Thursday 16 April 2009

The great conditioner sting ... and the inevitable messy payback

14st 10lb, 3.0 units. This morning Mrs H asked me to run a handful of simple errands: taking her cat to the cattery and a load of junk to the tip (exercising particular care to ensure that I did not get those two commissions mixed up); buying some expensive conditioner for her from a ladies’ hairdresser; and interviewing the boss of a local cleaning company and signing us up for a weekly once-over, so long as it was not going to cost more than £30 per week, top whack. I managed to tick boxes one and two but failed dismally on task four, though I tried to wheedle my way around it by claiming that the fee I had agreed only exceeded Mrs H’s budget by £9.75, and omitting to mention that this excluded VAT. So slightly more than 50 per cent over my limit if we factor that in, true. But at least the house may look reasonably clean for an hour or two each week, which will be an undisputed step in the right direction.

On the other hand there was a bit of an offset on the conditioner front. I wandered into a totally deserted shop and stood around humming thoughtfully to myself for a bit, then coughing. After I had run through my full repertoire up to and including a terminal consumptive, I tried shouting “Hello!” at steadily increasing volume. Eventually a young woman who looked unlikely to be troubling the selectors for Mastermind wandered in from the rear of the premises and asked whether she could help. A question to which I always find it difficult to frame a civil answer. But somehow I managed to explain that I had been sent to buy a bottle of the very fine hair conditioner she had in the window. She looked baffled, so I went back to basics - this is a shop, do you see? You can tell because it has got bigger windows than one would expect in a house. No? Yes, I can see that your Auntie Renée might have bigger windows in her bungalow in Abersoch, to make the most of the panoramic coastal views, but let’s accept for the moment that this is in fact a shop, and the articles in the window are on display for the purpose of attracting passers-by? Then they – no, not all of them, but some of them – come in and attempt to buy the articles. It’s known as retailing.

She seemed to be dimly grasping the basic idea, but there was a snag: she did not know what price the bottles in the window were supposed to be. They had all been individually priced, but then the proprietrix had removed the tickets because she thought that looked “neater”. Great. The absent owner’s stand-in made a desultory search to see whether the shop contained anything in the nature of a price list, but quickly established that it did not. I feared that we had reached an impasse, until a light bulb almost visibly sprang into life above her head and she yelled for an even dimmer (but younger, blonder and prettier) colleague who proved also to be lurking in the back premises, and asked her how much the bottles of conditioner were.

After some thought, this second member of the Chester University Challenge team said “I fink they’re a tenner.” Which came as a pleasant surprise to me, as I had had a £20 note pressed into my hand by Mrs H this morning, and been warned that I would more than likely have to find a few extra pounds from my own resources to complete the purchase. What should I have done? The options that occurred to me were:

(a) saying “Oh no, that can’t be right, because my wife expected to pay more than double that”, thereby taking us back to square one;

(b) saying “Oh, in that case I’ll have all six of them, please”; or

(c) handing over a tenner, grabbing the thing and legging it before they changed what passed for their minds.

I went for option (c), reasoning that it was a reasonable compromise between the other two extremes. And, after all, they had freely entered into a verbal contract and I had paid the price requested. But then my assumptions about what constitutes fraud were seriously challenged as we listened to the news on the car radio on our way to Northumberland this evening, and digested the case of the couple who had found a winning lottery ticket on the floor of a Swindon shop and cashed it in, only to receive a suspended prison sentence for their cheek. I remain baffled as to how the individual who carelessly lost the winning ticket managed to prove that it really belonged to them.

I made two serious mistakes on the long journey home. First, I failed to hurl myself across her plate to prevent Mrs H from eating the substantial serving of chilli con carne that she decided she fancied when we stopped at the excellent Tebay services for supper; and, secondly, I chose the up-and-down and winding route home along the Military Road and then cross-country through Cambo and Rothbury. We were less than two miles from my house when Mrs H suddenly roused herself from her post-prandial slumber and made a noise that she later claimed to have been an attempt to shout “Stop the car!” Immediately after which she was copiously sick over the passenger door: inside, outside and – most annoyingly of all – down the slot into which the window had been retracted. Somehow I think this is going to require more than an in-car air freshener to sort out.

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