Services Technology

Mr Robot on Amazon Instant Video: Love it!

I’m usually a Netflix of a BBC iPlayer person. I have long been an Amazon Prime customer but it’s only recently that I’ve started to bother with the company’s Instant Video streaming service.

I really enjoyed watching ‘The Vikings’ on Amazon’s Instant Video service but because there’s not been a download function, I’ve used the service intermittently.

That changed when I bought an Amazon Fire TV. It’s now the third ‘box’ in our house — that is, the Sky+ satellite Pay TV box is probably still primary. Although it’s a close call between that and the Apple TV. We access Netflix through the Apple TV. And then the children use the Amazon Fire TV a lot.

Now and again I’ve had a look at some of the movies.

However when I got notification from Amazon that they’d added a download option for Instant Video, I changed my tune.

All of a sudden I felt the service was significantly improved: Offline viewing is sadly still a very, very important feature despite what the mobile networks would have us all believe.

I happened to flick up the Amazon Instant Video app when I was on the train to Scotland last week. I did a bit of work for half the journey then I decided to try it out. I’d downloaded a 90 second trailer of “Mr Robot” to watch.

This is a new series just released on Amazon produced by USA Networks. It follows “Elliot”, a cyber-security engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night, who gets recruited by a mysterious underground group to destroy the firm he is paid to protect. That’s what the blurb said.

I watched the trailer and thought, “You know what, that is rather good.”

So I hit “stream” on the first episode.

I happened to be in a main station on the way up to Scotland — Darlington I think it might have been, so the train wasn’t moving. I was astonished when the first episode began to stream… in what looked like high quality.

I was further astonished to be able to watch the first episode, end-to-end, without any gaps… ON THE TRAIN! I think Amazon must have built in a heck of a lot of compression and smart algorithms combined with their AWS heritage to get the data to the Three mobile network as fast as possible.

My signal was up and down like a YoYo as you’d expect on the way up to Scotland. Yet I ended up watching almost three episodes in quick succession — all of them streamed.

I’ve obviously now downloaded the rest ready for further viewing. I would like to recommend you take a look at Mr Robot if you’re a bit of a geek.

I’ve really appreciated the virtual realism that they’ve displayed. Everything I’ve seen in the episodes is a heck of a lot more relevant and real than any of the ‘Hollywood hacker’ scenes I’ve seen before in other movies and TV shows. It’s also got some good pace about it — a bit like the energy I saw in The Social Network.

If you haven’t checked out Mr Robot, have a look. And if you are a Prime customer and haven’t tried Amazon Instant Video can I recommend downloading the app and having a play?


The Timex IQ Chrono Timer: A quality timepiece

The last thing I was looking for was a real watch.

I haven’t worn a watch since I was in my late teens. I’m not exactly sure what happened to the one I used to wear at school. I think I left it at home when I went to University. By that point I had a crazily expensive mobile phone that boasted “a clock facility” as a key feature.

I didn’t look back.

I’m now 38. So about 20 years have passed since I walked through the hallowed Quadrangle of University College London, stared in awe at the wax figurine of the founder Jeremy Bentham (still on display) and began the rest of my life with a naked left wrist.

I’ve never worn a watch since then.

Until Apple.

Actually, strictly speaking, I started messing around with watches when the first generation of Android Wearables came out. The various models I tested never lasted that long and until the Apple Watch was delivered, I was resolutely free from a watch.

I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch more or less every single day since I got hold of one. If you ask me why (and I do ask myself this quite a lot) the ultimate answer is I like the alerts and I really like the fact it’s tracking my steps and fitness. I like to see those little fitness rings complete by the end of the day.

Then I had an email from a watch manufacturer asking if I’d like to try out one of their new range. Indeed, the email said, “Have a look, pick one, and we’ll send you one.”

Sounds good, so far?

Well, the challenge I had is committing to actually wearing something that wasn’t an Apple Watch.

I’m fine with that. Anything else, though? No. A real watch? And actual real one that does nothing but tell the time? I’m fine thanks.

That’s how I reacted initially.

And then I decided to try it out.

Have a look…


I selected what I reckoned was a distinctive looking timepiece (as they’re called in the trade).

I deliberately scoured the list of available styles and looked for something that I felt was a bit manly and that would match with a suit or a shirt.

Combined with the pinstripe suit and white shirt (with some Mont Blanc cufflinks) and the watch certainly looks distinctive. It fits.

So let’s get to the brand itself: Timex. The model you see above is the Timex IQ Chrono Timer and it retails for a recommended retail price of £159.99. 

It’s a thoroughly well known brand. I think my first digital watch was Timex. Yours, too, right?

I’ve got an affectionate place in my early memory for the brand, however, it’s not necessarily right there, front of mind, for me. Or it wasn’t.

