Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

Caught between Warren in China and Wales
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The Independent Online

"You're adorable," the gay expression goes, "who knitted you?!" That's what I feel about Warren. He is my Chinese-factory contact. He has served me, serviced me, protected me from the marketing director (who hates me), supervised my project, bullied the engineers, commanded the tool-builders, the welders, the circuit-makers, and spoken to me in English. I have given him or his company very little money for all this. I don't like to count up the thousands in sterling that have gone to British software writers and model-makers; but I've given China precisely $950. Whatever our relationship is based on, it isn't cash.

When we come to production, I'll give Warren a bonus. I'll find out how much he earns and give him six months' salary. Or three months' salary. Actually, if someone gave me a month's salary I'd be pretty happy. I wonder if he drinks. Maybe a bottle of whisky would do it.

Logic is a very poor guide to relationships. One thing life teaches: it's very hard to know anything you don't know already. But I think I have learnt that Warren is as much of an asset to my little enterprise as is the product itself. If I came to sell up, the product would be a liability and my relationship with Warren would have commercial value. No wonder the Left hates capitalism when you can sell relationships like these.

On we go. Last week he told me the prototype was ready and working, then he told me it wasn't working. As a result there was a full week of daily e-mailing and phoning. I suppose we've been through worse. "How does the IC connect to the PCB?" he asked. "How the devil should I know?," I replied, panicking angrily. "It's a bit late to be asking that, isn't it? Who would know?"

Wales, my Welsh software writer, would know, but he doesn't reply to e-mails because he's in Spain instead of Wales. And when he does reply, and promises to take care of everything, he doesn't actually do anything until I realise he hasn't done anything and ring him up, panicking angrily. He had sent me an e-mail asking, "Are you sure you want to send China the circuit diagram?" I'd thought it was a rhetorical question. Well, wouldn't you?

Do we trust Warren enough to have the circuit diagram? That's the question. "But how would he be able to make the thing without it?," I ask, genuinely interested. "Fair point," I'm told. I put the phone down and panic angrily.

Now I've just been texted with a message to say the package has arrived in Oxford. It's here. It's early. I don't think I want to open the box any more. I very much doubt I'm going to open the lid and gasp with sudden pleasure: "Oh, you're adorable, who knitted you?!"