Is it at all possible, in these austere times, to buy a Thing? I mean, I know there's a recession on. We're practically scraping by. No-one has any cash; everyone is living on tears and memories. Taste the salty bitterness, people. But surely it should be possible to manage a normal retail transaction without complication? You would think so.
It used to be so simple. You would go into a Thing Shop. You'd find the Thing you wanted and check the price of your Thing. You might speak to the Thing Salesperson before handing over your money and walking out of the place, your Thing acquisition needs well and truly satisfied.
I was reminded of this novel concept the other day when I went to buy a bed. I know. My lifestyle is pretty much full-on rock and roll, isn't it? But we were mindful of the fact that our current bed is a little on the antique side. It is old enough for us to be embarrassed about how old it is. Most people don't ask you "How old is your bed?" in polite conversation, it's true. But if they did ask us, we'd have to shuffle around and look at our feet before murmuring the answer.
If our bed was any older it would date back to the Ottoman Empire. Oh yes, I don't write anything for ages, and when I return it's all bedroom-furniture-historical-reference gags. I spoil, you, I really do.
Our ancient bed could have a relief map, it's so lumpy. Katie has spent much of the last year or so attempting to sleep over a crevasse. It's not conducive to a good night's sleep. So that's why we were to be found in the bed shop earlier this week, where I came to the realisation that buying Things is really tricky.
We found one we liked. We lay on it and marvelled at the experience of a bed that didn't try to hurt us in return. The saleswoman came over. And then we fell through a wormhole into another world.
"Do you want it with drawers in the base?"
"Well, yes, that's one of the reasons we chose this one. Because it has drawers in the base."
"That'll be an extra £120. Although there are drawers in that one, they are extra. Now then, delivery?"
"That would be a good idea. I'm not sure your boss would like us having to come over here every night to sleep on it. It would be very inconvenient if I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night."
"That'll be another £40."
Ok. Yes, I can hear you all saying, "But Phil, that's quite reasonable. What did you expect?" But you lot buy beds more regularly than I do. Come to think of it, you probably buy houses more regularly than I buy beds. But if you really think about it, paying an extra forty quid for the privilege of having the Thing I'd just spent a scary amount of money on actually placed in my house seems, well, odd.
"Now then, what about your old bed?" she asked me, my mind already performing the type of mental calculations usually preserved for astrophysics.
"I don't think it would be a good idea to put the new one on top of it. We'd be too close to the ceiling, for starters."
"We can take it away for you..."
"Well, that might reduce the crowding in our bedroom."
"...for another £40."
Of course. I mean, after all, you will have a truck at my house with a bed-shaped hole. Might as well fill it and charge me some more money for the privilege. I was about to open my mouth at this point, but Katie kicked me under the desk, perhaps worried that I was going to leave the old bed in the front garden, ghetto-style.
"Right," I said, mind suitably boggled. "Please tell me that's it."
"We-ell, you see, there's the protection plan."
"Beg your pardon?"
"What would happen if your bed was damaged in an accident, for instance?"
After a brief discussion, I promised the saleswoman that I wouldn't attempt to drive my new bed down the fast lane of the M6. I didn't buy the cover plan, leaving a spare £75 for two pillows. I was going to baulk at this, but my shins took another under-desk battering from Katie.
We left the bed shop, feeling strangely light-headed. It turned out that the price of a Thing bears no relationship to what you actually end up paying.
"At least we'll be able to sleep better at night," said Katie.
It's just as well. It turns out I can't afford to do anything more adventurous.