Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

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...

It's a long way to go and there's only China at the other end. We don't really know much about it, do we? In the past it was famous for being unknown. These days we haven't enquired too closely into the economic miracle because it's so boring. Workshops and distribution units: that's just not very interesting, is it? We like countries for their 1,000 to 4,000 years of architectural history - churches and palaces, hovels and whorehouses. But most of China was built around 1966. And now they're doing what we did in the Industrial Revolution. We know, don't we, how it turns out? The suspense is missing. There'll be squalor, poverty and sweatshops producing nothing but very low-cost sweat... and in a generation they'll be spending their Saturday mornings at B&Q.

As I say, while I'm there I'll be having a look around in their 50 degrees of heat. Travellers' tales lack a little of the old magic but it's not all like the Cornmarket out there in the world. Trainers - not that I wear trainers - melt on the pavement as you wait to cross the road. The city takes eight hours to drive across. There are mile-long factories.

I'm going to source some things. Just for curiosity's sake. I'm going to take some photographs of 17th-century ironwork and see if some hot-metal shop can reproduce them, with little elvish hammers tapping out a million tin leaves. Do people really want overwrought railings?

Anything you need? Let me know. Western designer bags for a tenner? There'll be a factory-gate trade in over-runs. These aren't knock-offs, mind, these will be the actual Italian brand-name goods (they send them off to Italy to have a zip and a "Made in Italy" label sewn on).

Now that I've got your consumer juices flowing, may I ask whether our moral framework permits this vile trade in bags, and shoes and 17th-century iron? To pay people to crouch over metal leaf? Tap-tap-tapping their youth away? Is that an ethical thing to do? It wouldn't suit me, I have to say, but should we get morally excited about it?

To make decisions for ironworkers on the grounds that this work wouldn't be good for them - that's too ambitious. How would we know? God knows, few of us are doing what we want. If they don't want to do the work, neither do I really want to commission them to do it. I want to be sitting in my small Palladian villa writing exquisite poetry.

I'm reading Tim Clissold's book called Mr China. If you want this sort of business you have to eat banquets with them, including fried scorpions. "Aren't they dangerous, he asked? "Not if they're cooked properly," they said. Now fish lips, I'm not falling for fish lips. No, no, no. The rabbits' ears are possible because they don't taste of anything. But I'm not eating a tortoise, I'm just not.