Monday, 18 August 2008

Not a Penny Less...

When saving a Penny costs dearly...

My trip to Scotland ended with a visit to Edinburgh's World Famous Fringe Festival. Every type of act performing in any kind of venue. Choosing a worthwhile show is a challenge but we finally pinned our comedy hopes on stand-up Stephen Grant. Reviewers mentioned his obsession with the efficiency of second class post – which definitely sounds like my kind of show. Stephen's routine recounting his own consumer adventures didn't disappoint.

Stephen Grant has spent the last couple of years taking his consumerist frustrations to levels even I wouldn't dare. He once inadvertently wrote a cheque payment for 1p less than the actual bill. Amazed by the tenacity and escalation of threats to collect the outstanding penny (bailiffs sent to collect goods to the value of...) Stephen concocted an elaborate experiment to see just how much money utility companies would spend to pursue a debt of 1p . Purely for comedic value you understand. He wrote all his bill payment cheques out for the full amount – less one penny. Much hilarity ensued as his essential utility providers failed to see the funny side of his comic genius.

Unfortunately for Stephen his comedy cheque capers ended in fiscal failure. When he went to the bank to apply for a mortgage he discovered to his horror that his credit score was in tatters. After a frenzied day dispatching numerous cheques for 1p – all sent by second class post 'I'm not stupid' he hoped his retarded reputation would be repaired. It wasn't. As the bank manager was at pains to point out, a credit score indicates not only wealth, but financial responsibility. While he may have the former, he had proved himself completely lacking in the latter. A lesson to us all when we fool with the Big Boys.

The Royal Mail was the subject of Stephen's second experiment. He'd noticed that there didn't seem to be any discernible difference between the speed of arrival for letters carrying first class stamps and those displaying second class stamps. So he mailed himself a series of letters to test his theory. In fact he discovered that the use of the correct post code had more impact on the speed of delivery than the money spent on the stamp.

Finally he decided to see what happened when he mailed letters without a postage stamp. Instead of payment he drew a little apology in the top left of the envelope declaring 'sorry no stamp'. On the back he wrote the senders address – which as his test involved sending letters to himself was the same as the address on the front of the envelope. The Royal Mail failed to see the funny side of his 'Sorry no stamp' plea and promptly returned the letter to the sender. Of course the brilliance of Stephen's ploy was that the sender's address was the same as the addressee.

While great sketch material, Stephen's thrifty postage tip may prove less than profitable in real life. In his act, Stephen boasts that this priceless postage advice is worth the ticket price alone. At £12 the trick has to successfully work almost three dozen times to recoup the admission price. Don't worry Stephen the show was worth the money – even just as a salutatory warning never to underwrite cheques to utility companies!

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