Tag Archives: money

Broadband Deals

Once you have learnt where the on switch is on a computer everybody asks you for advise on how to do things such as how to make a website that will bring in millions of pounds a day, how to use Microsoft Excel on Windows to print a Document that was written in an Arabic version of Quark Express on the Apple Mac, and how to take remote control of US Satellite Defense Systems. Another among such common questions is the matter of which UK broadband service provider to go with for personal use. I chose one fairly recently so I do have five suggestions here…

Firstly, I don’t believe in less than 4GB usage per month as being worth while, so prices I mention are for packages offering more than that.

1. PlusNET. £14.99/month + BT Line Rental
This service has a 4GB limit during peak hours (4pm-midnight) and no limits outside those hours. You are don’t even have to commit to a year but you have to pay a deferred activation fee when you leave which could be as much as £47. I’m with PlusNET, so if you join them by following this link you will save me a few pennies a month (only pennies).

2. Sky Broadband £20.00/month (£5.00 if you already subscribe to Sky) + BT Line rental
This is a great deal, you get almost unlimited use, you get Sky TV and you pay less than many other companies charge for broadband without the TV service. The actual package is £5.00/month for Sky subscribers and Sky subscription starts at £15.00 for which you can get all the best entertainment and documentary channels. (£20.00 activation fee)

3. NTL/Telewest. £17.99/month
If you don’t have a BT telephone line then cable is the way to go, it’s slower but its unlimited and cheaper than paying for a BT line and broadband on top of that. Cable only covers some of the country, availability is limited. Unfortunately “cable is not available in [my] area”, though it is on the other side of my street!

4. Talk Talk. £19.99/month
It’s almost unlimited and the price includes your BT line rental, you also get great deals on your phone calls. The catch… it’s an 18 month contract and you will be using Talk Talk instead of BT for all your phone related matters.

5. BT Broadband. £22.99/month + BT Line Rental
One of the things about broadband is that when something goes wrong you want it fixed, and the people who are best at getting things fixed when they go wrong, generally speaking, are BT. They are the more expensive option but they are reliable and they are in control of everything you are using, if you use BT and have a problem then it will never be a third party’s fault.

Best Freeware for Windows

Some of the very best “free” applications that run under Microsoft Windows, in order of how much I have used them:

Firefox – Popular web browser with useful enhancements
Thunderbird – Fully featured email client
AVG Anti-Virus (Free Edition) – Virus protection for home use
GIMP – Photo manipulation software that rivals expensive packages
MSN Messenger – Quick and easy communication with online friends
Ocean – Quickly search through the texts of all major religions
OpenOffice.org – Complete MS Word/Excel compatiable office suite
Americas Army – An advanced war game with real army training

Martins Volks Werks Ltd

Martins Volks Werks of North Farm Road, Tunbridge Wells, offer a very polite and friendly service, but their invoices can be almost three times their initial quote without warning or explanation either while they have your car or when you are querying the invoice.

If you are not in the Tunbridge Wells area then this will probably be of much less interest to you, but when my wife, Ladan, wanted a service and MOT for her VW Golf in Tunbridge Wells she initially wished to use the main VW Dealer, but as their quote was well over 200 pounds she was encouraged to hear from an employee at that dealership that other VW specialists may be of similar quality but cheaper, she was even given a couple of names. One of those names was Martin’s Volks Werks Ltd. Ladan called them and got a quote of “about 120 pounds” for a service and MOT on her vehicle. Ladan liked the sound of the man on the phone and chose them over a slightly lower quote elsewhere.

The job was done within one day and Ladan arranged to collect the car, the owner of the garage offered to pick her up half way between home and the garage using her serviced Golf. He was very friendly with her and chatty and said that he had even found a problem with the rear brakes which he had fixed free of charge. Ladan, expecting to pay there and then, asked how much the work had come to and she was told that an invoice would be put in the post and she should not worry because it had not come to much as the car was in very good condition. The car’s driver side wing mirror had been broken while in the garages possession and they replaced it with a smaller one as the specialist did not have the correct size for her car in stock.

I know that the motor trade has had a bad reputation in the past for trying to get extra money out of people, in general this is done by phoning the customer part way through a check-up or service to announce that something serious has been found wrong with the car and that it will cost several hundred pounds to fix. I say “in the past” because I have received excellent service and spot-on quotes from Brake Thru in Tunbridge Wells for many years now, and even Kwik Fit are now proving excellent at carrying out only the work that is needed and giving clear, VAT inclusive quotes, in advance (they later phone you and try to sell car insurance on the back of their good service). I was working from home on the day of Ladan’s service and Ladan had her mobile phone with her, we were relieved to receive no such calls from Martin’s Volks Werks. A few days later an invoice arrived, and ‘not much’ against a quote of “about 120 pounds” turned out to be over 300 pounds.

Having just got married and had an exotic honeymoon money was in short supply for us. Ladan visited them and asked what had gone wrong, the man she spoke to said that he did not understand why we had not received a call during the day before they proceeded with the extra work that added the extra costs and apologised for the error, but he said the invoice was correct and that they would split it into two invoices and allow her to pay it over a long period of time without any interest if she wished.

I analysed the invoices that we had been sent, beyond a service and an MOT the only additional cost I could see was a single wiper blade. We decided to write and ask them what they believed cost the additional sum over and above the quote, because everything on the invoice, apart from the actual figures, seemed in keeping with their earlier statement that the car was in good condition and had not required much work. As a show of good faith, which I am now unsure was justified, we sent them a cheque for about 200 pounds with this letter.

That letter was sent in August, the reply was received several months later and did not contain any justification for charges being nearly three times the quote other than, in addition to a wiper blade, the changing of a set of spark leads and an emissions test. Their letter also now claimed that, whilee they did acknowledge that they had no authorization to carry out the additional work (an emissions test and spark leads?), they had tried to call before proceeding with it – a claim which I, having sacrificed my lunch-time walk that day, knew to be false. I was slow in replying to this letter, Ladan had fallen into a coma several weeks before this letter came and I was not sure then whether her condition would be improve quickly or not. That said, I still face every day with the optimism that Ladan may make a substantial recovery during the course of it. Another couple of months on, Martins Volks Werks wrote again saying that if Ladan did not pay the remaining amount within 7 days then they would take legal action. I wrote back immediately informing them of Ladan’s condition and stating that while, if they wait for Ladan to recover she might have another opinion, I did not feel their reply had referred to any work that should not have been included in the original quote. I gave them my mobile phone number in case they wished to further try to settle the matter through me. Although I replied immediately it was still two weeks on from the date of their letter because most of my mail is being forwarded from Tunbridge Wells to Newcastle by a neighbour and there is therefore a delay in correspondence reaching me.

Martins Volks Werks did not, however, try to take any legal action, but nor did they try to contact me, instead they forwarded the matter to a debt collection agency called Network Debt Recovery who have persisted in sending threatening letters addressed to Ladan in spite of me contacting them several times and them assuring me that the matter would be put on hold. Included among the threats was a letter, sent after I had informed them of Ladan’s condition and location, threatening that somebody would come to visit Ladan and if she did not pay the requested amount (doubled by fees) before that visit then she would not be dealt with amicably, Network Debt Recovery’s staff were unable to tell me exactly what this threat had meant and the man I apparently needed to speak to in order to understand what this meant, a Mr. D. Steele, has never been available for me. Thankfully this threat was not carried out. I sought legal advise on whether I should pay or not and I was told to send a letter by recorded delivery to Network Debt Recovery explaining the whole situation, my advisors said that any reputable debt collection agency would drop the case but that in any case I should get back to the legal advisors with their reply. Network Debt Recovery ignored my letter and continue to send threatening letters addressed to Ladan, even though they are clearly fully aware that Ladan is in a comatose state and the letters only serve to cause me additional distress. All further attempts to contact Mr. D Steele by email and by phone have also been ignored. I may blog some more about Network Debt Recovery and their methods at a later date, if you have found this article and are receiving threats from them at the current time, especially if it is also over a claim that you have disputed, email me via jherbert@warble.com with “blog” in the subject.

For the record, Martins Volks Werks are fully aware of the kind of actions that Network Debt Recovery are taking on their behalf as they were copied in on my letter to NDR in which everything to that date was summarised. Asking what seemed like a simple question over how an invoice was triple the price they had led us to expect it would be has resulted in Martins Volks Werks taking actions, while aware of Ladan’s inability to act, for which they have added over 200 pounds worth of additioonal fees, this will make the matter difficult to settle even if they finally extend the courtesy of explaining what the original charges were actually for.

If you have any comments to make about Martins Volks Werks of Tunbridge Wells, good or bad, please do add them below.


Having spent so much time in a hospital over the last nine months I feel I must write a blog entry about Patientline. It’s probably more of a moan than a contribution to the wealth of useful news and information on the Internet.

