Insurance too expensive? Don’t drive.

Today, I refer to this news item on BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat page: http://news.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/hi/the_p_word/newsid_10000000/newsid_10001100/10001193.stm

So, the facts.  One in five young drivers are uninsured, according to yet another ‘recent survey’.  243,000 uninsured young motorists are littering our roads, if the figures are to be believed.

Frightening.  Not quite as frightening as some of the opinions expressed by these young people, however.

I initially heard this news story on the radio piece, during which two lads were interviewed on the subject.  ‘I know I should be insured,’ said one, ‘But it’s just too expensive.’  He went on, ‘I’m not that bothered because I know I’m a good driver and not a risk.’

Oh, is that right?  So when you come crashing into the back of my car because you were too busy texting Whitney about the bottle of White Lightning she owes you I’m supposed to be perfectly fine with the fact that you are completely and totally uncovered and unable to pay for my mangled bumper?  I see your logic, you pleb.

Another kid had the opportunity to interview the head of the Motor Insurer’s Bureau on the reasons behind his £2,000 per anum premium (has he ever heard of shopping around?).  His interviewee explained that he fell into the category of 1 in 5 people who are a serious risk to other drivers.  ‘But that means you’re charging four people over the odds,’ said Shane (or whatever his name was).

I needn’t embellish on the chap’s response to this, but let’s just say he had to briefly explain the law of averages and the fact there is no way on god’s earth an insurance company could tell which of those five people was going to crash.  Suffice to say, I very nearly ripped my teeth out in frustration.

If insurance is too expensive, I’m sorry, but you can’t drive.  10 years ago, when I first started driving, I could afford the insurance.  And trust me, it wasn’t much cheaper.  Nor am I a millionaire.  I’m just a realist who lives within his means.  That’s the problem with the younger generation, they’re used to getting their own way and the buy-now-pay-later culture born by this Labour government has sown its seed into the mind of every young thing walking the UK’s streets.

They want everything now and will not accept the true value of money or the things it is intended for.  Insurance companies aren’t out to rip everyone off, they simply have business models which take into account massive risk.  Think how many young drivers are insured by these companies and how often they have to pay out every time Kevin stacks his over-modified Corsa into a tree.

As I alluded to earlier, I do wonder if these bright young things have ever heard of ‘shopping around’ because it is possible to find a decent deal (although steer clear of the awfully confusing Confused.com).  Mind you, that’s probably too much effort, I suppose.

God, I’m getting old.

Don’t Get Hung Up On Grades

Today, we are treated to the familiar news that A Level results have yet again improved on prior years. According to news sources, the pass rate rose for the 27th year in a row, with more than one in four exam entries (26.7%) awarded an A grade – up from 25.9% last year.

Excellent stuff. But what about those who didn’t quite make the grade? Those that had their sights set on a particular university only to have their hopes dashed when three Fs popped through their front door?

I’m not a teacher, nor am I in any kind of academic position to offer what many would consider worthwhile advice. I have been in the very real world of work for over ten years , however, and something rather worrying occurred to me this morning.

On my way to work, as I tried desperately to shake off the early morning tiredness a new puppy affords, I half-listened to a piece on the radio about A Level results. This got me thinking.

I can’t remember what I got for my A Levels.

No, really. I can’t remember at all. I’d need to dig out my school records to confirm what is a very distant recollection. I have an appalling memory, in fairness. So appalling, in fact, that I’ve already forgotten the sentence that preceded this one. That said, surely I should be able to remember something as seminal as my A Levels?

As mentioned, I am now approaching the thirtieth year of my life and I am a director of a computer software company. My name sits at the bottom of the headed paper with one glaring omission: there is not a single letter after my surname. One of our directors has about twenty-seven acronyms and prehistoric symbols, but I don’t have anything. Just a desolate, white gap acting as a reminder that I didn’t attend university.

It wasn’t an easy decision but one I was pretty certain of throughout my time at upper school. I had no inclination to go, not least because I didn’t have a firm idea of what I wanted to do for a living. The obvious career route was something to do with computers, as I was fairly handy with them. The other was either sound engineering or studio work which always seemed like a bit of a pipe dream to a lad of 16.

There is no doubt in my mind that the latter would benefit from a formal qualification. If I’m honest, laziness got the better of me and I slipped into a network administration job after dabbling in the somewhat frustrating world of temp work. Looking back, if I’d really considered the other two options and pushed myself, I may be in a very different place now. That said, I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason and I can’t complain about the way my working life has progressed. Nor can I complain about my home life which simply wouldn’t have been possible if I was out gigging every night of the week.

So why am I bothering to tell you this? If you are still reading (congratulations and thank you) and have been given the bad news about your results, do not fret. I got where I am today with one thing: hard work and determination. Wait… that’s two. Never mind, I’ve already explained I’m not Einstein.

My advice: sit down and think if university is the right thing for you. It may not be. One thing all employers look for – my company included – is experience. You can’t get a qualification for that and aside from being a prerequisite of almost any ‘serious’ job, it is an essential tool you’ll call on every minute of your working life, far more than you will that lecture you think you possibly attended four years ago in the midst of a hazy hangover.

Many firms have been put off graduates after bad experiences. We had one a couple of years ago with a lad who spent the majority of his working day leaning back on his chair, boasting about how much he had spent on clothing the previous weekend. It later turned out that the spoon-fed little oik had spent pretty much his entire time under our employment searching for jobs in shops such as Burtons and Top Man. Since the day we gleefully handed him his notice, we have steered clear of graduates and focussed on people with experience and enthusiasm. And it has worked wonders.

If you’re not entirely sure what you want to do, take a few weeks out and then hit the job market. Do some temp jobs. They are frustrating but they help you see the working world. You’ll get a head start on the people who are attending university and who knows what might happen… I went from nearly sawing my hand off with a bread knife as a kitchen attendant to making important decisions in board meetings.

Speaking as someone who can’t even remember what grades he got, hopefully this will ease your worries. Grades are not everything in the real world and I can honestly say I’ve not had to refer back to the work I did in sixth form once in the last ten years. That might come as a bit of a shock to some, but it is an unavoidable truth.

Send in the clowns

Clowns.  Fucking scary.
Clowns. Fucking scary.

So there we sat, my sister and I on a warm August evening watching The Strangers.  And it felt oddly familiar.  Very familiar, in fact.

Several months ago I saw Vacancy which involved a hapless couple checking into a motel in the middle of nowhere.  On entering their room they discover lots of video tapes.  On viewing the tapes they find them to contain footage of people being killed in a motel room.  On further consideration than was necessary, they came to the conclusion that the motel room was in fact theirs.  Cue lots of cherry door knocking and a rediculous game of cat and mouse with some blokes in masks.

The Stangers is the exact same film.  Swap the motel for a suburban holiday home and the… well, no, actually, that’s the only thing that’s different.

Both films contain all the modern day horror movie trademarks: poorly executed attempts at making us jump (a face appearing at a window, a loud, shrill orchestral hit as one of the hapless duo bumps into… someone they know), an excrutiatingly frustrating tendancy for the main characters to keep running back into the building that leaves them trapped… you get the picture.

This got me thinking; it’s clear everyone has run out of ideas and I think there is only one real solution to this.  I must make my own horror movie.  And you know what?  It will be fucking scary.  Why?

Clowns.

Steven King dabbled with this back in 1990 with the film adaption of his novel, IT.  A scary film indeed, until the clown turned into a big spider and it all got a bit silly.

Clowns are inherently scary.  An invention blatantly created to scare children into obeying their superiors, their painted white faces and faux smiles are truly disturbing.  Throw a water-squirting flower and tricycle into the mix and you’ve got guaranteed pant-soiling material.

