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A child washing up is a beautiful thing, even if he breaks the last glass

Sober, blameless, virtuous even - for I am doing the washing-up - and another glass breaks. Down to four now, which is still acceptable, just. I don't really like having more than two guests in the Hovel at a time, and not only for reasons of space, although that is an important consideration. (I took the Guardian's "are you an introvert?" quiz the other day and discovered that I am apparently about as sociable as a paranoid dormouse, which is odd, as I consider myself the life and soul. Yet when was a quiz in a newspaper ever wrong?)

But the main thing is the glasses. By "glasses" I mean, of course, wine glasses. What else are glasses for? Whisky, I suppose; and a wine glass, once rinsed clean, works perfectly well for a fine malt, on the two or three occasions a year I have enough cash to buy a bottle.

Duke of hazard

There are now few other glasses in the Hovel. There are a couple of pint glasses; you just need these. There are some ancient glasses that are good for holding shots of frozen vodka and not much else; some disgusting artisanish blue wine glasses, which I just don't use, on principle; and one remaining highball glass, either the last of a set that Razors bought a couple of years ago, or one I nicked off the Duke, I can't remember, which is pretty useful for highballs. Also, it just occurs to me, for the kids.

I think they have given up on the idea of my going down the road to John Lewis and getting some more of these. For a few months they nagged me about this. It would be tedious to repeat the dialogue. I just ignored them, which I have always considered a perfectly good technique, applicable to an enormous number of situations, for making a problem go away. So now they have their lemonade from an assortment of mugs, the solitary highball glass, a Bonne Maman jam jar that has since been pressed into service as a glass - and, of course, wine glasses. How better to teach them familiarity with the shape and heft of a laden glass, so that by the time they're old enough to drink wine, they can do so without making fools of themselves?

But there is still the matter of their breaking. Once or twice it's been the kids' fault - but breakages committed by children who are, for instance, doing the washing-up are counted as natural wear and tear, and you don't shout at a child who is doing the washing-up even if he or she breaks every damn glass in the sink, because a child doing the washing-up is a beautiful thing to behold, like a butterfly landing on your arm, and just as easily spooked.

I have also learned that shouting at children for breaking things through mere clumsiness doesn't really get anyone anywhere; the thing broken is not restored, the child's co-ordination is not improved, neither is his or her opinion of you as a just and reasonable father, and it doesn't stop them from doing it again. Could even be said to increase the chances.

It wouldn't be so bad if you could expect some kind of order or pattern in their breaking - say, one every three weeks or so. No, you can go for ages, sloshing the wine around in gay abandon, with impunity. And then, tinkle tinkle tinkle, three go in a week. Four glasses, as I say, is borderline acceptable. What's not so acceptable is that this is down from an all-time high of seven, achieved a couple of months ago when I bought six from the local Majestic to keep my last, lonely, shivering wine glass company. Seven glasses! I felt like I'd joined the 1 per cent.

Bad omens

That was then. The good people at the Sediment wine blog (motto: "I've Bought It So I'll Drink It") recommend Duralex glasses but for me they are too redolent of schooldays and people look at you funny when you give them wine in such glasses.

Ah, vanity, saith the preacher, all is vanity; and every breakage is another erosion of our foothold in the universe. You tend to take these things personally, like bad omens. I know that things fall apart and the centre cannot hold, I'm not thick, but still, this is getting ridiculous.

I know, I know. Delta is greater than zero, or Δ > 0, an equation even more beautiful to my mind than the majestic e Jπ -1 = 0, because it actually tells us something useful: the second law of thermodynamics, which from its innocuous-sounding proposition - that heat cannot pass from a colder to a warmer body - we get entropy, or the idea that everything eventually falls apart in your hands. And not just wine glasses.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Mission impossible