Our spectator columnist Jason Goodwin dons his cape and ventures off to save the planet, one lifetime guarantee frying pan at a time.
Not much comes with a lifetime guarantee, although it’s said that every toothbrush you’ve ever used since childhood is still in landfill somewhere, next to your disposable razors, refusing to rot. I know a young man whose jeans are made by a company called Nudie, who promise to mend them free of charge if they ever get torn. You can saunter into the shop in Shoreditch and staff will bring out the sewing machine there and then.
There should be more of that. Timpson’s will fix a lot of stuff, but, for some reason, turn up their nose at my favourite shoes, which aren’t made in the right way for re-heeling. Zippo lighters are guaranteed for life and so are Tilley hats. If they ever shrink, wear out or get mildew, you can claim a new one.
Some ironmongery, including stainless-steel cooking pans made by Judge, I thought, comes with a lifetime guarantee, so when, last week, the handle suddenly dropped off my frying pan in the washing up, I was able to stifle my grief with the comforting thought that it would be fixed, or replaced, by the manufacturer, whenever and forever.
In its day, that frying pan was an investment. It wasn’t one of those thin, dark frying pans that dangle on hooks in hardware shops, with moulded plastic handles and stainless bottoms, and a sinister coating that causes nothing to stick and nothing to cook very well. You see them in holiday homes and car-boot sales, warped and dented, their once-sleek coating reduced to a sort of poisonous fluff from scouring and scratching with metal spatulas and their undersides covered in burnt brown fat.
‘He burnt a hole in it, which kept widening as he chased after it with a smear of stainless steel’
The Judge pan is stainless steel. Nothing sticks much and it cleans like a whistle. It has a flat milled-steel base, which suits everything from an Aga to a campfire. It’s 12in across and about 2in deep, and has a lid. You can cook anything in it, anywhere. It has been to the Hebrides and the Cotentin, wild Wales and the Pyrenees. Insofar as anything made of stainless steel can be considered a member of the family, I loved that pan like a brother.
I took a photograph and sent it by email to the manufacturer, a minion of which responded by asking for another photograph of the base, which I supplied, together with the hope that the story would have a happy ending because the pan had served me so well for so long. The handle had fallen off the pan, but I was still alive, which seemed to fulfil the terms of the lifetime guarantee.
They didn’t see it like that. They wrote back politely to say that the pan was made more than 25 years ago and that they were unable to replace it.
I looked online and realised that they were right. Nowadays, Judge pans are made with plastic handles.
This story does, almost, have a happy ending. I took the pan and its handle to the forge in town, where the ironmaster promised to do his best. I looked forward to a rugged, honest weld, reeking of the artisanal chic you get from a pair of Nudie jeans and lending me some domestic cred as a saviour of the planet.
Unfortunately, he said, the pan was too thin and he burnt a hole in it, which kept widening as he chased after it with a smear of stainless steel. But who cares about a hole in a frying pan? A bodge is better than no job, good for another 25 years.
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