There’s a very well-known adage that you get what you pay for. (Apart from governments, obviously, where whoever you plump for, you still end up paying over the odds for the rest of your life). This is why there’s another very well-known adage about always buying the best you can afford. (Apart from governments, obviously, where there is no ‘best’, and which nobody can afford in the first place. Or the last place. Or a coalition, which is even more last than last place.*)
* Statistics based on Thursday 6th May 2010 – Friday 12th July 2013 inclusive. Source: GetMeOutOfHere.co.uk
Let’s illustrate this with a comparison of sending things from one place to another.
If I want to send an astronaut from Earth into space, I know it’s going to cost a lot of money. Roughly, at time of writing (quarter past 3), around $70.6m. Since the Space Station’s orbit is 240 miles above the planet, this means my astronaut’s journey is going to set me back $316,666 per mile. What do I get for this? A weightless man with a bushy moustache playing the guitar and singing David Bowie. So well worth the dosh, then.
Let’s imagine I have an item I want to send to Nice in the South of France, which is 864 miles away from a post office say, in South West London. (Which is, by coincidence, where I happen to live! Life is stranger than fiction sometimes). The postage is £3 – which I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but will nevertheless – works out to about .35p a mile. Marvellous, you cry, why not send your astronaut to Nice instead of the Space Station, seeing as it’s so inexpensive and Nice being so er, nice, what with the sunshine, the beach bars and the jazz festivals and everything? Well, for a start, I don’t know that my astronaut likes jazz, and for another, can we please get back to the point? Thank you.
The question is, is this the bargain it looks to be on the surface?
Just suppose I’ve bought, for money, a pack of cheap Wilko Mailer Bags: “Ideal, low cost alternative to bubble-lined envelopes”. Picture me attempting to write the recipient’s address on the glossy white plastic with my favourite gel pen, which completely fails to dry in the half hour it takes me to reach the post office, making the front of the package by the time I arrive resemble a load of old Pollocks. Envisage my delight at having to beg the woman who runs the post office shop for the loan of a ballpen (remember those?) which, once borrowed, fails to make any impression on the blindingly-shiny surface other than a few unattractive scratches. Conjure up the inventive swearwords that form inside my head, queuing on the tip of my tongue for instant expulsion into the air when I can contain them no longer, particularly once I’m forced to buy – for money – a pack of self-adhesive address labels. Wonder at my self-restraint when the rectangles of white paper perform a very good job of adhesing to myself instead of the fucking envelope, because they’re really good at being self-adhesive. Be amazed at my aim when I lob 37 ruined labels and one surprised post office shop manager slam dunk into the waste bin the other side of the room.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, breathe a sigh of relief when I find myself in the (long) snaking queue for the counter. And then take that sigh right back.
“I’d like to send this package to France, please”. SLIPPERY ENVELOPE ESCAPES WITH A SQUEAK FROM HANDS OF SENDER ON ITS OWN ACCORD STRAIGHT ONTO THE SCALES.
“Does it contain any of these?” POST OFFICE GUY HOLDS UP LARGE CARD CONTAINING 174 COLOURFUL ICONS FOR CAREFUL CONSIDERATION.
“Knives, no…explosives, no…fireworks, no…batteries, no…THREE HOURS PASS…pomegranates, no…cartoon versions of Sooty, no…xenon hexaflouroplatinate, no…”
Finally we reach the end of the list.
“So what’s in the package?” he says.
UNSURE WHY SHE SHOULD TELL HIM, SHE TELLS HIM.
“A plastic lemon holder”.
HE LOOKS BEMUSED. SHE STARTS TO TREMBLE, UNSURE HOW SHE WILL REACT IF HE ASKS WHY ANYONE WOULD WANT TO HOLD PLASTIC LEMONS.
EVENTUALLY, EVENTUALLY, HE STICKS A STAMP ON THE THING AND TOSSES IT INTO A LARGE MAILBAG BEHIND HIS CHAIR. NOT THAT I’M IN ANY WAY SUGGESTING HE’S A TOSSER. MUCH.
Is this value for money, would you say? Three pounds, a pack of crap envelopes and another of emergency labels, 5 bottles of blood pressure tablets, 6 hours of my life. The plastic lemon holder (now don’t you start) took a week and a half to make its destination, whereas my astronaut could have made 112 encirclements of the Earth in that time. In fact, I could have flown to Nice myself for 35 quid in an hour and half, 6 Euros on the 98 bus for a twenty minute ride from the airport to my friend’s apartment, given Postman Pat and Facteur Frog the day off, and been back home in time for Vince Cable’s speech on Government plans to sell off the Royal Mail.
Would say answers on a postcard, but you know what, don’t bloody bother.