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The price of things (November 2017)

Most of the words published on this Blog have been drafted on a Mac Book Pro which, all being well, will celebrate its fifth birthday early next year. It has had its troubles, mostly related to hard drives, documented in this piece from last year. In September the charger started playing up. The thin white cable running from the power block to the connection into the laptop had twisted, its outer casing had split and bare wires were exposed. I could still use it to charge the laptop, carefully arranging the cable so that it would deliver power, and not give me an electric shock, but it probably wouldn’t have passed a safety check. After using it a few times this way, and put off by the smell of burning (or was that just my imagination?), I took a familiar route to give it a temporary fix, wrapping the exposed wires in gaffer tape and twisting the cable into whatever position was needed for it to continue charging the computer. On the evening of 28 October (the Feast of St Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes) even this expedient was no longer effective. In addition to being as heavy as a brick my laptop had become about as useful as one.

Having bought the computer at a store in town I returned to the same place with my son the following day (a Sunday) to buy a new charger, figuring it should cost 20 pounds, but with Apple’s pricing policy would probably cost 40 or even 50. The polite girl who served me didn’t bat an eyelid when she told me the price: 80; Eighty Pounds Sterling for a regular computer charger. It’s not coated in gold dust, it doesn’t bear an autograph from the late Steve Jobs, it serves no other function than delivering a charge to a 58-month old Mac Book Pro. I let my son play with the iPads and iPhones in the store for an hour while I recovered from the shock, telling myself that the price of being electrocuted by my old charger would also have been high, but in a different way.

I shouldn’t have been too surprised. This is the season that Apple has released its iPhone X, priced at 999 units of currency (either dollars or pounds). They sold out on the first weekend. If you add together the cost of every mobile phone that I have owned since 1994 it still comes way short of a thousand dollars (or pounds). I have not contributed hugely to the financial well-being of Apple as a company. And now I know that the cost of a new charger for a Mac Book Pro is £80.

I have also learnt this week that it costs 60p per minute (including VAT) to call the Republic of Ireland on a BT landline, off-peak. I had no idea that calls could still be so expensive. I called a cousin on his landline, using Skype Credit from a mobile as usual, which works out at about 2p per minute. The reception wasn’t great and rather than take an extra minute to retrieve a laptop and try Skype credit that way I dialled his number on the rarely-used landline. (Yes, we still have one.) And now that I have received my telephone bill I know that a 16-minute call to Dublin at 9pm on a Sunday evening costs £8.00 (£9.60 when you add the 20% VAT) rather than the 32p I would otherwise have paid.

These two incidents from October prompted memories of a newsagent and confectionery shop in Mayfair, near where I used to work in the late 1980s. I often bought my daily paper there, which had a fixed price. Any other items, though, were always priced in ways that defied my expectations. I once bought a BIC biro, which at the time would have cost about 10p at most other places, expecting to pay maybe 20p. Rummaging for a few coins to pay the man I asked how much it was. “37 pence sir,” was his reply, so I felt no compunction giving him a pound note instead. I once made the mistake of buying a 1.5litre bottle of Evian there. At the time it usually retailed for around 35p. Like the people who sell chargers in well-known computer shops these days he didn’t bat an eyelid when he said “87 pence please”. At least I got some change out of a pound note but I left the place shaking my head and smiling, admiring his ability to think of a number, double it, add a bit more and then put 7p at the end. In 2017 his spirit lives on.



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