Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

In a parallel universe, 'urgent' means next day
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The story so far: The author has sold his house to finance a manufacturing project in the hope of making a small fortune to finance his old age.

The haulage company comes to pick up a foam model from my kitchen in Oxford. It's been made in Cambridge and it's going with desperate urgency to China. This is the world we live in now. Everything is just in time. Or as we lay people say: late.

The uniformed operator had me sign for the package on an electronic pad. It's on its way. I can stop shaking. The efficiency of the private sector makes everything possible.

Then he telephones from outside Didcot. The parcel needs more paperwork. It needs an invoice attached to declare what's in the package. He suggests faxing me the form. My fax is broken. I offer to give them the fax number at work. What is the fax number at work? I'll have to go to work to find out. I go to work. I find out. I telephone the man but he can't take the number because he's driving outside Basingstoke. He gives me a number to ring and tells me to "ask for Ian and tell him the parcel that's in Undelivered needs an invoice and to fax you the form on the number you've just given me."

"A what?" says Ian, when I speak to him. "An invoice? It's the first I've heard of it. Picked up in Oxford? But that's a London number you've given me? What's that doing for me here in Reading when it was ordered through the Bristol depot?"

Lucy from the Bristol depot rings back. "Unfortunately," she begins in a bright, professional way that makes me want to tear off my head and hurl it at her with both hands, "we haven't been able to send your goods as there wasn't the right paperwork supplied..." I keep a close hold on my temper and things seem to go well until I ask when my urgent package will arrive. "It'll be there tomorrow, will it?"

"Let's see," she says ruminatively, "Global Express is four to five days transit time so that should be there next Monday. Or Tuesday as Monday's a holiday, though it could just be Wednesday." It won't be Wednesday, it'll be Thursday, which means the following Monday, it could be two weeks before they get it. As planes fly to China 10 times a day, morning noon and night, why does it take two weeks to do this most basic globalised thing?

While Lucy checks I sit listening to: "We are sorry to keep you waiting." For two weeks? "Please continue to hold." Lucy comes back to say that Global Gold is quicker and would I like to hold for a quote? I hold for a quote. While I am holding, my facial hair grows observably. The Post Office would get it there more quickly than this. The Post Office! This is like standing in a filthy Post Office queue in 1985! Lucy comes back to tell me the quote. It's over £200! Two hundred pounds!

But that's not the half of it. The worst is to come. That's something that never changes.