I am not a very practical person. No, I will rephrase that: I am practical in certain areas (making jam, pickles, bread, baking cakes, remembering birthdays and anniversaries, prodding truculent pension fund officials into action), but I don’t possess the full spectrum of practicality. Admittedly, there are some things I choose not to be practical about: scraping the ice off the windscreen on a cold winter’s morning or working out the intricacies of our borough’s refuse disposal system of four bins and a plastic box at the last count, each of which has to be put in the right place on the right day if it is to be collected (though I pay the price of not being able to join the camaraderie of the worried knot of villagers that always gathers after a bank holiday – I am fascinated by the revenge of the bin men in our hygiene-conscious, recycling-PC age). Equally, my husband, who is much more practical than I am, is helpless (he claims) when it comes to ironing shirts or booking an appointment to have his hair cut. Ours is a symbiotic relationship, QED.
But when it comes to solving problems involving plumbing, carpentry or electricals, I confess to being genuinely out of my depth and always defer humbly to my husband’s opinion. (Apologies to the power-drill-wielding women of the world.) Thus, when a month or so ago, the washing machine stopped mid-cycle and took some cajoling out of its sulk, and I said to my husband, “I think the otnineen’s on the blink!” (I should say that, since our son’s early effort to get his tongue round the real term, we’ve always called it this.), he replied: “It’s just a glitch; you get them with all appliances.” And I believed him. And I believed him on subsequent occasions when it made a wheezing noise (“You’ve put too much in it.”) or ground to a halt half-full of water (“Just turn it off and turn it on again and set it to spin.”).
So yesterday when I called, “Jim, there are thick black clouds of smoke billowing out of the washing machine,” I thoroughly expected him to say, “It’s just having an off-day. Leave it to have a little rest and try again tomorrow.” I was therefore astonished when he came sprinting downstairs shouting that it was highly dangerous and shot into the utility room, outpaced only by the dog, who, as is his custom in any kind of domestic disturbance, had decided that discretion was the better part of valour and de-camped to the garden.
The poor old otnineen – I think it was twelve or thirteen – has now been wrenched out and expelled. It stands in the yard, a forlorn old servant awaiting the white knights from John Lewis to take it away; for you may be interested to know, as I have just discovered, that, like a white-goods Sarah Gamp, John Lewis does layings-in and layings-out for washing machines and will remove the old one when the new one is delivered, at no extra charge. I wonder that there hasn’t been a film made of it, like ‘Departures’. I can’t wait for the new one to arrive: more than three days without doing any washing and my (quite practical) system of never spending more than ten minutes ironing any single load of washing falls to pieces. But I can’t help feeling a small pang for the burnt-out old friend in the yard. I do hope that John Lewis will send it spinning into a never-ending cycle of drum rhythms in the great otnineen paradise in the parallel universe.