You get what you pay for, especially vacuum cleaners

Vacuuming – how dated is that? Actually shoving some massive, noisy, heavy machine over every inch of floor to suck up dust.
Why, in the 21st century, isn’t there some laser wash that vapourises the dirt and turns it into rose-smelling smoke? Surely Amazon can come up with this, and schedule it to clean your home at 4am, leaving you with nothing but a hint of roses and an Also Recommended For You hologram?
We had a Dyson, when they were a new thing, and it was brilliant, really sucky and good. But after years of misuse hard work it started to flag a bit and I decided it wasn’t worth the cost of replacing the filters and the hoses so we tipped it.
I also decided that seeing as it was years since smug James Dyson had come up with the bagless revolution, every other vacuum manufacturer must have caught up and probably gone one better. So instead of taking out a second mortgage for a new Dyson, I got a cut price Vax.

What was I thinking??

***Rant Alert***

‘Let’s get started’. Let’s not bother, eh?

It sucks. Figuratively and literally. It sucks the grime, which is the only positive thing I can say about it. It also sucks rugs, cables (including its own), dressing gown cords, tubes of wine gums (still bitter about that) – anything within a two-foot radius it grabs and mawls. When it does this a red light blinks on and it cuts out and you have to stop and pull your shredded rug or charging cable out of the sweeper head. It oversucks. It totally sucks.
It also weighs three tonnes; fills up too fast; gets you filthy when you have to empty it; has a short, useless hose that keeps falling out; needs totally dismantling when you need a longer hose; has nowhere to store the stupid tools that come with it – which is actually fine as the stupid tools don’t fit on the hose properly and split and fall off all the time anyway; it can’t cope with any kind of change in height, so you have to pick it up and drop it down every time you go from carpet to floorboard (we have a lot of floorboards because we can’t afford carpets they are stylish and cool).
And, cardinal vacuum cleaner sin, the cable winding hook thingie isn’t big enough to take all the stupid cable, so it falls off in the cupboard and trips people up and gets wound round the ironing bag and sweeps all the shoes off the shelf.
Last week it sucked up some Black Jacks and got jammed. I needed to take the hoses off and ram a skewer up it, but they wouldn’t come off. So I spent half an hour looking for the manual (thinking all the while of the old faithful Dyson, which you dismantled in trice with the charming help of a 2p piece, no screwdrivers required).
When I found the manual there was no clue as to how to pull it apart, so I used brute force, eventually unjamming it and covering myself in fluff, loom bands, hairballs and sticky Black Jacks in the process.
Then, as you do, I texted my husband to tell him all about it.

I want one of these (the maid, not the machine)

That night he came home with a Dyson, a cordless, rechargeable one. It is a thing of beauty, despite only having 20 minutes worth of charge and costing the equivalent of two months’ groceries. Vacuuming now has to be planned and timetabled, so I can get the best out of the Dyson in between charges, with the hated Vax picking up the slack. But it is so much better.
My lesson is learned. For so long we have this idea that you are being made a mug of if you pay over the odds for something. Find the top price and the top brand then keep downsizing and downsizing until they are paying you – and its just as good, yes?
No.
This works for Jaffa Cakes and Lidl coffee but not much else.
My father in law is a master at this, combing Amazon and eBay for cheap knock-offs that are – he claims – as good as the branded ones. They aren’t. Last year it was a smart watch, ‘just as good as an Apple – you can check your emails on your wrist’. Thing is, he doesn’t need a smart watch, Apple or otherwise. Six months later: “Do you want the smart watch? The strap isn’t very good, you can’t read the screen and it isn’t compatible with anything, but you can check your emails on your wrist!” Same thing went for the cut-price fake Go-Pro camera thing (“the picture isn’t great, and you can only record 30 seconds of footage but it is splashproof!”) and the £25 tablet (“it’s a bit slow, it keeps turning itself off and the charger is dodgy – but you can check your emails on it!”).

