Is there anything more British than a rip-off?

How we all love partaking in the national ritual of buying something over-priced and then moaning about it

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The Independent Online

Ooh, we British love to declare rip-offs, don’t we? I suspect the very terminology is itself untranslatable and bespoke to our shores. There’s even a TV programme devoted to sniffing them out. Now the definitive list of rip-offs has been published by mobile phone provider EE. And the top ones are as follows: cinema food, petrol, cinema tickets, football tickets, and gym subscriptions. Another key offender, because it is usually disgusting, is white wine in pubs. While things regarded as good value (“stick ons”, anyone?), are things like milk, loo roll and fruit. And laptops.

Well, of course. Good value things are those things without which your family home might grind to a halt. Vegetables. Milk. Tea. The things which are rip-offs, (barring petrol which seems to me to be rather essential), are luxuries. Non rip-offs are also rather dull, but they open the door for other rather jazzier things – I think in the biz they are known as “loss leaders”. Their quintessential non rip-off status is drawn attention to in the supermarket by lower case lettering and words like “essential” or “basic”. So you fill up your trolley with some basic loo roll, or essential milk, or a bag of potatoes, and because you have saved some money on the key items, you then splash out on something non-essential and rip-offy. Like lipstick. Then you can go home and moan about what a rip-off some things are, thus satisfying the need for the national ritual to continue.

Of course to avoid rip-offs altogether you have to become one of those people who brings their own home made popcorn to the cinema or groans on about the price of Arsenal season tickets and watches football matches on someone else’s TV, because satellite TV is, don’t you know, a complete and utter rip-off.

In assessing a rip-off, however, there is also another crucial element and that is whether the consumer of the rip-off has had a good time. If you went by train to Manchester, say, and had a seat which was next to a table and not in the direct vicinity of a Ukip supporter, someone eating a pasty or a person with leaky headphones listening to garage music, and it wasn’t pouring with rain when you arrived, then you would probably think your £200 train ticket was money well spent. If you signed up for a gym, and used it five times a week, changed your body shape entirely, and managed to complete an Iron Man, then the monthly £75 tariff would seem excellent value and not in the slightest bit rip-offy. In my experience of gym usage, this very rarely happens.

There is one exception to this. It is a rip-off no matter how you look at it, no matter whether you had a spectacularly great time while using it, and no matter how plush the surroundings are. I am talking about charging people to use the lavatory in stations. Since when was using the lavatory a luxury? Allowing someone to use the loo is a human right, not just pertinent to pregnant women (who I think in some ancient by-law are actually allowed to urinate on the pavement without being arrested, so they are not particularly relevant to this cause), or small children. I know the argument is that the charge deters homeless people, but I’m not convinced. There are plenty of other places to doss down than the Ladies in Waterloo. Station Loo charges; the nation’s biggest rip-off.

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Yet with the junking of his latest plan, the crazy and unworkable “Boris Island” airport, he has displayed a rather ungraceful side to his character; he is a bad loser. The airport was always madness; a £120 bn project which would be created from scratch and would require houses, stations, terminals, roads and railway lines, constructed in a site of Oustanding Beauty and home to tens of thousands of birds. It was a non-starter. But BoJo has not smiled ruefully at news that it is not going to happen, and run his hand through his rumpled mop, as he did when the Olympic zipwire ground to a halt.

He has started mudslinging, accusing the head of Britain’s airport commission of cosying up to Whitehall and inventing conspiracies to explain why this latest jolly ruse, his biggest and most amusing, has hit the buffers. It all smacks of someone stamping his foot and shouting “It’s Not Fair”. Of course Boris wants his own airport. The man is akin to a one-person nation state already. Potential constituents in Uxbridge should be mindful of this petulance; the greatest politicians are surely those who truly wish to serve the people, not just their own vaulting ambition.