Indeed, if I was going to buy a watch, I’d probably be thinking of something priced in the thousands.

I’m not sure why. I think it’s because that’s what some of my friends and colleagues do. I know a few good friends who absolutely obsess over their timepieces.

With this Timex IQ Chrono Timer, though, I’ve been really enjoying it.

From a feature standpoint, it’s waterproof to 100m. It’s got independent bi-directional motors and six dial hands! It also has an alarm function plus there’s also a 2 year guarantee.

I set myself an objective of wearing it for a week to give it a good enough innings, enough for me to evaluate how I felt — and, if I’m brutally honest, how everyone else reacted.

Before I knew it, I was into the second week of testing. Just, you know, just to be sure.

The third week passed and by then I realised I did very much enjoy the feel of the Timex on my wrist. I also liked looking at the ‘screen’ — or the face. I am particularly pleased I haven’t actually had to charge it. At all. I know that sounds very silly — but in the background I am continually thinking about available battery on all of my devices. So it’s rather refreshing not to have to worry about my watch.

Interesting. I just caught myself using the phrase, ‘my watch’. It’s been growing on my continually.

I do like the weight. It feels substantial on my wrist.

It has been bumping on things. I am purposefully trying to avoid this, but now and again, it does bump against things, especially when I’m trying to climb out of the tube during the commute, or rounding a corner in the office. Goodness knows what I’d do if it was a £10k watch I was accidentally bumping. Not only is the Timex very sturdy, it seems to be particularly impervious to the knocks and bumps I’ve exposed it to.

I really do react well to the cost.

The recommended retail price is £159.99. I found it on ShadeStation (first result via a generic Google Search for ‘Timex IQ Chrono Timer’) at £143.10 with free delivery.

At that price I am highly tempted to get a few.

The key test for me was how people reacted — in the office and out and about.

At first, no one noticed.

What I mean is this: If you see the watch peaking out of the shirt and suit as you do on the following photo, I don’t actually think you’d look twice — I think the watch looks super!


The rose gold combined with the blue face is a bold combination, but I don’t think it looks out of place. That is the key deliverable for me: The Timex fits into my work wardrobe effortlessly.

Similarly, when I’m dressed a little more casually, it sits nicely on the wrist.

I’m sure there are folk who can spot that it’s a Timex — but I can’t. I think the vast majority of us don’t really notice, beyond noting a ‘nice watch on the wrist’.

I did some surveying of my work colleagues after a few days and weeks. Some had certainly noticed the new watch.

When queried, everyone was under the impression I was sporting some kind of special watch. Some brand. Something substantial. Because I like my well made suits. So the Timex didn’t appear out of the ordinary.

I highlighted the brand to them and got a lot of surprised looks. Likewise friends and family have just assumed it was an expensive timepiece. It looks the part!

I reckon a selection of these Timex watches would be quite a useful addition to the wardrobe ensemble.

I just had a look on the Timex website and immediately spotted this one — it’s called The Waterbury Chronograph and is only £89!  (Or £81 on Shade Station)

I definitely like the idea of something like this for the weekend! I particularly like the aged strap.


And then I came across another one as I was flicking about the Timex website:


That’s the Timex Quartz Yacht Racer. I love the gizmos on this. I’ve no idea about sailing yachts but I reckon this one might look good on my wrist. Until, that is, someone says to me, “Oh, you’re a sailor?”. Yeah, not quite. This one’s a £199 RRP!

I like to have nice things. I like to have quality things — hence the name of this blog — and often, ‘nice’ and ‘quality’ can often mean a considerable cost. With this Timex range I’m impressed. It’s a good reminder — a good reset. You don’t need to fork out thousands to be delighted. I think two or three of these from the latest Timex range in the drawer with one on the wrist would be ideal.

Thank you to the team from Timex for getting in touch and suggesting I try the watch.

If you’ve any questions let me know in the comments.

Here’s the gallery of photos I took…


Where do you buy your shirts?

This is something that’s been exercising me for a little while. I have a hodge-podge of shirts from the likes of Hawkes & Curtis (stupid poor delivery fulfilment), Ede & Ravenscroft, Marks & Spencer, T.M. Lewin and so on. I also have a custom made one from A Suit That Fits. I’ll come on to that in a moment.
One of the problems I have with shirts is that if you’re wearing them often (I am), then the corners (or points) of the collar tend to get frayed pretty quickly. It’s not ideal as it can make an otherwise decent shirt look rather old.

I have been searching for the best quality shirt for work for some time. I don’t think I have a solution as yet, so I would very much welcome your suggestions.

Normally, my shirts are worn with ties – so it’s perfection in a ‘work shirt’ that I’m seeking at the moment. Although, when I’m dressed down, I like a normal shirt. I don’t like those massive big open collar styles. The oversized collar shirts remind me of 1980s pop stars making an almost-come-back in the 1990s.