Things it is worth paying top dollar for – a list born out of bitter, bitter experience

  • Dyson vacuum cleaners. See above.
  • White Company bedsheets. Oh the sheer luxury of sliding between posh cotton sheets. So much better than anything you will get from Argos. You will sleep better, you really will.
  • Yankee Candles. Fifteen quid for a scented candle! But they last for months and smell divine. None of the cheap knock offs come close, and I have been through them all.
  • Hotel Chocolat. Thorntons seems greasy, Cadbury seems sugary, everything else seems bland after you’ve scoffed a box of these.
  • Dulux & Crown paint. Others are much, much cheaper. They are cheaper because you need twice as much to cover the same area, and then they peel off. Come and look at my stairs if you don’t believe me.
  • Apple Macintosh 1 computer

    The first and still the best. Couldn’t afford one then, can’t afford one now…

  • Apple iPads, iPhones, iMacs and Macbooks. Design classics, cost far too much but so much better than anything else. The first computers I ever used were Apples, and I’d still rather have them than the clunky Windows laptop I am stuck with now.
  • Antler luggage. Bust the overdraft eight years ago to buy a set of bright red luggage, which cost more than the clothes I packed inside it. They came with their own dust bags. Dust bags! They have been used dozens of times, for everything from cruises to Brownie camping trips, and are still rock solid and because they are bright red they never get lost at baggage reclaim.
  • Ghd hair straighteners. They cost five times as much as other brands but they get your hair six times straighter and sleeker, and in a sixth of the time.
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Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #11: American Gods

Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday in American Gods

Big Neil Gaiman fan here. I especially liked Ocean At The End of the Lane and Neverwhere. I bloody loved Neverwhere. I never read American Gods though, so apart from a big bowlful of magical realism, I didn’t know what to expect.
I still don’t know what to expect.

The thing that I suppose has put off anyone trying to adapt American Gods before, is that it isn’t a start to finish story but a massive ever-evolving circle.

Czernobog

This is Czernobog and this is his hammer

Nothing is explained, and at the start you have to just sit back and enjoy the road trip.
It is the stunning cinematography that kept me watching at first; one tiny but exquisitely crafted scene saw a road map of Illinois swivel and transform seamlessly into the lock on a motel room door.
No-one strikes a match in American Gods without the scene slowing down and zooming in so you can see every particle of the match, hear every crackle of the tiny flame.

The plot is a road movie crossed with a fantasy quest: An extraordinarily dense ex-con called Shadow Moon is taken up by a mysterious con-artist called Mr Wednesday.
Wednesday is travelling through middle America visiting oddballs and persuading them to meet him in Wisconsin for a war.
They – or, to be precise, Shadow – are pursued by some Bad Guys who take over TVs and talk in riddles.
It takes Shadow a long, long time – the whole series in fact – to suss out that Wednesday is recruiting a gang of old gods to fight the new gods and that his boss is one of the original old-style war gods, Odin himself (the clue was in the name – Odin/Woden’s day = Wednesday).

Put like that, it sounds a bit like a Marvel super heroes movie, but it’s not even on the same planet.
In Gaiman’s world, gods aren’t buff do-gooders with a paper-thin backstory. Instead, they rely on worship – on people praying to them, sacrificing to them, building altars to them.
Once they are forgotten by their disciples, they die. In modern day America, the gods are now technology, media and globalisation, and they are vast and powerful, taking over many of the old beliefs and forging them again – like turning Easter into a chintz-fest of white rabbits and pastel-coloured macaroons.

Is your heart heavier than a feather? Well, is it?

The old gods are muttering in damp apartments or desperately flicking through Tindr in search of worshippers. They were brought to America by settlers, and some of the best scenes in the series depict how this happened.
A boat of early Viking raiders summon Odin, and leave him there when they decide the New World is a bit too rubbish. An Irish woman sentenced to transportation brings with her belief in the little folk; a Muslim woman who heard tales of the Egyptian dieties from her mother holds them in her heart when she moves to America; Ghanian teller of tales Anansi, the spider god, arrived with slaves in the sweating hold of a Dutch cargo ship.

The clincher as to whether I loved this series or just sort of admired it came at the start of episode three. The Egyptian woman – now living in Queens – falls off a rickety stool, dies, and is visited by Anubis, who weighs her heart and invites her to choose which door she will pass through into the underworld. This small scene was breathtakingly beautiful. The camera falls dizzyingly down through the apartment block, then journeys back up the fire escape to a sun-crossed land of ancient deserts. The woman’s face is careworn but beautiful, the colours are like a hand-tinted sepia film reel. I had to watch it three times.

