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...

Steady, steady (how are you nerves?), let's not get giddy. I'm a little light-headed at the moment and short of breath. Unusually for me, the symptoms aren't the result of frustration, depression and a fierce self-loathing for getting into this rolling mess. We have come - by many interminable short cuts - to this place and time where we are virtually within touching distance of production. How about that? We're almost there. The second to last component came in early. The last component (fanfare, drum roll, a streaker) is about to come in. And we are booked. We are in the schedule. Warren in China has sent an invoice for a deposit of one-third of the production costs to secure the booking on their factory line. I am quivering like a whippet with anticipation.

Experience shows that the longer I leave paying this sort of bill, the more difficult it gets. So, I send off the instruction to the Chinese bank (they don't reply, obviously), and then have second thoughts and ring up Wales to find out whether the component is going to come in on time. And then have a panic attack the following day (Wales didn't ring back either, obviously). What happens if the last component doesn't come in on time and we don't make the production slot? Have you thought about that? What does the contract say? Are we covered? Is there a no-penalty provision for postponing the slot?

It's true, I should have looked at the contract before sending off the deposit. But now I think of it, I don't think there is a production contract, in those strict terms. I think we're muddling along and assuming we can duck and weave our way past difficulties. And as China has physical possession of the components I've paid for, I'd feel at a disadvantage in arguing the case if we missed the date. And goodness knows, if we make the date, it'll be the first time in this project that we did make a date.

Perhaps the best thing to do is ignore it all and get on with something else. Let's just assume it'll work out.

Oddly enough, that's how I find business works in the private sector. It's a process of controlled chaos kept together by goodwill. Bullying and goodwill.

It's funny in its way, because the public service takes a very different view of business relationships. They write contracts so detailed that - for instance - platform litter is defined in algebraic terms so insanely particular as to dimensions, mass, internal volume, that you have to be a mathematician with a law degree to understand them. And yet the public service gets comprehensively ripped off every time. I suppose that makes them write even more detailed contracts for next time (which multiplies the rip-off potential).

I am hoping that Warren and I have some sort of Confucian understanding because we've had lunch. An uncertain foundation, you think, for my multi-million ambitions? You might be right; time will tell, as we quiver towards the deadline.