Patientline is probably installed by most NHS Trusts as a solution to providing bedside entertainment and communication facilities such as TV, telephone and games, yet with inbound calls costing 39p or more to concerned friends and relatives, outbound calls costing at least 10p per minute and TV costing up to £108.50 per month it could be argued that while the facility exists it is not really available to those on low incomes, or even no income due to the very fact that they are in hospital. Once you have spent at least £147 on six weeks of television you become eligble to receive the service at half price, about £51 pounds a month, this is a fact that is not advertised but if you ask the operator for cheaper TV and you meet this criteria then they will arrange this for you.

Still, even £51 a month, or £1.70 per day as it is charged, is £10 more than Sky currently charge for their most expensive channel package, a package which offers all the latest movies and sports events. Patientline’s offering consists of 11 channels which are free through other providers (BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, ITV2, CH4, CH5, BBC News24, CBeebies, CNN and Extreme Sports) and 7 additional channels (Bravo, Cartoon Network, TCM, Trouble, UK Drama, UK Gold and UK Living). Some of the most popular channels, even free ones, available on other multichannel platforms are missing, such as BBC3, E4 and Sky1.

Having a daily rate for TV viewing makes sense when a large percentage of your patients are only going to be in hospital for a short stay, but the fact that each payment only lasts for 24 hours regardless of how much TV you watch makes the service an unviable solution for longer term patients or their visiting relatives, even if the only thing you want to do is keep up with a daily BBC or ITV soap for half an hour each weekday it will cost you £75/month. Where such high premiums are charged for the most basic of viewing I think it is unfair not to offer a better selection of content, either by including a wider range of popular channels or by including premium content such as movies and sport for what is, after all, a premium price. Better still, make the money last for a certain number of viewing hours, rather than a period of time from the moment of activation. Or, even better yet, offer a good selection of free UK channels for no fee whatsoever and then a good selection of premium channels for a premium fee.

At least 39p/minute off-peak and a minimum of 49p/minute peak rate for incoming calls is obviously designed to earn Patientline a lot of money, and when a relative is particularly concerned about somebody they may not listen properly to the warning about the call charges which last for about 50 seconds before you are connected to the patients room. What adds some extra frustrastion is that the service does not always work and the caller is cut off or put through to voicemail after 50 seconds. My Mum and Ladan’s Dad have both spent a fortune trying to call Ladan’s room when I have been here and the phone has been free and not set to go to answerphone but the Patientline service has kept failing to put them through after the recorded messages. Because there is nothing to indicate that the error is with Patientline callers will keep calling and giving more and more money to PatienLine without being able to speak to their loved ones. When such problems occur it is often possible to make a call via the operator by pressing 0 for operator assistance rather than entering the extension number for the room, on these occasions the operators are rarely apologetic for the inconvenience and expense that their system’s faults are causing. 50p/minute is overpriced even if the service will reliably do everything it is supposed to do, but its frequent failings make the high charge rediculous.

There is a payphone on most wards, ironically operated by Patientline, that allows patients to make outbound calls for as little as 30p for 15 minutes to UK land-line nunbers, so 10p/miniute for outgoing calls (with a minimum of 20p per call) is again very expensive, but not prohibitively so.

In reality, watching any amount of television with Patientline quickly becomes prohibitively expensive for those who are in hospital for a while, and incoming calls are so expensive that loved ones simply don’t call the bedside phone anywhere near as often as they would like nor do their calls last as long as they would wish. If Patientline could cut the cost of calling the bedside phone a reduced profit margin would probably mean increased profits as more people would feel comfortable using the service for inbound calls.

Patientline is a service with some merits, its headphones mean that people can watch tv in private without interrupting other patients and the phone facility means that you can get through to a patient (when its working) without having to call the main ward. The biggest problem is the pricing structure that makes it too expensive to use for a prolonged period of time.

Essential Pollution?

The rising cost of fuel in the UK

It’s happening again, fuel prices are steadily rising toward the point where they can cause serious and unexpected damage to personal financial planning. Four years ago the cost of commuting by car went up by £50 per month for me within a matter of weeks, this time I am working from home so I am not so directly affected, but what concerns me most as I see fuel prices rise again is that I am not convinced any lessons were learned four years ago.

It has been common practise for the government of the day to announce in its annual budget that the tax paid on fuel would rise by some small amount. Currently when I pay 83 pence for a litre of fuel about 61 pence of that goes to the government and the UK has one of the highest rates of tax on fuel in the developed world. Generally the Chancellor of the Exchequer uses the preservation of the environment as the excuse for raising taxes as an incentive for us to stop driving cars, but when lorry drivers blockaded fuel depots in 2000 there were no politicians praising the good this was doing to our environment, instead it was proven that much of the countries infrastructure relies upon fuel and that many who rely on it cannot simply switch to using public transport.

