridge toll have to be such a stupidly odd amount as 5.10 anyway?  Why didn't they just leave it at the round 5.00 and avoid all these pocket rummaging accidents which, surely, must occur with monotonous regularity?

Anyway, this was just the beginning of things getting bad, both for the day and for the month.  Having been proceeding down the M4 towards the tolls at precisely 0.1 miles per hour below the speed limit, we were, of course, in one of the outside lanes for the toll booths.

Imagine the fun, having handed over our five pound note and our ten pence piece to the man, and having asked where we could stop to exchange details, of having to get directly from our toll booth exit to the little parking area, over on the nearside, to the left of all the toll booth lanes.

Taking our lives in our hands driving, almost sideways-on to the traffic, across to the parking area, was akin to crossing any other part of the motorway on a skateboard, believe me.  Once people have paid their dues for crossing that bridge, they tend to accelerate away out of the tolls like they would at the start of a grand prix; and they're not exactly expecting somebody to be driving from right to left, straight across their path, as they do.

So anyway, we finally exchanged our details and continued on our way towards Aberystwyth.  Once off the motorway, a few moments were spent in a lay-by to telephone the insurance broker and pass over all the details of the incident.

Now, it should be noted at this point, that my insurance broker knows me quite well.  I've been with the same broker, if not the same insurers, for the best part of fifteen years, I think.  All I had to do at the top of the phone call was to give my name and clarify whether I was talking about my, or 'er indoors', car.

In the discussion, we rapidly agreed that there was absolutely no blame whatsoever on our part; so they decided not to risk any no claims discount by going through my insurance at all, and to throw the job at one of these no-win-no-fee companies, to deal with the four-by-four driver.

Those who I shall generally refer to as no-win-no-fee, actually appear to be a group of individual, but closely linked companies all under the same "group plc".  One company seems to sort out the legalities, one the claim, one the repairs, one the courtesy car, and so on and so forth, if I understand it all correctly.

Now, this particular Friday was going to be a busy day in any case and we were going to be out on the road for most of it, so my broker agreed to tell no-win-no-fee to ring me at home after seven that evening to get the rest of the details they might need.

Imagine, therefore, my unbridled enjoyment about ten minutes later, when no-win-no-fee rings me on the mobile as we're progressing up the dual carriageway bit of the A40 at 69.9 miles an hour again.

Before they'd even listen to me telling them to go forth and multiply till seven o'clock that night, they needed my full name, my postcode, the first line of my address, my date of birth and the vehicle registration number.  They wouldn't even speak to me long enough to be told to go away till they'd confirmed every single one of those details.

Right then, for those of you slightly confused mortals who might be wondering where we're heading in this month's exciting edition of Comment, we have just come to the crux of the matter, the real reason why I didn't need a cold, or even flu, on top of the rest of a mensis horribilis.

I shall now cut an extremely long story as short as I possibly can.

Suffice it to say that no-win-no-fee found it necessary to telephone me on a couple of dozen occasions over the three weeks or so which followed.  Most times, it has to be said, the calls were a complete waste of time and were simply repeats of previous calls, where one part of no-win-no-fee hadn't passed essential bits of information over to another part of no-win-no-fee and/or its subsidiary and/or its associated companies.

By the end of the saga, I'd completely lost count of how many times I'd told how many "agents" of no-win-no-fee that I wasn't aware of the names and addresses of any specific witnesses to the incident, but having been in said queue for said toll booths, we were directly under so many closed circuit television and number plate recognition cameras that there must be more electronic evidence of exactly what happened than Revenue and Customs could lose in the post on a wet Wednesday.

The really, really annoying part of this whole business, however, is that every single telephone call from every single "agent" was prefaced with the interminable requests for my name, my postcode, the first line of my address, my date of birth and the car registration number.

Most times, I got incredibly annoyed and just shouted the answers down the phone, one straight after another, without giving the "agent" at the other end time for breath.

I did, on one occasion, politely suggest that the repeated questioning was extremely tedious, and asked whether, if identifying the correct person they were talking to was so absolutely paramount in their organisation, then could the management be convinced to agree a password with the client during the first telephone call, so that was all that needed to be asked in all the subsequent ones.

The "agent" I was talking to on that particular occasion didn't appear to be very "special", so I think that idea went in one ear and straight out the other.  I certainly don't have much confidence that it was passed up the management chain as I specifically requested.

When I initially agreed with my broker not to claim on my own insurance and to use the no-win-no-fee service, I had really hoped that they'd turn out to be little angels, assisting and helping me in the hire of a replacement vehicle while mine was being repaired.

Well, I shan't be taking that option if I'm ever in the same position again.  It was really hard work dealing with no-win-no-fee.  I don't know if they realise it, but they really give the impression that they're going out of their way to make life as difficult for the client as they possibly can.

They really made me feel like the guilty party most of the time, with their attitude.  Especially their attitude to what they obviously thought was me being deliberately obstructive by failing to go round all the other cars in our queue, and both the adjacent queues, getting the full names and addresses of anyone who might, possibly, have been a witness.

At least if I claim on my insurance, my broker just gets on with it and deals with everything.  If he rings me for further details, "Hello, is that Nick?" is all I have to deal with at the top of the telephone call, and, most importantly, he doesn't keep on ringing over and over again to ask the same question about witness names and addresses.

I wonder what no-win-no-fee do with all this information they keep asking for anyway?  Certainly none of it seems to go in the direction of the firm they appoint to carry out the repair to your vehicle.

When I took it in to be fixed, I wasn't being awfully complimentary about no-win-no-fee, for some strange reason.  To be fair to the guy I was talking to at the repairers, he never criticised the hand that was giving him business for one moment, but it was pretty clear from his eyebrows that there had been little or no useful information flow from no-win-no-fee in his direction.

Oh yes, and just to finish everything off, the courtesy car from no-win-no-fee stank of cigar smoke.  I must remember to make a special note about that on their questionnaire that you have to complete at the end of the hire.  Now, which copy of that questionnaire shall I fill in?  Surprise, surprise, they sent me two copies, you see.

So I trust we're all feeling cheerful, festive and really ready for the Christmas season?  Well, I might be a tad closer, now I've got the rapid racer back from its repair and that little lot off my chest.

I just need to get everything else off my chest now.  No madam, I won't go into too much detail, or you'll complain that I'm being a typical "poorly man" again, won't you?  I'll pop up the chemist's in a minute or two, that's if flamin' Santa's traffic jam has cleared.  Bit of a let down, anyway, isn't it, wheels on a sleigh?

So, as 2007 slowly draws towards a close, it's time to wish each and every one of you a really jolly yuletide.  I hope you get everything you deserve from Santa, that's assuming that the three wheeled sleigh doesn't run into the back of somebody on the Severn Bridge before he can get to you.  Hey, anybody got Rudolph's exact address for this witness statement form?

Talking of getting what you deserve, I'll be back with more of this rubbish on January the first, so make sure you join me then.  Right, I'm off, where's me new rear bumper?

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