IT was one of those uninvited phone calls, a smooth-talking salesman promising to save me 40 per cent or more in heating costs.

I told him I had no intention of committing myself to heavy expenses for the foreseeable future, well at least for the next six months. However, he invited himself round, I served tea and biscuits while he priced up the work: £14,000 less a fiver.

Two months on, I’ve now received a letter with a limited offer. The work could be done for £5,495. In anybody’s language that is one almighty discount, which were I cynical – Heaven forbid! – would make me think the original price was nothing more than an opening salvo.

I know this goes on all the time, reverse bartering of the highest order. It also insults the intelligence of the customer.

I was sounding off about this to a neighbour when his wife returned from a visit to the sales. Look at the dress she had bought for £7.50, she beamed. The original price had been eight times that amount.

She couldn’t understand why we were laughing so heartily.

SHOULDERS against shoulders, buttocks against buttocks were crushed as about 50 theatre enthusiasts watched three short plays, written by new playwrights, in the tiny Burton Taylor Studio on Tuesday.

Almost Random Theatre – ART as it likes to be called – is Oxford based but those taking part are likely to come from anywhere on the face of the earth. Formed less than two years ago by the highly talented Chris Sivewright, it is gaining quite a reputation and attracting actors – both amateur and professional.

This was my first encounter. A friend had recently joined the group and I went along to offer moral support – not that she needed it because she’s a more than capable performer. There was a relaxed atmosphere, but there was nothing relaxed about the plays. The quality was so good that the initial discomfort was forgotten.

What added to the experience was that the writers were in the audience and they were able to soak up the justified praise.

IF appearances are anything to go by, it seems the book exchange in the recently refurbished men’s lavatory in Market Street is down the proverbial plughole.

The shelves are empty, the noticeboard clear and there’s not a book in sight.

I can’t say I’m surprised. A public loo is hardly a convenient place (pardon the pun) to hang around selecting one’s reading matter. It also begs the question, should you wash your hands before or after selecting a book?