There was a bit of a do at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole last Friday night. I stuck my head round the door and found the Insurance Times Awards in full swing. The great and the good were out in force (especially once I’d arrived), although Willis boss Joe Plumeri, one of two winners of the Industry Achiever Award, had to be streamed in via satellite. Well, it’s better than showing up in a helicopter, I suppose. The boys and girls from Norwich Union were on good form, especially after picking up the General Insurer of the Year Award. My pal George Berrie says it will be the last victory for Norwich Union, though. Drumroll, please, and prepare for punchline: “Cos next year it’ll be Aviva.” Obviously, I was tucked up by midnight (Mrs Insider wanted to hit the shops at 9am) but, for some, the evening lasted until the wee small hours. Those who weren’t shaking their stuff on the dance floor with the Insurance Times team were propping up the bar – and a motley crew they were too. As one still slightly traumatised insurer recalls: “I had a strange conversation with some bloke in which he expounded on the joys of male waxing and septuagenarian sex – amazing what gin can do to some people ...”

Tell us another one, Joe

Joe Plumeri didn’t make it to Birmingham, but he was the star turn at the annual Airmic dinner last Wednesday at the Royal Lancaster hotel near Hyde Park. His keynote speech was vintage Joe, packed with gags and a few bites from the Big Apple. OK, so he may have gone on for a smidge too long and he certainly milked his applause. But his theme was that we should all remain positive and proud during this financial crisis, because the insurance industry is holding firm around the world. Fine words. I wasn’t too sure about his assessment of the FSA, however. He suggested our beloved regulator was doing a good job compared to the nightmare scenario in the US, where each state is governed separately and inspections make the average FSA Arrow visit seem like a night clubbing with your mates. But Joe thinks the US will get a single federal regulator in the new year, so perhaps he has a point. He also quipped that upon hearing the banks were closing, President Bush had urged the people of America to instead use cash machines. Now that’s a funny guy.

Black and blue

I was at Twickers a couple of weeks ago with Audatex and a couple of guys from AXA and Allianz. Disappointed though we were to see our boys outclassed by the All Blacks, there was one moment of light relief. As part of the corporate entertainment, we were given “ref links” that enabled us to hear everything that was happening on the pitch through an earpiece connected to a microphone worn by the referee. This was working fantastically well until the England prop Phil Vickery needed treatment from the physio. The man with the magic sponge asked the Wasps player to look up, to which Vickery replied, clearly in some pain: “I am f****** looking up, you c***.” Really, Phil, do you go on A Question of Sport with that mouth?

Neil wants a new toy

Neil Utley cracks me up. Not because he owns the best set of boys’ toys in the market – he has his own Routemaster bus, race track and hovercraft, you know. But because he’s always working an angle. This time I hear he’s working with his friend Peter Cullum to conjure up the money to lead a management buy-out at Equity and Hastings. But he’s bought this business once before – nabbing it from Cox Group in 2005. He sold it to the Aussies of IAG last year and now he’s trying to buy it back. If he doesn’t get it, what’s he going to want next? A spaceship?