No newts is bad news… and other thongs… er, things

Campaign groups, I learned last week, have taken to planting colonies of great crested newts (Triturus cristatus) on proposed development sites, in a bid to scupper the likes of Story Homes and Persimmon.

The diminutive newt, you see, has ‘the power to halt bulldozers in their muddy tracks’. Or so said Conservative peer Lord Borwick during a debate in the House of Lords on the shortage of affordable housing in Britain.

According to a report in The Telegraph, it is a ‘well known trick and the effect is to delay the construction of badly needed housing’. As we know, the demand for £250,000 to £480,000 homes amongst those who might qualify for affordable housing is great in Cockermouth, hence the development of a number of these at Strawberry How.

Yet, despite finding otters and nesting birds – also protected under European law – we were unable to achieve much more for Strawberry Swamp than a reprieve for that ghastly blue netting (which, by its eventual removal, we were mighty glad to see the back of, such an eye sore it had become. Point to you, Mr Story). Work carried on regardless, the protective arm of the law always seemingly just beyond our reach. So I doubt a colony of newts would’ve made much difference.

And given that the reported cost of rehousing the little blighters can be as much as £6700 per newt – considerably more than it cost me to move all my worldly goods from Manchester to Cumbria in two removal vans – it probably wouldn’t have been high on our to-do list. I suppose we could’ve had a whip round.

‘The danger is that newts can be and are transported to a controversial site by objectors in order to delay property developments which objectors dislike’, said Lord Borwick. ‘They look around a site and there are no newts, then they look again and there they are, surprise, surprise’.

Not unlike our own experience, when nests and otters reported categorically not to be present by the ecologists contracted to Story Homes, once pointed out and evidenced with photographs and video footage, were somewhat begrudgingly acknowledged. Except, in our case, the surprise was that they had been missed in the first place.

The good lord was ‘reluctant’ to identify specific examples ‘for fear of inviting further protests’. Oh please.

Great crested newts, nowhere to be seen at Strawberry Swamp © Mikelane45

The thing about thongs…

Amazing what you find yourself googling, while Kirsty and Phil fail once again to find a suitable house for someone even vaguely within their budget, or finding yourself temporarily out of lives on Candy Crush.

And all thanks to mountain rescue. I mean, who could possibly know? That tucked inside some Kansas cowboy’s pants, there’s a mountain rescue logo. Well, not quite the version you and I might expect to see toiling up the hillside, stretcher at the ready, but a version some might think the real thing. At a glance. Should they ever be glancing down a Kansas cowboy’s pants.

Somewhere along the way, in my work with mountain rescue (which is purely on the support front, I should add – although now I think about it, maybe that’s not the best use of words, given the topic), the monkey* that is ‘upholding the integrity of the national logo for England and Wales’ seems to have leapt squarely onto my shoulders and no amount of coaxing will encourage it to leave.

Not a week goes by without the sight of some recent variation of the official mark offending my creative sensibilities. The colours! The font! The kerning! Arghh!!!

I won’t bore you with the reasons why there are so many variations. The point is – as many brands will know – once any of those versions make it online, not only is it virtually impossible to shift them, they become ‘real’. And because they’re online, people seem to think you can just download them willy-nilly (oops). Free of charge. And do what the heck you like with them.

So there it was on the Cafe Press website, the thong in question, comprising a somewhat underwhelming triangle of white fabric, a blue and red quasi-mountain rescue logo neatly positioned up front and personal and a thongy bit (of course), at the back. No hunky cowboys available for photoshoots it would seem. Sadly. Everything is as I might have expected except that the word ‘Kansas’ runs horizontally across the centre. In the wrong font too. See, I can’t help myself.

It got me wondering how many other identities have been borrowed thus, in the pursuit of retail opportunity. I tried a few local names – you know, ‘Cockermouth’ (surely a cert), and ‘Allerdale’. The former spawned any number of mugs and T-shirts bearing clearly quite dated images of the castle, the latter suggested I might run to a 100-pack of fridge magnets bearing the legend ‘I <heart> my swingers group’ for just £153.50. At which point I decided enough was enough. God only knows what that might have done to my algorithm.

