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

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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss