Terms and Conditions

This story just might not be true.

I recently went to a local shop and purchased a rather attractive glass elephant. It is about 20cm tall and made of solid glass, which cost quite a bit. In the shop, the light refracted through the glass elephant to create a really dazzling display and I found it quite captivating. I carried the glass elephant, properly packed and boxed, home and with some excitement, started to unpack it. All of the time I was thinking where it might look good, should I put a light behind it or leave it to refract sunlight etc.

I carefully put the package on the table and removed the outer packing to reveal the box with a rather attractive picture of the elephant on the outside. I then cut the sellotape which held the opening end of the box firmly closed. Slowly lifting the box lid, the first thing which was revealed was an envelope which had written on it, in red letters, “IMPORTANT, read this before removing the contents”.

I removed the envelope and opened it thinking that it must be some instructions about how to keep the glass elephant safe and maybe clean. I removed a single paper from the envelope which read as follows:

Terms and Conditions

This glass elephant has been made with great care and should reach you in pristine condition.
By displaying the elephant, you agree to the following terms and conditions.

The glass elephant must be dusted at least once per week.

Once a place for the glass elephant has been decided upon, it
  should never be moved other than to dust it.
Small children should not be allowed to get closer than 2
  meters from the glass elephant.

Failure to comply with these conditions invalidates your right to display it and it must be kept in it’s box and locked away securely.

On reading these terms and conditions I was a little confused. There seemed to be no way to return the elephant and get my money back. I either agreed to the terms and conditions or I couldn’t display it. I didn’t know what would happen if I displayed it and didn’t meet the terms and conditions, that was not stated.

I thought long and hard about this and decided to comply with the instructions and display the elephant. For many months, I was glad I had made that decision because all of the visitors to my house commented on it and it became a favourite of everyone. Then, four months after purchase, I received a letter from the company who made the glass elephant. When I opened it, it was an update to the terms and conditions. I didn’t think that terms and conditions could just be changed like that, but apparently they can for some things.

The new terms and conditions were printed on 6 sheets of A4 paper in rather small print. I tried to understand them but it was difficult. I was able to get some information from the 6 pages and this is a sort of summary of what had changed, or rather, what had been added.

a) The glass elephant should receive no more than 2 hours of sunlight per week.
b) The glass elephant should be bathed in warm water for 20 minutes every day and then thoroughly dried.
c) People born in the southern hemisphere should not be allowed to look at the elephant.

It seemed that if I didn’t comply with these new terms and conditions then I must carefully re-pack the glass elephant in it’s original box with it’s original packing, seal it up and store it safely away until such time that I would be prepared to accept the new terms.

These new terms and conditions seemed very unreasonable and so I reluctantly packed up the glass elephant and stored it away. I complained to many people, particularly those visitors who asked where it had gone. One rather knowledgeable friend asked to see the new terms and conditions. I made him a cup of tea whilst he scanned through the 6 pages of small print.

When I brought him the tea, and a piece of lemon drizzle cake, he looked rather worried and seemed to want to tell me something but at the same time, not want to say it.

These terms, he said, they say that if the elephant gets broken whilst packed away, you can be sued by the company who made it for all costs involved and this could be quite a considerable amount. I was shocked. It was a good job I had already put the tea and lemon drizzle cake on the table.

I asked him what he thought my options were. He said that I could either agree to the new terms or it would be best to return the glass elephant to the shop where it was originally purchased, at my own expense and without refund. This last options was by far the safest he said and one which would not open the possibility of considerable financial loss at some time in the future. He added that I should get the shop to give me a receipt which stated that I had returned the glass elephant in good condition and expected no refund. He added that this receipt should clearly state that I no longer owned the glass elephant. Otherwise it could become a sort of elephant in the room.

Well, I took my friends advice and now feel very relieved that this potential catastrophe is no longer likely to come to pass. I of course blamed myself for not reading the terms and conditions properly. But then I remembered that I had read the original terms and conditions but was not expecting them. I do admit that I did not understand the updated terms and conditions but then I didn’t realise that it was possible for anyone to update terms and conditions after the ownership of a thing had happened.

Maybe I didn’t really ever own the glass elephant and actually purchased the right to display it. I can’t be sure and actually don’t want to think about it any more.

I now live in a minimalist, open plan, light and airy dwelling. It’s actually a cave, but I am not telling anyone where it is.

John L. Gordon – May 2021