Dear So and So, Mini, Littlest and Driving Instructors

I haven’t joined in with Dear So and So at Kats blog for a while, but felt compelled to today. Here are a few rants and musings from this week.



Dear Mini

When I ask you what you did at school that day, and you tell me “nothing” in that bored voice before asking if I have any sweets about my person, I expect you mean it was a mundane day. 
I do not expect to hear a day later via the newsletter that an Olympic  Hottie sportsman has visited, or there was a Bee Keeper and bees on display in the hall, or like yesterday there were flipping owls in the hall flying over everyone’s head for “educational” non Hogwarts reasons. 
“Nothing?” How are these “nothing?”


And please, be good at N’s party tomorrow. Social whirl being 5 girlie.
Love Mum


Dear Littlest

Being indoors with damp weather related asthma is not good cause to bite my sofa, my cushions, or worse still, me and your sister.


Especially when your sister is not at all happy with you after you fed the gerbils face paints and they both, within days, died. Mini has cried everyday for Dora.


 Behave you cretin.


Love you too
Mummy


PS- No its not impressing me that you figured your bedroom door gate out. Neither is getting in bed with your cold feet at 6am.


Dear Driving Instructor (or De-structor as we now call you)


Cheers for naffing up Elder’s driving test. Thanks so much for not telling him you could quite easily use your licence number to get him a much earlier driving test, so you could rip us off every week for two months. Thanks for stressing him out by turning up 15 minutes late before his test. And thanks for not telling him anything of importance regarding his test, thus ensuring that despite charging us well over £200 since February, he had not a hope in hell of passing. How you dared charge him £75 on top for the day of his test (thats for one hour by the way) is indicative of how much of a money grabber you are. May you lose your licence.


Lady still having to walk the kids to school in the rain and with a miserable other half


Dear Beanshoots


You taste yummy, but if I eat many more of you, I may end up turning into a bean shoot.
I miss chips.


Her on a pre-Britmums Diet


Dear Wii Fit


Please don’t mock me too hard when I dust you off this evening


Dear readers


Hey you guys, you still rock right. I am nominated in them there Brilliance in Blogging awards, for Lazy Girl Cooks, and for this little slice of the web at Sainsburys. I would like an iPad, even more so than when I was nominated in some other rubbish last year. The laptop is getting old. Its on Vista. There are needs people in my home. Anyway, while you’re at it, I’ve opened up The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Looking Good, where you will find no size zero skinny minnies, no stupidly expensive articles, no hot pants, and lots of budget buys. So feel free to come say h there too.


You know I love you
xoxo
OK yeah think I’ve watched too much Gossip Girl this week.

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The Great Train Robbery

This is a post that was brought to me for write up by my far busier middle sis-in-law, and on behalf of my lovely niece Jess.


My niece, Jess is on the cusp of exciting times. She’s at the UCAS form stage, ready to mark down where she wishes to spend the next umpteen years of her education, studying to be a Doctor.


Now, studying to be a Doctor in this day and age of fees and living expenses etc is not cheap. However, just getting round the country to even go and view these possible universities is a costly expense in itself.


Two days ago, Jess heard that one of her “possibles” for uni, Cardiff University, was having an open day so prospective students can go and see what the facilities are, meet some of the staff, the usual meet and greet thing. 


We all live in Maidenhead, Berkshire, which is, according to Google, 125 miles away along the M4.



Being that my sis-in-law is a busy person who works, and has my nephew at home too, and my bro-in-law is currently not well enough to make the journey by car, Jess decided to look up the train times for her journey.


This being the start of times when Jess wont have her Mum on her doorstep with her own personal taxi service (as she has now!), it was a great idea to get her more used to the independence that uni will bring her.


She hasn’t been to a uni tour before, so, to be sensible, she wanted an open ticket, to come back the same time but not be effected by peak and off peak services. 


Do you know how much First Great Western wanted to charge her? This is a young girl, staying within the UK, for a one day ticket, standard class, where she wasn’t even guaranteed a seat.


£178. 


*Picks self up from floor


What makes it laughable is, should Jess want to go off, like most teens seem to, to Malaga, in Spain a whole different country, with an open return ticket, it would cost just £81 to do so.


So, we can go hop on a plane to a different country, but to get two hours from where we live costs us £178?


That, to me, is ridiculous. Even if Jess had of booked in advance, the cheapest ticket available to her would have been £120. 


Suffice to say, Jess decided to give the Cardiff viewing a miss. Which is terrible, that a teenage girl who wants to go off and become a doctor is hit with cost after cost at every turn.


Surely, as with uni students, this sort of journey should be discounted as long as the prospective student can prove their journey? We are all moaned at to let the train take the strain and use public transport to stop our roads being congested, but is it any wonder most people will take their car instead? My Sis-in-law reckons the petrol to make that journey would be £20, so in comparison that seems the far better option.


This is an Olympic year- why not bring down prices and attract more travel and tourism too.


The only Great Train Robbery I can see is the companies driving up prices and students, like Jess, missing out.


Know any other shocking fares? Let me know!

Luxury travel: Shopping & Coffee in Madrid*


If you like shopping, and you like Madrid, then you’re in for a treat. I’ve discovered a Madrid travel map they’ve just published, which their ‘Style Hunters’ made after visiting the city recently!

Boticca.com’s a unique fashion platformthat people from all over the world who make unique jewelryandfashion accessories can showcase and sell their work on. Your classic online marketplace – but really chic.

Boticca’s bespoke Madrid shopping map


Not just anyone can get on there and sell their stuff, either. They employ Style Hunters who actually travel the world (best… job… EVER) and source unique collections and meet the designers themselves!
So this is where the Madrid Map was born, apparently… And word on the street is that this is the first of a whole series of maps for different cities!
Just to accompany this excellent map here are some of the excellent cafes to visit while there. Coffee and shopping, with a little cake thrown in for you?Mm?
So, in no particular order, here were my top three:
1
  1.        Chocolateria San Ginés

 Pasadizo San Ginés, 5 (Metro stop: Sol or Opera)

It’s hot in Madrid… but not too hot for this café’s famous mud-thick hot chocolate!! Not to mention its melt-in-the-mouth churros (that’s twirly pieces of deep-fried batter dipped in chocolate to you and me)! My Spanish friend took me here at night when, according to her, I could see this place is at its very best. It. was. ace.

Just thought I’d convey to you just how yummy churros are! Mmmmm… 

  1.  Nuevo Café Barbieri

Calle Ave Maria, 45 (Metro stop: Lavapies)

This is in a cool spot – in Madrid’s international centre. And don’t be put off by its scruffiness, either… This is where the cool kids hang!
  1.  Cafe Commercial

Glorieta de Bilbao, 7 (Metro stop: Bilbao)

Having opened way back in the 1880s, Commercial is said to be Madrid’s oldest continuously operating café. And from what I can remember, it’s been in the hands of the same family ever since! And although it is pretty ancient, it’s got an upstairs Internet café – unless you just want to relax with a good old-fashioned book downstairs, in which case there are comfy seats galore.
So if you plan on trying out Boticca’s travel map for size, then give yourself a break in between with these lovely cafes – they’ve all got something really different and special to offer, and are the best of the ones I got taken to when I was over there last year.

British Gas- An Update

Last Monday, I posted about the rubbish time I’ve had as a British Gas customer, in the hope of drawing it to others attention as a warning, and to force them to get in touch with me.


Well, it did both.



I was contacted by quite a number of people, all of whom have had bad experiences at the hands of money grabbing, customer ignoring British Gas. One guy gave me some very sound advice. 


He previously ran a whole website dedicated to customer complaints against British Gas, and told me my story was identical to many other unsatisfied customers, all of whom have been tied up in unmanageable and unforeseen debt due to lax admin at British Gas headquarters. All of whom feel they have been “kidnapped” by British Gas so they don’t lose out on any more customers. Many of whom have been fed lies, half truths and then spoken to as if they are stupid or have just experienced utter rudeness. I’m also not the only customer told that they are being “penalised” or “fined” by British Gas either.


It doesn’t surprise me that others feel this way towards their gas and electric supplier, and it will continue whilst there seems to be no steps by government to act upon the companies failings. Surely a sensible option would be that the more customer complaints a company (not just British Gas) clocks up, the lower the bonuses should be for those in charge? At present, it very much feels as if energy companies and other public service providers are a law unto themselves, and can practically charge and treat customers how they wish.


British Gas finally got in touch via Twitter on Monday afternoon, and left a comment on the original post too. 


