A train journey up the spout

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The Independent Online

"Hs it ever occurred to you," said the man on the train, transfixing me with a beady eye, "that there is one thing which people always get wrong, no matter how clever they think they are?"

"Hs it ever occurred to you," said the man on the train, transfixing me with a beady eye, "that there is one thing which people always get wrong, no matter how clever they think they are?"

I put down my paper. I knew there was no escape. When a man fixes you with a beady eye, he wants to tell you something, and no power on earth or heaven will stop him.

"Strange word, 'beady'," I said. "It's one of those words which have a single, limited usage. It's always an eye that's 'beady', had you noticed? Never a beady nose. A beaky nose, perhaps. Even a beery nose! But only an eye can be 'beady'."

I was employing a popular evasion technique. Namely, offering your obsession before the other man can offer his obsession. There is always a chance that he will be startled enough to change tack and talk about your choice of subject.

Not in this case.

"There is one thing that people get very badly wrong, and I am willing to swear that you are one of them," said the man, as if I had said nothing.

I gave in.

"What is it?"

"Buying teapots."

He leant back with satisfaction. I hadn't seen that coming. I leant forward, intrigued, as he knew I would be.

"How do you mean, buying teapots?"

He had me hooked now.

"Have you ever had a teapot which poured badly? Which dribbled instead of pouring? Or which poured sideways?"

"Yes," I said. We've all had that.

"Did you take it back to the shop?"

"No," I said.

"When you bought it, did you give it a try-out in the shop?"

"No," I said.

"Then how did you know it would pour properly?"

"I assumed that ..."

"You assumed!

The man looked almost personally offended.

"You can assume nothing with teapots. You must always try them out in the shop. Here is another thing. When you use a teapot, it sometimes pours badly or not at all because the tea leaves or tea bags block the entrance to the spout. Some spouts are fine. Some always block up. Are you a tea-leaf or a tea-bag man?"

"Well, I favour tea leaves usually."

"Good. Do you have a brown teapot?"

"Yes."

"Great mistake. Never have a brown teapot."

"Why not?"

"Because tea leaves are brown, so when you put some in a brown teapot and then take a quick shufti to see how much you have put in, you cannot see a damned thing!"

He was right. I had often found myself peering into the murky brown interior of a teapot, trying to see if there was any tea in there at all.

"So there you have it," he said. "Next time you buy a teapot, make sure it's white. Ask them to brew a cup for you, to test its pouring performance. Ask for a spare lid ..."

"Spare lid?"

"It's always the top of the teapot that gets broken first. Essential to have a replacement. And then turn the teapot upside down."

"Upside down?"

"When you do the washing up, you have to drain the teapot by standing it upside down. But some teapots don't stand upside down very well. They tend to roll over and cause a breakage. So make sure in the shop that you have got a teapot which stands up well upside down."

"I suppose that wouldn't matter so much if you had a dishwasher."

He stared at me.

"You haven't got a dishwasher?"

"No," I confessed.

"If there is one thing that people don't know how to buy, apart from teapots, it's dishwashers," he said. "Now, the first thing to do is ..."

It was about this time that I went to the buffet and returned to a quite different seat from the one I had vacated.

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