THIS LIFE

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - CONTENTS - by Pa­tri­cia Mur­phy

MY NEW KITCHEN’S pride of place is oc­cu­pied by a gleam­ing ap­pli­ance called a Vi­ta­mix. It’s the Fer­rari of food pro­ces­sors, fa­bled to be able to pul­verise an av­o­cado stone, though I use it to mostly make smooth­ies and coleslaw. But once I saw this tri­umph of kitchen en­gi­neer­ing in a friend’s house in the US, I had to have it. For my name is Pa­tri­cia Mur­phy and I am ad­dicted to gad­gets.

And like an al­co­holic hid­ing the vodka bot­tles and the nag­gins of whiskey, my house is lit­tered with the hid­den signs of my ad­dic­tion. Failed de­vices from juicers to cel­lulite pum­mellers that called my name with the prom­ise of par­adise but ul­ti­mately proved to be dust col­lec­tors, are ban­ished into draw­ers and backs of cup­boards.

Only the other day, I ‘fell’ into Aldi and emerged with a bar­gain Mi­crowave Pop­corn Maker for next to noth­ing. Aldi and Lidl are the equiv­a­lent of a street dealer to gadget freaks, of­fer­ing low cost en­trylevel giz­mos that lead on to chain­saws and bur­glar alarm sys­tems while you are still mar­vel­ling at the speed of the check­out at­ten­dants.

Then there’s John Lewis, with its 57 va­ri­eties of potato peeler and 40 shapes of fry­ing pan. This is the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of the con­di­tion, where users cruise the aisles of the shiny, made com­fort­ably numb by the min­is­tra­tions of smil­ing en­ablers – I mean shop as­sis­tants.

Some brands see me com­ing. Alessi for ex­am­ple, with their re­tractable triv­ets that could neatly slice off fin­gers and their fid­dly tealight hold­ers and pasta testers, must have de­sign­ers who dream of suck­ers, ahem, dis­cern­ing cus­tomers like me. A beau­ti­ful shop, Ob­jects of Use, in Ox­ford where I live, has taken this ob­ses­sion with the Holy Grail of ‘fit­ness for pur­pose’ and el­e­vated it into an art form. The ob­jects from around the world – wooden birch cups made by the Sami rein­deer herders in Fin­land, hand­made Ja­panese um­brel­las (yours for €197, cheaper than a flight!) are cu­rated rather than dis­played. They don’t all cost the earth. Af­ter years of search­ing for the per­fect pan­cake maker, imag­ine my tri­umph when I re­cently emerged with a de Buyer iron crepe pan for only €18.50. My plea­sure was com­plete on dis­cov­er­ing it ac­tu­ally works!

Cer­tain stages of life are key op­por­tu­ni­ties for the gadget that you never dreamed you needed. My daugh­ter’s baby­hood found me at my most vul­ner­a­ble, for what she now calls ‘merch’ (the prop­erly cored ap­ple doesn’t fall far from the tree). I had four dif­fer­ent sorts of breast pumps none of which quite worked. But I later be­came very pop­u­lar as I lent them to var­i­ous rel­a­tives and friends. My great­est folly was the aqua­ma­rine Bumbo, an item ev­ery bit as ab­surd as it sounds. It was a plas­tic pot­ty­like de­vice de­signed to help your child sit up. This phase lasts about five min­utes whereas the Bumbo is in­de­struc­tible and the sort of use­less plas­tic mon­stros­ity that her­alds the end of civil­i­sa­tion.

Beauty and health prod­ucts are an­other weak spot. I have in my possession a se­ries of fiendish de­vices with pointy nee­dles that wouldn’t look out of place in a me­dieval tor­ture cham­ber. They are de­signed to stim­u­late the fas­cia con­nec­tive tis­sue, a sort of cling­film of the mus­cles, the sag­ging of which turns mid­dle-aged women into the Pil­bury Dough Boy. The ‘cure’ suc­ceeded in bruis­ing me black and blue. But my ut­ter nadir was post-birth when I suc­cumbed to vagi­nal ‘Kegel’ weight balls sup­posed to help with restor­ing pelvic floor mus­cles. I took one look at them, nearly peed my­self as I col­lapsed into help­less laugh­ter and opted for the Pi­lates class in­stead. They still re­main coffined in their box, un­used – an ob­ject of mirth that I call on when I want to re­mind my­self of the empty boasts of face lifters or chin shapers.

The suc­cess of cer­tain chain stores and those sup­ple­ments that fall out of news­pa­pers proves to me I am not alone in my love of the shiny ob­ject of de­sire. ‘Gad­gets Anon’, any­one?

But maybe we aren’t a to­tal lost cause. Per­haps we can be re-branded as the brave early adopters who drive the econ­omy as we con­tinue our quest for the per­fect egg poacher or foldable wash­ing line (Bra­ban­tia’s wall fixed one is ter­rific by the way).

Ul­ti­mately it might be the tri­umph of hope over de­spair, a Pollyanna-ish be­lief in the en­dur­ing in­ge­nu­ity of hu­mans. The kind of hope which means we don’t just tilt at wind­mills or re­gard them as ar­chaic ways of milling ar­ti­sanal flour but one day re-ver­sion them as an en­ergy source. Per­haps this in­ge­nu­ity will solve cli­mate change (bet­ter get a move on, in­ven­tors!). And us devo­tees of the bet­ter potato peeler or eye­brow tweezer can con­grat­u­late our­selves that by keep­ing hope alive we have played our part in solv­ing the big­gest chal­lenge of all.

And in the mean­time – per­fect crepes, any­one?

Aldi and Lidl are like street deal­ers to gadget freaks like me – my house is lit­tered with signs of my ad­dic­tion

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