Recently I had a just-in-time failure with shirts whilst traveling. I had some hotel-laundered shirts stored at the office in Edinburgh (I’m based in London) on account of the hotel failing to deliver the shirts to me same day as promised. They ended up (kindly, their fault!) sticking them in a taxi to the office reception. So I had planned to use those two shirts.

A top tip, by the way, if you’re staying in a hotel (or traveling regularly) is to get your shirts folded. Sometimes it’s the same cost, sometimes slightly more, however it makes life utterly simple and means the shirt is immediately usable and not scrunched up after travel.

My colleague had locked her pedestal and I couldn’t access the shirts. So I did what every right thinking businessman does in these situations: Went to the nearest Marks & Spencer.

The specialist shirt shops – of which there are a few in Edinburgh, I’m sure – will probably have been closed by 5pm. Or maybe 6. It was 615pm before my mind finally arrived at the shirt issue.

Fifteen minutes later I was strolling through one of Edinburgh’s biggest Marks & Spencers. They had a massive shirt section – which is always useful. I’m sure there’s some logic to how they have arrayed the various products on their shelves, but I couldn’t fathom it.

I really am not very good at shopping. I just don’t have the patience. I stood there imagining myself on the Star Trek Enterprise Holodeck.

The first issue would be to remove everything that didn’t have a yellow (16.5” collar) label. That’s the base demand given the standard at these types of stores is what-you-see-is-what’s-in-stock, typically.

“Computer, remove all shirts that are not double cuff,” was what I was saying to myself as I walked about hunting.

Then I was saying to myself, “Computer, show me all plain colour shirts, e.g. White, Blue, Pink.”

And then I wanted to examine the quality.

“Computer, display the results according to publicly accepted quality standards, highest to the right and indicate price demands on a RAG status.”

That would have been convenient.

Instead I had to riffle through the yellow label shirts. Everything from formal dress frilly shirts through to short-sleeve-with-a-pocket (arrgh) styles. It took about 10 minutes of arsing around before I found one.

One shirt!

I then decided to wander into the M&S ‘tailored’ section. I can’t remember what they called it. I think it was “Saville Row”.

I immediately located a £49.50 white shirt from that range that looked good. The cotton quality – to my untrained know-nothing eye – looked nice. I liked the firm collar. The buttons were nice. The double-cuff had a slight pattern. And it was 16.5 inch!

But, the shirt was covered in dust. It had obviously been left out for ages. These obviously nicer shirts didn’t come with a cover at all. So almost every shirt was covered in a small layer of dust. This is not what I wanted a) from a £49.50 purchase and b) from an immediate-wear point of view.

I hunted about again and found a wooden cupboard area containing some more shirts and selected two white ones.

I liked them. I felt good wearing the shirts.

So these M&S ones are currently my new favourite.

However. Let’s get back to the custom-made shirt from A Suit That Fits. It is rather good. I am pretty pleased with it. I was thinking of getting a job lot of them. It’s just a plain white one as I wanted to test the experience. It’s nice white material and I feel it does rival the quality of the M&S ones. It’s also got my monogram initials as that was an option and I thought it would be fun. I did my best at a Lord Vetinari (Discworld reference, for any fans reading) by asking for the monogram to be in white against the white cotton of the shirt. So it’s not that easy to make out.

(Discworld fans: You recall Lord Vetinari travels in a black coach which bears his coat of arms. A black sable shield. Love it.)

I haven’t ordered a load of the custom ones because, from memory, they were £60-70 each which, although I do like the bespoke fit, I don’t think I like it enough to pay such a premium.

I did a Google the other day for ‘Bespoke shirt’ and came across a site called It caught my eye what appears to be a reasonably priced custom-made shirt for about £49. I’m thinking about trying this service out.

Have you got any recommendations?


Gaucho: My favourite Steak restaurant in London

Screenshot 2015-06-12 18.43.56


I’m quite a fan of the Gaucho chain of steak restaurants. I really do enjoy the premium experience they strive to deliver. Their focus is on Argentinian food (steak, of course) and superb South American wines. 

There’s quite a range of steak houses nowadays arrayed across London. I’ve tried most of them. Hawksmoor, Miller & Carter, Goodman… I’ve had great experiences.

I do like returning to Gaucho, though. I think it’s the focus on service and consistency that really appeals. Most restaurants aim to try and meet your expectations, but there’s clearly a bit of work going on at Gaucho as I feel they’ve stepped up this approach way more than others.

They keep notes about you. I love this. If you’re a regular customer, they keep a record of the wines you’ve tried and the things you tend to like.

I’ve often been with one of my friends and we routinely ask the waitress to check what we had last time. Sometimes we’ll stick with that — the memory of that particular bottle still fresh — other times we’ll use that information to try something completely different.

