SO I WAKE UP ON CHRISTMAS MORNING and the room feels decidedly chilly. After a quick check to make sure the radiators are switched on I venture downstairs to discover that the boiler isn’t working. Now considering we were having a houseful round for Christmas lunch this is not good timing!! Being the cautious sort I do have a maintenance contract, but more in hope than belief I phone British Gas (or whatever they’re called now) and explain my problem. ‘Don’t worry, sir, we’ll have someone round to you as soon as possible’. And by lunchtime the engineer had called, fitted a new thermocouple and Aunt Gladys and the rest of the family were able to enjoy their Christmas dinner in the tropical heat my wife insists is ‘pleasantly warm’. Not bad service for £180 a year.

AS I’VE SAID I AM A BELIEVER in maintenance contracts. Which doesn’t mean that I’m one of those people that keeps Dixons’ profits afloat through extended warranties, it’s more a case of assessing the likelihood of breakdown, the inconvenience caused by a breakdown, the likely timescale of getting the problem fixed and the probable cost of repair. As it happens, if you think about most modern appliances, they’ve become remarkably reliable. A friend of mine was telling me that the average age of TV repair engineers is now 62 – basically the things hardly ever go wrong and if they do it’s almost just as cheap to go out and buy a replacement, so who needs repair engineers anymore?

Unfortunately, the tendency for modern equipment to be cheaper and more reliable than the older models it replaces doesn’t seem to hold true for our industry. I don’t understand why petrol pumps, car washes and POS equipment should be so technologically prehistoric – perhaps there’s too little competition or consumer power to warrant the R&D to bring them into the 21st century – but what really hacks me off is that despite always buying the highest level of maintenance contract available, the time taken to get equipment repaired is appalling.

WHEN YOUR PAYING OVER £3,000 a year on a car wash contract why should you have to wait four or five days to get the machine fixed? And why should the person on the service desk assume that, just because oil company operated sites and the hypers tend to employ people who don’t know one end of a rollover from the other, when I do phone through a fault they can just dismiss the call with a ‘it’s because your machine’s frozen’ put-down. It’s about time our suppliers put their house in order. If the cost of genuinely providing good service is £4,000 and not £3,000 then fine. Come clean, tell us the facts and those of us who appreciate the cost of downtime can make the decision whether to spend the extra or not.

AND WHILE ON THE SUBJECT of unreliable suppliers, let me give another plug(?) for Alphyra. Over the Christmas period they disabled our terminal from accepting mobile top-ups. Phoning the help desk (0870 number, so not cheap) left me waiting in a queue. Thirty five minutes later the ‘your call is important to us and we will deal with you as soon as an operative comes available’ crap was replaced with ‘our offices are now closed, please phone back tomorrow!!’ It eventually took two days of phone calls before we were up and running again. Still, it’s not as if the Christmas period is a busy one for top-ups!!

AND FINALLY, along the lines of ‘just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water’ I was possibly one of the few people who didn’t lose money buying from Crazy Eddie, Deal Direct and Priceslasher. Luckily I got out in time. So the fact the people at ‘Our Price’ protest that they have nothing to do with Deal Direct, although their advertising is remarkably similar and they obviously have access to Deal Direct’s customer database, hasn’t blinded me to the possible dangers of trading with this establishment. I’m currently making good money from their DVDs, but, on previous experience, it’s unlikely to last forever.