The problem with having guilty secrets is that sooner or later they will be uncovered and so rather than suffer the inevitable shame and vilification of exposure; I now admit that I am in the grip of an irrational and obsessive addiction.
The sad degeneration of the BBC from trusted broadcaster to a crude, clumsy and corrupt broken propaganda record is only partly assuaged by the non-news output of Radio Four. Even as BBC news editors attempt to make the politically outrageous palatable, commissioning editors at Radio Four are successful in making the mundane interesting and allow even an aging bone-head like me to learn something new every half hour or so. Sadly, the downside is an unhealthy dependency on Borsetshire and the need for a 12 and a half minute fix between the end of the 7 o`clock news and the start of Front Row. I might not know a lot, but I do know what`s going on at Brookfield Farm, Lower Loxley and the far-off and exotic Felpersham.
The addiction has become so virulent that when a letter from the National Farmers Union landed on the “Keep Calm and Go Away” welcome mat at Hippo Towers, my first befuddled thought turned to Brian Aldridge style manipulation of agribusiness and my attempts to fatten a rabbit ready for the pot. However, the letter was nothing to do with husbandry but was instead a gentle reminder from NFU Mutual that the car insurance was up for renewal. My habit is now so out of control that I have no recollection of ever insuring our little car with NFU Mutual but it looked official so I am happy to take their word it. Page two of the letter was more worrying. It seems that the farmers` friend has undertaken a revue of the risks involved in owning a motor vehicle in our particular post code and as a result the amount they wish us to pay has doubled. Yes…doubled, despite the fact that both elderly named drivers have committed no offence and have not been involved in any motoring accidents in the last 12 months and that the little car is less than two years old and displays very low millage. It could be due to my addiction problem, but I`m afraid I had a Lynda Snell moment.
After some quick internet research, I headed for the telephone. The upside of being on hold for ages waiting for a human being at NFU Mutual was that I could listen to More or Less on Radio Four debunking dubious statistics and dodgy data. Eventually connected, I asked for the evidence that proved post code WS1 was now a more risky place to own a car. The voice of NFU Mutual said that a variety of data had been analysed. I shared the good news that according the local police, car crime in Walsall is at the lowest level since Mr Royce met Mr Rolls all those years ago. Back on hold, More or Less on the radio was now pulling apart some ridiculous “research” undertaken by, and this is the spooky bit, NFU Mutual. It seems that a survey that concluded one in four people knew someone who was forced to sell their home to pay for private health care was as meaningful as a David Cameron sound bite. The voice returned to tell me that a variety of data had been analysed. Undeterred, I asked if the data covered the WS1 post code or the entire borough of Walsall.
Back on hold with More or Less reporting that the NFU Mutual “research” consisted of phoning “paid respondents” and was about as scientific as the statistics regarding bovine TB in badgers. The conclusion was that if a single tree falls in a forest and 10 people observed the event, then it is proof positive that between 10 and 100 trees fell in the forest. The voice of NFU Mutual returned to tell me that a variety of data had been analysed and surrounding post codes might or might not have been taken into account including (pause for dramatic triplet chords) “collisions”. I pointed out that surrounding post codes included the most congested and accident prone section of motorway in Western Europe where most “collisions” involve people than have never ventured off the M6 to visit the peaceful village of Walsall. Now clearly irritated, the voice of NFU Mutual reminded me that a variety of data had been analysed. I thought it might be best if I did not mention the death-trap Walsall Arboretum junction which any sensible insurer would consider the equivalent of smoking a cigarette in a bath of petrol.
Realising that I was getting nowhere, I decided to at least try and have some fun by throwing in a question from left field. I asked if NFU Mutual, with their vast experience with domesticated animals, offered pet insurance. The voice, happy to have the subject changed, answered “yes” with some enthusiasm and asked which pets I would like insured. I explained that Toby and Polly, my two pet badgers had recently produced some fine, healthy cubs and I was anxious to protect the family of brocks from a Trade Union that had the government in its pocket. Suggesting that the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 now offered little safety from men armed with shot guns and very little scientific evidence resulted in a long silence from the voice of NFU Mutual. I waited for her to say “err” before informing the farmers` friend that I would be employing an alternative insurer.
The little car is now insured with a company that caters for “the older, more careful driver”. The upside of this arrangement is that the company insist on saying everything twice over the phone for the sake of clarity and they have sent brochures for delightful Mediterranean cruises designed for people just like me. The policy also costs less than the original with NFU Mutual. They even have their own radio station offering undemanding light classical music and adverts for stair lifts and will writing services.
Now firmly into my dotage, I can continue with my unhealthy and disturbing obsession with Ruth Archer. I wonder what she looks like.