The process at Gaucho starts like this… (and, I should point out I’m modelling this based on the 1 Bell Inn Yard “Gaucho City” restaurant supervised by Trisha, but it’s the same in the others across the city.)

First, you arrive into the restaurant. I always get there early. My favourite Gaucho is an empty one. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of atmosphere, however I quite like eating earlier in the evening so I can get home at a reasonable time! 

Walking down the stairs (Bell Inn Yard is underground) you usually catch sight of someone waiting in reception. They’ll immediately welcome you and offer to help you unload your coats, bags, umbrellas and all that jazz. They’ll check your reservation. I’m usually the chap who does the booking (via Opentable) so they’ll find me and then they’ll tell me if the other people in my party have arrived. Often they have and I’ll then meet them or wait for them by the bar.

I’m usually served at the bar within 15-30 seconds which is absolutely ideal. 

Then, when we’re ready to eat — often we’ll go and sit down at a table right-away rather than hanging around — a simple nod and a word to the barman or any passing staff and folk start talking into invisible microphones and within seconds you are ushered to a table. 

I then like the fact that the waitress/waiter then introduces themselves almost immediately. We’re old hats at the experience so if the waitress is new (they have surprisingly low turnover at Gaucho from my experience) we’ll head straight to the meat board.

This is an old tradition and a key part of the Gaucho experience. Other steak restaurants — particularly the larger more mainstream chains do their best at this section, but routinely screw it all up. Here’s how Gaucho does it: The waitress will have greeted you, sorted you out with any immediate drinks and then will soon return to the table with a massive wooden board containing about 6 different raw steaks. 

With your leave the waitress will introduce each steak in some detail, answering questions and making recommendations based on the interaction from the table. They know their stuff. I usually have a Fillet but now and again I’ll change it up so it’s useful to get this regular briefing. 

The next stage is usually the bread bowl. Sometimes that comes before the meat, because it’s delivered by the support waitress staff. That’s right: At Gaucho you’re assigned a key account manager in the form of the waitress and they are supported by a team of glass wranglers, plate removers and so on. 

My friends tend to really like the little cheesy mini rolls they bring along with some normal and some flat bread. If it’s the usual waitress who has read our file, then we get a bread bowl full of these cheesy rolls. If it’s a new waitress then we usually request for the bread bowl to be returned chock full of the cheesy rolls. They are excellent.

Swiftly the waitress will be back to take the main order and then it’s time for the wine. I do like that stage because they are usually exceptionally well briefed. I’m not looking for people to have spent holidays with the owner of the vineyard. I just like it when they can accurately describe a particular bottle or help us hunt for a general type of (red, always) wine. 

As you might imagine, Gaucho, with it’s huge South American pedigree, is a super place to get a really nice Malbec. 

We often ask if they’ve got any bottles open so we can do a small taster to help make a buying decision. I like that they do this. I’m sure it’s an unofficial policy but it really, really helps, especially when we’re looking to spend a good amount of money on a bottle. 

The environment is lit in a very soothing manner. If anything, it’s actually rather dark in almost every Gaucho I’ve visited. There are usually South American cow hides on the chairs and the decor is infused with a smart, current Argentinian vibe. The quality is clear, though. They’ve invested in nice things. The restrooms are typically well managed. The other clientele varies from couples to friends to business meetings.

Most nights you’ll usually get a visit from one of the managers or senior staff. Sometimes they announce themselves but usually they pick a moment to politely ask if you’re enjoying your meal.

That’s the key: Picking your moment.

It’s a flipping arse if you can’t get the attention of the wait staff and at Gaucho they tend to have a good ratio of wait staff to diners. They also tend to hire experienced individuals who are capable of ‘reading’ the table to work out when to interrupt. Sometimes the customer needs to be interrupted — when you’re bringing their meal — but there’s a technique to observing the most opportune time to engage. 

I really appreciate a fine balance between assertive service level management and being left to get on with talking with my friend(s). They’re good at this at Gaucho… which is why I like the place so much.

I’d welcome your recommendations for good steak places in London! 

Hotels Travel

Premier Inn: Surprisingly good, I’m really enjoying staying with them

I have long been interested in the delivery of service in a hospitality environment — principally hotels. My interest was piqued when I started providing web consultancy to a hotel staff training company when I was a student. I remember being fascinated by some of the policies and procedures required to deliver top class service. Witness, for example, one hotel chain’s approach to total guest satisfaction: They give every team member a personal budget to fix anything. So if a customer complains of not having packed the right adapter for their Mac, you don’t smile pleasantly and respond with, “awwwh shucks!” No. You get out your hotel credit card and sort it with the concierge and then delight the guest 60 minutes later. 

