Whenever I acquire a new machine - a TV, computer, vehicle or whatever - I experience a frisson of excitement at the factory-fresh smell, the pristine condition and, best of all, the promise of technological advance. The old machine may have been state-of-the-art in its day but there comes a time when its functions seem barely adequate, its flashing lights laughably dated and its once attractive bodywork embarrassingly unfashionable. No matter that it may have served long and reliably, inevitable demise lies in its inability to compete with the attractions of newer models. Nevertheless, it takes a breakdown to persuade me to buy a replacement. In this instance it was the washing machine: it had taken to spraying oil over the laundry during the drying phase and its time was up.
And so my frisson moment arrived with the delivery and installation of the new model which, according to the manual, would adjust its cycles according to ongoing calculations involving weight, water content and temperature - all measured by on-board electronic circuits - and thereby help to save the planet. But excitement turned abruptly to disenchantment when it failed in its first, basic function - to fill up with water. I called the helpline which, to my surprise, promised to send an engineer the next day.
The presence of so many tradesmen (never a tradeswoman) in the place lately has brought a few things to my notice. For example, the younger ones have modern names - such as Jake, Lee, Daniel or Zack - whereas the older men, who are in charge, tend to be called Dave or Mike. I have also seen evidence of training in customer relations, such as a willingness to be polite, offer helpful information and explain options when the job is not straightforward. Conversation outside of the usual topics - how the job is progressing or comparisons with other, similar jobs - is rare but, occasionally, one of them will let down his guard and reveal interests outside of work. But, considering they must spend a lot of time in other people's homes, I am generally disappointed that they don't have lots of outrageous or salacious stories to recount.
Lee, the washing machine engineer, phoned me several times before he actually arrived. He wanted advice on how to find the street, how to identify the building and detailed information on the parking situation. Having got the impression that he had just passed his driving test and was about to embark on his first job, I went out into the street to guide him to the door. I don't like to hang around looking over the shoulder of someone who is working - it feels a bit rude, perhaps even off-putting - but I wasn't confident in Lee's abilities so I leaned in. I tried putting him at ease with the offer of tea and some conversation but he seemed distracted and showed no interest in my theory as to why a clothes-washer is called a 'washing machine' whereas a dish-washer is not. Obviously no salacious stories would be forthcoming.
Evidently he was anxious about something but I soon discovered that, far from the challenge of technology, it was the parking situation that fazed him: he had only enough money for half an hour and the job was clearly going to take longer than that. I eased the pressure by stumping up the cash and Lee swung into action, demonstrating his expertise by systematically tracing the fault to a wrongly connected switch. Having rectified it he stood back, chuffed - and confident as any Dave or Mike - and expressed his disappointment with the manufacturer's lax testing procedures. Clearly, we cannot rely on new technology to save the planet: we need more Lees.