Those hidden charges

I bought some tickets for the cinema the other day. The bill was neatly itemised for me. The tickets themselves, at £22 each (I had upgraded from buying the standard seats to what they called premium) and, immediately below, in small script was a booking fee of £1 per ticket. So, since presumably the booking fee was unavoidable, I had in essence bought tickets at £23 each.

This kind of thing gets my goat. It was not clear upfront, unless embedded in the impenetrably small words, invisible on my laptop, that there would be a booking fee. It is not as though one can even decline to pay a booking fee. The tickets must be booked, therefore there is a booking fee. Presumably by the time you get to the screen allowing you to pay for the tickets, you are just so damn grateful that the thing hasn’t crashed before this point that you are happy to pay anything. But since booking the tickets as an integral part of, guess what, booking the tickets, why itemise it? This is an entirely specious charge. I want to buy tickets at £22. And I expect to pay £22. That sum is the agreed price not the start of a bidding war. If the tickets are really £23, tell me upfront. Don’t look to tack on a contribution to the staff Christmas party fund. Or whatever.

By the time we get to the next screen and its invitation to round that untidy £23 up to an elegant £25 by donating to their charity of choice, I am feeling decidedly uncharitable. Eventually, after many oaths, effing and blinding, I reach a point where I can tap in my credit card details and the tickets will be mine.

Well, not quite. The tickets are mine if I wish to receive them in electronic form on my notoriously unreliable iPhone. Should I, horror of horrors, want to receive a paper ticket, I will have to stump up the cost of printing and of course postage. In the light of previous exchanges, I am surprised not to be asked to cover insurance during the tickets’ mile and a half journey from cinema to my house.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no cheapskate. I don’t calculate exactly but I do like some sort of idea at the back of my mind how much things will cost in advance. So this kind of thing just annoys me. It’s the same in restaurants. Most nowadays make the assumption that the service charge is includable in the reckoning. Yes, I know that the waiter is probably a destitute Romanian living out of bins and my service charge is his only source of income. But I’m afraid I’m old school. To my mind the service charge is voluntary, and reflecting exceptional attentiveness. Besides, I like to make a point of awarding it rather than having it assumed on my behalf. In restaurants with questionable policies on tips, particularly the allocation to individual waiters from a collective pool, it’s even more presumptive. I frequently like to make a quick calculation in my head and thrust a note or two into the hand of the waiter/waitress rather than surrender it to some common pool. Just me I guess.

The same goes for VAT. I love the way in which garages will quote the figure for a given piece of work without the VAT and then, almost as though it had slipped their mind, say something like “oh and there’s the VAT on top of that”. Gradually softening me up by degrees. “Oh and the fitting charge”. Seriously? A fitting charge? Isn’t that what the garage does?
Again, they have me over a barrel. Unless I want to be handed my car and the boot full of pieces of engine, I can do nothing. I have to pay. Usually goes something like this. “The turbomagneto valve electro hybrid thingamajig comes to £152.17p. With the VAT that’s £197.34p. Oh and there’s the fitting at £112.33p an hour, making a grand total of £4000 billion.” Or something like that. “Will that be cash or card?” Neither I think to myself.

When I owned Jaguars, they used to soften the blow by valeting the car for me. So when handed back after I paid the ransom (sorry, of course I mean bill) the car would be gleaming and beautiful even if their choice of air freshener made it smell like a New Orleans bordello.

All rant over now. It’s safe to come out.

Gary and The Beeb

To be truthful, the political views of football commentators leave me cold. In the same way, I imagine ex-neuroscientist’s opinions probably carry no more weight and yet this realisation does not stop me from commentating when I see fit.

Social media is now so widespread that anyone who is anybody and many who aren’t are happy to offer their opinions on matters why doesn’t their brief. In the same way that Richard Wagner, that most repulsive of anti-Semites, was able to produce music of incandescent beauty, the question becomes one of context.

Gary Lineker’s comments were not expressed as I understand it in the context of his day job as football presenter/commentator but in a series of tweets criticising the government’s approach to immigration in general and boat people in particular. Had he turned a conversation on Manchester United’s comically leaky defence last week from football to immigration, the case would have been simple. A clear breach of impartiality and the Beeb’s response would have been understandable. But by taking him to task over opinions expressed as a private individual is a different matter. Let’s not forget that anyone who reads his tweets has essentially ‘opted in’. If they don’t like what they read they can always unsubscribe. It’s that simple.

I do not get Gary’s tweets in my inbox because I have not subscribed. Nor do I subscribe to any anti-Semitic scribbles on Wagner. I simply listen to the music.

It’s essentially a question of demarcation. Is it possible to express an opinion as a private individual when you also hold a very public job? That is, in simple terms, the question asked. The BBC evidently feels that their contract with him, as a TV presenter, extends beyond that and encompasses his opinions expressed semi-publicly but outside the context of his day job.

I think this may ultimately set a dangerous precedent. Clamping down on Gary the football presenter, because of the opinions of Mr Lineker and his criticism of government policy, is dangerously stifling.

Let’s be clear here. The government’s proposed ways of dealing with the boat people and so on are, at the very least, insensitive and worse, bordering on overt cruelty I would think. To call them out for this seems reasonable. Remember here that Gary is not mobilising an army, calling for acts of terrorism or otherwise, preparing public rallies or otherwise inciting unrest. No, he sent a few tweets.

If we reach the point where we cannot criticise or offer an opinion, especially one counter to government policy, that would be a sad day for democracy.