Getting back to my film, as we all know, the film business is about just that.  The cash.  The readies.  Moolah.  If you want to make a fast buck in this game, you’ve got to be canny and bust some balls*.

Therefore, there’ll be no special effects.  At all.  Just loads of clowns.  Face paint costs bugger all and it doesn’t matter who you cast as the clowns as all they have to do is mince about menacingly in the background and jump out of closets occasionally.  Anyone can do that.  Even Keanu Reeves.

There’ll be no music, either.  In fact, the only soundtrack will be the kind of tinny plinky plonky stuff you hear on Bournemouth Pier which itself is more scary than Rodrigo out of Big Brother.  This music will play just before a clown enters a scene, ensuring plenty of pre-clown-chaos tension.

No dialogue.  Writing a script takes time.  Time is money.  I’m confident I can fill two solid hours with pure circus-driven peril.  The only dialogue, if you can count screams and whimpers, will come when people spot the clowns.

I’ll get cracking.

*I’ve been watching a lot of The Sopranos recently.

So, we bought a dog.

Eddie Ellis
Eddie Ellis

The ‘new addition’ to our family perhaps wasn’t what my mother had hoped for, but on entering our newly dog-christened house, she instantly fell in love with the bundle of canine joy we had spent our hard earned on. Eddie, our new border terrier, has caused quite a stir.

What has struck me most about dog ownership? The seemingly endless pit of contrasting advice. “Get a crate, he’ll prefer it.” “Don’t get a crate, it’s cruel.” “Work from home.” “Don’t work from home, he’ll be fine as long as you visit at lunch.” “You really need a family life with kids.” “Who told you you need kids?” “Let him sleep in the bed with you.” “What idiot told you to let him sleep in your bed?”. Etcetera…

However, it’s the web that offers the most entertaining doggie dos and don’ts. What to do when you leave him at home for the first time? Buy an answer phone so you can ring and talk to him regularly. Of all the pieces of advice, that is quite possibly the most cruel. For starters, he’s got no chance of picking the phone up and will be subsequently plunged into a frightening world of confusion as the voice of his new owner echoes from the ether. At best, you’re simply doubling the amount of dog poo you’re going to have to clean up when you return.

So without further ado, I’d like to offer a couple of pieces of advice from our – admittedly short – period of dog ownership. Firstly, this crate business. Actually, let’s get it right; it’s a cage. While I understand dogs like enclosed spaces when they sleep as it makes them feel secure, locking them up in it for up to 4 hours is just plain nonsense and reserved for only those who place the wellbeing of their leather upholstery above the life of an innocent little creature. During the night and while we’re out, Eddie is safe and sound in our kitchen with a baby gate blocking the path into the dining and living rooms. He’s got plenty of space, has his bed to hand and, thanks to Radio 4 playing quietly in the background, should do pretty well out of it, intellectually speaking.

Secondly, bed time. As mentioned above, Eddie’s bedroom is our kitchen and I advise all puppy owners to adopt a similar method from the off. A couple of books we’ve read advise having them in your bedroom for the first couple of weeks, but they’ve got to get used to their own sleeping space sooner or later, so why not start as you mean to go on? It is pretty horrible hearing them whine and cry for the first few nights but, in our dog’s case, this soon ceased after ten or fifteen minutes, after which time we hear nothing until the morning.

Thirdly, enjoy it. Dogs are indeed a tie and during their younger months require an unnatural (for me, anyway) amount of attention and observation, both during play time and the inevitably fraught toilet training. However, nothing reminds us more of why we took the plunge than his face when we return from work. I can’t think of any other living creature that is so excited to see you, every time without fail, even if you’ve just popped to the shop for a newspaper.

They are an absolute joy to behold and, far from finding it a stressful experience, both my girlfriend and I have found Eddie to be not only a fantastic companion but a calming one to boot!

I may well blog differently when I return home tonight to a half-demolished kitchen…