Hashtag Henry!

A Love that dare Not Speak its Name

It is the time of year when the wife launches her annual campaign to get me to agree to replace our old Henry the Hoover with a modern upright machine. As ever my response is the same, and is based on logic and a firm grasp of the practicalities: not on your bloomin’ Nelly! When the robots rise up, those arrogant Dyson bastards will be the first of the household appliances to defect. They’ll probably end up as concentration camp guards and Hugo Boss, who knows a good thing when he sees it, will design a range of snap-on plastic accessories in matt black with bijou little Teutonic emblems on them in silver. I’ve got more than enough on my plate already without having to monitor the activities of a potential fifth column in my own home, thank you so very much. And furthermore it is a man’s duty to protect his family at all costs, and to my mind an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. So no way, Hose A!

But there are bigger issues here. Speaking as somebody whose manufacturer’s warranty is rapidly heading towards expiry and whose motor’s rpm has degraded significantly below the production line benchmark, I feel a justified sense of unease lest the idea of replacing me with a newer model spring as effortlessly to the distaff mind. What of loyalty, of trust? Is a sense of obligation for a lifetime’s faithful service rendered considered an outmoded idea by today’s hip ‘n’ happening youth? O temporae, o mores!

He has been a part of our little family for so long that I cannot remember when Henry joined us. A brief calculation of house moves and other significant domestic events would suggest a period somewhere in the region of twenty five years. And let me tell you, in all that time there has not been a single occasion when the sight of his cheery and optimistic countenance has failed to brighten my day. On many a drear Monday winter morning, when the spirit quailed at the idea of doing anything more taxing than removing an errant blob of shaving foam from the ear and going back to bed for another hour, the sight of his chirpy smile has enabled me to manfully shoulder my burdens and continue plodding onwards through life.

In truth it was not until I retired that I came fully to appreciate his virtues. To be sure I knew Henry to be useful and biddable and, if not built for speed or elegance, to be reliable in the extreme, given a regular maintenance schedule duly adhering to the recommendations given in the accompanying literature. He was also the occasion of more that one late night post-pub Trip and Fall incident, but as this was due to him being left in novel and surprising locations by a junior member of the household the blame can scarcely be laid at his door, and I bore him no lasting grudge.

People give their motorcars names, and as any sailor will tell you sufficient acquaintance with a vessel will reveal a collection of quirks and characteristics that can, with only a minimal dash of poetic license, be construed as a personality. And the more time I spent with Henry, the more I was ineluctably drawn to the realisation that here was a machine with genuine Soul. It was, in essence, the blossoming of a relationship which bas endured to this day.

If you are planning to spend any great deal of time with a mechanical contrivance, you are well advised to familiarise yourself with the component parts and standard operating procedures as detailed in the accompanying manual. It is worth pointing out that the manufacturer did not write this for his own amusement or to while away an idle hour. The purpose is to allow you to work as independently as possible, without having to pester people who have plenty of stuff of their own to be going on with about something you could have found out for yourself on page twelve of the instructions if only you had had the gumption to look. Do you know what the little round brush thing that came with your hoover is for? I do. And you could too, if only you had taken five minutes out of your busy social whirl to have a quick flip through the leaflet.

But as somebody who has spent a considerable amount of time attempting to reduce drag on the customer contact point by providing clear and helpful user instructions, I appreciate that this is an unrealistic ideal. The best you can hope for is that when faced with something not working as they think it should, the average user will have a couple of pokes at it to see if they can make it any worse before picking up the phone and calling Tech Support. Pour your heart and soul into it, if you want. Go the extra mile to anticipate every potential hurdle, write the most lucid and clear prose and provide helpful diagrams which even a five year old could grasp. It will do you no bloody good. Five minutes after release you’ll be deluged by fools who can’t find the On button, no matter what you do. You could in fact substitute your entire manual with a drawing of whatever it is you’ve just rolled out, a systems dashboard or a new piece of telecoms kit, whatever. Put a big red X through it, and draw a caveman standing next to it, scratching his head. At the top, write “New Thing Bust?” in big letters, and below give the phone number of the helpdesk. Exactly the same end result, but without all the heartbreak. But I am a pragmatic chap, and I have learned to endure that which I cannot change.

We normally see each other on a daily basis, Henry and I. We have a simple rota. Areas of heavy traffic, such as hall, kitchen, first landing and reception rooms done daily. Then a rolling supplement of other rooms, with areas of special focus defined by contingency or by Mrs B’s tolerance threshold being approached too closely. It isn’t a grueling regime and, Pledge and duster close to hand, we broach the day’s allotted singing lustily or mumbling brokenly and incoherently as the mood takes us. He trundles along behind me quite happily as I perform balletic maneuvers to reach spiderwebs in awkward ceiling corners, or really put my back into digging into those awkward bits on the stairs with the crevice tool. The latter is an unfortunately named accessory, which I am well aware that more than one of you on here will find deeply amusing in a puerile fashion.

We both rather enjoy our daily workout. It counts as exercise, and there is the undeniable satisfaction of a job well done. But I would not like to give you the impression that it is all work and no play for the little chap. We change his dust bag every month, as per the manufacturer’s suggested and when the weather’s nice we take the opportunity to go out on the patio and give him a thorough scrub down inside and out. If you are one of those slatterns who only changes your hoover dust bag when the motor reaches a pitch of whining desperation and the smell of burning plastic from the top cover becomes unendurable, might I suggest that you are missing out on one of life’s simpler pleasures? It’s like a day out at Alton towers for the wee man. Whoops and peals of laughter fill the air as we give him a good wash down, rinse out the extension nozzles and brush heads and get his dust filter nice and clean. The high point is pouring a jug full of hot soapy water down the hose because [leans in confidentially] the best way to dry it is to hold one end of it, stand in the middle of your lawn with your arms outstretched and spin round and round really fast until you’re dizzy. But even the happiest, sun-dappled day must come to an end and it is time for Henry to go to his little home in the cupboard under the stairs. Where, I assume, he enjoys a vibrant social life with the Vileda mop and bucket, the small pair of steps and the sundry other domestic articles. But a chap’s entitled to his private life and I have no wish to pry.

Now, with your hand on your heart, can you correctly and without cheating tell me the voltage and frequency of your hoover motor? Can you quote the drum size or the sound pressure in decibels? Do you have the number of your nearest certified maintenance engineer programmed into your mobile phone? I would wager that not one in ten of you could honestly answer these questions. And, quite frankly, this is a national disgrace. Have you ever wondered why, in multilingual instruction manuals, English is always at the back? It’s not due to alphabetical listing, or customer base size or anything like that. It’s because the people who write them know exactly who is actually going to get some use out of the manuals, and who is just going to chuck them over their shoulder with an inarticulate grunt along with all the rest of the packaging the first time they open the box.

The Finns take this sort of thing very seriously. Accost the average Finn in the street, and he will be able to tell you the specs of the last three models that he has owned of any class of domestic appliance you care to name. In most Finnish homes, pride of place is given to a ring binder in which every piece of documentation for each household item is preserved in clear plastic envelopes. Some of these collections go back generations and are considered as treasured family heirlooms. The Germans are efficient in their Teutonic fashion as you might expect, but lack the vital elan of the Finns. The Croats prove themselves to be surprisingly reliable. The wily and inscrutable Italians are in the middle of the league, and the proud and stiff-necked Ukrainian (“We don’ need no steenkin’ Manuels!”) and the doltish Bulgar duke it out for second and third from the bottom.

“Mais les Anglais?” as the Finns themselves say, with an expressive shrug and a contemptuous curl of the lip. “Quel connerie!” It is a universally accepted fact of life that any user manual unlucky enough to be orphaned into a British home can at the very best expect to be chucked into a random drawer, only ever to be stumbled across again when the owner is looking for something entirely different. All over the land, an army of these ignored and abandoned waifs lead existences which could have been a thousand times more fruitful if only Fate had been kinder.

Here I believe we have covered as much as we usefully can in our allotted time, and it is best at this juncture to draw a line under the whole sorry debacle. But before we part, my young friends, I would like to give you a piece of advice which I wish had been given to me in my own callow youth, and it is this. No matter what vicissitudes life has in store for you, no matter what mortal peril or peaks of transcendent joy you may experience always, always remember to RTFM.

Good day to you.
© bobo 2020