I HAVE just been shopping.
For a plumbing joint. A simple elbow for a small job I am doing at home. Not even a brass joint. A plastic one. Usual cost $2.60.
This one cost me $465.
I don’t know where I went wrong. Was it getting married? Was it having children? Was it allowing my children to have children? Was it going shopping with my wife?
All of these things, I suspect; but especially the latter.
The plumber is in the middle of an industrial estate. I — we — went there on a Saturday morning just before it shut, at 11am. The rest of the industrial estate was a ghost town. How was I to know that three doors along was a shop — the only other shop still open — that sold baby stuff: pushchairs, high chairs, low chairs, little shoes that look like frogs, little dresses with stars on (and wings!) and all the arcane bits and pieces that mothers carry around in big zipper bags to enable motherhood to happen wherever they might be.
Now that I think of the stuff in that shop I’m grateful I got out for only $465.
I went back to the car proudly clutching my little plastic joint. My wife wasn’t there. I heard her calling me, looked round, and there she was — beckoning me from a shop that said: “Baby Stuff” or something like that.
“Just come and look at this,” she said.
“Oh God!” I thought. “Oh God!”
The push chair was a Bargain. My wife doesn’t buy anything unless it’s a bargain and she always knows because it always has a big felt-tip sign on it saying “Bargain”.
So we — I — bought it.
I put up a fight. I wouldn’t want you to think I caved in without a whimper, but there are some things you can’t fight. You can’t fight the accusing look and the pained expression and the words, “But it’s for your grandchild. Your first grandchild.”
She’s only my first grandchild at times like this. The rest of the time she’s my wife’s first grandchild; or possibly ours, when I’ve been very good.
Then it’s: “Poor Emily (this is the mother — our daughter). She has to struggle to make ends meet.”
“But I thought I was struggling to make Emily’s ends meet!”
The shop lady gave my wife a sympathetic look. I think there might have been a secret sign as well, such as has been used by oppressed societies over the centuries.
I got out my credit card, grateful to escape for the price of a push chair.
The shop lady dumped a pile of clothes in it.
My wife said: “You can’t expect our granddaughter to ride in a new push chair without something nice to wear. And they’re bargains.”
“But we can’t afford it.”
Take my tip: if you ever find yourself in this situation never say, “But we can’t afford it.”
You can say it’s too bright, too dull, too small, too big, too old, too young, but you can always afford it. What you can’t afford is to drive home in silence and spend the next week getting your own breakfast.
There are several morals in this story: don’t have children and, if you do, bring them up to be nuns. Don’t have a wife and, if you do, don’t take her to the plumber with you. And anyway. don’t do your own plumbing. Get someone in; it’s cheaper.
I reflected on this as we drove home. My wife picked my plastic plumbing joint from the dashboard and examined the little label with the price on it.
“Two dollars sixty,” she sniffed. “Seems expensive…”