Tom Hodgkinson engineers his own fate and finds spiritual clarity by fixing a faulty dishwasher
According to some, a silly piece of advice in my book How to be Free was “get rid of the dishwasher”. At festivals readers would come up to me and say, “we liked your book, but when it comes to dishwashers, you are simply wrong.” Looking back, I now confess that this plea for simplicity in the washing up department was perhaps a little puritanical. After twelve years of living in remotest North Devon without a dishwasher, we returned to a London house which was equipped with this mechanical slave, and it has been a joy.
Well, that’s not quite true. It has not always been a joy. Like much technology, it’s a joy when it works, but it does not always work. At one stage we were despairing over it. It seemed to make dishes dirty, not clean. On emptying, each plate would be caked with a hard, dry sand-like substance. I’d be forced to wash them a second time in the sink, by hand, negating the whole point of the contraption.
Then the machine, now fifteen years old, filled up with foul-smelling water and would not drain. A builder reckoned we needed a replacement. However, we could not face the expense. So instead of buying a new one, we decided to hang on to the old one, but to learn a bit about dishwasher maintenance.
To do this, I appealed to a video uploading site which you may have heard of called Youtube. Although in theory I disapprove of Youtube, because it is a way for uncreative investors to make millions out of the unpaid creative labour of the world, I do accept that it has some good stuff on it, and the dishwasher maintenance videos I found were excellent.
They are generally presented by a breezy Australian in a polo shirt. “Hello, I’m Mike, and today I’m going to show you how to unblock your Bosch dishwasher.”
We went right down to the heart of the matter, bailing out the water, removing the filter, picking out little bits of oomska which were blocking the drain, removing the drain hose and unblocking it with a straightened coat hanger. I then removed the rotating water fans and cleaned those out – did you know that they get blocked? We also ran the dishwasher on empty using not one but two of those little blocks of detergent.
We were so successful in this operation that I felt empowered to help others with their dishwasher problems. One Christmas, Uncle says: “OK, that’s it, the dishwasher is bust. We will have to wash up by hand.”
Instead I applied my recently discovered techniques and got it working again. I experienced a surge of satisfaction, a feeling of control, and the joy that comes from being of some service. Could I be a dishwasher guru?
The thing is, dishwashers need to be looked after. You cannot simply ignore them. It’s a give and take thing. But put the effort in, and thou shalt be rewarded.
These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your dishwasher stories.
I really don’t like dishwashers, and hand wash instead. I don’t like bending down all the time, they are awkward and smell awful when opened – a blast of chlorine, yuck. The filters go yucky really quickly, you need to constantly keep them clean, really find gunge clings to the filter. My cast iron frying pans can’t go in, my wooden utensils can’t go in, my wooden chopping blocks can’t go in, my hand thrown mugs can’t go it – so why not hand wash all of it? I find washing up meditative – not so the dishwasher. I have a beautiful hand thrown utensil draining holder on my sink ledge that makes me smile, I have a wooden and natural bristle dishwasher brush, I have bergamot essential oil in my washing up liquid to lift me as I wash up – what’s not to like? Plus more room in the kitchen. And its a wonderful thing to do together with someone else, having a chat as you work.
From a ‘permaculture’ perspective I would put forward an argument against ‘dishwashers’.
In the early design principles Bill Mollison used a term that was “Use appropriate technology” and defined this as, ‘technology that can be appropriated’, so while you have taken some joy in learning how to maintain a dishwasher, (and maybe you should have done that early on?), many won’t and you can only spread yourself so thin – most will just replace with new whereas ‘washing up is a badge of membership wherever you go’ and most of us can manage it. if having one frees up time for more important things then maybe there is an argument for having one, or if it’s full life energy footprint were to be less than an equal life of washing up then yes… I’m curious to know what reason people gave you at the festivals?
I really enjoyed this message because I love learning how to fix mechanical things. It’s totally empowering.
I often hate my laptop because I’m not at all instinctive about how to deal with it when it does something weird. It makes me feel like a hostage.
I feel compelled to reply to this one. I’ve been enjoying your emails for years… and also own a Bosch dishwasher which I think we’ve had for almost 20 years. One tiny piece of advice I might add to what you already know – always run the plates under the tap quickly before putting them in the dishwasher. The less food in the machine in the first place the less there is to clog it up. We’ve never had to clean out our machine once as I’m quite pernickety in this regard.
We also own a trusty Hoover washing machine which is a wonder as it is also almost 20 years old. I have almost given up on it a few times but have always found a way to bring it back to life – usually by cleaning out the filter at the bottom, which is usually caked in the most satanic of substances.
I share in your love of making something work again. I also own a 1993 classic car but I won’t bore you with the satisfaction of fixing that. (Unless you want me to.)
This was the surrealist Eileen Agar’s favourite object which she gave me when she moved to a smaller flat.
It was a nightmare to use/clean it! You had to plug it into the water mains before use and it always leaked.