Tales of the City: Quote unquote...

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The Independent Culture
IT'S THAT time of the year when you get a series of urgent phone calls from people who are keen to save you money on car insurance. I've had three of them, all unsolicited, in the past week alone. One was from - well, I'd better not name them, but they're a high-street franchise where you go to get your tyres fixed.

A Scottish salesman from the company rang me at 9am and, in a smoothly unbroken delivery, promised to undercut whatever I was paying. He then asked about my driving record, my no claims bonus, my age, health, social status, date of birth, education, religion, marital status, nationality, gross take-home pay, net ditto, sporting achievements, political orientation, voting intentions - pretty well everything apart from collar size and first sexual experience.

Twenty minutes later, as we hit the bottom of the barrel ("What colour is your car? Is that metallic or vinyl?"), he proudly announced: "I'm happy to say, Mr Walsh, that we are able to offer you a year's insurance at a special rate of pounds 589."

There was a silence. "That's astronomical," I said. "It's far more than I pay now."

"Would you like to take advantage of this special offer?" the Aberdeen burr continued, unbothered.

"No, I would not," I said crossly. "It's wildly exorbitant. It's farcically too high."

"Now," said the voice, suavely: "Would you like me to quote you a special rate for your electricity bill?"

"Not much," I said, "if it's anything like the last quote."

"How about your gas bill?"

"Have you noticed that this conversation is doomed?" I asked. "Or do you think it's going really well?"

"I'm sorry I am unable to help you today," said the man, long-sufferingly, like a Good Samaritan whose roadside overtures had been rejected.

Where do insurance companies find people sufficiently thick-skinned to make these phone calls? Or are they part of an organisation devoted to psychological destabilisation, called Quote Me Unhappy?