True Gripes: Blade runner: Get the knives out for the tinkers

The man at the door was very personable, very friendly and very helpful. He was Tony of Tony and Paul's Grinding Service and was calling to see if I would like anything sharpened.

How much for a pair of secateurs? He was not completely clear about this, but gave me his card which he said would explain their charges. I would see that it was cheaper than the shops and that it would save me the journey. He would call back in five minutes while I sorted out the secateurs and anything else that needed attention.

The card read: Specialists in all makes of Lawn Mowers. Also on the spot GARDEN SHEARS, KNIVES, SCISSORS, SECATEURS, SAWS. PIKING SHEERS (sic) etc.

It did not say anything about charges, but Tony was, as I said, personable, friendly and helpful so I sorted out the secateurs and two knives. As promised, he was back shortly for the tools. Returning half an hour later, he handed them to me carefully with instructions to soak the knives in hot water to remove the burring and to mind the oil on the secateurs. That would be pounds 14.

I blanched. I remonstrated. I complained that he had not given me an answer when I had requested a price, but he insisted that it was cheaper than the shops and that it had saved me the journey. He told me that they had been working in my area for years and he assumed I knew what they charged. Eventually, I had to admit I had asked him to sharpen the items and that he had done so. I fetched the money with a bad grace and he left in a bad temper.

Of course I should have made him give me a price first. But I am not one of life's consumers. I had no idea what it would cost in ' the shops.' I do now, though. I asked at my local shops what they would charge. Prices ranged from pounds 2.50 to pounds 4.95 for a pair of secateurs and pounds 1.50 to pounds 2 for knives.

Obviously, there are people in my locality who think a trip to the shops is worth avoiding at any price. But it is the kind of trip one would probably get around to when necessary and would not matter a great deal if one did not. Tony and Paul's enterprise depends on persuading people, erroneously, that it is easier and cheaper to deal with these little tasks on the spot.

I notice on the card that they also undertake painting, decorating, tree felling, gardening, light removals and any odd jobs. You are invited to call them, but I wouldn't bother if l were you.