At the weekend, I purchased a new printer after replacing the ink cartridges failed to reinstate the ability to print in black on my Canon IP4000.

Previously, I’d researched which printers had decent Linux support and decided on an HP Deskjet 3050. This is a wireless printer so I hoped that the Windows PC’s in the house would be able to print directly and the management of the printer (inkjet levels) would be easier. My current Canon IP4000 has served me well but is pretty old and I was surprised to find I could pick up an HP wireless printer for £34.

I checked the price on Amazon to find the price has risen to £38.99 in the intervening two weeks - not just at Amazon but at all online retailers I normally use. No problem - still excellent value. As Norma is patiently waiting to submit a couple of essays for her course, I decided to venture out to try to buy a printer as delivery times from Amazon could be delayed given the recent cold spell.

I walked into Comet - the HP Deskjet 3050 was on the shelf listed at the price I’d originally seen - £34.00. I darted next door to a cavernous PC World which is the size of a aircraft hanger and a gadget heaven. They also had the printer but now at the higher price of £38.99.

I went back to Comet, picked up the last remaining Deskjet box and walked up to the till. The girl swiped the barcode and said (much as I expected) - ‘That will be £38.99, Sir’. ‘Oh I think that’s a mistake - it’s listed as £34.00 on the display’. ‘No, sorry, Sir. It’s coming up on the computer as £38.99’. ‘Sorry but the price on the display is £34.00 and you have to charge me that price for the printer. It’s the law’.

She interrupted me ‘Well I will have to see this for myself. Can you show me ?’ So we both ambled over to the display area of various printers. The shop assistant wasn’t best pleased and she muttered ‘Are you absolutely sure it’s the same printer, the same make and model ?’

We arrived at the display item for the HP DeskJet 3050 printer where the price was displayed as clear as day, in black and white as £34.00. She turned back towards the till without a word so I duly followed, feeling slightly guilty.

‘Right then, Sir’. And she entered a manual override for the price and entered £34.99. That will be ‘£34.99 please’. ‘But the price is £34 dead, £34 exactly’. ‘Was it ?’ By now my patience and my good humour at finding the desired printer in stock and saving £5 was being tempered by this girl’s surly and unhelpful attitude.

‘Listen. We’ve just walked over to check the price. We did that because I know what the price is but you don’t. Didn’t you even look at the price ? What was the point of going over if you’re can’t be bothered looking at the price?’

‘So you’re really going to argue with me over 99p are you ? I’ve already keyed it now.’

‘Yes - because the price is £34.’ She emitted a long sigh under her breath and she entered the correct price and I proferred my credit card.

And now in a voice scarily reminiscent of Catherine Tate as the TGI waitress; ‘Would you be wanting extended insurance cover with that, at all, Sir ?’. ‘Oh no - thanks - just the printer, thanks.’ ‘Insurance cover is available for just £24.99 for 3 years and £34.99 for a full, comprehensive 5 years peace of mind’.

‘I’m not really likely to insure something that cost me £34 for £35. If it blows up after 1 year and 1 day, I’d just buy another printer that is likely to be better, faster and probably cheaper.’

‘Well that’s entirely up to you, Sir but these printers can be quite unreliable.’

‘No really. Just the printer thanks’. ‘Right - so that’ll be £34.00 for the printer then.’

I went to nudge the printer box towards me in a precursor to leaving this godforsaken store and erasing this girl’s morose, stupid, miserable face from my memory bank. For ever.

‘Can I interest you in more ink cartridges, Sir ? Special offer in December on all inkjets - buy one set of ink and get another one at half price.’

‘No thanks. I normally get my cartridges off the Internet.’

‘OK, Sir. That’s entirely up to you but I must tell you that printers only come with a ‘starter pack’ which only print 50 pages or so so you might run out very quickly.’

I smelled bullshit here but I wouldn’t put it past the printer companies in an effort to recoup their loss on the actual device to ship with smaller, low capacity cartridges. Worse, the spectre of Norma printing out several lengthy papers and articles and the ink running out just as she printed of the final revision of her essay for submission was hovering overhead like a hungry vulture.

‘No thanks. No insurance. No additional ink. Just the printer. Thanks.’

I got home, quickly installed and configured the printer and discovered HP provide two standard cartridges (black and the 3 colour mix). No starter pack.

I quickly checked wireless printing from three Windows computers (XP, Vista and Windows 7) and downloaded the latest version HP native Linux software (HPLIP) to configure and manage the printer which was conveniently available in the Fedora 14 repositories.

Finally, I ordered two spare cartridges from Amazon for £20 compared to £24 at Comet.