Updated: May 4
I had been driving around the country in a silver Mondeo listening to Mark and Lard on Radio 1 for over a year now. The highlight of course was the 'Jim MacDonald' style Biggedy Biggedy Bong, so it was. Or the David Beckham style hello. Of course nowadays I am much more of a Radio 2 man. (Facepalm)
Trying to find properties using paper maps in those days was fun. 'Sat Nav' did not exist. The only way to find your way around was to plan your trip ahead, make for a landmark and then pretty much use the 'force' to end up where you wanted to be. Finding house numbers or names would be a particular challenge, especially at night in rural areas. Most delivery drivers get to know their areas, but as I would only visit a property once it could often take half an hour just to find the house once you were in the street!
Apparently, a drain only blocks about once every seven years. This is a stat that is often wheeled out by marketeers. No one really knows where it has come from (so if anyone does actually know, please get in touch!). As time went on insurance companies would get wise to this fact, and adjust their views on what should be covered by their policies and what shouldn't. What repairs were necessary and how 'serviceable' the drain was a big factor and the 'Drain Repair Book' was created to make sense of it all and spell it out to the contractors working for insurance companies. It is on its fourth edition now and still going strong. If you haven't got a copy of this and work in the industry I suggest you buy a copy now. It is linked above and on the picture.
Accidental Damage to Underground services. This is the section in most household policies that related to drains. I would get to know this quite well, and also the differences between the insurance companies' definitions. While working for Norwich Union I learnt a lot about what they were prepared to accept and what they were not. By now there were quite a few companies in the insurance marketplace. Many were building their businesses based on regular work from these channels. Including us.
We had a decent working relationship with all of them, ANSA were one of the leaders in those days and I always have positive memories of dealing with them. Hopefully they did with us too!
There were other names that I started to recognise on a regular basis for varying different reasons. Dyno-Rod, Metro Rod, Drain Doctor, Lanes for Drains, React-fast, and of course lots of independent contractors. What I was surprised about at the time was the varying degree of prices and scope of work. There was no consistency, and in some cases there were some horrendous prices that were just not justifiable.
In a lot of cases this was just contractors trying to earn a living, there was no regulation in the industry (still isn't, albeit its much better now) and they were doing what they thought was ok. However, there was also some pretty horrific stuff out there too, I remember visiting an old lady in her 80's who had been charged £6,000 for a basic unblock, this made me very sad. I just could not get my head around (and still cant) why someone would do this to such a vulnerable person. In this case we were lucky that the insurance company (Norwich Union) were very helpful to the lady and got most of her money back for her. A happy ending, but so many were not. The fact that this still goes on really hurts me and I know so many genuine people in the industry that are also so bothered about this and how it affects all of our reputations.
We must work together to rid the industry of these scum bags. The NADC and Drain Safe is a fantastic initiative putting some regulation, structure and sense around training, skill set, health and safety and professionalism where it is needed. A lot of the bigger companies are already leading the way in this and I was pleased to be part of that in my days at British Gas/Dyno-Rod. The industry has come a long way in the last 20 years but there is still much work to do. There are many people doing great work in this arena and I am honoured that my company can be part of that change and improvement in the industry that I love.
In July 2001 I had moved into my first house (with my then Fiancee). Before we had purchased the house I had of course carried out a CCTV of the drains! This identified a shared system with thankfully no issues. In those days you were responsible for shared systems and it was complicated, I will explain this in later blogs. Things were changing, I now had the responsibility of a mortgage! So my job was very important.
By September the world started to feel like a different place for many of us. Technology was still stuck in the 1990's and whilst my now archaic Gadmon CCTV camera had been replaced with a shiny new Mini-Cam with a reel and everything, the huge TV and VCR (thats a video cassette recorder kids), was so heavy that my arms had become like Mr Tickle. There were still no LCD TV's, so we had to carry around these ridiculous CRT things that were better suited to the lounge. It did record, but everything was in analogue and I remember having mountains of tapes everywhere. Many people will remember doing surveys on 'Wincan' in those days with tapes stacked up around them like a brick wall barely being able to see over them!
On Sept 11th I was on a weeks holiday. One of my wife's family was over from America and we had taken her out for the day in Brighton. We were sat on the beach when I heard someone talking about a plane crashing into the World Trade Centre. At the time we didn't really pay much attention I just thought it was probably a light aircraft. It was about 2pm and it wasn't until we got home at 5pm and put on the TV that we realised what had happened. Like everyone else, we were glued to the events all evening and we concerned how my wife's family member would be able to return to the USA. She actually couldn't for an extra 2 weeks. The horrific events of that day will stick in my mind forever, I think most people will remember exactly where they were, its strange that I have this picture, it was taken at 14:15 UK time which was 09:15 US time, exactly the time the events were unfolding. What is really hard to grasp is that my nieces are 28 years of age and they have no real memory of what happened that day, so it puts it into context that most people under 30 now have little recollection of it. The world has moved on but we must not forget.
By Christmas I had been joined in the company by an old familiar face, that guy who I had hit it off with on the first day at Norwich Union. Now I don't want to name him specifically, so have given him a pseudonym, for the stories purpose let's call him Warren James.
He came with a rich knowledge of insurance but quite frankly was a bit of a pussy when it came to getting down and dirty! I spent the first couple of weeks training him up on the road and after about 2 days on his own he had already got this camera stuck in a drain. I had to drive all the way to Guildford to help him get it out, lots of fairy liquid and jiggery pokery with rods and it was set free. This was to be the first of many times I would bail him out!
But Warren was a great guy, funny, charming and great with the customers and staff, he had a way with words and would go on to be an integral part of the company running the team of claims handlers in the office. But it was the 2001 Christmas party where he truly excelled.
The owner of the company had taken all us to swanky restaurant followed by a 'disco' at some place near Runcorn. Fair to say we had all had a fair few drinks. My wife was with us and Warrens plus one was in fact his sister (yes weird). The owner had been bragging all evening about his lovely (open to interpretation) Saville Row suit he had purchased especially for the event. It was expensive. It looked like David Beckham's cream suit when he married Posh.
I was standing enjoying a lovely glass of red wine chatting to my wife, the owner and another manager when Warren came over full of life and vigour. I sense he had been drinking too, and have since learnt that he cant handle more than 'Barcardi Breezer' without being wobbly on his feet. He sauntered up to the other manager and starts having a 'wrestle' with him. (We were all fans of WWF in the early 2000's of course).
So as 'Don't Stop Movin' by S Club 7 was belting out over the sound system Warren duly wrestled the other guy straight into me propelling my full glass of red wine straight over Saville Row mans super cream suit. He was covered from head to toe in red wine. I remember the look on his face as he skulked off to the toilet to try and remove the stains, coming back some time later looking like a massacre scene from Friday the 13th. He left soon after, I think the shame of walking round looking like Carrie had lost him all of his credibility.
Warren James continued to do well in the company despite what he did to the owner. He had a special charm that people could not help but warm to and still do. He knew his stuff and knew how insurance companies worked. This would serve him well in future years.
The party came to an end as did 2001 and we reflected on what had been a very interesting and eventful year. I had spent 20 mins on a roundabout in Runcorn reliving the red wine in glorious fashion whilst the coach circled waiting to pick me up again. They were good days, we had a great team, we enjoyed our jobs and we working in a great industry.
The best was still to come.
To be continued....