I also do a lot of consultancy nowadays for the Connections Luxury portfolio of events. My role there is to provide perspective, insight and some demonstrable live examples of how technology is changing (and will change) the hospitality industry over the short and long term. I also do a lot of research and blogging for the portfolio. 

So I am regularly interacting with some of the world’s top luxury brands. It’s a fascinating experience. It’s equally nice being on the sharp end of this as a consumer — because I am required to travel to some of the best places! The last Connections Luxury was at the fabulous Conrad Algarve. The next one is at the Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi (with a dinner at the stunningly opulent Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi). 

I write these paragraphs first to give you some context as to how I would traditionally react to a no frills hotel experience. I’m a luxury fan. I don’t mind paying for seriously good service.

I do, however, have an affinty for expertly delivered expectation. 

If you can meet my expectations — every time, and without exception (or with minimal exceptions) — then I am likely to respond positively.

Which is where I am with Premier Inn.

I’ve been having to travel regularly for the main consulting work I’m doing at the moment, principally to Edinburgh and London. Although I can commute in and out of London, the workload often requires me to stay in London to work into the small hours. 

I’ve therefore been using the big corporate account to book hotels. When I’m traveling on behalf of the client, that’s fine, that’s expensed. In London, it’s my own choice though. 

I have historically had a great experience at the Montcalm in the Brewery on Chiswell Street next to Moorgate. However the place gets rather booked up, very quickly, so it’s quite difficult to plan. 

With the current contract I’ve shaken things up. I’ve been trying out Premier Inn. 

My previous defining experience with Premier Inn was staying for roughly £80 one night in Windsor with my wife — and both of us being absolutely frozen. Not a great start. It turns out, however, that this was a Travel Lodge. I just looked it up! This does highlight the dangers of incorrect brand association. 

So with this negative (and unfair!) experience informing my expectations, I clicked on “Premier Inn” and select “book” a few weeks ago and made sure to bring a sweatshirt in my bag to stay warm. 

The sweatshirt wasn’t needed. I was pleasantly surprised. The thing about Premier Inn is that in order to achieve the returns they inevitably demand, they have to get efficient. Which means they’ve given a lot of thought to the end-to-end experience.

First, the prices — they’re generically reasonable. Book way in advance and you can often get some wickedly good deals, even in London. Up in Scotland, I often find prices in the 70s and 80s (pounds per night) which is exceptionally reasonable for the service level they deliver.

You pay up front when you check-in (unless you’ve paid in advance). They assign you a keycard that’s slotted into a bit of card that usually contains a prompt for their £6.95 breakfast. Good thinking that! There’s a little white circle printed top right for them to write in your room number. 

Arriving into the room is an exercise in expectation delivery. First impressions are universally positive for me. I’m not expecting miracles at £80/night — so when I find the place tidy, clean and spotless, I breathe a sigh of relief again. 

I’m sure problems do occur, however the operations teams at Premier Inn are clearly doing a great job to try and minimise the opportunities for failure. 

For example, there’s no little soap to unwrap in the en suite. There’s no array of frustratingly small conditioners, body and hair shampoos. No. In fact there’s nothing by the sink apart from a push dispenser on the wall for some generic soap. Job done, thank you. You therefore have a choice — if you want lotions and potions, bring your own. If you want soap (yes) then press the dispenser. 

It’s the same deal in the shower/bath — if you bring your own, great. If you don’t bother (that’s me) then there’s some generic shampoo in the shower dispense. Ideal. 

There’s one ‘bath towel’, a mid-sized towel then a hand towel. They’re ‘good’. We’re not talking top quality Egyptian cotton. At least it doesn’t feel like it. They are, again, a bit generic. They are fine for the job. 

Perhaps the best feature of the Premier Inn experience is their Good Night Sleep Guarantee. That is, they’ll give you your money back if your sleep is interupted (by, I imagine, anything that’s under their direct control). This means they’ve given quite a lot of thought (either directly or subconsciously) to making sure the whole experience is geared toward this. For instance, the room front doors don’t close with a flipping great crash as many other hotel rooms do. 

The beds they’ve chosen are particularly comfortable. The bed clothing is geared for comfort. The light switches next to the bed are obvious (there’s no 5 minute hunt trying to switch all the lights off). There are two types of pillow provided. If you prefer slightly firmer, you can find those by the open wardrobe. There is a helpful little plastic sign placed on the left pillow to let you know. 

The air con/heating worked nicely and, I think I’m right in saying that all hotels offer independent room heating. At least the ones I’ve visited do. 

The shower experience, by the way, is universally positive. In my experience the water pressure is one notch below “Blow your head off” if you turn it all the way to 10. The shower controls are simple — on/off and temp. No messing around.

