Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Soapy Tales and Others, by Wiggia

All washed up

White goods, domestic appliances, from AEG to Zanussi we are buried beneath a mountain of technical marvels for easing the household day, or are we?

Recent events (the wife's knee problems) have meant that I have had to get down and dirty and up close to these modern necessities. Much of what I discovered I could have found out by simply asking the wife in the first place but we don’t work like that so the hands on method has revealed shortcomings that are accepted but not acceptable, or shouldn’t be in the 21st century.

Not all is bad in this white goods world but little has changed with machines like the modern day washing machine in its 120 year history.

The worst offender in the "could do a lot better" stakes is the dishwasher, supposedly saving your good selves of the drudgery of time in elbow length Marigolds at the sink. Yes, time is saved, your time, but that machine takes forever to clean your plates, plates that you have to remove the worst excesses of food from before you put them in the machine. Some items it can’t manage without marking them, such as decent glass, so they are hand washed and dried; no saving of time there.

And reliability is a big factor with these as well: we may have been unlucky but two we have owned, both built-in, have been the car equivalent of a Friday night version. One had a ten year guarantee and every single item on it was replaced, some more than once. When the door fell off ten minutes after the repair man had left having replaced three items in one go, we got a call saying we could get an allowance and trade in on a new one - as if we would want another the same ! So as we had two years of guarantee left we beat them down to a token payment  and moved house soon after. I have no idea if the new one behaved and I didn’t go back to ask.

And why (for it is the reason I am sharing this) do you have to get on the floor to fill the bloody thing with salt and ditto the ‘special’ detergent? After all these years you would think that there would be a way of filling both from the top, not have to crawl into a tunnel to put the salt in. The truth is no one likes washing up despite it being quicker by hand and saving a lot of money for the machine, the water and energy used and the cost of ‘special detergents, salt and the anti-limescale treatments.

Washing machines do not have the same problems but again unless you have a space for a top loader you have the chore of filling and distributing the clothes to avoid the drum going through the side of the casing. It is a job carried out at just above floor level, which is all right when you are 25 but not so much when you are older and the creaking back makes such manoeuvres difficult.

Stacking solves that problem - if you have somewhere to stack; and why are there so many programmes. They are like motor cars in that all the extra bells and whistles help sell the product despite the fact that few are ever used. To me all these items are something extra to go wrong and the noise like a lorry reversing whilst it sorts out the clothes distribution prior to spinning for five minutes could drive you mad.

And very few people realise that the bigger load carriers demand a bigger drum in the same size casing. This has two problems: the lack of wobble room when the thing vibrates, resulting in banging on the sides; and extra loading on the drum bearings, both with the extra load weight and the increasing spin speeds. Factored into that (as I have been told by the washing machine repair man) is that nearly all manufacturers use the same bearings and motors regardless of the machine's make or price; Miele were the exception to that but no more, only their very top end machines still have the heavy duty bearings and their ten year guarantee.

Fridges and freezers can be ignored. The fact they can alter their settings when a power cut has shut them down is not their fault, though why some suffer this fault and some don’t is a mystery. Apart from that the only down marker is if the potential purchase doesn't have automatic de-frost.

The humble tumble drier, usually relegated to the garage or shed, seems to be the one machine to come out with merit stars. Long forgotten in their damp abode they usually go on seemingly forever. Unless, that is, you are the unfortunate owner of one those Whirlpool and associated makes that catch fire if you don’t unplug them after use: apparently there are over 2.5 million in use in this country and we had an example of that about four years ago when a house three doors away lost the whole garage to a fire when the tumble drier burst into flames in the night. So the humble tumble drier may be cheap and reliable but it makes up for that by being a potential killer.

The smaller appliances are mainly reliable and do their job reasonably well. There is a certain amount of total BS spoken about the performances of vacuum cleaners: turbo motors and space age cyclone fizzy things don’t seem to make any difference to the actual performance of these other than in the adverts and your bank balance.

But there is one really annoying appliance: the kettle. We have never had a kettle last more than an average of two years, whether it is an own brand supermarket version at £20  or an Italian designer one at over £100: they all fail and fall to limescale one way or another. Usually they fail to turn off and steam the kitchen, or they turn off early and fail to boil. or they simply will not boil at all. None is repairable and all end up in the bin. The answer is of course to return to boiling a kettle on the stove yet few are willing to go this route; retrograde it may be but you can keep on doing this without fear of failure or the alternative of another trip to the electrical superstore where you can browse rows of models with variable boil settings, flashing lights and designer styling with silly lids in the knowledge they will be in the bin about two years hence. For such a simple appliance I have yet to see one with a guarantee longer than 12 months - I wonder why ! 

Toasters almost get away with criticism. Well, the better ones do but the cheaper models as in the days of yore are incapable of toasting unless the slice of bread is a certain width, otherwise it will be underdone or burnt; even with sensor controlling they manage to behave that way, I don’t actually believe they have any mechanism to “read” the toast as none of them work. Only the expensive catering quality ones do the job so you have to justify that expense against the cost of a slice of toast, or use the oven grill and risk flames when you forget it is in there.

I haven’t mentioned ovens: most do their job relatively well it would appear. My only grumble would be one of choice: floor standing ones bring back the "I can’t see what is going on without bending double" problem, and with big roasting joints there is the difficulty of lifting that weight up to table top level - all problems the more elderly of us suffer from.

The built-in eye-height models make more sense but I am not entrusted with that area in the kitchen yet - my perfect boiled eggs (without timer - smug!), are the limit of my culinary genius.

There is another set of kitchen gadgets that fall into the GAS category: Gadget Acquisition Syndrome. If all those items that fill the likes of Lakeland catalogues were purchased you would need another house to put them in. Years ago, a Kenwood mixer was a luxury item that was multi tasking; now the relegated humble food mixer is joined by a myriad of "specialist" mixers of all shapes, sizes and price tickets.

No home is complete without an ice cream maker, bread making machine, foamer (if you follow that chef with the strange name that rhymes with a cycle mudguard producer), pasta machines, various fruit de-pippers, de-corers  and on and on, all topped by the must-have genuine and very expensive coffee machines which in most cases you could send out for coffee for life for the cost of them. After their brief time in the sunlight being discussed over the garden wall they are dismissed to some dark corner of an unused cupboard never to be see the light of day again, but there will always be another new and exciting item coming along to quench your thirst for GAS.

My new take on white goods and appliances as someone who is now a user rather than an observer is not a flattering one: paying more is no guarantee of any improvement as so much of the same inner working is the same in all of them. And in terms of functional design not much has moved on over the years, especially in the areas highlighted above.

Still, I can escape the chores inside for a while: I have to sweep the patio clear of fallen leaves. At least not much can go wrong with a broom. Or can it?


Raedwald said...

Um, I must be the exception.

Electric kettle - Morphy Richards stainless steel - bought 1993 and still going on the same element, with 2 daily boils

Microwave - circa 1995 and still going

The old wood-fired cooking range here, which has been in service since about 1890, I sadly had to uninstall in favour of one that also heats central heating water, but I've still got it all on a pallet in the barn, including solid copper hot water tank, all just in need of a light shot-blast and some minor repairs.

Must be me.

James Higham said...

What an interesting post.