On a Personal Note: Useless stuff.

Isn’t it amazing how much useless junk you can accumulate just by buying useful stuff? I’m not sure why it is that products that promise to change your life for the better almost always end up doing nothing more than offering spiders a few extra places for their webs.

A case in point: My wife has a large collection of shoes, boots and other miscellaneous footware. I wouldn’t say she was fanatical about shoes, but they have reached critical mass. Generally, they could be found lined up in the hallway, where they would get tripped over, kicked into the bathroom and abused in all sorts of inventive ways. So my wife bought a shoe rack to put our shoes on (my collection is much more modest, but as I have bigger feet, my shoes are even more of a hindrance to tidy living). It came, like so many things these days, in little bits and pieces which had to be screwed together.

Assembling stuff

If I may digress for a moment, assembling pieces of furniture together is one of the few things that can start an argument in our household. The problem is that we have completely different approaches to the same problem. I am a fanatical reader of instruction manuals and spend hours trying to work out which way up panel B is supposed to go; my wife just goes right ahead and nails panel B to panel F and then asks me what I think the screws might be for.

So I chickened out on the shoe rack and let my wife put it together on her own. Which she did, and it is a beautiful shoe rack. A nice, simple, modern design, all gleaming chrome and just what you want to show to people to prove that you are young, dynamic people with enough disposable income to spend it on gleaming chrome things. For that, this shoe rack is the perfect addition to a household. As a shoe rack, however, it is completely useless. Chrome is, well, slippery, and our shoes just slide off it and land in a disorganised heap on the floor.

We also have a bread-making machine which marches through the kitchen and is only slightly more effort than making bread by hand; a bidet (the legacy of a former tenant) which does nothing until it rains, whereupon it makes the bathroom smell like a sewer; and an unused electronic personal organiser which used to play an annoying tune every night at midnight until I worked out how to switch the alarm off (my wife, to whom the organiser belongs, didn’t bother reading the instruction manual and now we can’t find it). It took three attempts to find an electric razor that actually shaved me instead of just exciting the bristles slightly, and even my computer speakers are the wrong way around because the wires are cut to the exact length required to ensure that you can’t put the speakers the right way around.

The triumph of progress

A great source of junk is the catalogues I get from my wholesalers. The catalogues themselves constitute useless junk, but they also offer all kinds of junk of which I am supposed to think, “Gee wizz, I’ve always wanted one of those!” How about a pizza oven clad in moulded plastic that is supposed to look as if it isn’t clad in moulded plastic? My favourite is a set of bathroom scales where the display is a separate unit (it’s all done with radio signals) and, when it has nothing to do, shows the time. Lose the display unit (quite likely in our household) and what you end up with is a very expensive jumbo-sized paperweight.

So this, ladies and gentlemen, is progress. Just remember: it may be useless junk, but it is, always, very good-looking junk. The secret, we have found, is to arrange the stuff in a way that visitors remark on how good-looking everything is, but just don’t use any of it or you’re in trouble. Why, even a refrigerator with a built-in television set (and I didn’t make that one up, by the way) can look really smart and firmly establish your reputation as a 21st-century person.

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