Experience has taught me that one of the laws of domestic physics is a vital, kitchen appliance will always break down irrevocably on or around the start of a holiday weekend and, if it is feeling particularly sadistic, just as I am gathering together the ingredients for that evening’s dinner party. Never, but never, does any essential gadget self destruct on the first day of the sales or on the day already set aside for a major shopping expedition.
True to form, my washing machine chose Maundy Thursday as its expiry date. Adding to the excitement, both the weather and the forecast were sodden, but not as sodden as the contents of my machine. Oh yes, and we had five coming to dinner. Certainly, it had emitted the odd, unexplained screech and whine, especially over these last two years but, overall, it had given sterling service for at least eleven years, possibly twelve. Now, with no warning tantrum, it had wheezed to a standstill, apparently incapable of the final rinse and spin.
So what did I do? Fire up the computer and surf the net for the cheapest prices? No, certainly not! I commandeered Husband and Mr. Dog and set off for the local electrician’s, down on the main drag, between the butcher’s and the pet shop. A web site might have informed me about special offers but, invariably, any chain offering such will have no branch closer than Alpha Centauri and their help line, if anyone can thole being kept on hold for half a light year enduring an electronic version of Vivaldi’s Seasons, will be manned by Klingons, deaf, illiterate ones who don’t even understand the phonetic alphabet, never mind one of the lesser known Scottish accents. Furthermore, what’s the point of saving twenty quid on a machine which will not be delivered until the next lunar eclipse coincides with the Vernal Equinox? Any saving in its price will be swallowed up either by laundrette bills or donations of wine to friends and neighbours who’ve allowed me the use of their machines.
And, of course, I’ve another, crucial reason why I was unwilling to make my decision from the evidence of a web site alone. A blinky like me can only come to a decision on a matter such as this after some hands on plittering and footering. Do knobs move with definite clicks or birl smoothly with no indication of whether we’re at the Boil Wash or Wool Care? Are all apertures easily accessible and not just to mutants with double jointed fingers and nails coated in reinforced concrete?
The local shop had four models, all priced withing a range of twenty quid; moreover, they cheerfully promised that a machine selected in the next hour would be delivered and working by tea time. With a pile of sumping clothes, including two pairs of jeans dribbling gently over the clothes horse, this was an offer I daren’t refuse.
At least the craze for tiny, monochrome screens has gone. Has it dawned on the designers that futuristic is useless if most of the population can only appreciate it with their eyes screwed almost shut? However, the current trend is minimalist; dinky dials and unobtrusive buttons arranged on unassuming white. Very sophisticated, no doubt, but has no-one on any design team heard of colour contrasting? A quarter of a century ago, my original automatic had a broad control panel in dark, dark brown and chunky dials and buttons profusely sprinkled with significant, orange dots. And no, this wasn’t a specially, adapted bespoke machine; this was a standard model. Pure happenchance that the buzz words of design back then must have been Big, Bold and Obvious.
Gradually, however, I am adjusting to my new machine. Apparently, it boasts an array of pinpoint lights but I concentrate on the dinky dial, counting the clicks to the popular programmes, which, for added security, are now identified with bump ons. Its official buttons are few and, therefore, easy to memorise. In fact, touching wood as I write, I have only one complaint. Once set, the dinky dial stays put. On my last machine, its equivalent clicked its way back to base; one feel of its position, and I immediately knew whether I’d time to phone a friend before the machine launched into its Concorde impersonation or whether Mr. Dog and I had enough time to trek down town before the cycle shuddered to its conclusion. At the moment, I’m hanging around the kitchen, tuning into a new combination of glugs, whirrs and squeaks; and, since this machine is so intelligent it decides for itself whether or not I’ve stuffed it with a mountainous heap or a mere half load, I am never exactly sure of the precise combination of sounds. I’m reaching the conclusion that this particular ability seems to reduce the length of a programme by half. Most ecological and energy saving, but mildly irritating if I’m dividing up rock bun mixture when silence falls in the kitchen.
Mind you, the beast isn’t loud. Perhaps its predecessor was ailing for years, perhaps I should have been able to conduct a telephone call as its spin reached its crescendo. But this one, well! It’s not only its decor which is subdued. Frequently, I’m standing before it, hand outstretched to its door, assuming it’s finished, only to jump backwards in surprise as its electronics launch another phase of quiet revolution and silent spin.
But, I shouldn’t girn and grump. After all, I am saving the planet. When delivered, the machine was attached to a label boasting a wee squiggle, denoting its importance to the shrinking rain forests and melting ice caps. Better still, running back down stairs in the middle of the night, to check if I have actually switched the blasted thing on, is good exercise, isn’t it?