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The Columnist
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British Gas & th AA
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  Diary of a Windfarmer
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From british Gas to all Members of the AA

Dear AA Member,
         You may have heard on the news that the AA was being taken over by the owners of British Gas, and you may have thought to yourself, Hello, hello, hello, what the bloody hell’s going on here?
         Excuse me (you probably felt like asking), but where exactly’s the link between a car that’s conked out on the M25 and some TV chef turning up the gas under his crème caramel?
         Where does getting a car kick started on a frosty morning fit in with an invisible gas which comes through underground pipes and cooks lunch for the family?
         What on earth are gas people going to know about things like perished fuel pipes?
         Good question.
         And there is a good answer too!
         Because, when you think about it, who is more likely to know about perished fuel pipes than a gas company!
         Yes, keeping a car going and supplying gas have a great deal in common.
         A car is powered by the ignition of a small quantity of gas.
         And a mixed grill is cooked in exactly the same way!
         There’s nothing that we at British Gas don’t know about what a little gas explosion can do!
         So you can trust us with your car.
         And trust our knowledge of roads, too, because we’ve dug up more roads than you’ve had hot dinners  (prepared with the aid of clean, easy, high-speed British Gas !)
         And that means that now that the AA has been taken over by a company that really knows its gas, we can relay instantly to you our up-to-date news about holes in the road!
         Yes, our new Gas Dig Instant Update News Service (or GNUS for short ) will enable you to avoid the build-ups caused by gas mains being dug up in a way that a car-centred organisation like the AA could never quite do in the old days.
         Also, we enclose a cheque for £240 to shut you up.
         Of course, you are quite at liberty to say, ‘That’s all very well, but isn’t it a shame the way more and more traditional firms are being swallowed up by faceless corporations? Only last week Tesco was being snapped up by Walmart or some faceless American monster, and now the AA is being swallowed up by the owners of British Gas, Centrica, whoever they are. Yes, who exactly is this firm Centrica?’
         That’s a very good question.
         It’s so good that instead of answering it, I’m going to draw your attention again to the cheque for £240 in this envelope.
         It’s what we call a windfall.
         What’s a windfall?
         Well, to put it another way, it’s a little present to keep you quiet and uncritical.
         All right, not a windfall. A sweetener.
         Because research has shown that when a shareholder gets a little hand-out, he or she will agree to anything in return.
         Of course, you are quite at liberty to say: ‘Hmm, I’m really pretty impressed by this cheque for £240 which has floated unexpectedly through the post to me, and all because I once joined the AA after a particularly nasty breakdown in the rain in North Wales, and I’m really glad that your knowledge of the gas business is going to be brought to bear on car repairs, and the best way to drive through France, and I just wondered if it would be possible to pay my gas and electricity bills as well, next time I called out an AA man?’
         Yes, you certainly can! From now on, any AA man will be empowered to take payment for gas and electricity bills, and he will also be trained to do basic repairs to gas-fired central heating and gas boilers.
         No doubt you’re thinking to yourself that this is too good to be true, and that there’s bound to be a catch.
         Well, yes, there is.
         The real reason that we are buying the AA is that the AA has the power to put up yellow signs all over the place, saying Road Black Ahead and Diversion Ahead and Traffic Rerouted Ahead.
         When people see these signs, they always follow the diversion peacefully without ever blaming the AA.
         However, if the gas people introduce a diversion when a gas main is dug up, we always get all kinds of flak.
         Not any more.
         From now on, we shelter behind the yellow signs of the AA.
         Now you may well say to yourself, ‘Hmm, there must be more to it than that, still, they’ve sent me a sweetener for £240 so it would be a bit ungrateful to grumble, and I’ll just keep quiet - in fact, you never know, it might also be worthwhile joining the RAC, because there might well be another sweetener on the way there ...’
         Attaboy. Good luck.

Yours sincerely,
British Gas.

The Independent Tuesday July 6 1999


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