Not the Mothers of Invention, but some inventions for a wife and mother

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (May 2008)

Things I wish they would invent. Whoever “they” are.

I have just re-read Arnold Bennett’s Anna of the Five Towns. In a more cheerful mood he also wrote The Card, which made a rather good film staring Alec Guinness. It is set in the same towns (The Potteries) at the same time, and with several of the same characters mentioned, but in a different atmosphere and mood. 

The Card is Edward Henry Machin, known as Denry to his mother to save time, and his story of how he worked hard, became rich and married his sweetheart. As his prosperity grows his mother, who is getting old, is reluctant to share in it. He takes her to see a new house he has heard about.

“And then I think he's a bit mad." (Says Denry to his Mother)

"Mad?" (She replies)

"Well, touched. He's got a notion about building a funny sort of a house for himself on a plot of land at Bleakridge. It appears he's fond of living alone, and he's collected all kind of dodges for doing without servants and still being comfortable." . . .

The moon shone in the chill night. The house stood back from Trafalgar Road in the moonlight—a squarish block of a building.

"Oh!" said Mrs Machin, "it isn't so large."

"No! He didn't want it large. He only wanted it large enough," said Denry, and pushed a button to the right of the front door. There was no reply, though they heard the ringing of the bell inside. They waited. Mrs Machin was very nervous, but thanks to her sealskin mantle she was not cold.

"This is a funny doorstep," she remarked, to kill time.

"It's of marble," said Denry.

"What's that for?" asked his mother.

"So much easier to keep clean," said Denry.

"Well," said Mrs Machin, "it's pretty dirty now, anyway."

It was.

"Quite simple to clean," said Denry, bending down. "You just turn this tap at the side. You see, it's so arranged that it sends a flat jet along the step. Stand off a second."

He turned the tap, and the step was washed pure in a moment.

"How is it that that water steams?" Mrs Machin demanded.

"Because it's hot," said Denry. "Did you ever know water steam for any other reason?"

"Hot water outside?"

"Just as easy to have hot water outside as inside, isn't it?" said Denry.

"Well, I never!" exclaimed Mrs Machin. She was impressed.

"That's how everything's dodged up in this house," said Denry. . .

Denry began to exhibit to his mother a tank provided with ledges and shelves and grooves, in which he said that everything except knives could be washed and dried automatically. . .

"I like this balustrade knob being of black china."

"Every knob in the house is of black china," said Denry. "Never shows dirt. But if you should take it into your head to clean it, you can do it with a damp cloth in a second."

"And then when you want a regular turn-out, as you call it," said Denry, "there's the vacuum-cleaner."

The vacuum-cleaner was at that period the last word of civilisation, and the first agency for it was being set up in Bursley. Denry explained the vacuum-cleaner to the housewives, who had got no further than a Ewbank.

Denry, of course, has had the house built especially for his mother, and while he is showing her round, her things are being moved from his childhood home, and that house is demolished.

Mrs Machin is

I was vacuuming my downstairs the other day and getting quite irritated with the fiddly bits round the stairs and trying to bump the body of the cleaner round corners. There I am up the stairs with the business end of the suction pipe and the controls are behind me at the foot of the stairs. I need the on/off switch and the turn-to-full-power switch by my hands not 18’ away. If Dyson can dispense with the bag, and corner with the ball (neither of which I have tried – the Henry as recommended by Polish plumbers is good enough for me) surely some type of fingertip control can be devised. Perhaps some thin and flexible wire snaking down the pipe and coil. Or a radio wave like the remote control on the television which I don’t use where I can avoid it. I do worry about the effect of those waves on the cat. I suppose the answer why not is one of three things.
  1. There is no customer demand.
  2. It would make the appliance too heavy.
  3. It would make the appliance too expensive.
Denry’s fortunes really took off during a holiday to Llandudno on the coast of north Wales. A ship is wrecked. After watching the lifeboat rescue his future wife accidentally drops some chocolate in her friend’s glass of lemon. The lemon flavoured chocolate is delicious and is found to settle a nervous stomach. Denry organises boat trips to view the wreck, during which trips “Chocolate Remedy” is sold to ward off potential seasickness. After interest in the wreck wanes he sells the chocolate recipe for a substantial sum.
A lot of Marmite is eaten in our house, mainly on buttered toast. However careful I am I get Marmite in the butter dish. Unless using the squeezy tub I get a lot of butter in the Marmite. Would a mixture of butter and Marmite save time and have any commercial possibilities?
I think not. Some people prefer low fat margarine, others slightly salted butter. I like less butter but others like a lavish spread. Then the keeping qualities of butter and Marmite are quite different. Butter keeps for some weeks, Marmite keeps almost forever. Or so I am told; I have too high a turnover to have personal experience.
And another thing.

I spent last Saturday afternoon baking for a church cake sale. I went from sink and the washing up in rubber gloves, then across to the oven to bring out the cakes using oven gloves. Then back again. What about ovenproof washing up gloves? Or should that be waterproof oven gloves? Some light flexible indestructible stuff shot off from space suit technology. 

I know. Hideously expensive, impossible to recycle and why don’t I buy a dishwasher?
Changing the subject I couldn’t find my copy of The Card so I though I would buy another on Friday lunchtime, replacing a missing something being the best way of making sure the original turns up. There was no copy on the shelf of Books Etc, or Waterstones. The young man at the help desk looked puzzled, and seemed never to have heard of Arnold Bennett before.

He checked the stock on the computer

“Is this a new book?” He asked.

“1911” I replied.

Luckily for me the book is available on line courtesy of the Gutenburg project. The sequel, The Regent, which I have never owned, is also available on line. But I can’t enjoy an e-book. I spend some time each day reading the newspapers on line. I worked, when I had a job, at a computer. I can read in conditions of awkward discomfort while straphanging on the Jubilee line. But I like to hold a book in my hand. Which means that while I think the inventions above would make my life easier, I don’t think one of these newfangled kindles would give me any pleasure at all.

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