First the teapot lid rolled off the kitchen counter and broke into three pieces. I thought of sticking them back together but then remembered the last time I tried to fix something with superglue. It didn’t go well. (I think I remember first learning about superglue when I was a kid, watching Tomorrow’s World, or something like that. Uh-oh, I said to myself, as did the nation.) As I contemplated the broken pieces of the lid, I thought: there, in a nutshell, is my life.
But I got used to it. After all, I do not take the easy way out when it comes to making tea. It’s leaves, scaled teapot, four minutes of brewing, strainer, the works. It is hardly the cha-no-yu (Japanese tea ceremony) but somehow fitting the fragments of the broken lid together each time I made a pot added something to the normal process of making tea: an extra, small layer of difficulty, the kind of puzzle that might both challenge and satisfy a toddler, or one of the more intelligent animals.
After a few months, I got very used to this. Then the pieces fell out of the pot as I was pouring and one of them broke in two, so now I had four pieces. This introduced more than one extra component of complexity, and, if determining the Newtonian motion of two bodies is a piece of cake, trying to do so with three makes the task impossible, and I found I could no longer assemble the pieces correctly, or without at least one of them falling into the pot. It took me longer to work out than I will admit that all I had to do was stick a mug on top of the hole while the tea brewed.
All this, of course, is of marginal interest. It is just yet another minor example of the confluence of fecklessness, poverty and sheer bad luck that has ruled my life for the past 14 years. And as bad luck goes, I’ll take a broken teapot lid over, say, being run over any day. But it was all put in perspective by the news on 15 July that Giles Coren, the Times newspaper columnist, has had his Jaguar I-Pace stolen again.
“They’ve stolen my [expletive] car AGAIN!!!!”, he wrote on Twitter. “Cost me £3,000 to reset the keys and put in a new tracking system after last time and what good does it do? [Expletive, but this time in capitals] ALL. If you see a black Jaguar ipace reg ending JVN could you tell me? I’ll give you a million pounds.”
I am not, I must admit, au fait with the number of times Giles Coren has had his Jaguar I-Pace stolen. But I think it is safe to say that once is more than enough. It is not just the sense of violation: there is the insurance excess to pay – which on a car like that can’t be a low figure – on top of the key and tracking system costs. And this is before shelling out the RRP of £65,245 for the car (unless he’s got it on the never-never, in which case he’s looking at £500 a month before he’s even charged the battery). I hope his offer of a million pounds is merely a figure of speech: he could end up seriously out of pocket otherwise.
The point is, though, that Giles Coren can afford a Jaguar I-Pace in the first place. It is increasingly rare to see print journalists paid what they are truly worth, and Coren’s Stakhanovite output – three columns a week for the Times, and a weekly slot for Times Radio – means that he is definitely entitled to the big bucks. In fact, even if he were to write only one column a week, he should still be able to afford a Jaguar. Every word he writes, you see, is a gem.
It is funny to think of writers’ wages, or the way they are perceived by the public, or even other writers. There’s an episode of Jonathan Creek in which Bob Monkhouse plays a theatre critic. The character lives, if I recall correctly, in a Tudor mansion with a swimming pool. To add to the raw verisimilitude, he also owns a Goya (which gets stolen at the beginning). Yeah, that sounds about right.
I, too, am a theatre critic, as it happens, but only on a monthly basis, which means I would have to work four times as long as Bob Monkhouse’s character before I could afford my first Tudor mansion, swimming pool and Goya. At the moment there is some difficulty about reimbursing my travel expenses so it
might take even longer than that.
So my plans to buy a new teapot – which were, admittedly, pie in the sky in the first place – are going to have to be put on hold, while Giles Coren lives in a world of pain. Maybe he could superglue his next Jaguar to his driveway.
This article appears in the 21 Jul 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Chinese century