Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It’s over far too soon, but at least I can get outraged by greedy opticians, who don’t just want my money, but, apparently, my blood. And a crucial decision must be made: do I move with the times and apply super-duper whizz-bang 3D dynamic styles to this ’ere blog?

Caunes-Minervois, Languedoc (last day but one)
Well, the truth is out: brother Mark, who had his early upbringing and education until the age of 13 in France, has uttered the words I would never have thought I would hear from him: ‘I can’t wait to get back to Britain.’ For one thing the house we are staying, dating back at least 450 years and which us undoubtedly pokey, is built all wrong and he keeps banging his head everywhere and finds it difficult to negotiate the steps, of which there are far too many anyway. Furthermore, ‘France is too big’, this after he looked up the Cathar Chateau de Mauriac and found it was at least a two-hour drive away but is still in the same department!
Me? Granted the house is rather pokey in that it is undoubtedly very cosy in the winter and a haven of cool in the very hot summer months – cool as in temperature, not as in New York artsy-fartsy attitude – and granted that ideally I should have liked a terrace or a courtyard to go and sit in, for me our departure on Thursday, the day after tomorrow, has come around far, far too soon.
One thing I have learnt these past few weeks is that I both like being on my own and like having company. In the past, I have gone on holiday on my own and enjoyed my own company, although I am one of those kinds who, when enjoying something, seems to enjoy it more if I can share the experience (and no – stop sniggering at the back – I am not talking about sex). That goes for food, music, visits to galleries, films and a lot more. On the other hand, there is a certain joy in solitude once you have overcome the novelty of relying on yourself for company, and I do suspect many reading this will be familiar with the occasional quiet desire to be alone. But to do so here might well have come across as unfriendly, so I didn’t do it.

There are indeed rather a great deal of tourists hereabouts, and not just in Caunes-Minervois. Now, I know that I am on thin ice complaining about tourists, especially British tourists, when I am one myself, but when I go abroad, I do like to be with the people of the country I am visiting. Many other Brits, indeed, I suspect most other Brits don’t. They get a little uneasy. What has been very disconcerting is to visit the local Intermarche, Carrefour, Auchon or Spar and find a substantial section of one of the food aisles devoted to Marmite, Bovril, Gale’s honey, golden syrup and various other abominations (or at least I shall deem them abominations for the duration of my stay here) without which your average Brit really cannot face life. This in a supermarket where even the cheapest pates are 1,000 better than the slop sold in British supermarkets and in a country where in a race of cooks it would have completed the course where the Brit contender was still pulling on his running shoes. (NB Note the topical allusion there, running? Not too out of day, given that the Olympic Games finished less than a month ago. Neat, eh?)
. . .

My brother and I visited the nearby Canal Midi lock at Homps the other day, and then drove on to adjacent Olonzac for a beer. (Mark has developed a thing about canal locks and likes to watch them in operation. Or if he hasn’t newly developed it, he has revealed a side to himself with which I was unfamiliar. I don’t mind watching one or two being opened and closed, but after that it all rather loses the element of surprise.) And was the place crawling with Brits? Does the Pope shit in the forest? There were more Brits knocking around (it would be unfair to single them out as the local paunch-carriers as you do get to see one or two fat Frenchmen and women) than on any given day in High St Kensington. Unfortunately, I don’t speak French (‘have French’ I think they say if they are trying to impress each other), so I keep my mouth well and truly shut when out and about locally, and get Mark to do all the talking as he speaks French (‘has French’)

. . .
I was somehow careless when taking out my contact lenses and putting them in their little barrel cannister last night and dropped one before shutting its relevant compartment. I am usually super careful as I have lost them in that way in the past, but it nevertheless happened, although I didn’t find out until this morning when I went to put them in again.

When packing for my trip to Bordeaux in July, I found I had somehow mislaid my spare spectacles for use in just such an emergency, but was lackadaisical in getting a replacement pair and went, the week before leaving for France for this holiday I went to my optician’s to get them to make up a spare set, they refused to do so point-blank on the grounds that it had been more than two years since my last sight-check and that it was ‘illegal’ to provide a set without a new sight-check. As far as that is concerned, that is so much bollocks and I even downloaded and read the relevant paragraph in their professional body’s ‘code of conduct’, but I have to say what they say is as clear as mud and one could equally interpret the body’s guidance as legally binding as mere guidance.

