Miles Kington: My father's tireless war against waste... and my mother

4 September 2001

Share
Related Topics


Progress on my autobiography is going well, even if it is proving harder than I expected to keep my father out of it. Anyway, here is another extract...

My father rather resented having to buy things that he could perfectly well have made himself. He also resented throwing away things that he felt could be useful. He combined both resentments neatly once by building a wastepaper basket out of things that people had thrown away.

"There you are," he said. "Every bit of that wastepaper basket has previously been thrown away and has now been resurrected. Refuse receiving refuse. Very poetic."

He inaugurated the wastepaper basket with a bottle of champagne. Not a full bottle of champagne. That would have been a waste. An empty one that had been lying around the kitchen for years in case anyone needed it as a candle holder, though nobody ever had.

"I declare this wastepaper basket well and truly open," he said, throwing the empty champagne bottle into it. The impact shattered his handiwork and it fell to bits. Chagrined, he threw the bits of the wastepaper basket in the kitchen bin, but kept the empty champagne bottle.

"You never know when you might need a candle holder," he said. "Or indeed an empty champagne bottle."

"Why would you ever need an empty champagne bottle, dad?" I asked. He opened his mouth, but not in time to stop me adding: "Apart, of course, from the obvious eventuality of starting your own champagne factory."

He closed his mouth again, so I knew then that that was what he too had been going to say. He then opened it again and said: "You might wish to send a message in a bottle. Champagne bottles would be ideal for that. The average bottle kicking around in the surf you wouldn't look twice at – just think of all the times you've seen a bottle rolling around in the waves and all you thought was "Oh, what dreadful litter" – but a champagne bottle you'd always look at twice just in case it was full. Then you'd spot the message."

And there the matter might have rested if my mother hadn't looked up from her sewing (she was doing souvenir Turin shrouds for the local Catholic church) and said: "Champagne bottles are made of dark glass."

"So what?" said my father.

"Well, you wouldn't see a message through the glass of a champagne bottle. I mean, you can't see anything through the glass of a champagne bottle. Just think of all those times that you have wondered if there was any champagne left in the bottle and you've held it up to the light, and even then you can't really see if there's any champagne left. I think a champagne bottle would be the worst possible container for a message, even if you could get the cork back in."

There was a pause here. A respectful pause while we all waited to see how my father would respond to this devastating critique.

"That's true," said my father. "Unless the message was written on... on..."

"On what?"

"I'm not sure," said my father.

And there we left it, mentally chalking it up to mother as a win on points, until my father burst in about a week later holding a roll of oddly shiny- looking paper.

"Know what this is?" he cried.

"Of course we do!" cried my mother. "It's your will! Oh, do do do read it to us!" (She didn't really talk like that, but she had been reading Georgette Heyer and said she had been influenced. "What is the use of reading a book if you are not influenced by it?" she once said to me. "I think it is rather rude not to be influenced by what you read."

"It is some paper I have designed for writing messages to put into champagne bottles," he said. "It is phosphorescent, and therefore the glow of the message will be seen glimmering in a ghostly fashion through the glaucous glass."

He put some paper into the empty champagne bottle and he was absolutely right. You could see the writing through the glass.

"And how are you going to get the cork back in?" my mother said. "Nobody can ever get a cork back into a champagne bottle."

My father went quiet and retired to his workshop where we heard the noise of breaking glass, but he must have failed in his attempt to produce a gadget, as he never mentioned it again.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager (permanent ...

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Art & Design Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

This ‘school in the clouds’ teaches us a valuable lesson about learning

Andrew Buncombe
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared an Islamist caliphate in the territory under the group's control in Iraq and Syria  

I'm supporting a fatwa on Isis because like many British Muslims I want to see them destroyed

Maajid Nawaz
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering