House of pain

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A new exhibition at London's Science Museum called The Secret Life of the Home will have everyone counting their blessings. Some of the labour-saving devices from a century ago on display would not look out of place in a museum of torture. Take the ceramic hairdryer of the 1890s - a brush cleverly filled with scalding water. Or how about the wooden, electric washing machine of the 1920s? Only to be operated wearing rubber boots, presumably. And it was probably not advisable to fall asleep in the gas-heated bath. The less said about the dreaded "steamboat" food chopper from the 1880s the better.

A new exhibition at London's Science Museum called The Secret Life of the Home will have everyone counting their blessings. Some of the labour-saving devices from a century ago on display would not look out of place in a museum of torture. Take the ceramic hairdryer of the 1890s - a brush cleverly filled with scalding water. Or how about the wooden, electric washing machine of the 1920s? Only to be operated wearing rubber boots, presumably. And it was probably not advisable to fall asleep in the gas-heated bath. The less said about the dreaded "steamboat" food chopper from the 1880s the better.

It's certainly a long way away from our convenient world of rotating Dyson vacuum cleaners and roomy fridge-freezers. A little burn from the iron is nothing compared with having your entire forearm swallowed up by a mangle.

But we've got to where we are only through the sacrifices of others. Generations of cleaners tested these death traps, enabling the inventors to refine them into today's benign devices. That's progress for you. It seems that in the household - as so often in life - there's no gain without pain.

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