What’s Mark Cliff doing with his evenings? Who’s the weirdest collector in Britain? The Insider is searching for answers ...

You have to wonder if Norwich Union knows what it’s letting itself in for.

The insurer has launched a contest to find the UK’s “most weird and wonderful collections”. Apparently, the best “closet collectors” (read “potential weirdos”) will star in a short online movie celebrating their eccentricity. Yikes. So far, it’s nothing worse than grandmothers collecting sugar packets but, with a £500 prize for five winners, who knows what will come out of the woodwork? Glance through the entries – or, heaven forbid, enter yourself – at happysback.com.

So, Mark, where have you been?

You make an effort. You work hard, and you network four nights a week for five years. Eventually you carve out a niche. You know you’re good at what you do and you suspect the market appreciates it too. Then, as your reputation is at an all-time high, you’re offered the managing director’s job at a leading insurer. But what happens next?

Mark Cliff of Fortis has been noticeable by his absence from the “scene” of late. The rumour is that his CV is pinging round the City again. Is that it, or is he working through the night planning a management buy-out with Barry Smith?

Give me a call, Mark, and tell me which it is ...

Super bowl

As wildcat protests swept the country last week, my friends at Insurance Times were involved in another form of strike action – at the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes in central London.

The event was the annual Ace Insurance bowling evening. I’m told the tenpin terriers from the magazine – along with their team-mate Pat “Kingpin” Drinian, Ace’s distribution director – destroyed the opposition. It seems friends, enemies and even rival publishing houses were crushed. As one over-excited senior member of the editorial team told me: “Bring it on.”

The kids are all right

Apparently, we’re bringing up our children all wrong. Tell that to the parents of Palm Beach. News reaches me that a group of local rich kids have strung toilet paper around the trees outside Bernie Madoff’s plush holiday home – and their parents approve of the prank.

Toilet papering is a popular youthful stunt in those parts, but the kids rang a local newspaper to claim they had targeted Madoff because they had lost their trust funds in his alleged scam – and Mother and Dad thought it was a splendid idea.

You have to admire their pluck. My son’s trust fund didn’t get anywhere near Madoff, but I doubt even an eviction notice could prise him off the sofa.

Sharpshooters

If only the banks had been as smart as the boys at Hiscox, maybe our economy wouldn’t be in such a mess. I hear that before the financial crisis, a few banker-type spivs visited the insurer’s London office trying to flog financial products and promising “massive returns”. Unconvinced, the boys at Hiscox showed those characters the exit.

My old pal Robert Hiscox was scathing about bankers in a recent interview with this magazine – and he’s handy with a rifle. In the same conversation, he said hunting down animals was “probably the greatest pleasure I can think of”.

I would recommend that snake-oil salesmen give the Hiscox headquarters a wide berth in future.

Off the track

If I wanted to inhale carcinogens, I’d dip into my Montecristo collection. I wouldn’t go to a British Car Auctions showroom. One of my reporter friends didn’t have that option, however, and was dispatched to the mecca that is Bedford’s industrial area to spend a day with ETWB – which gives total loss valuations to insurers. I’m told some hair-raising sums were spent on bangers. There’s one born every minute, so they say. IT