All of the Premier Inns that I have visited have had a “Thyme” restaurant and bar. This is one of the best features. The menu is excellent in the context of a large corporate doing its best to cater for all generic tastes. The food is, again in my experience, well prepared. I’m never expecting Haut Cuisine. At the same time I reckon the experience compares well to the likes of a TGI Fridays. Burgers, Hot Dogs, steaks, french fries, chicken-this, chicken-that. Pretty good quality. Perhaps not the healthiest choice in the evening, however if I’ve had a really busy day and eaten nothing, the prospect of a visit to Thyme is actually quite appealing. I’m sure you could order something other than a burger though 😉 

For the busier locations it’s actually worth booking a table because the restaurant is actually a genuine alternative to going out for most guests. 

Attached to Thyme is the Premier Inn bar — the Merlot is decent and quaffable. And I can get a big bottle of water to take to the room. Don’t underestimate just how important a nice selection of well executed food dishes along with a nice choice of drinks can be to your general wellbeing. 

When you combine all this into one experience, the summary for me is excellent. I’ve had my fair share of rubbish hotel experiences and I have to say the prospect of a stay in a Premier Inn is now a very positive highlight  in my schedule. 

I think the Premier Inn team has struck the right balance of efficiency, service and value.


Bought another Beko; this is becoming a habit!

It’s me again. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it?

I’m continuing my Beko habit.

The last time I wrote about Beko was when the tumble dryer stopped working and we needed a new one (Read: “The business of buying a tumble dryer“). We’d made an impulse purchase, a few years ago, of a ‘cheap’ Beko and that gave us almost three years of service before something stopped working. Should I bother getting a repairman out or just buy a new one? I bought a new one.

That new tumble dryer is continuing to work fine. I am hopeful that I’ll continue to get some good service from it. We’ve had it for 6 months now. I hope that writing that won’t then mean I’ll get a call from my wife to tell me it’s broken next week.

Anyway: We needed a new Freezer.

A family member gave us a new freestanding ‘tall’ freezer, about a year ago. It was years old. The model number didn’t even show up on the Beko website. But it was useful. We sat it in the garage and used it to store all the Donald Russell meat, bread and whatnot that we didn’t need in the main kitchen fridge/freezer.

We became used to the concept of a backup storage freezer.

And then it broke.

I tried changing the fuse. No dice.

I tried changing plug sockets. Nothing.

And that was me. That was it. This is the consumerist world in which we live in. It is uneconomical for me — I presumed — to go and find someone to fix it on my behalf. I didn’t even bother getting someone ‘out’ to try and fix it. Not after the various experiences I’ve had in the past whereby the whole process is tipped in favour of the supplier and where £49.99 call out fees seem nice and reasonable until the guy spends hours messing around (at £45/hour) trying to get something working to ‘save me the money’. Blah blah.

Oh I also thought about insurance. But we were given the freezer. No proof of purchase. And besides, the excess fees… ah dear. Useful if you have to replace an engagement ring, but not a cheap freezer.

So on to, I went.

Screenshot 2015-02-18 23.35.22I looked up Beko Freezer and found this one. It’s almost exactly the same as the old model in terms of dimensions. The old one is grey. This one is white. I think that’s the only key difference (apart from the years of age). Same amount of drawers, indeed the dimensions look almost exactly the same.

I thought for a few moments and hit the buy button. The AO process is so flipping smooth. I paid £14 for them to recycle the old freezer. I also paid an extra £9 for next day delivery.

And that was it.

Just like Amazon. The freezer arrived. I took it out of the box, briefly perused the manual, plugged it in, left it overnight and boom, it was freezing the next morning and ready to rock. I had so much confidence in the AO logistics system, I ordered a job lot of Donald Russell meat to arrive the following day and now the new freezer is fully stocked.

It’s not necessarily anything to look at. But at £245 (plus delivery and recycle fee) — I am content.

I am still bothered by the fact it is not a brand. It’s not a Miele.

I looked up the Miele upright freezer and at £1,438, it appears to be the most expensive you can buy from That is just about 6 times the cost of the Beko. SIX times (5.869 times, to be exact). The Miele looks a bit sexier inside. It’s a bit taller, too.

Am I missing anything in terms of quality? I don’t know.

I am currently content, though. Good job Beko.

I’ll update you if there’s a failure.

Chap Who Has Everything Home

Bought the best Aqualisa iLux Digital shower available; but it takes a week to get a service engineer! [Updated]

Screenshot 2014-12-15 22.19.32

A while ago my wife began talking about renovations. I nodded along. We bought our main place in the summer.

We’ve actually been living in it for a few years as we initially rented it — and, like the proverbial Victor Kiam catchphrase, we liked it so much, we bought it. Or, more accurately, we were able to buy it privately so it was a good opportunity.

The understanding was that once we completed, we’d set about fixing it up.

We set aside a good amount of cash.

