A COLLECTION OF STORIES BY LUKE TAGG
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SMOKE: Batteries Not Included

Originally published: 23 August 2005

I bought some batteries but they were not included.
- Stephen Wright

I've always enjoyed that witticism from one of my favourite comics, simply because it sums up the truth of the matter so succinctly. A truth which is far larger than the rude behaviour of product makers who don't include batteries with their products.

A truth we're going to chat about today - the phenomenon of getting less but paying more.

This article is not about the shocking inflation we've suffered over the years (I used to be able to buy literally - no exaggerations - five ice-cold beers for the price of one measly warm one these days) - we all know we're paying a lot more now than then, and we have to just get on with it.

This is more about the fact that although I can accept inflation I cannot tolerate paying more and getting less. If I'm going to pay more I don't mind - but I want to get at least what I used to pay for when things were cheaper, if not more.

Take crisp chips, for example. The standard 30g packets you get of Simba or Willards or Lays. The ones we've always had, since as far back as I can remember.

I have no problem with the fact that they are probably 1000 percent more expensive than they used to be when I was a nipper (more, actually) - as I said I've come to live with inflation.

But I refuse to buy them anymore because they now come with half the chips they used to come with. They've always been 30g, which means theoretically we should still be getting just as many chips in a packet than we got back in 1985.

But we're not. I have no idea how it works, but I can promise you we're not. I know because I've bought crisp chips my whole life - much as I've always had a serious sweet tooth, it's been well-balanced with a savage savoury tongue which at times demands no less than the saltiest of salt and vinegar chips.

I used to buy upwards of five packets of chips a day when I was a high school student, to go with my two cups of refined white sugar a day, and all the chocolates and sweets I used to buy as well.

I would thus qualify myself as an expert in the contents of crisp chip packets, and as an expert I would testify in court that I don't get anywhere near as many chips as I used to.

One thing I've noticed is that the packets are far more bloated with air than they used to be, which makes them seem a lot fatter with chips than they actually are.

They look juicy and inviting and stuffed with lovely chips, but as soon as you burst the packet and the air escapes you're left with three or four large chips and a handful of little crumbs at the bottom.

I wouldn't care if a packet of chips cost R300 with inflation - if that's what it costs then that's what it costs. But my patience is up with the crisp chip factories now, because not only are the chips far more expensive than they used to be they also come with less chips.

It's horseshit, man. It's everywhere.

Oros. Remember that shit? I've got a huge bottle of it sitting in my cupboard and it stands there like a big orange curse, because yup - you guessed it - these days your Oros has to get mixed one part in three with water, whereas in the old days it was one part in seven.

Seven! Any idea how many more glasses of orange squash you can get if you're only mixing one part in seven? One part in three means a third of your glass has to be the cordial, and naturally you get through a bottle more than twice as fast as you used to.

You're paying far more than double what you used to when it was one part in seven.

Once again - no problem paying the asking price. But don't screw me out of my Oros.

Their marketing and advertising cunningly deflects your attention away from the fact that Oros is now an insipid, weak-ass drink where once it was the half-time break of champions and Brookes - the manufacturers - spend more time pointing out how long they've been in business and less time explaining how cleverly they've been screwing the little children over all those years.

Pillows - once they could withstand the pressure of a head; now they don't last a week.


Tashi and I bought a bed a week or two ago and to sweeten the deal the salesman threw in a pair of pillows. Nice enough, I suppose, except that your standard pillow now is so featherlight you could rest a book of matches on it and have a permanent indent within five minutes flat.

Pillow? Bullshit, man! Pillows used to last you years before they needed to be replaced, but now they've come along with "hollow-tube" pillows and "air-compressed" and stuff.

They sell it by simply marketing all the cool, techno-modern terms and explaining the technology behind the pillows, which seems to impress people.

But as far as I can see that technology is very simple - put less substance in the pillow and blow more air into it. Air costs nothing. Sure - it deflates after two minutes, leaving you with a wafer-thin sliver of pillow which is no thicker than its pillowcase.

But you're the asshole who bought it, right? Hahahahahahaha - fuck you.

That's the attitude of manufacturers towards you these days and I don't like it one little bit. They cover their sins by coming up with new, ridiculous terms like "propolis" and "wound care technology", but all those marketing terms do is deflect your attention away from the fact that they're screwing you over by making you pay more while giving you less - and loving every minute of it.

You're a consumer - a demographic, a target market, a number. A profit margin. You're not a person, much as you like to believe you are. You're simply someone who can make someone else rich and get screwed into believing it's alright.

For the last time - charge me what you like. I'll just earn more to pay for it. Make millions and millions and millions with your business - seriously. I hope you do.

But take a year longer to do it by using better ingredients, better materials and better manners - not by constantly finding ways to increase the profit margin at the expense of those who have made you those millions.

Greedy sacks of shit. Include the bloody batteries, man.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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