Lucy Baring heads in to London and feels the cost of inflation.
‘You need to be more assertive,’ I am told by a friend to whom I am showing some seedlings that have arrived in the post. I say seedlings, but they’re pretty hard to see with the naked eye. ‘Send them back,’ she says. I won’t, because I’ve thrown away the packaging and, anyway, I’m not sure the poor plants could survive another journey. ‘I will,’ I nod.
The telephone rings. It is Zam, who is in Wales. He tells me that he climbed over a church wall this morning to do exercises — the B&B where he is staying doesn’t have a garden — but the churchyard wasn’t open because, as the sign said, the gates are locked until 8am ‘to prevent wild boar damaging the graves’. He says the verger was very surprised to find him and extremely nice about it. I’m rather impressed by what I consider to be racy — rebellious — behaviour.
I am mindful of this when I go to the optometrist the next day. It is the same shop where I was first prescribed contact lenses by the grandfather, then his son and now the son’s daughter. My loyalty is no doubt tied up with the fact that lenses changed my life. Although I prayed every night from about the age of four that I would have to wear glasses so I could look like my sister, I came to rue the day these prayers were answered and blamed ‘four eyes’ for my lack of friends. I got lenses aged nine, went to a new school, scruffed up my handwriting, climbed any wall, church or otherwise, that said Keep Out and things looked up socially — shallow, but true.
After having my eyeballs photographed and my peripheral vision measured, I went downstairs to be fitted for a breathtakingly expensive new pair of glasses. I don’t think I want to try varifocals, but, somehow, I am so pleased to be seen by the granddaughter of the man who changed my life that I feel it would be rude to say so. Later, I try to explain this to the seedling friend, to whom I also showed the blood blister I received at the hands of an over-zealous dental hygienist.
A few days later, I am in a smart part of London, where I visit a supplier for the Grange Festival shop. After an energetic encounter in which I discuss VAT and margins, but from which I emerge feeling both starving and dazed, I look for some lunch. I also realise I won’t have time to buy supper, so am pleased to find a shop that looks promising on all fronts.
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There is a choice of two salads and some marinated chicken. I buy enough to feed three people and a mini quiche to eat now. I hand over my bank card without taking in the amount I am being charged because I’m still thinking about commission and delivery dates. As I unlock the car, something clicks. Hang on, I think, was I just charged 64 quid for some salad, six chicken strips the size of my thumb and a quiche the size of a doorknob?
I realise the salesperson has made a mistake. I must be more assertive. I return to the shop. ‘I’m so sorry,’ I laugh apologetically. ‘I think you may have made a mistake with how much you just charged me.’
She looks up calmly. ‘Would you like to see the itemised bill?’ Yes please, I nod. I am trying to make her feel we are in this together, no blame attached — assertive, but not over assertive.
‘Oh yes,’ she says, ‘I’m sorry, I did make a mistake.’
Aha, I think, and smile broadly at this honest mistake.
‘I forgot to charge you for the quiche.’