Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

I expect the roof to fall in at any moment
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The Independent Online

In the old days, we envisaged a future where machines did all the work. But now we have the Chinese. I'm getting e-mails from Warren in China that suggest he sleeps four hours a night. He called me in the middle of the Labour Party conference when a political wonk was talking about making local authorities "champions of enterprise". Do they have any idea? I get news from Warren last thing, first thing, and sometimes when he turns over in his dormitory bed.

Mind you, I resent it. I hate getting e-mails anyway, but this is exceptionally irritating. When will I have a vice-president in charge of e-mail? Someone who just doesn't pass on messages like: "Two pieces of bad news, I'm sorry, Simon." Someone who can silently resolve bad news with one hand and mix up a gin rickie with the other.

"Two pieces of bad news, I'm sorry." I can't tell you what those words do to me. Every bit of bad news turns out to cost more money. They use the phrase to condition me. Every time there's bad news I really fear that I'm being lined up to be plucked. When will the pluckers lose all sense of restraint and descend on me, screeching harsh cries of triumph?

The bad news is that they need another tool. Yet another tool. I'd discerned from a subtle change of tone in Warren's prose style that something was missing. I badgered him for a straight answer. Eventually it came. They were planning on substituting their own in-house, off-the-shelf design for the most prominent part of my device. They are pretty good, the Chinese, but you want to hang on to design, unless you want something that looks like it's been designed in China. E-mails flew between us - timings, scheduling, measurements, designs, artwork, alternative solutions, and then finally, when everything was in place, "Two pieces of bad news, I'm sorry."

You always expect the roof to fall in at any moment. It's all an exercise of the imagination. One good wind will blow it all away. One good piece of bad news would do the trick. It turns out they can't make the prominent part themselves. They have to outsource it. And the outsource company can't make it in the required width. And that requires a new tool. And it's going to take another two weeks. And I'm trapped. Do I go back to their off-the-shelf, in-house design (customers would certainly be... intrigued by the look of it)? No, we've got to have a new tool. At least it's a cheap aluminium tool. I've been quoted £6,000 for an aluminium tool in Britain!

They invoiced me $150 for it. So the bad news is over. But the effort, the energy, the life force expended on this $150 decision - I could have written a novel with it. The essential belief that makes this project possible is that there are too many novels in the world already.