Of course, that blockade of fuel was not expected and therefore it caused more problems than a planned-for shortage would. What has always seemed silly about the environmental incentive argument for fuel tax is that the cost of fuel (and thus the tax paid on it) in large cities, particularly London, is substantially cheaper than it is in rural areas, yet public transport into and within these cities is very good while public transport in more rural areas is very poor. In south east England a commuter can easily commute any number of miles toward, or directly away from, London but travelling less than ten miles east or west can often require a car or an 80 mile train journey via London. So where the choice really exists to leave your car at home and jump on a train or a bus there is substantially less incentive to do so, while those who have no choice are hit with higher and higher living costs.

When the fuel protesters rolled up in 2000, however, and suggested that the government drop tax on fuel by just 2p per litre, the governments response was very revealing. The government informed us that losing 2 pence from fuel tax would require a public spending cut of over one billion pounds in an essential service such as education, health or the emergency services. What this information suggests about the UK’s reliance on fuel is that the government needs the public to buy fuel just as much as the public need it to operate their lives. Simple mathematics suggests that if just a few percent of UK drivers were in a position to stop using their cars completely for the sake of the environment then the government would be in that same predicament of lacking funds for essential services. So long as the UK government needs the tax from polluting fuels to fund the rest of the economy they are not going to have an incentive to make real improvements to public transport or offer powerful incentives to speed up the take-over of cheaper and cleaner fuels on our roads.

Back in 2000 there was talk of change from the government, a ten year plan had been introduced to improve transport throughout the UK, one suggestion in the plan was that Britain’s most congested roads might benefit from using tolls, but we were pomised that public transport would be greatly improved before this plan would be considered. Now, in 2004, the suggestion of tolls for congested roads is being considered again but without the promises of an improved public transport system. I worry for M25 users because this must be one of the most congested roads in Europe, nicknamed the M25 car-park by many regular users. One of the main reasons that the M25 is always so busy is the lack of alternative transport moving in a direction other than London, if there were such alternatives I think it is obvious many people would choose them over hovering between the break and the clutch in the bottom two gears for an hour. Most regular M25 users already suffer enough having to face the congestion nightmare twice every day, forcing them pay more for it just doesn’t seem fair and will likely make getting to work too expensive for some of them.

Obviously pollution is a problem that the people of the UK take very seriously, most people proudly switched to unleaded fuel as quickly as they could when it was introduced because they thought they were making a big difference. If the incentives and advertising were put in place to encourage drivers to convert to LPG (Gas) and it was sold at every fuel station then I am sure this would also be a popular move for most Britons. Even with cleaner fuels in place we still need to discourage non-essential travel that pollutes the environment, and some kind of toll charging may still be a good idea, but I would want it to be made conditional upon needs. If you can prove that your journey to work, or your actual work, or even your shopping trip or school run reasonably requires that you regularly use certain motorways then you should have free access to those sections of the road network, on the other hand if you are using your car for those purposes when there is a public transport alternative, or you are on a journey outside the part of the network that you require use of for your day to day life, then I think it fair that a charge would be made for occasional, luxury or liesure use of Britain’s motorways.

Ideally, of course, taxation needs to be re-thought so that tax taken from polluting transportation fuels that we should be trying to be rid of is only used to fund and improve transport and environmental projects and the funds required for our essential services are raised from other sources which we, as responsible and environmentally friendly citizens, would want to see available as a source of funds in the longer term.

UK Two Pound Coin

Standing on the shoulders of giants

For a long time I have had a web page about the origin of the inscription on the outer edge of the UK two pound coin “Standing on the shoulders of giants”, so I have recorded the most important information from that older page here before removing it.

The quote is generally attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, the famous physicist, mathematician and more, who wrote in a letter to his colleague Robert Hooke on 5th February 1676:

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”

The phrase is understood to mean that if he (Sir Isaac Newton) has been able to discover more about the universe than others then it was because he was working in the light of discoveries made by fellow scientists either in his own time or earlier. There is some suggestion that the phrase may have also had a sarcastic undertone as some historians report that Robert Hooke began to disagree with many of Newton’s theories and Hooke himself was reportedly of quite short height.

Whilst the exact phrase above is attributed to Sir Newton, the main idea to which it refers can be traced back many centuries earlier, at least to Bernard of Chartes who died around the year 1130. The following is attributed to him:

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more than they do, indeed even farther; but not because our sight is better than theirs or because we are taller than they. Our sight is enhanced because they raise us up and increase our stature by their enormous height”

My thanks to Alan Williams for leaving a note about the quote from Bernard of Chartes in my old guestbook.