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