Friday, February 08, 2008

Doctor, doctor, am I a Luddite?

It had to happen sooner or later. After all it was nearly fifteen years old and the chrome wasn't quite as shiny as the day we bought it. It was a design classic: just past its diamond anniversary and barely changed in all that time. I was as accustomed to its beautiful ticking sound, as I am to the voices of my own family: it signified the imminent arrival of a warm breakfast. Two slices of bread were never transformed into toast quite as effortlessly as in our Dualit toaster, which went wrong last week.

There's no need to mourn though - no speedy send-off to appliance heaven with this little beauty: oh no my precious, no! As I have done several times before, I will repair it. The sheer simplicity of its design is its greatest strength: there are a mere four different active parts, which makes fault-finding easier than the Sun crossword. As the design evolves at geological speeds, there is no need for the manufacturers to maintain a colossal inventory of multifarious parts in a huge, anonymous warehouse just off the M23. I fondly imagine that they are stored in the equivalent of an elderly gentleman's front room, on plain shelves, just high enough for the elderly gentleman who's in charge of them to reach.

When working perfectly and standing proud and gleaming on the granite worktop, it has the air of an instrument that knows it's going to last. It seems to be constructed in metal from which I fondly imagine 'black-box' flight recorders are made. If the worst happened and an atomic bomb landed on Rod K Mansions, I think our ape-like descendants who may eventually roam the planet would be able to crank up a generator, pluck the toaster from the wreckage, plug it in and make a decent round of crispy bread snacks in no time at all.

It is the ultimate green option: in this era of the disposable, the durable is king. Who needs the gimmicks, who needs the add-ons? Who needs pop-up, auto-timing, kitchen-coordinating features when they can have something that works and goes on working when the lesser white goods have been sent for scrap?

But is this the only uncomplicated gadget that I have ever owned or does my choice of home technology tend toward the Luddite? I thought long, I thought hard and finally an image of a revolving 12 inch, perfectly clear glass platter formed in my mind's eye. Who needs automatic speed changing when you can easily lift the turntable and shift the tiny rubber band from one spindle to another to switch between long players and 45rpm singles? This was the Rega Planar 3, a black slab and no-nonsense audiophile option for spinning the vinyl and generating the music of my youth.

It too was a design classic with few parts, but those that were included were highly engineered to deliver sonic perfection. I fondly imagine that the designers spent hundreds of hours honing their craft and delivering a platform worthy of Mozart, Brahms and Tchaikovsky: I of course played the Clash, but it sounded brilliant all the same.

Like the Dualit, the Rega was built to last, and last it did. Sadly, the software, as those Eighties Hi-Fi magazines used to call it didn't: usurped by the technically inferior but highly popular CD. It became harder and harder to find the tunes I liked pressed into the spiralling groove of the record and so the Rega was put out to grass and finally to the ignominy of the car boot sale.

I fondly imagine though in many aeons time, our ape-like descendants who may eventually roam the planet would be able to crank up a generator, pluck the turntable from the landfill site, plug it in and listen to an admittedly scratched copy of 'London Calling'.

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