I reminded my wife that she could do as she pleased in terms of decor. This is our operating model. I just specified one thing: I want the absolute best shower you can possibly buy.

When my wife mentioned that the plumber recommended a shower that came with it’s own remote control, I was sold.

I just said yes. That one.

Oh, I also specified, THE BIGGEST, too. I mean in terms of rainfall shower head.

So we’ve ended up with a massive 18” (I think) Aqualisa monstrosity. It’s brilliant. Utterly excellent. It comes with four programmable buttons along with the obligatory temperature and flow controls. The idea is that you get all the settings to your liking and then press-and-hold on one of the buttons (numbered 1-4). That then becomes your default setting. Hit number ‘1’ and boom, the shower activates to your precise specifications. In practice it needs maybe 5 seconds to get ready.

I love it.

The remote control takes things one step further. Yes. It’s exactly what you’re thinking. You can lie in bed, reach for the Aqualisa remote control and hit ‘1’. Boom. The shower turns on and sets itself to your requirements. And you’re STILL in bed. Come on!

The exact model we went for was the iLux Digital Shower.

I relished the opportunity of being able to hit ‘1’, and then lift myself out of bed and straight into the waiting heat.

I haven’t, however, managed to try out the remote control.

That’s because after three days of great showers, the unit just stopped working.

The plumber ‘looked at it’ and then declared he didn’t know what was wrong.

So my wife’s been on to Aqualisa. And they’re sending a guy out “next week”.

To be accurate, this was Wednesday (if memory serves) last week.

The support chappy is apparently due this Wednesday.

A seven day service level is rubbish.

Yes, this is a #firstworldproblem. Definitely.

But having blown the equivalent of a decent MacBook Pro, I am deeply unsatisfied.

To make matters worse (and, I’m looking at you, Aqualisa), I am reminded of this deep satisfaction every flipping morning when I SIT in the flipping bath and use the highly annoying shower-thing attached to the (new) bath.

To be fair, the pressure is excellent on the shower-thing.

I then shave in the double sink trying not to look at the dormant Aqualisa shower behind me.

I haven’t even had time to fill out the guarantee and I am already highly frustrated.

I suppose the annoyance is driven by the dearth of information about the failure. Nowadays I am accustomed to understanding what the problem is and how, possibly, I can fix it.

Is it unreasonable to expect a next day fix? Probably.

Two day? Potentially difficult.

But 7 flipping days?


Anyway, I love the shower.

But I have zero tolerance for stuff not working. And I have limited amounts of patience for the fix.

When the engineer arrives, I’m hoping he (or she) will identify a decent problem. It’s seriously annoying there isn’t some visible readout showing an error message like “please could you put in a new battery”.

I seriously — SERIOUSLY — hope that we don’t get lumbered with one of those “Oh, I’ll need to order the part,” situations.

I’ll keep you updated.

[Update: Thanks to the Aqualisa team on Twitter who were exceptionally responsive. I think next time I’ll go to them first. The Aqualisa engineer actually arrived the day after this post and was done in about 5 minutes. Apparently he just tweaked something and boom, it’s been working perfectly for weeks now.]


Buying buildings, contents and car insurance

Screenshot 2014-07-31 17.51.39

Over on my FinTech Warrior blog I’ve been writing about my experience with NatWest Private Insurance. Here’s a snippet and link:

I’ve used Direct Line for home and car insurance for quite a while. Years. In recent times we’ve upgraded to the Direct Line Select service on account of my wife liking the sound of it. I’ve found the service to be pretty prompt whenever I’ve called, mostly to deal with admin issues like changes of address.

I did feel a bit of a number, though. I definitely felt I was calling a call centre as opposed to being rendered a personal service.

So when my private banker — hello Rhonda — mentioned NatWest Private Insurance and thought it was worth a look. [Continue reading…]

I’d welcome any suggestions for insurance companies that you rate.


The business of buying a tumble dryer

Screenshot 2014-07-11 17.31.06

We needed a tumble dryer when we were renting a while ago back in 2011. Since we were living on a temporary basis we didn’t want to spend a lot of money or do much in the way of thinking regarding a tumble dryer. We just needed a fairly basic cheap one.

In the end we settled on a Beko model from Currys at £219.

Thanks to the wonders of gmail, I was able to query the original order for the date and price. We placed the order on the 6th of September 2011 and the machine was duly delivered on the 10th of September. Job done.

The dryer has served us faithfully and we brought it with us to our new place.

On the 9th of July — a few days ago — the machine developed a fault. It wouldn’t spin. The ‘dryer’ bit worked but not the tumbling.

This means that we had 2 years, 9 months and 29 days worth of tumble drying service for £219. And I should note that our boys are young so we’ve been giving the machine a good amount of use. Almost twice and sometimes four times daily.