* ‘Who’s got the Monkey’ was originally published by the Harvard Business Review in November–December 1974 and has been one of the publication’s two best-selling reprints ever.

Vodafone. Round two

Speaking of brands – Vodafone! Just when I thought we were getting on so well, back they come for another go, with their Vodafone Employee Advantage scheme – one of the many benefits of getting married. (Or so I thought, until this week).

It was mid-August, you may recall, when I finally consigned my prehistoric iPhone to the bin, in favour of a brand new handset. New apps, new pink case, new tariff… and therein lies the problem.

The Gremlin (and now me, as his missus), already benefits from the scheme. All we had to do, they said, was show up at the shop, flash his and his employer’s proof of identity and I too would receive a 20% reduction in my tariff. Given that my intention had been to reduce my monthly outgoings, this was great. And, said the lady in the shop, the £8 insurance per month was included in that so, if at some time in the future I decided to cancel it, that too would be shaved from the total. Overall a sizeable reduction – in return for considerably more minutes, free usage abroad, more than enough web use for my modest requirements and ‘loss, theft and accidental damage’ cover. Bargain!

Except, when the first proper bill came through (actually the second, but the first was all adjustments for the mid-month swap and no discount, but the girl had said it might take a month for this to be applied, so I hadn’t worried unduly), Vodafone had not only increased my tariff by £2 a month but the insurance was added as an extra and there was still no sign of any discount. Cue call to 191. Would Karim weave his magic once again?

Not Karim, this time, but Maura, who explained (a little too rapidly for my uncomprehending brain), that the £2 was a ‘just a price increase’. You’re telling me, I said, that you can just arbitrarily increase my tariff whenever you like? ‘I’ll just put you on hold for a minute,’ she says.

Some moments later, Maura tells me that (as I’m such a loyal customer, for which read ‘gullible fool’), they will remove the £2 increase and pay me a £15 ‘goodwill gesture’ bonus. She will also put me on a higher tariff for the same price. But I don’t want a higher tariff. I barely scratch the surface of the one I have as it is. And what about the discount? ‘I’ll just put you on hold for a minute,’ she says.

Okay, she repeats on her return, I will remove the £2 increase and give you £15 as a goodwill bonus. And put you on a higher contract. Yes I get all that, I say, but what about the discount? ‘I’ll just put you on hold for a minute,’ she says, clearly now believing she is dealing with an imbecile.

You have to get that in the shop, she finally explains, we can’t add it here, a detail we thought we’d already covered when ‘the shop’ happily noted the Gremlin’s proof of ID at the point of purchase.

Clearly, I wasn’t going to get any further with Maura so – £2 a month and a £15 bonus in the bag – we bade our farewells but not before she’d passed on a link to a form with which we could register my phone on the Vodafone Employee Advantage scheme. This had to be from the employee’s company address, so now it was the Gremlin’s turn.

Hang on though, what’s this? This isn’t the scheme we signed up for. Not only has the discount been reduced to 15%, there’s now a £10 ‘membership’ fee. Oh, and you can only apply online within 30 days of starting the contract! And this new system started on 1 August, thirteen days before we walked into the Workington Vodafone shop and signed the contract – leaving me in a 24-month contract which costs me 20% more than my previous one, not the 20% less I signed up for.

Four days of email ping pong between the Gremlin and at least two Vodafone Employee Advantage representatives made it perfectly clear that as far as they were concerned, we’d got it wrong. The staff, we were told, are ‘well aware of the discount terms and conditions’. Not only that but the ‘benefit adviser’ of the eligible company should also be contacted before setting foot in the shop – another nugget of information strangely lacking at the time.

They did, however, agree to let me join the scheme (at the 15% discount plus £10 membership fee) despite it being outside their stipulated 30 day window. Which I did – no point in looking a gift horse in the mouth – but I’m still paying more than I’d budgeted for.

So thank you Vodafone. Thank you. Once again, your treatment of ‘loyal customers’ has been exemplary.






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