‘Time to begin your adventure with Mr Benn!’ said the letter that came through my door, in a big loopy red font, beneath a picture of a smiling, waving, bowler-hatted Mr Benn.
And this would have been fine had I been a five-year-old whose mother had sent off for a box-set of classic Mr Benn, or tickets to Mr Benn World of Adventures.
As it was, I stared at the letter trying to work out how this could be my new horse insurance policy. Quite aside from it mistakenly addressing me as if I was a toddler, what had the 1970s children’s TV character to do with horses?
I couldn’t work it out. But there was Mr Benn on the top right-hand corner of my policy documents. And the letter began ‘Hello Ms Melissa Kite and Darcy.’ Yeah, Darcy can’t read. So probably best to just talk to me — you know, the human being who’s paying the bill?
I have been with this company for the best part of 20 years. When I first started using them, they were called Equine and Livestock. In recent years, I noticed they were Entertainment and Leisure.
On closer inspection of the latest ‘documents’, I find I am now dealing with the Insurance Emporium, whose mascot is Mr Benn — for reasons I find baffling to the point of thinking maybe I should cancel right now because these people are coming over as completely barmy.
As it was, I opened the documents and read them through, finding a crucial error. Having spent a good half an hour on the phone sorting the policy out, the main thrust of it should have been accurate. But they had ballsed up the sum I had tried to insure the thoroughbred for, getting it confused with what I paid for her.
As she was a yearling when I acquired her, that was not very much. She is worth considerably more now. So I had to ring them to sort that out.
With a deep sense of dread, I dialled the number and listened to the recorded voice making overblown promises about the kind of service I was about to encounter. This voice did sound a lot like a children’s entertainer, and put me in mind of a man called Brian the Clown who used to do my birthday parties when I was an infant.
‘Hullo! And welcome to the Insurance Emporium!’ For Happy Meals press one? Not quite. What he said was: ‘Choose from the following options and a friendly member of our staff will be able to help you!’
But when a real person came on the line she wasn’t friendly at all, nor was she remotely bothered about anything I was trying to explain. I sorted out the wrong details very much by demanding she listen to me and pull her finger out.
Right at the end, I said: ‘Can I just ask, what’s with Mr Benn?’ There was a long silence before she replied: ‘To be honest, I don’t even know who Mr Benn is.’ I asked her how old she was and she said: ‘Twenty-seven.’ ‘Well, I’m old enough to remember Mr Benn. And I can assure you he has nothing to do with horse insurance, nor could he be construed as being particularly linked with animals, aside from the odd lion when he puts on a circus costume. You see, he dresses up in a magic fancy-dress shop and goes out of a door and he’s in the world that his costume relates to…’
Silence. ‘There was a catchphrase. As if by magic the shopkeeper appeared…’
Silence. ‘You’ve got it here, in your letter. Second par… As if by magic all you need to know about your choices can be found in your shiny new policy schedule…’
That wasn’t the worst of it, by the way. The letter went on to say: ‘Life is a playground and while the games you choose to play may change over time, we’ll be here for you for good!’
I wanted to tell her: ‘I find that quite insulting. Life is no playground. Who told you it was? Horses are no joke either. I worry about them night and day. I don’t sleep for fretting they might injure themselves in the freak way horses have a knack for. I want my insurance to be serious. It’s not funny, I tell you!’ In fact, I wanted to scream down the phone: ‘Why are you trying to make out life is fun? Any fun, such as may take place, is entirely incidental!’
But there was no point arguing. It seems unlikely that she or anyone else at the Mr Benn Magic Fancy Dress Horse Insurance Emporium knows or cares much about why they are using Mr Benn to flog horse insurance.