My original call in April, about 3 odd weeks ago now, had been marked for managerial follow up within 24 hours (or next working day, which would have been Monday). But despite this it wasn’t followed up. Same old story. If the company had of contacted me in December, when we had paid back the original amounts, to discuss lowering our amount (as promised when it was first set up), we wouldn’t have been in the situation we found ourselves in in February. We also would have been continuing to pay the £150 for the utilities that the complaints manager neglected to set up right. In the same way, if they had of sent out bills from May onwards when we moved in, we wouldn’t have been stuck with them due to paying back a debt.


  As it stands, and as I warned British Gas, despite paying the first new amount in March of £150, we have stopped paying due to the admin error, and wont pay again until the situation is rectified. I feel this turns their “held to ransom” customer service style on themselves.


I also spoke to my local Citizens Advice Bureau, and checked other forums for advice too. Yes, they can ask you to pay an amount. However, if they are at fault, as they are 100% in our case, they cannot force you to agree to an amount if you cannot or simply wont pay it. Why should we be out of pocket due to a catalogue of errors? The worst they can do is take us to court, at which point a Magistrate would be able to assess who was at fault and make a decision on how much you should pay back. In some cases, the CAB has told me, they can also quash amounts if fault is on the side of the energy company.


At no point have I tried to dodge my responsibility of paying for energy we have used. I’m also up to date enough with current goings on to know that a family of 2 adults and 2 children under 6 are going to have seen a rise in their energy bills.


I also know though that we have been treated in a way which befits deliberate non-payers, and I don’t think that’s right.


Back to Twitter and I received another reply via Private message that they needed my account numbers and name of bill payer before they could proceed, which is obviously pretty standard procedure. 


That was when it got back to the disinterested and unhelpful norm of British Gas, as they then refused to communicate via email (for my records), saying they could only deal with the issues over the telephone (God knows why), and they will only speak with my partner too. Who never deals with any form of bill or phone call and always leaves it to me. Not only is Elder deaf as a post in one ear, he tends to say “love” a lot to woman, who 9 times out of 10 whilst on the phone to telephone customer services teams will result in the phone call being disconnected. At one point, a woman told him he was being “offencive” by calling her love, so Elder gave her a list (prior to being cut off again) of what he could have called her which was more offencive. Hence I deal with phone calls.


After giving the phone number (reluctantly) on Tuesday, between then and this morning, we heard- you guessed it- nothing. No phone calls, no emails, no tweets, not a word. Again.


This morning, Elder received an email to his inbox, and I think this was due to the complaint we had left previous to my blog post. It was a standard reply, again saying they’d “look into” the issues involved, and they’d resolve the payment plan. So, now we are still waiting for the situation to be concluded.


In the meantime, we have signed up for online gas statements, and are shocked to find that, despite receiving a letter 2 weeks ago saying we owed £202, this has now increased to £371- we’ve had no meter readings, no “sorry you were out” cards through the door, no estimated bills arrive, nothing. So we are further baffled by this sharp increase in amount owed. Last month, the amount owed on our gas statement was £350, its now £555. Again, no meter readings, no bills, just a sharp increase. This will need to be explained in court, if it comes to that.


Can British Gas be trusted to charge fairly? On the strength of our prior experience, I say, it’s doubtful.

How British Gas Have Made Me Lose the Will to Heat My Home.

Like pretty much everyone in the UK, I’ve noticed that my gas and electric bills have soared higher than a Joan Rivers face lift over the last few years.


From having bills that totalled £100 a quarter, until recently we were paying, on a monthly payment scheme, £172 for both. Which was pretty crap, financially, but it’s either that or no heat or light. Or cooking. You get the idea.
The reason we were paying this way was due to British Gas making a cock up when we moved in back in May 2010. Our landlord’s brother lived in our house with his family, and paid his bills online, with the whole “paperless billing” scheme. 

When we moved in, we informed them of the change and asked for the bills to be sent via the post. We wanted to weigh up amounts then switch once we knew how much the gas and electric would cost in this house, as it has two boilers- one for gas, one for hot water. 

Then, what with moving in, and general day to day, not to mention settling  Mini into a new home, decorating, and Littlest becoming ill again, everything slipped our mind. In December 2010, we received a MASSIVE, and I mean truly massive, bill for both gas and electric, totalling over £1,000. Which, as you can imagine, there was no chance of us paying in one go, not right on the doorstep of Christmas anyway.