But all that is irrelevant in the optician’s refused to order me another pair using the more than two-year-old prescription. The upshot was that I don’t have spare spectacle with me, but because of the possibility of just such and emergency as has now happened, I dug out three old lenses left over from when I had previously lost a lens or it was damaged and  - glory be! – one was an exact match. I then rang my optician’s in Bodmin to order a new pair. ‘No problem,’ they said, ‘that will be £130 for the replacement lens.’ My jaw must have dropped audibly because the very helpful chap at the other end of the phone added: ‘It’s £260 for the pair’ (thus demonstrating that in matters mathematical he is most certainly no slouch).

I protested that the last pair I had bought – and I stressed ‘pair’ – had only cost me £120. ‘Ah,’ said the very helpful chap at other end of the phone, ‘that was because you were then still in our customer care scheme. But your membership has since lapsed (and to be fair they did bombard me with junk mail at the time warning me to renew it).  ‘But I can renew your annual membership for £45 and then the replacement lens will only cost £75.’
So renew I did. But it all left a very bad taste in my mouth, and the most definite suspicion that someone is taking the ‘valued customer’ for a very long ride. Given the original developmental costs involved when coming up with the ‘latest technology in gas permeable hard lenses’ was underway and given that the cost has to be reflected in the price a little, and given the production costs involved for each lens even though physically each lens is just a then circular piece of bloody plastic about 5mm in diameter, we, the punters, can’t, of course, expect to get our contact lenses for next to nothing. If we were, it would surely undermine the very notion of modern capitalism and bring our Western democracies, for whom it is an essential building block crashing to the ground, though no doubt one or two entrerprising businessmen would find ways of making a welcome bob or two out of the ensuing chaos. But here’s the thing (©Siobhan in Twenty Twelve): whatever I pay for my lenses, those  developmental and production costs will be identical in either case.
So when, not in the ‘customer care scheme’ I am to be charged £130 for the replacement lens, but only £75 as part of it, someone somewhere is making a fuck of a profit and taking the piss in spades. And given that the development and production costs will surely and most certainly be no more than a fifth of the £75 – around £15, although even that figure is surely far higher than the real cost – ‘a fuck of a profit’ is certainly a crude but quite exact description of what is going on.
I feel several letters coming on: one to Boots, one each to the Telegraph and the Mail, and to the ruling council of this breed of bloodsuckers and one to the Minister for Health. Oh yes! Never underestimate the outrage and letter-writing ability of an Englishman when he feels he is being made to pay through the nose! Oh no! I know, of course, that my various letters will achieve absolutely nothing at all, but that isn’t the point is it? It’s something along the lines of ‘not playing the game to win but just to play the game’ (which might explain why when we win the football and rugby world cups, the element of fluke should never be discounted.) Now I think I should move to Tunbridge Wells, (a joke no doubt completely wasted on 99pc of people reading this, but in my present mood of seething outrage all I can say is: what the hell!
. . .
Thanks to those clever dicks at Google, I am faced with a dilemma: they have come up with exceptionally, almost obscenely, snazzy new and dynamic - their word, not mine - blog layouts which will allow the reader to decide exactly how they want to view a blog. I’m not too sure any of them really add to a blog, and if a blog is crap, it will still be crap, although in now and modern new clothes.
On the other hand, I tell myself, if I don’t move with the times I am very much in danger of becoming an old buffer for whom any innovation is at best suspicious and at worst the work of the Devil. So I shall investigate further and see what it what. I know, I’ll set up a committee to look into the matter, which should kick any decision either way into the long grass for a while.

LATER: Well, I tried it out and fucked it up. I have tried to revert to what I had before but because Google’s fuckwits can out fuckwit any other fuckwit on the planet - and that would be me - I can’t quite get it back to what it was. Oh well, maybe it was time for a change anyway. I’ll see what I can do overt he next few days. Love and kisses ...

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