Not built to last?

It’s finally happened. After a shuddering explosion that sounded as though someone had petrol-bombed the house, and with a similar accompanying burning smell, my washing machine has finally washed its last and gone out in a blaze of dripping-wet washing and a death-throe leap across the kitchen floor.

We’ve been through a lot, me and the washer. Most notably the two years after my son was born when in a fit of self flagellation I decided to go down the washable nappy route. But the last few months have seen it creaking and groaning in its old age, ready to join the great spin cycle in the sky.

It’s always the way isn’t it? I’d only been thinking last week that the washer had been standing in the corner of the kitchen (yes Kirsty Allsopp, please do throw your hands up in horror!) dutifully washing for 16 years and how that must be something of an achievement in today’s not-built-to-last culture, when my hubris obviously facilitated the washer’s end.

I quickly ordered another one made by the same company and it’s due for delivery tomorrow. So, today a chipper northern man rang me to discuss delivery and point out that I’d been rather remiss in not ordering some sort of cover for this new item. Had I not seen it at the checkout? I pointed out that as my last washer had given me 16 trouble-free years, apart from a couple of years ago when the brushes went and were replaced by a local repair man who also doubled up as a psychic, yes, a psychic, and no, he hadn’t predicted its failure. I told him I’d not be in need of any sort of insurance cover as I was confident in the longevity of washers in my service. To which he replied, ‘well, they don’t make them like they used to.’ The washer wasn’t old enough to drive or vote, how could it possibly have passed into the category of ‘they don’t make them like they used to’? Surely such a refrain is reserved for old oak tables, 1930s semis and televisions. And why don’t they make them like they used to? Because they want your washer to break apparently, according to the chipper chap on the phone. Well, not this washer, and not this house, come on then planned obsolescence I’m ready for you!

ANTIDOTE: Buy things that will last.

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Decline and fall

I live in an area, in Guardianista speak, of ‘post-industrial’ decline. An interesting catch-all phrase meaning an area that was once incredibly useful to the economy but which is now seen as a drain on it. A blip. A polyps. A carbuncle. Something the government wishes would disappear back under the rag rug from which it came.

This town and its army of workers were called into being by the capitalist economy of the 19th century. They risked and lost their lives, like so many others across the northern industrial lands of England, to build, to mine, to catch, to create, and bring the industrial and technological leviathan to life. It breathed fire, it crumpled things underfoot, and centuries-old ways of life were brought to a shuddering halt to turn a once mostly rural economy into one based on urbanism. Millions came to live in places like this to work, raise families and pass their lives as the industrial juggernaut, like some dragon guarding its gold pacing the country leaving it smoking and utterly and irredeemably changed.

But the leviathan has moved elsewhere stalking for prey, it’s now just a puff of smoke in the distance, a faintly heard roar. Those workers, and millions like them, now based on the other side of the world, since we outsourced our labour, helped to create the modern lives we live now, those roads, bridges, railways lines, methods of communication, international travel and consumer goods.

But what happens to an army of workers that are no longer needed? Civic architecture that now looks surreally bombastic and out of place? Rows and rows of workers houses now no longer seen as being quite fitting for modern lifestyles?

Thousands of people whose ancestors had a purpose, whose lives were mapped out for them from birth end up as being a problem, in government speak, that should be managed in its decline. What’s the ultimate future of places like this? Do we end up as buildings buried under grass, like some deserted medieval village, slowly buried by the sands of time and years of irrelevance to the modern capitalist economy.

Surely anyone who gets an education or gets a job or gets a live should ship out and leave right? But that’s to forget about what makes up a life. I was born and brought up here, went away for four years to study but then came back. Why? Because sometimes the things that make a life go beyond that which can be quantified. Family, friends, neighbours, neighbourhoods, the sense that people here know you, familiarity, security, memories, knowing that in some small way you can make a difference to the lives of others. Not ideas that will work well on a spreadsheet but things, that to me, still count.

And those that are currently enjoying the upside of being the focus of the leviathan should remember that things are born and they die. Everything has its day and its season then passes. Life goes on.