Rounded down to the nearest whole week, we’ve had service for 147 weeks or about 1,033 days.

That equates to £1.49 a week in terms of the cost of the machine. (£219 divided by 147 weeks) Or 21 pence per day.

Not bad not bad.

The question I have been pondering is ‘what next’?

Is it time to grow up — that is — go and buy a more expensive brand from John Lewis and take out the company’s famous X years guarantee?

Well, I’m not so sure.

My parents always bought the best (i.e. Miele). So I was browsing John Lewis the other day and came across both a £600 and £1,499 option. To the totally untrained eye they don’t look that different from the bog standard Beko in terms of capabilities.

I was getting quite excited at the prospect of buying a decent tumble drying machine. A proper brand.

I was circling around the £600 Miele model (this one). I could extend the standard 2-year guarantee to 5-years for £140 from John Lewis.

That’s £740 and already I’m thinking that’s getting into MacBook Air territory (a useful barometer of value, I feel).

Let’s do some sums.

Presume that we can get 5 years uninterrupted service from the Miele. That’s 5 years x 52 = 260 weeks. This equates to £2.85 per week cost — almost double the price of the Beko. I recognise we’re not comparing precise like-for-like in terms of service duration. (Incidentally the Beko has an energy rating of B, the Miele is a C! And obviously I’m assuming both will use a similar amount of electricity.)

Am I better off just buying a new basic tumble dryer every time the old one fails? Yes. I think so.

I was browsing around hunting for someone to come and fix the existing Beko until I found some sample call-out charges. They were pretty shocking. Indeed I reckon a visit from an engineer would probably top out at about £75 once he’s come, discovered the problem with the motor (or whatever) and then come back and also charged us for the (I’m hoping, reasonable cost) for the parts.

That’s almost 40% of the cost of a new machine.

I could mess about with insurance, yes.

However I want things to be easy and simple. I don’t want complications and I especially don’t want to be exposed to traditional British ‘service’ — you know the kind of experience whereby through a whole lot of ‘not my fault, but’ situations you end up without a tumble dryer for 3.5 weeks.

That’s perhaps the biggest problem I’ve got with any sort of insurance or warranty extension. It’s all very well if the issue is fixed free of charge, but if the experience is unpredictable or poor and it takes days for an engineer to visit, I would be particularly annoyed as the boys’ clothes begin to pile up.

As it stands we had to suspend the clothing logistics for just over 24 hours.

Instead of buying from Currys (where we got the last dryer), I went straight to (Appliances Online) and ordered. I clicked straight through to their ‘best condenser dryer‘ page and coincidentally saw a Beko product featured. If you read my recent experience with on Mobile Industry Review you won’t be surprised when I just hit the buy button.

The next day at 11am, the Beko dryer arrived. It went into production within 30 minutes. Boom! Incidentally I paid an extra £9.99 to have AO take away and recycle the old Beko.

Now then: Is this the right thing to do? What is your electrical appliance policy? Am I missing out by not doing the John Lewis thing? How do you handle the unplanned downtime even if you’re covered?

I won’t be impressed if my now beloved £189 Beko conks out next month. Or next year. But on the basis that these things seem to be pretty well made (we also own a Beko fridge!) I am hopeful we’ll get at least 2-3 years without any exceptions.

I would very much welcome your perspective.


Stop buying wine from the supermarket

I used to waste a fair amount of money on buying wine at the various different supermarkets we frequent. I regularly spent way over £10 on bottles that ended up as “Vinegar+” or, at best, “Vinegar+++”. Now and again I’d read the little labels and buy a £20+ bottle.

Every time I was disappointed. I can’t actually think of anything I’ve bought from a supermarket that’s been really good.

So I’ve started buying mixed cases from the likes of:

  • The Wine Society
    Joining fee, but they have a wide variety of wines. I’m a particular fan of their red wine mixed cases. Once I then find a bottle that my wife and I like, we then order a case of it. But, crucially, I don’t think we’ve ever had a rubbish bottle from the Wine Society. Yes we’ve had types that aren’t to our particular taste, that’s fine, but they’ve always been fundamentally good — and even at rates of around £6-8 per bottle.
  • Laithwaites
    During this past Christmas I thought I’d give Laithwaites a go. I logged on and selected a few of their mixed red cases. We’re still going through them at the moment and again, I’m delighted to say I haven’t been frustrated by any of them — but we have found a few highlights that I think we’ll definitely re-order more of.
  • Gerrard Seel
    The boutique wine retailer I came across during a search for a particularly delicious Shiraz I had in Beijing. Gerrard have a good collection of basic mixed cases that we regularly stock up on.

I’m pleased to report good success with the above companies. However I’m keen to explore other possibilities too. So if you’ve any suggestions, please do drop me a note in the comments or by email (