Sunday, September 17, 2006

You Might Want It Matey, But It Won't Be Easy ...

We're coming up to autumn and the light is going fast. No more early morning sunlight, no more elasticated sunsets. On average, three minutes of light are being shaved off each day and we will soon be plunged into darkness for the greater part of our lives. That is, until Spring comes bowling along sometime next year.

I've been thinking of improving my light/flash equipment for my stills kit. Well, if the light's going then I ought to have something I can replace it with. Nothing fancy but something inexpensive and portable. A mate of mine did a trawl of the 'interweb' and found a company in the US who manufacture soft boxes; put a continuous light source or a flash behind it and the white diffuser will spread the beam evenly and softly. No more hard-edged shadows. I went for the flashgun version.

I contacted the firm in question and asked them which model would suit my existing kit. Naturally, being an American outfit, their 'help desk' were straight back to me with an answer. I would need this type of soft box, this particular connecting ring and this light-stand adaptor. It would all plug together and I would soon be off and running with a new fill-in, portable flash unit. Could they ship it over to me? No, they didn't supply direct but they did give me the name of their dealer in France. OK, we're making progress ...

I composed an email to their appointed agent, listing the three part numbers (all beginning with the letters 'AC') which had been provided by the manufacturer. A reply came dribbling back just before closing time saying that none of the part numbers corresponded with any of those in their store rooms - all theirs started with the letter 'P'. So I wrote back in long-hand with a lengthy explanation, detailing what I wanted and what it was for. "Oh", they replied as the centime dropped, "you mean ... thingy, whatsit and doobree furkin?" Spot on Claude! We're getting somewhere AND on a Friday afternoon to boot. Could they package it all up and send it across town? No, they didn't supply direct but sent me a list of outlets.

I wrote to seven in all and got three replies. One said "no", one said "maybe" and the last one said "yes and it was in stock".

"It"? Mmmm, sound sominous.

The next morning, a Saturday, I whizzed over to the shop who had replied in the positive and asked the assistant if they had the three items I was looking for. "Yes, I think so", he replied and went scurrying out into the back for a rummage around. He brought out the soft box and unwrapped it. It was enormous and certainly NOT the piece of kit I had requested. The owner of the shop appeared and, bypassing her young assistant, asked what I wanted. I mentioned the email from the previous afternoon, whipped out the flashgun in my pocket and explained what I was after. "Well it's not in stock", she said "we'll have to order all the pieces".

"Well who's Madame Bousquet?", I asked. "C'est moi", she replied. Natch, I produced the email which confirmed that the kit I wanted was in stock and that the email had come from her outbox. I hardly had time to unfold it when she snatched it out of my hand, made some grunting noises and went snarling into the back room.

By this time, another chap had walked in and was standing next to me at the counter. Madame Bousquet came sweeping back into the shop, threw a catalogue down on the counter, turned to the gentleman beside me and said "Yes sir, how can I help you?"

I stood there stunned but not altogether surprised. This is Paris, after all.

A third assistant appeared, a tall spectacled blonde. She tip-toed past the brusque Madame Bousquet (who was now arguing with the new arrival), picked up the catalogue, turned to me, smiled and said quietly "Now you come with me and let's get this sorted".

Why do manufacturers and outlets have different part numbers for the same kit? In the States or the UK, the customer is someone who's visit can increase the company turnover, thus leading to profits and salary increases. Over here, the customer is someone who clutters up the shop floor, disrupts coffee breaks and pisses off the staff by actually wanting to buy something.

Anyway, the order should be here by Thursday and the tall blonde could be seeing more of me in future.



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