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School Stationery Conspiracy

1 Nov

waltons-logoThe time for thinking about ordering all your school stationery for next year has come around again, which means that your school is probably supplying you with the Waltons catalogue, and telling you what to order from it.

This has been happening since I was at primary school, so that’s a little while now.

Last back-to-school season, my wife suggested that she could probably get some of those items cheaper elsewhere, to which I responded, ‘Surely not. Surely Waltons is giving us good prices, because they receive such massive benefit from being given all the school’s business.’ I figured that the volume they must be pushing would almost certainly make it worth their while to stay as preferred supplier. Also, given that the schools virtually forbid you from buying stationery any other way, I couldn’t believe that they would be ripping us off.

They’re ripping us off.

‘But,’ I hear you protest, ‘You’re bound to pay a little more for the convenience of having your stationery delivered!’

Well, let’s discuss convenience. Waltons requires you to read a catalogue, fill out an order form, take the order form to school, wait however long, and then return to the school to find your box. At our school they don’t really go out of their way to make convenient collection times either.

What about the alternative? We all go to the supermarket at least once a month. At the supermarket, they have aisles where they collect all the stationery in one place. You add the stationery to the trolley with your other shopping things. You put the stationery with the stuff you were already carrying to in the car in which you were already going to drive home anyway.

Special delivery via Waltons sounds convenient, but in practice it’s meant an additional trip to school for us, and working with their catalogue takes about as much time as moving through the stationery aisle.

And secondly, you don’t pay a little more for this ‘convenience’. Look at the comparison of Waltons’ prices with what we paid at a Leading Retailer TM (note also that this is a comparison of equivalent brands, not the cheapest products on the shelf, and the totals have been adjusted to reflect the recommended quantities, not the single unit price):


This sample represents the stuff we had on our list, not the most damning evidence we could gather against Waltons. Clearly there are some items for which Waltons is cheaper–consider getting your permanent markers there–yet Waltons averages out at 36% more expensive.

By all means do your own comparisons and get better data than my admittedly sketchy sample. But I’d recommend hitting the supermarket rather than the Waltons catalogue (or if you’re really watching pennies, just buying the things for which Waltons is cheaper), and asking your school some awkward questions about why they put pressure on us to spend 36% more that we should on stationery.

What goes around comes around

8 Feb

I entered the Stellenbosch University parking lot today on my little Honda motorcycle and surveyed my parking options. In front of me was a bicycle rack the width of the whole lot. In the right corner was a three-quarters-empty disabled space, and in the left corner was an empty regular space with a small alcove at its end.

Being a considerate fellow, I reasoned that the disabled space was out of bounds (just in case someone three-quarters disabled happened to need to park), and parking  in front of the bicycle rack would leave most of my bike protruding out into the parking lot, making it very difficult for those in the end spaces to reverse out. Yet I also didn’t want to take a full space for a motorbike. So instead of using the full space, I parked in the alcove, so that anyone who might need to use the space behind me could comfortably park most of the vehicle in the space while still leaving me plenty of room to squeeze past when I needed to leave.

Instead, when I arrived back at my bike, I saw this:

bike parkin


That’s right; not only had he parked unnecessarily deep, but he had also dragged my bike tighter into the space so that I would be unable to leave. Apparently it was his space, someone explained.

I never got to meet this gem of a human being, because after Herculean exertion of my formidable upper-body strength, I was able to drag my bike over the parapet wall and to freedom. Next time I’ll try be more considerate.

Scholars are Morons

9 Dec

Here are two quotes from a page of the social sciences that I’m being forced to read:

‎The language of liminal culture is characterised by a ‘dialectic of culture and identification’ that has neither binary nor hierarchical clarity. Its speech is disjunctive and multiaccentual.


It features ‘minimal rationality’ as a dialogic process that ‘attempts to track displacements and realignments that are the effects of cultural antagonisms and articulations — subverting the rationale of the hegemonic moment and relocating alternative, hybrid states of cultural negotiation.’

Clever people are sometimes the stupidest.

Interlude: Microsoft Instructions

20 Mar

While hunting for help on working with MS Excel add-ins, I learned that I needed to both install the add-in and load it in Excel. But is there an add-ins button somewhere? Do you have to load it from one of the menus? I foolishly went to Microsoft for instructions. I regret that every time. Why is it that one always has to go to bloggers or techie sites to find out how to use Microsoft products?

I suppose I should know better than to expect sense out of a company that released the ruinous Windows Vista and Office 2007 to the paying public in the same year.

Checkers Complaint

27 Feb

This is a complaint letter I’ve written to Checkers Hyper in Tokai. I’m hosting it here because the character limit on Hello Peter does not allow me enough room to fully express myself. That short complaint links here. So this is really for the Checkers person, but feel free to use this complaint letter as a template for your own troubles with stick blenders and automaton management styles…

To Whom It May Concern,

I recently purchased a ‘Platinum Design’ stick blender set for my wife’s birthday. I used it once to make a milkshake (noting that milk gets in behind the blade-plate and can’t easily come out), and my wife used it once to try and chop some milk chocolate. It broke instantly, because the drive-shaft exerts all its power on a little plastic rotor less than 1mm thick. All this is to say it’s a stupid product designed only to look like one that functions, and cheap or not, you shouldn’t be selling it. Some things are cheap and good, and some things are cheap and nasty. This item is barely good enough to qualify in the ‘nasty’ category, and its awfulness reflected badly on my present-buying skills and more generally on me as a husband.

This is not yet my complaint with you.

Feeling like a chump, I set out with the kids to return the item and hopefully to replace it with one that is designed with function in mind. Due to traffic and no parking, I arrived as an unhappy customer in a bad mood. Your staff, fortunately for them, offered no objection to me returning the item, but I then suggested a solution to the problem that would have been of mutual benefit: because I bought the item on special, and because I was now going to have to replace my wife’s present at a significant cost increase, and because I had to travel all the way back to you on a Saturday to point out what garbage you sold me, I asked whether your returns manager person would be able to offer me a better price on the upgrade item (which is a lot more than I was hoping to spend). I didn’t ask for something free; I didn’t even ask for something at cost price. All I asked is that I be allowed to spend more money at your unhappy-making store in a way that is mutually beneficial to us both.

In response, she kindly said, ‘Sorry, we don’t do that sort of thing’. So, instead of ‘thinking’ or ‘managing’, she pleaded policy. The-computer-made-me-do-it arguments make me extremely angry, which is why I am writing to you, because having a human brain is supposed to equip us to act with reason and empathy, and brains are supposed to override policies when it is clear that it is in everyone’s interest to do so. I was asking to be made into a happy customer (having already been made into a chump by your low-fi product), and I was asking to spend money in your store. Instead, I got invited to take my money and go. Where do you think I bought the somewhat-too-expensive but much-loved Kenwood upgrade that we now have? Hint: it was not at Checkers Hyper.

And why, I ask you, why annoy me? Why have a manager at all when a policy book will do? Sometimes a refund is not good enough. Sometimes it’s your wife’s birthday present and it worked for 20 full seconds before breaking. Sometimes it’s Saturday and you had to haul two small kids through traffic to return the shameful item. Sometimes you just want someone to do you the credit of listening to how they can help before telling you ‘no’.

Yours Sincerely,

Jordan Pickering