There is a kerfuffle, whilst we manipulate white goods.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t fix it in the end,” he says, as we lift the bottom of his own washing machine into his cluttered van.
“I’m very grateful for all your efforts,” I reply, very genuinely. Lending me his own washing machine was not only helpful and touching – it was beyond the call of duty by anyone’s definition.
The Washing Machine Man has admitted defeat. He cannot get the part he needs, as Hotpoint will not give it to him. He advises that I will have to ring Hotpoint and get their own people to mend it. [Note – since then I have done this, and Evil Corporation Hotpoint came and fixed my washing machine, their van overspilling with surplus appropriate washing machine parts.]
We talk about this for a while as we lean on the tailgate. Life is getting tougher for the old independent Washing Machine Men, once so much part and parcel of the fabric of British life. Their pliers and pencils stored behind the ear are being replaced with computer diagnostics and probes; the slightly scary wives with message pads next to their telephones superceded by call centres and internet booking; the battered vans carrying a working life’s worth of collected tools and rescued bits and pieces disappearing from the roads in favour of brightly branded and fleet insured new models.
I may write to TV’s Jimmy Perry and David Croft and suggest they write an ensemble sitcom about the heyday of Britain’s Washing Machine Repair industry, perhaps ending with a slightly bitter-sweet final episode set in my scullery in which the team go their separate ways after a moving soliloquy about flow valves. It would surely be a hit.
“I’m really sorry I broke your machine as well,” I repeat, for about the twenty-seventh time in ten minutes.
“Don’t worry about it,” he concedes, climbing ruefully into the cab.
“I’m sure it’s probably just a filter,” I offer helpfully. “Or a hose or something.”
The van pulls out from the drive, turns left past Short Tony’s and out of the Village. I turn and walk silently back towards the front door.