Wednesday, 21 January 2009

David Hing and the Antique Washing Machine

A few weeks ago, on some bitter Sunday morning, our washing machine decided to throw a tantrum. It had obviously decided that it had done enough spin cycles for its lifetime, and although it was going to keep doing them if we asked nicely, it wasn’t going to do them quietly and it would make it audibly known that it had reached the spin cycle to ourselves, to our neighbours, and to the rest of Camden. Technically speaking, the bearings had gone. Realistically speaking, it was only a matter of time before the whole thing would tear our clothes to shreds, pack its bags, leave us and possibly explode. If we were lucky, it would happen in that order.

Our landlord had clearly foreseen this circumstance and all four of us very clearly remember him saying that the washing machine was to be considered an added bonus, as until the week that we saw the property, it hadn’t been working at all and a plumber had accidentally stumbled in and fixed it at some point through some kind of witchcraft. I think the exact words were something like “it’s on its last legs.” This wasn’t our landlord being unreasonable or evil, but merely sensible and responsible, as the space for our washing machine is very small, and the model that had just started making a fuss was a compact model, therefore being an awkward and unusual size. This meant the price of a basic model would be somewhere close to the region of £400 and second hand ones are creatures of myth.

After much stroking of beards and pondering of what to do, my suggestion of waiting until our clothes started cleaning themselves was struck out. Washing things by hand wasn’t really an option, as any bath water that’s left in our bath for any length of time generally makes its way into another bath in the flat downstairs, and whilst they are lovely and altogether patient people, we never really want them knocking on our door to tell us that we’ve flooded their flat. The final option was to play Tetris in our kitchen and find space for a full sized washing machine. Considering the hobbit-sized washing machine barely fitted in, I wasn’t hopeful, but somehow Matt and Kris are able to conjure space out of nothing and make things fit, a wholly desirable skill that I someday hope to develop.

The next step was to find a suitable replacement for our temperamental little friend. After a little searching, we discovered there were many bargains to be had on, a free to list, free to search classified adverts site, and so, in-between mouthfuls of my sandwiches at lunch time, I braved the internet in search of our next washing machine with a budget of around £80.

Funnily enough, anything cheap seemed to have disappeared already, and so I was very pleased to find one machine that boasted a good condition, was fully functional with no repairs needed and was selling for a price that was within our range. What was even better was that I could have a look at it the same evening, and if I wanted to take it, the chap selling it would drive myself and the machine over to my flat after the viewing.

After joking with my fellow office colleagues about how I was probably going to meet an axe murderer who was only selling the machine because it just didn’t get the blood out, I found myself being picked up in a car from Canada Waters and driven to a quiet secluded industrial estate in the Docklands to view my potential new washing machine. I instantly thought to myself that I have seen films that start and end this way, and those particular beginnings and endings are never really happy. I wasn’t too sure what to expect as I followed my guide into the small shanty-like door, but as it happened, it was genuinely where the washing machine was currently residing, so I am luckily not writing this from beyond the grave.

The warehouse itself was a classical fantasy cave of treasure, if you replaced all the treasure with household appliances in various states of disrepair and applied a healthy layer of grime. There were heaps of fridges, freezers, televisions, washing machines, tumble driers, bicycles, a lawn mower and I’m pretty sure I saw a light aircraft. The machine that I was there to see was, in hindsight, probably a lot older than the three years that the salesman had suggested and to put it politely, was a little bit damaged. To my amazement, the chap demonstrated that it was in full working order and I can’t help but be impressed by how quiet it ran. I’m even impressed that it ran at all.

For some reason, I agreed to buy the thing. If asked why, my only excuse would be that it was dark, and it didn’t look so bad in the dark.

The man who was selling this I have loosely described as a salesman. He was a Chinese man of average build with glasses and a flat cap with a thick accent, who described himself as an “office manager”. I couldn’t help wondering if the warehouse I’d just seen was the office in question. Apparently he runs a home clearance business whereby he buys up old appliances when people are moving house and then sells them on months later for what should be a profit. He was friendly and chatty enough, but the thing that stood out the most about him was the way in which he drove.

To him, red traffic lights were something that happened to other people.

I know that to drive in London you have to be quite aggressive and pushy in the way that you manoeuvre the car, but judging by the way he cut people up or drove along the middle of the road, this guy seemed to believe that he was floating about four feet above all other traffic. Among the U-turns, the driving on the other side of the road and the using of speed bumps as launching ramps, I realised that I wasn’t too sure what to hold on to in the car itself, as any part I grabbed hold of would probably come away in my hands. MOT certificates were clearly something that he had only heard about in passing. I’m also not sure if he had a clutch pedal or not, as I’m fairly sure that changing gear shouldn’t sound that painful.

Through some higher power or another, I survived my second hand shopping experience with a veteran of a washing machine now partially installed in the kitchen. After a quick clean, it isn’t anywhere near as grubby as it was when I picked it up and it might just prove itself worthy.

As grateful for my adventure as I am, I think that the next time I’m in the market to buy something like that, I’m going to hope that I’m in a financial position to buy from a real shop.

Additional Notes:

Of course, our landlord was being perfectly reasonable. Whoever refitted the kitchen clearly had more sinister plans than to provide something functional in that they left no space for a full sized washing machine. Either that, or he just lost count and guessed the number when it came to that particular bit, as sometimes happens in life.

Our flat is small. There are four of us living in it. Space is at a premium and hard to find, yet Matt and Kris always, without fail, manage to find somewhere to put things. I’ll never know how they got a piano in their room.

At one point during the journey, or rather time trial, home, this guy mentioned that you have to be quick, and “sometimes when the light just changes to red, there’s a policeman waiting just behind you and you get a ticket and it’s a real pain in the neck”. I’m still wondering just how many times this has happened. This is why they shouldn’t call it “getting points on your license”; people are just going to treat it as a competition.

I’m now thinking of a name for our washing machine. It’s clearly been in this world long enough to develop sentience, so it therefore deserves a name. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

UPDATE: Kris' father reckons the machine is probably about 20 years old. It's almost as old as I am, but has probably had a lot more experience in washing clothes.

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