Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea after all...
Click to follow
The Independent Online

This is getting interesting again, in that cursed Chinese way. Sympathetic readers may wish to put this column aside while there's still time; sadists will find something to amuse them as I writhe and tear at myself.

The components that I suddenly find I need have a six-week lead time. It was clear to someone last summer that these parts would be needed but nothing was said. Or, more accurately, nothing that I understood was said. Now, we are looking at the front end of May before the microcontrollers land in their particular backblock of China. May! How life slips away. When this order arrives we can say: "Next month, the days will be getting shorter."

There was a comic suggestion made towards the end of last year. "We won't make this Christmas," I suggested jovially, "but I'm pretty sure we can make next Christmas. The fact is I don't know whether we can make any Christmas." I am wondering whether the Chinese manufacturer is actually capable of making these things.

You have to fight for information. When things are going well, you don't need to know, you don't want to know - so they tell you in detail how they have managed to prevail. When things are going badly, you are desperate to know why - but if they tell you, they have to commit suicide. It has taken three dozen e-mails (mostly unanswered) and two dozen phone calls to find out that (but not why) we are stalled. It seems that they can't make the wiring diagram work. It's not rocket science. It's not even missile science. Actually, it's not science at all, it's something a chimpanzee with a soldering iron could do if you gave him enough bananas.

The prototype that was working they managed to bugger up by adding a resistor. Then, when I sent it back to them, it sat in their Kong depot until someone sent it back to me. They can't make the new prototype work and they don't know why it won't (unless they don't want to admit to knowing why it won't work because of the suicide problem).

It's no exaggeration to say that nothing has worked first time, that nothing has come back from a supplier better than expected, that everything has been late, always.

I've run other projects; I am running other projects. They go along dandily. Over half-term, I shot a fully crewed, 60-minute DVD. I had a parliamentary website up and running over the summer recess (the ways of losing money are multitudinous). But this is a swamp into which money, effort, time slip and sink and never reappear.

At what point does one decide to cut one's losses? And how can one inflict some sort of penalty, some sort of non-returnable pain on the suppliers? And should I buy another house? And what do I do about that vein throbbing in my forehead?