The Last Word

Issue 79

It was the result of Dominic Cummings' dubious lockdown drive to Barnard Castle which brought the historic Durham town into the limelight. Tourist numbers soared with cynics looking for Specsavers and buying eyetest postcards.

Now the dramatisation of The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe means it may be time for Seaton Carew to have its moment of fame. The exploits of John and Ann Darwin, his faked apparent suicide and the subsequent insurance fraud made riveting viewing. However locals spotted that the filming was on Hartlepool’s beach and headland rather than scenic Seaton Carew.

The owners of the Staincliffe Hotel are reportedly wishing to distance themselves from the notorious couple – and propose to rename the fine dining Darwin Room Restaurant as well as the Seaton Canoe Bar. Also no enthusiasm for canoeing skills weekends. Some welcome return to normality arrived with the resumption of Robbie Howard’s spring golf trip to North Berwick. We received a great welcome from Chris at The Open Arms in Dirleton after the two year break and I even managed some decent golf at Kilspindie and Longniddrey.

Preparation for the arrival of self-driving cars this summer has prompted changes to the Highway Code. The hope is that driverless cars will improve road safety bearing in mind that human error is a contributory factor in 88% of road accidents.

Of course drivers of these cars must follow the manufacturers’ stringent instructions and be able to retake full control at all times. In July the Highway Code will provide:

1. If the car is in self-drive mode you may not be liable if it crashes.

2. Drivers can watch films or TV behind the wheel.

3. You will still not be allowed to use a phone (risk of driver being distracted).

4. You must stay in the driving seat.

5. You must be sober.

6. You still need MOT, tax and insurance.

7. You may not be liable for speeding tickets if the fault is the car not the driver.

I hope self drive cars will display bright red warning lights on the roof so we can give them a very wide berth in case the non-drivers are engrossed in a Netflix boxed set.

It is to be welcomed that proposed new laws will criminalise fake online reviews. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimates that £23 billion a year of consumer spending is influenced by online reviews but leading retail and review websites such as Amazon and Trustpilot, hotels and restaurants are plagued by fake reviews.

Some businesses try to buy five-star Tripadvisor reviews. The new law will make it a crime to pay someone to write a false review and make it illegal to offer or advertise to submit, commission or facilitate fake reviews.

Understandably, Which? Magazine feel this will protect consumers and customers- but will people want to spend the extra time researching to get valid, objective, independent appraisals of services, products, facilities?

Trustpilot, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Tripadvisor claim that they already spend large amounts of time and money stopping and removing false reviews or identifying people trying to sell them. Quite a challenge in store for the marketing ‘industry’.

As $50 billion is wiped off the value of Netflix following its first drop in subscribers in 10 years, perhaps there is a lack of realism. The pandemic and lockdown contributed to vast growth but the freedom to get out of the house and the cost of living crisis will make many question where they are getting value for money. The plans by Netflix to ‘monetarise’ (meaning increase charges) existing customers and charge for sharing of subscriptions may fall foul of the golden goose principle. Introducing advertising breaks will not make the product more attractive.

And mention must be made of the sense of relief on Tyneside. From seven points and no wins by 30 November 2021, Newcastle United have won eight home matches and have reached the safety of 40 points and guaranteed Premiership football next season. Who knows Howe?

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