What is the most appropriate age gap between a man and his vacuum cleaner? I am aged 45 and my vacuum cleaner is 19, but everyone is saying that I should be using a much older one. It is unbecoming, they all say, in these deficit reduction days to own such an obscenely recent appliance. Cubanization is the modern way. Buy new parts, replace every component in the machine, but never, never, never buy a new one.
Divide your age by two and add seven, my brother said. You should be looking for a vacuum cleaner which is at least 29 years old.
But what models of that vintage still function?
The man at the deficit reduction advice centre laughed at me. ‘I know of one that’s 108 years old and still sucking hard,’ he said, and gave me the address of a vintage vaccum dealer who operated from under an arch in Salford.
The dealer had a long ginger beard that a small owl could live in and garish sleeve tattoos and he began the consultation by measuring the length of my arms to work out my reach and then tested the strength of my grip on a special simulation machine.
He put the results into a handheld computer while asking me questions about the type of detritus the machine would be required to ingest. Did I own a foot spa? Did I cough a lot? Did I consider myself a fast vacuumer or a slow one? Did I take breaks as I vacuumed, or did I do it all at once?
Did I, and he looked at me meaningfully when he asked me this, ever wear headphones on the job?
‘Yes,’ I said.
He wrote something down. ‘Means you won’t hear any large objects rattling up the tube. I need to know that sort of thing. It’s up to you, of course, how you choose to hoover your house.’
He looked at the screen on the small computer.
‘I have just the thing,’ he said, and disappeared round the back.
He returned with an Electrolux 612 which was 27 years old. Not quite the age I was after, but close enough, he thought, and he helped me strap it to the back of my bicycle.
The younger machine was taken on by my brother, who, at 32, was a much more sensible age to relate to it.
I sat for a time gazing at my new Electrolux. I thought about how many different motors and filters it had been through over the years, and how it was probably a completely different machine now to when it was born in 1986.
It glided over surfaces effortlessly, softly murmuring as it went, every hair, skin flake, and food fragment disappearing up its tubes as if it was slurping delicious soup.
I never felt the need for headphones. I was part of the machine, and when my brother brought the younger one round for a Hoovering competition, I felt only compassion for him as his juvenile contraption struggled with some of the older types of dirt. Hoovering is about removing the past, and that’s what the younger people don’t understand.