A labour-saving policy for our mad times

By closing just 15 hospitals, the Government could afford to buy every one of us a fondue set
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The Independent Online

The British, it was revealed yesterday, own £3.2bn worth of household goods and gadgets that we never use. Evidently, even those of us without skeletons in our cupboards are more likely than not to have an unemployed electric can-opener. Of 1,000 people questioned in a survey conducted for a home insurance company, two thirds admitted to having one household gadget gathering dust, 38 per cent to at least two, and one in 20 to five or more.

The British, it was revealed yesterday, own £3.2bn worth of household goods and gadgets that we never use. Evidently, even those of us without skeletons in our cupboards are more likely than not to have an unemployed electric can-opener. Of 1,000 people questioned in a survey conducted for a home insurance company, two thirds admitted to having one household gadget gathering dust, 38 per cent to at least two, and one in 20 to five or more.

In our house, I rather think we might be in the five-or-more category, although at least I've stopped buying expensive devices - supposedly labour-saving but in fact labour-creating - for my wife's birthdays. It was my aunt who pointed out that they were not quite in the spirit of things.

"So what is Jane getting you for your birthday?" she said, cleverly managing a sniff, a snort and a sneer simultaneously, when I showed her the undeniably sleek ice-cream maker I bought Jane last year for her 39th. "A vacuum cleaner?" Still, the Magimix Gelato 2200 was at least pressed into action; rare was the summer's evening unaccompanied by its Heath Robinson-esque whirring and thudding.

This summer, however, it has lain dormant while that nice American couple Ben and Jerry have re-entered our lives. The Magimix Gelato 2200, like the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat Grilling Machine, was consigned to a remote shelf as soon as the first flush of enthusiasm had faded. And I mustn't forget the pasta-maker, which turned out pretty strands of tagliatelle that we then draped lovingly over an artfully positioned broom-handle to semi-dry, before deciding that the whole business was a ludicrous faff and that when we needed fresh pasta, we might as well return to buying it at the supermarket.

When you think about it, there is more than a whiff of hypocrisy about the irritation that mounts in the days after Christmas, when one's children, after playing with the new Scalextric non-stop almost until mid-morning on Boxing Day, abandon it altogether. For their Harry Potter Polyjuice Potion Maker, read our Russell Hobbs Breadman Pro. In fact, we got considerably better value out of the Harry Potter Polyjuice Potion Maker; the Russell Hobbs Breadman Pro, domestic breadmaker supposedly supreme, has not yielded so much as an onion bagel, the first flush of enthusiasm having faded as I carried out of the shop.

Apparently, the most popular unused gadget - if that's not too much of a paradox - is the toasted sandwich-maker. Which makes me think that these things must be era-sensitive. Because in the early 1980s, when I was at university, the toasted sandwich-maker was the sine qua non of kitchen accessories. Burning your tongue on the lava-hot cheese dangerously sealed into a toasted sarnie was, like the one-night stand, a valuable student rite of passage, Breville a brand at least as familiar as Durex in halls of residence throughout the land.

Indeed, if seats of higher education had had commercial sponsors back then, as they now do in the US and doubtless will here before long, then University Challenge might have pitted Durex Leicester against Breville Aberystwyth... for the right to meet Fray Bentos Exeter in the quarter-final.

But, as the decline of the once-proud toasted sandwich-maker has shown, you can't always transport a gadget to a different era. My mother-in-law has frequently offered to buy us that icon of 1970s dinner parties, a hostess trolley. She swears by hers, and can't understand why we don't share her ardour. One day, our own children might respond in the same politely underwhelmed way when we try to give them a microwave (incidentally, have you noticed how microwaves have shed the oven, much as avocados have shed the pear? Familiarity breeds abbreviation).

Meanwhile, at second, third and fourth on the Most Unwanted, or at any rate Least Used, list come electric knives, soda streams and foot spas. We have never bought or been given any of these, I'm relieved to say. The electric knife in particular has always struck me as singularly unnecessary, at least for anyone able-bodied. Nor do we have a Corby trouser-press or even a fondue set, although plenty of folk out there do - I don't know what the trouser-press statistics are, but Britain reportedly has 3.8 million redundant fondue sets, worth an estimated £114m.

That's enough, so yesterday's calculations went, to run an NHS hospital for a year. But I prefer to turn that sum on its head. By closing just 15 hospitals, the Government could afford to buy every one of us a fondue set, which would breathe life back into the unfairly maligned and now largely forgotten practice of spearing a piece of bread and dipping it into a dish of molten cheese, leaving it there for a minute or two usually to discover that it has dropped off and contributed to the thickening mush at the bottom of the bowl. A worthwhile policy for these mad times, surely?

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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