So, we liaised with their customer service team, but it took two phone calls before we spoke to anyone who was worthy of the “service” title. This became a bit of theme when dealing with them over the phone- 95% of the staff we’ve spoken to have been at best disinterested, and at worst, downright rude and on occasion have lied through their teeth as well. We didn’t want a pre-payment metre, as we’d had those before and found they con the life out of a person. So, we arranged to pay £150 per month for both. However, we were promised that, as soon as this debt was paid back, the amounts would drop. 

In May 2011, we happened to be walking through town one weekend and were stopped by E:On. They promised to lower our bills to under £100 per month, and sort out switching us over. We told them we were paying off a back payment, and they assured us it was fine- they would take on the debt for us, and we could pay it to them.

We then waited for the direct debit to be paid, which it was, and were happy that we had a more affordable monthly amount. Except it wasn’t that simple. 

In August 2011, British Gas rang Elder’s mobile and informed us we’d been removed from their payment scheme, and of course, Elder said he knew we had been as we were no longer British Gas customers. 

But despite letters to the contrary being sent by E:On, British Gas had left it from the beginning of May to the end of August to tell us we couldn’t move, and had been given a surcharge for non-payment. We argued that they should have contacted us sooner, but they didn’t care. We were now forced to pay even more per month, at £172.

We carried on paying and by, Christmas last year, with paying extra when we could, we’d wiped out the debts. Hooray, we thought. 

So, I emailed them and asked for the new amounts to be set. I was asked to send in new metre readings, but had to email back that I couldn’t as we didn’t have a key to open the meter box, its owned by them. 

When someone came out at the start of January, I assumed that was why.

Still, no amounts were sent out, so I emailed a further 3 times. Nothing.

By the end of January, we received- you’ve guessed it- a letter saying we’d been removed from the scheme again, and had 14 days to pay off over £400. The guy who came was reading the metre for an updated bill- which we never received.

So, I rang them. And spoke to the nastiest human being ever. He reduced me to tears he was so disparaging. He said we would be “fined” for the amount. That our monthly amount would be “significantly” increased as we were being “penalised” for being “too lazy to pay”. This came a week after British Gas admitted their wholesale gas price had dropped, so I mentioned this and was told I was “stupid” and that the price had “gone up again”. In the end, I put the phone down. 

I made a complaint, and , several weeks later, someone called and apologised, and we made arrangements for the new payment plan, which dropped by just £22 pound a month. As a gesture of goodwill, I was promised a £100 credit would be added to my gas account for December this year, and was placed on a lower tariff too (despite us previously being told we were on the lowest tariff). I was also told we’d been misled when we were originally assured the amounts would lower once the bill was paid off.

I duly started paying the new amounts, but by the end of March received threatening letters for my electricity account. So, again I rang their “helpline” (or hell line as I now call it). I spoke to a woman who I could barely understand as she muttered the whole time, and who, despite admitting my previous conversation with the complaints manager was on her screen, along with the amounts to be paid, he had “forgotten” to set it up correctly. Thus, “my error” (? Baffled as to how this clerical error on his part equates to my being at fault at all) would mean she would have to restart the scheme again. She told me we would start paying on the 21st April at a rate of £196. I asked if she meant for the gas account and electric which he hadn’t set up properly.

Nope.

This was for the electric alone. So, a clerical error meant me finding an extra £146 per month for the electric, on a bill of £202.

I got really angry, as you would, and told her she was having a laugh, there was no way I was being shafted due to a mistake made by someone else. She placed me on hold. On a mobile. So costing me even more. This went on for 5 minutes and she came back and said “can you pay £146?” No, I said, I won’t pay that amount. I told her I would only pay £50 as arranged. She again put me on hold, for ten minutes this time, and I imagine she nipped out for a fag then came back and told me the least that British Gas would take now, despite them being at fault, was £106 for the electric.

I told her there was no way that I was being shafted yet again by British Gas. So she fobbed me off, telling me she’d get someone managerial to speak with me within 24 hours. That was over 2 weeks back, and still no contact. Except we have now been threatened with disconnection, despite being up to date with the amount agreed in February with the complaints manager.

I am sick to death of it. To my mind, they forget to send bills, tie you up in debt, then force you to pay through the nose. And, remember, the whole time they say you owe them, you can’t switch to a cheaper provider. We are stuck. 

I am writing this in the hope that British Gas finally does it’s job and gets back to us, with a reasonable offer. 
I am sending this to their Twitter feed and anywhere else I can find, so feel free to add your grievances with them below. 

It’s about time Customers said enough is enough.