The Thingness of Things
(Warning: This blog contains scenes of a domestic nature.)
Last week I was grieving – no, let’s get a sense of perspective here: I was mildly annoyed at the disappearance of my favourite wooden spoon, rumoured to have been conscripted by Mr Verity for a spot of paint-stirring. Imagine my delight when I found it at the bottom of my tin of kitchen utensils!
As you can see, it’s nothing much to look at: very short, with burn marks at the side, but I far prefer it to its longer, more elegant cousins, because somehow I can get more purchase with it. We make a good team.
This got me to thinking about our relationship with the objects we use daily, and how minutely we adapt ourselves to them. Anyone who laments they are not an expert on anything should bear in mind that they are an expert in the contents of their house. The years and years of practice have refined your touch and your perfect understanding of the things that surround you. Think about how tricky it can be to try and unlock someone’s back door, when you have not developed the correct sequence of leaning on the door, hearing a click, withdrawing the key 0.2mm and pressing down before turning it.
In fact other people’s houses can be a minefield. I really felt for a friend who came to stay and inadvertently pulled down the curtains in her room. They were quite heavy and we must quite unconsciously have developed the ideal horizontal flick of the wrist to get the rings sliding along the rail, and therefore neglected to warn her that there was a knack to it.
Inevitably I managed to pay this forward a few years later when I in my turn was a guest at someone else’s house. I went to run a bath for the children and couldn’t turn the tap on. Irritated by my own feebleness, I told myself to get a grip and did it so successfully that I ripped the tap out . . . ‘Oh, yes, it is a bit stiff,’ said my kind hosts.
Perhaps my unsuccessful encounters with strange mechanisms explain why I’m such a late adopter. Left to my own devices I would probably still be listening to vinyl on a Dansette, and my fellow dames will testify to the petulant scenes they witnessed when I finally got a smart phone. I’m also very attached to my old Lancashire potato peeler, unravelling orange string and all, because I’ve never been able to master the art of those flighty, swivelly-blade thingies.
Instruction manuals just don’t cut it, and the fact that they’re now mostly online means you need another device on which to read about what you’re meant to be doing on the one where the problem is. But at least I know others share my opinion: I was thrilled to see a tweet from someone dreading the biannual task of changing the clock on his cooker, and when I replied that I was summoning up the courage to do mine, he helpfully advised me to pour myself a glass of wine first.
Looking on the bright side, one advantage of lockdown is that I haven’t been able to go out and lay waste to other people’s houses, but be warned…