Posts Tagged ‘labour-saving devices’

I‘ve read a rash of articles in the press recently advising us how to cope with a busy work/life balance – “How to keep a busy life organised;” “Are we too busy to enjoy life” – that kind of thing and it got me thinking. Why are we suddenly all so busy? What are we busy with? Are we busier now than we used to be? Or are we just less efficient at it? Do we regard whatever it is that makes us ‘busy’ a chore and by taking this view point are we then making whatever it is that we are busy at take longer therefore making us believe we are living manically hectic lives?

It’s a vicious circle, isn’t it?

And why are we all suddenly so bad at coping when everything these days is geared towards making life easier?

Supermarkets are open every day thereby obviating the need to plan a weekly shop – so we can be less efficient with our food shopping knowing that if we’ve forgotten anything, we can just nip out at any time of the day or night and pick it up.

Our homes are filled with every labour saving device known to man, our cars can virtually park themselves as well as let us know when a service is due – the need for forward thinking is redundant.


This was exactly the model of machine I used, back in the day. Photo courtesy of the Typewriter Museum

Take publicity, for instance. I’ve been helping Son with a bit of book promotion this week. I sent a few emails – or rather, I sent the same email to a long list of potential customers or addresses where a little extra exposure may be forthcoming. It’s all so easy; took no time at all – I could hardly admit to being busy, especially as I was cooking a casserole at the same time – and I thought back to my old days working in PR, before the advent of the internet, and how long the process was then to send out one press release.


Photographs would be selected, text would be written, approved and then typed up on an old manual typewriter (even when I left, in 1990, I had only just taken delivery of an electric golf-ball machine); a catchy title would be dreamed up and some poor soul would spend hours perfecting a heading using sheets of Letraset with strips of sticky tape on stand-by to eradicate quickly any mistakes. It was painstaking.

Picture from Wikipedia

Sheets of Letraset. Picture from Wikipedia

Once the copy sheet was completed it had to be sent to a printer because the only photocopiers in use in those days were the ones that employed a continuous roll of unpleasant shiny grey paper, something called toner and powdered black ink, which would end up all over your business clothes if you were unfortunate enough to be the one who discovered that it needed topping up.

The printed copies would arrive back usually within a day and then the photos would be pasted to the text before stuffing the whole thing into a hard-backed envelope for posting on a Friday afternoon, ready for the editor’s desk on a Monday morning. It took ages – but we were busy.

So now, with all these wonderful software packages on our computers, a myriad of fonts (I prefer to refer to them as typeface – I was always under the impression that a font was where the printers stored their ink) and the ability to change colours and presentations at the touch of a keypad, life is so simple – everything is so quick.

Productivity, I hear you suggest. We can pump out more and more STUFF. Well, yes, we can, and perhaps that is what happens these days but is MORE necessarily better? Considering the country has been in the worst recession experienced for decades, being ‘busy’ hasn’t really helped, has it?

To find your old typewriter, visit the Typewriter Museum website for a nostalgic tour of old office machinery: 

Ah, yes, those were the days.



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What is the meaning of the word gadget? I checked the dictionary and am now totally confused.

  1. Ingenious device – a small device that performs or aids a simple task.
  2. Trivial device – a small device that appears useful but is often unnecessary or superfluous.

So perhaps I don’t mean gadget at all. Perhaps ‘labour saving device’ would be more accurate. How do you get on with those? I’m not sure that I do, on the whole, although I wouldn’t be without the washing machine or dishwasher especially if someone else does the loading and unloading. I could live without a microwave oven though – it seems to justify its position only by heating milk for the odd hot chocolate or reheating spaghetti sauce.

I’m sure that some of the objects we’ve had as a household over the years, either bought or gifted, have been designed with the best intentions of making life easier for the user, to save time doing mundane tasks. But do they? How much thought has really gone into these items by their design teams and testers? Who are these testers, I wonder, and do they test them in real life situations as well as in their lab/design studio?

