Tuesday, 25 February 2014


Some 40 years ago, my parents, in an almost unprecedentedly impulsive purchase, acquired one of the early Goblin Teasmades. They reasoned that ... well, to be honest, I don't know what they reasoned, because they were never truly happy with it. According to the blurb, the device would brew a cup of tea and then wake you through its alarm clock. In actual fact it did little more than splutter boiling water in the face of my sleeping parents while simultaneously making a sort of intestinal bubbling sound at the volume of a space shuttle launch. The alarm clock component of the device was entirely redundant. Firstly you couldn't hear it above the sound of the tea maker, and secondly, my parents were already awake, often applying flannels to scalded areas of the face.

All of which technological ineptitude was surprising. Mankind had just put a man on the moon. How difficult, by comparison, could it possibly be to make a cup of tea?

My father, born of good Yorkshire stock, has never been prone to impulse purchases. He believes now, and believed even more then, in the value of taking your time over decision-making. We were the last house in Doncaster to have colour television. And it is only in the last year, with my father in his 80s, that he has tentatively enquired about computers. Back in the 1970s, my father was in his pomp. When it came to buying white goods, he would ensure that he knew the price of every comparable refrigerator within a five-mile radius. Armed with this information, he would then stride into Currys to buy the product in question at the price he had mentally set. The conclusion was foregone, and experienced salesmen usually capitulated immediately rather than face a negotiating style that, to this day, I believe was the model for Darth Vader.

Not surprisingly then, the Teasmade was a memorable blot on his copy book.

My attitude to purchasing household goods has strong elements of my father's thoroughness and sense of value (Yorkshire genes are of course dominant), but is executed more rapidly thanks to Google. The same diligent research, of which my father would be proud, can now be conducted in minutes rather than weeks, giving it a somewhat impetuous, nay impulsive, air.

And I'm constantly surprised at the range of prices available for consumer items. Take photography for instance. As broad a church as there is. Everything from the happy snappy through to the career professional. A camera can cost £10 or £10,000. And it's understandable -- these are fancy bits of kit. The same goes for hi-fi. All perfectly plausible for state-of-the-art electronics.

But what about simpler products. Say a toaster.

The cheapest toaster I could find (made by a company called Lloytron -- and no, I've never heard of them) cost £11.34 and was available in a choice of three colours. For this price, the toaster featured a seven stage variable control and a "midcycle cancel button" although I imagine unplugging it would achieve much the same. There is also a slide out crumb tray. So, not perhaps the most sophisticated device on earth but then all it has to do is make toast.

And it's hard to see how the process could be made more sophisticated or more expensive. After all, a device that (a) makes toast and (b) allows you to make it to your preference would appear to achieve somewhere between 99% and 100% of the functionality required of a toaster.

Apparently not.

At the opposite end of the price range, and representing the aristocracy of toast making is a roller toaster made by Paderno (nope, I've never heard of them either). I've no idea what a roller toaster is although, with a pricetag of £1818.13, it costs about as much as a Roller. And yes, that is not a typo. It really is possible to spend the best part of two grand on a toaster.

Now I don't want to be a curmudgeon but I would take quite a bit of persuading to buy the Paderno. For that price I could have 160 Lloytron toasters, enough to cater for an army of toast eaters. Or I could have a brand-new toaster every week for more than three years. And I can't even compare the specification. Nowhere on the Internet is there a single review of this toast making colossus. Not a single person is prepared to tell me why a machine which costs as much as 36,000 slices of bread is an essential addition to my kitchen.

Perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree with the toaster. Let's simplify things further -- how about the electric kettle? There isn't even a need to vary the temperature here. All it has to do is boil water. Nothing fancier than that.

At the bottom of the price range, checking in at a mere £12.95 is a cordless white jug kettle made by Elgento (yet another make I have never heard of). It boils water. It switches off. That's it. And at the other end of the Amazon price spectrum is a cordless jug kettle from an unspecified manufacturer, weighing in at a staggering £318.75. It too boils water and switches off. And if you've recovered from that surprise, believe me when I say that one of the reviews on Amazon even went so far as to say that this was a "great value for money product". If it was made of platinum, perhaps.

Heaven help any man who tried to sell my father a £300 kettle.

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