Laura Moon

Laura Moon. Dead wife. With flies

If there is one thing American Gods has, it is depth. We don’t need to see the goddess Bilquis absorbing people into her vagina (yes, she actually does that. Loads of times). We don’t need to hear Anansi, Ghanian god of storytelling, tell it like it is to a sweltering hold of African slaves. But they give the series a boundless horizon, a sense that anything could happen.

And we will have to wait until the next season to find out exactly what is going to happen. Series one ends with nothing resolved and everything still to play for. I can’t wait that long – I’ve started reading the book.

Things I think about as I colour-co-ordinate my pegs

  • If Shadow’s dead wife Laura Moon is brought back to life what will happen to her half-rotted body? And what about the fact she has no organs? How does this resurrection stuff work anyway?
  • She tried to kill herself with fly-spray and is now surrounded by flies attracted to her rotten maggoty flesh. I see that. But don’t get it.
  • And why is Laura so superhumanly strong now she’s dead? OK, enough about Laura now.
  • Shadow Moon is really a bit of a docile thickie, so why are the nasty new gods so keen to recruit him? Why does everyone already know who he is?
  • Is a leprechaun a god? I thought they were just like Little People from the land of faerie, hanging about around rainbows and stuff.
  • That bank job Wednesday pulls, acting like a security guard. Would that work? (Asking for a friend).

Just say so

So, I inhabit a shadowy netherworld (Lincolnshire) where the latest trends and high fashion passes me by, or arrives thirty years late (our local Co-op doesn’t stock ‘posh’ avocados and I still haven’t seen Frozen – although I feel it often enough).
But even I can’t help notice the amount of times people are starting a sentence with ‘so’.
It started with radio interviews, usually politicians, but now it is everywhere. Whenever anyone is asked a straight question, they start their answer with “So, blah blah di blah blah…”
It makes no grammatical sense. It is bloody infuriating. But it spreads, like fidget spinners or loom bands (see, I do keep up with some trends). And, a bit like fidget spinners, no-one seems to realise they are doing it, and that makes it even more annoying.
My research (Google) says it began in America with techie geeks back in the 90s, who used it to give themselves more time to answer, possibly because English wasn’t their first language.
It is also used as a way of engaging with the questioner, making them think you are weighing up their query and then ignoring it and answering a totally different question – the question you wanted to answer in the first place. This is usually something like ‘why are you and your political party so great?’

And so say all of us

So far, so good


Saying so is also thought to indicate the speaker has been coached in interview techniques. It sounds more definite than ‘er’ or ‘um’, as if a more serious, thoughtful reply is about to follow.
Tony Blair, the ultimate media manipulator, started his replies with ‘well’ a lot, as a way of giving weight to them. Also popular, but slightly more aggressive, is ‘anyway’.
When the speaker drops the ‘so’ and plunges right in you know you have got to the real answers, without the media training.
I’m not buying this – I think verbal tics spread, like nits. You pick them up off someone and they are almost impossible to throw off.
When I went to college there was a big contingent of Northern Irish students. Within a month us English teenagers were unconsciously mimicking their accent. I shared a house with a couple from Down South and I found myself speaking as if everything was a question – that upward intonation at the end of every sentence that Australians and some Americans use.
Remember a few years ago, when everyone said ‘like’ or ‘you know what I mean’? (David Beckham was terrible at this). Phrases spread too: ‘How are you?’ ‘Oh, I’m good, thanks.’ ‘Do you want to play with this fidget spinner?’ ‘Ah no, I’m good.’
Good? As opposed to bad, or naughty? Who says you’re good, your mum?
Hand and the words 'so what?'

Just so


Similarly, when I started watching Elementary back in 2012 I was perplexed to hear the police (I mean cops – this is America) talk about ‘reaching out’ to someone. I imagined an outstretched hand desperately grasping for a drowning soul.
But no, they meant call someone. Like, on the phone. “Americans, eh?” I shrugged – but I have heard people talk about reaching out this year, in this country.
I mean it when I say it is contagious. Someone offered me a drink and I shook my head and told them I was good, before biting off my tongue. I start sentences with ‘so’ all the time, and even when I know I’m doing it, I still do it.
We want to be part of the pack, say the psychologists. Sharing language traits shows we all belong – to a flock of parrots, presumably.
So, you know what will happen now? You will all start hearing the word ‘so’ at the start of sentences ALL THE TIME. And then you will all start unconsciously doing it too.
So be it.