The first item I have issue with is my bag-less vacuum cleaner. I was sucked into having one of these on the back of a brilliant advertising campaign which preyed on my domestic anxiety by suggesting that up until the point at which I used one, my house was filled with microscopic dust particles that my old vacuum just wasn’t picking up. My house, therefore, was filthy.


It’s an upright Dyson. No doubt at all about its aesthetic qualities – but did Mr Dyson, during one of the alleged 5127 attempts at getting his design perfect, ever lug it up two flights of stairs? It weighs a ton and is awkward to carry. The see-through cylinder has its drawbacks, too. We might be fooled into thinking that just because we can see the multicoloured striations of accumulated house dust it must be picking up more detritus than its with-a-bag predecessor – but how do we really know? Then there’s the micro-filter to deal with. You’re supposed to remove it periodically and wash it. Just don’t forget to put it back because it makes a hell of a mess if you don’t.

Emptying the cylinder is fraught with difficulty, too. Where is one supposed to do this task? Outside is like the random scattering of a loved one’s ashes with the wind in the wrong direction. Indoors and there is every likelihood that millions of micro particles will escape and burrow themselves ever deeper into your carpets while an ash cloud billows up into your face. Having shelled out a not inconsiderable sum for this monstrosity I’m loathe to ditch it just yet, but I’m not happy.

 A gadget that I’ve definitely not missed since it found its way to the charity shop is the slow cooker. Given to us as a wedding present by a well meaning aunt, I persevered with it for a while, following recipes from the accompanying cook book. However, it was certainly not labour saving, as meat and onions had to be browned before it was transferred to said pot, requiring reluctant culinary skills before 7.00am plus I’d arrive at work smelling like I’d been selling burgers from a van outside Wembley Stadium. Neither did it produce a very nice meal to come home to after a long day at work and a disrupted commute. Most of the recipes suggested six hours to cook anything and at that time we were probably out of the house for almost double that, so would arrived home starving to a pot full of slushy over cooked mush.

Toasters: we’ve had several different types over the years ranging from two to four slice capacity, cheap to expensive models and none of them produce consistently toasted bread so while not fulfilling their purpose, they are taking up valuable space on the work top. We end up toasting under the grill.

Cappuccino/espresso maker: Been there, done that. Regular readers will know that I’ve divested myself of any coffee making related gadgetry – you can’t beat an old fashioned Cafetière. Too much cleaning involved with the other variety which fails to deliver a decent cup at the correct strength or temperature.

So I come to the latest addition to my labour saving arsenal. A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of a good friend, I purchased a steam cleaner. It comes with a myriad of attachments, can be used upright to clean floors in a jiffy or hand held it tackles those difficult to clean places like your hob, your upholstery, around taps and your shower tray. The combined enthusiasm of my friend (Mrs N. – you know who you are), and the cleaner’s accompanying literature convinced me that this would cut my cleaning time in half.  Well, frankly, the jury’s still out. Having wrestled to get the thing put together in the first place I realised almost immediately that, for me at least, there is a major design flaw. Being tall, the handle height appeared to be at a comfortable level until I discovered that the lever which must be continually pressed down for steam to be released is situated at the base of the hand held area, shortening the upright by around four inches. Now this might not sound much but I can assure you it increases the angle of lean considerably thereby increasing the level of back ache.

A steam cleaner is also supposed to obviate the need for detergents which sounds very environmentally friendly I know,  but cleaning just doesn’t feel the same without a bottle of Flash or Cillit Bang to hand. And all that steam! Surely it goes somewhere to create mould related cleaning problems for which I’m betting there’ll be another gadget. However, I shall persevere for a while: if all else fails I can always get aforementioned friend to come round and give me a demo.


Wait a minute: that’s just given me a thought. The best labour saving device ever must be to employ a cleaner; a treasure who’ll come round regularly and do all those tedious jobs for you. Worth their weight in gold, I reckon. Is that a bit bourgeois? I’d be doing my bit to decrease unemployment. It’s a win win situation.  Hmm … I bet they’d get to grips with a steam cleaner. Perhaps I could stipulate a height requirement in my advert …

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