How Very Convenient

Sidey’s Weekend Theme is “All Mod Cons”.

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It was not going too well.

The year was 1957, and Mr and Mrs Zanussi were tough, plain-living, hard-working Northern folk (I am not going to specify the country. All countries have Northern folk who believe that they are tough, hard-working and plain-living while their Southern compatriots are big softies, although this is not a theory that I ever intend to voice in any of the Red states of the southern US). They loved their son David dearly, though they often harboured a secret suspicion that the hospital had mixed up two babies at birth.

For David was a brilliant young student with astonishingly inventive ideas and a particular interest in “labour-saving devices”, a phrase which bordered on sacrilege to the Zanussis. With his schoolmates Peter Siemens, John Miele, Stephen Smeg and foreign-exchange student Jean-Luc Moulinex-Foodprecessor he had entered the Young Scientists Exhibition with a project entitled “The Home of the Future” and Mr and Mrs Zanussi (or Father and Mother as David referred to them, and indeed as they referred to each other) were now at the Exhibition, staring at the drawings and plans displayed by David and his team with the same expression that Mr and Mrs Walton would have worn had John-Boy returned to Waltons Mountain wearing a Jet-pack.

Mother was staring in perplexity at the drawings of the kitchen. “There’s a box here that says ‘washing machine'”, she said.

“Yes,” said David. “It’s a machine that will wash clothes.”

“How?” asked Mother.

“Well,” said David, “the idea is that you put the clothes into a big drum and it spins around. The clothes rise to the top of the drum and then flop to the bottom and the whole things starts again. It has the same effect as beating clothes against a rock in a river.”

“Will it work?” asked Father.

“Yes, we think so, though it does have one flaw. It hides one single sock in every wash, but I’m sure that problem will be sorted out by the time it goes into production.”

Mother wasn’t listening. She was staring at the next box on the plans. “This says ‘dishwasher'”, she said. “All the plates would break when they drop from the top of the drum.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Mother. The dishes are bombarded by water.”

“And how will this water get hardened porridge off a porridge-bowl?” asked Father.

“Oh, Father,” said Mother. “They’ll have midgets working inside the machines scraping it off with a finger-nail.”

David was about to correct her, but Father had turned his attention to a big room at the side of the house. “What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a garage,” said David. He sighed (he often harboured a secret suspicion that the hospital had mixed up two babies at birth), because he’d been dreading this, but ploughed on bravely. “It’s where you park your car.”

I see,” said Father, just as David had known he would. “When I grew up I had three brothers and two sisters sharing a room with me (“and it never did me any harm”, thought David) and it never did me any harm, but you’re saying that a car deserves a room of its own.”

“Well most people won’t keep their car in it,” said David desperately, “they’ll keep old paint-tins and a hopelessly knotted garden-hose in it instead.”

The ensuing silence showed that this hadn’t helped. Worse was to follow. A look of pure horror was beginning to cross Mother’s face.

“Is that a toilet indoors?” she finally managed to gasp.

“Yes,” said David proudly, “you’d never have to go out in the backyard ever again.”

“Now that is impressive,” said Father. “I wouldn’t have to read a wet newspaper on rainy days.”

“But what about, well, odours,” whispered Mother.

David was about to mention pot pourri, then thought about how long it would take to explain what it was, how it was pronounced and how it was spelt. “Well, you could open a window,” he said lamely.

“I wasn’t referring to me,” snapped Mother. “I never fart.”

“Of course you don’t, Mother,” said Father loyally, and totally untruthfully. He had a quick look at the other parents and the other students. The words “mon dieu!” and “sacre bleu!” were featuring a lot in John-Luc’s explanation of how you could have an electric shower in a cubicle full of water without frying yourself. John Miele was trying to explain why cooking food in a microwave was perfectly safe whilst drying a cat in it wasn’t. Peter Siemens was fending off questions as to why you’d need more than one TV when (in 1957) there was only one TV channel. Stephen Smeg’s mother had fainted when she’d been told what a bidet was.

Father gave a tiny nod of the head to the other fathers and all the parents said “well done” to their sons and left. They all went to the bar across the road where the men got beers, the women got vodka-and-tonics and Mrs Smeg got a large brandy.

“Well, it’s a brave effort,” said Mother eventually.

“Yes, but they’re living in a dreamland,” said Father. “I’m just glad they didn’t suggest something really daft, like, I don’t know, a bathroom in your bedroom.”

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