The Abhorrent Vacuum



Long ago I read that you could tell a columnist was in trouble when he started writing about stuff that happened around the house. Now there are entire careers based on nothing else but domestic ephemera. There are a legion of writers who seem to trail behind their children and their pets with notebooks in search of material. Today I join their ranks.

I sacked the cleaner a few months back when I realised he spent his time talking to me while his partner did all the work. I don’t regret that but every so often I am forced to clear a path to vital locations such as the fridge, the toilet and the sofa. For this I put my faith in labour-saving devices.

The vacuum cleaner is designed to appeal to single men. How else can the faux-automobile styling be explained? The whooshing motor, the sleek sports car lines, the red paint job, the impressively telescopic nozzle, it’s all about seducing the gormless male buyer. It was ever thus. The first motorized vacuum cleaner circa 1901 was a petrol-powered, horse-drawn monstrosity which relied upon air drawn by a piston pump through a cloth filter. It was invented by a man and yes it was red. Its inventor Hubert C Booth spent as much time picking up the horse’s droppings which no doubt limited the effectiveness of his device. Ever since, men have been inventing new versions, which are invariably useless, every last one of them.

I grew up watching the Godfreys TV ads where the guy with the comb-over picked up the 16-pound bowling bowl with his trusty Electrolux. It’s that kind of grunt that has kept me buying vacs for years. The fact that the bowling ball suction cup never came as an accessory should have been a giveaway, because they keep dying on me. Inevitably they end up with the suction of an emphysema-stricken chain smoker. An hour’s furious activity knocking the paint off walls and the only impression I make are wheel tracks in the muck. And my cleaning regime is erratic. I haven’t covered the surface area of a tennis court since 2000.

Recently, I bought a “cyclonic” bagless model because, as everyone knows, cyclones move heavy stuff like houses and caravans with ease.

It was a thing of beauty with a grille like a mini Mack truck and a dust canister fit for biohazard storage. For the first month, it sucked the labels off beer bottles but soon my $500 purchase was reduced to the feeble wheeze of all its predecessors. Now I can grind away on a feather for 10 minutes and still finish picking it up with my fingers. To add insult to injury, my vac has an adjustable power control. On low speed, it wouldn’t part the hair of a cockroach. On high, the roach gets a little resistance training but scuttles away. Really my dog is doing a better job of cleaning up, at least the random pests and meat scraps.

The next time I buy a vac, I want the guy with his bowling ball again but this time I want it suspended just above his head. Then someone can pull the throttle back to low, not because I want to check the power of the vac. I want to be sure the damn bowling ball is real.


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