Washing Machine Guy
Steve lived on top of the washing machine all winter and in the summer he lived in the pub. That was cos Maggie made chicken for the chubsters. But when the last caravan left it was time to put his bed on top of the washing machine again.
It was in the toilet with a hot towel rail next to it. I guess he liked the heat and the soothing thrum of the machine. Even a full load at 1200 revs didn’t phase him. He was one cool cat, Steve. In fact that’s why we called him Steve. We lost Elmo one year and Connie spent months looking for him. On one of her visits to the cat and dog home she thought Steve was Elmo. But the markings were different. Black and white, aye, but different.
Once she’d spoke to him she had to bring him home. And as I said, he was one cool cat. He sat on the couch purring like he’d been there all his days. He was so relaxed and confident we called him Steve, Steve McQueen. In the morning he was sleeping on top of the washing machine. So we bought him a new bed and he’s been there ever since; every winter that is. And when the first caravans arrive in spring he’s back living with Maggie.
Once when Steve was sick and we hardly knew Maggie, she arrived with a tray of roast chicken. I mean a big tray with about twenty chunks on it.
—This is for Steve, she said and handed it to me. Stood there wondering what to do with her empty hands. I didn’t know what to say about this tray of chicken.
—It’s Maggie, I shouted and Connie came out.
—How is he? said Maggie.
—Come on in, said Connie and took Maggie up to Steve. We had him locked in a room cos he had to get pills three times a day. Well, after that Maggie visited daily with chicken. Sometimes it was roast beef. I was wishing I was a cat myself.
—Hi Maggie, we’d say and up the stairs she’d go. Sometimes on her way out she’d chat but mostly she said thanks and went. But that’s not the story.
The story is about the day the washing machine guy was coming. We bought this new machine. A Hotpoint washer dryer Aquarius it was. Top of the range, the guy in Comet said. The latest technology. He specially pushed the self-cleaning filter. I remember clearly what he said,
—This has got a self-cleaning filter. Don’t ask me how they did it, he said, —But it’s inside the machine and no need to clean it. Does the whole thing itself.
But it started flooding after a week. This self-cleaning filter was blocking up. We phoned Hotpoint. When the washing machine guy came he said the filter was blocked.
—I thought it was self-cleaning?
—It is. But it’s blocked, he said.
I let that hang a moment then screwed my eyes up. —But if it’s self-cleaning it shouldn’t block —am I right?
—Technically yes… but…
—So it’s not self-cleaning. This self-cleaning filter isn’t actually self-cleaning?
—I know it’s blocked, I told your office it was blocked, what I want to know is why it’s blocked – seeing as how it’s a self-cleaning filter.
—Look, I said, —Is it self-cleaning or not?
—I can’t comment on that.
By then the machine had finished its test cycle and he clicked his case shut. Got me to sign a form and left.
It flooded again the next day. I could’ve fixed it but I figured why should I if I paid four-fifty for it? And anyway this filter; you could only get at it through the back of the machine. And that would null and void the guarantee. So we called them again. They said yes the engineer had already been out. But I said no that was yesterday and asked them all about the self-cleaning filter that doesn’t. But I got avoidance. I didn’t even speak to the washing machine guy when he came out. I signed the form and off he went.
By the fifth time we were starting to get frustrated. I pressured him about a self-cleaning filter that didn’t self-clean but this washing machine guy wouldn’t be quoted on anything.
So Connie called Comet head office. She had a big fight, quoting the sale of goods act and all this legal stuff. Comet said they’d send their engineer and if he found a fault he’d give us a number, a code, to get our machine replaced.
But he came on a bad day. Planning had just been approved on a building with windows staring into every corner of our house. We were up early watching the building start. The street was rattling with lorries and cars and that’s when the door went. I got my story ready for this new washing machine guy but it wasn't him. It was Maggie. And she was crying.
—It’s Steve, she said, —He’s not moving.
Connie told me to wait for the Comet guy and went out through the builders and down to the pub.
When the door opened it was Connie with Steve flopped in her arms. She had to go to the vet. I clapped Steve and he responded but you could tell there was something far wrong. Out at the car, with the building racket rising I clapped him again and this time you could see him disappear. I looked at Connie and she looked at me. She swung the car door out with her knee. One of the builders whistled and I looked up. But it wasn’t the time for trouble. Connie drove away and I heard this builder shouting something like what the fuck’re you staring at as I closed the door.
I sat with my mind flitting between the machine and the building and Steve. The door went. It was Comet this time.
—Comet, he said.
—Oh the washing machine, I said, as if it I’d forgot.
But I had to open the double doors and I don’t think he liked that. He avoided all eye contact as he squeezed in and right there I knew there was no code coming out of him.
—It’s up there, I said. And when he was tinkering about I asked if he wanted a cup tea. Or coffee.
—No thanks, he said.
I made some coffee and stood thinking about Steve. How Connie was going to take it. I could hear the washing machine guy huffing and puffing in the hall. The machine scraping about and a ratchet. When I was sure he was into the filter I went out.
—The filter’s not cleaning, I said.
—No wonder, it’s filled with hair.
—But it’s supposed to be self-cleaning, I said.
—To a point.
—To a point?
—It’s blocked, he said and held out a wad of hair for me to see. I got the feeling I was supposed to be disgusted.
I told him that’s what I said on the phone. That the filter was blocked. I knew the filter was blocked, any idiot would know the filter was blocked. What I wanted to know is why they’d put a self-cleaning filter that didn’t self clean inside a machine where nobody could get at it. When I finished ranting he was staring at me. Here was man that doesn’t like anybody else knowing about washing machines.
—It’s blocked, he said, and this time he said it with finality.
—Jesus. I know it’s blocked. But it shouldn’t be blocked should it? It’s self-cleaning!
He stared at me. I could see he fancied his chances with me. But he was one of them fat bastards that mistake size for muscle.
—There’s excessive hair in the filter. That’s why it’s flooding.
—Aye, it’s filled with hair cos it’s not cleaning, I said, —So I want it replaced.
—I can only replace it if it’s got a fault, he said.
—It has got a fault, it’s got a self-cleaning filter that doesn’t clean.
—You’ve got dogs.
—Aye, I said, —But I don’t put them in the fucking washing machine.
—I’d appreciate it if you didn’t swear Mister Kelly.
—And I’d appreciate it if you took that machine to fuck out of here and brung me another one, and I went face to face to say this: — With a filter on the outside!
— I’ll have to call my boss.
He crushed past me and I had this sudden urge to punch him. He went out into his van and I seen him criticising me on his mobile. When he came back he said his boss would call me.
—When he’s got time.
—When will that be?
—I don’t know.
—Well, will it in the next five minutes?
—I don’t know.
—The next hour?
—I don’t know.
—Well - will it be days or weeks?
—When he’s got time.
I watched him putting the machine back together.
—So are ye giving me the code?
—My boss is going to call you.
—So you’re not giving me the code?
—My boss is going to call you.
He set up a test and I went into the kitchen. That’s when Connie came back with Steve in her arms. Dead. She was crying. She came into the kitchen and asked me what happened. When I told her she handed me Steve and went to see the guy. He was watching the tub fill up with clear water.
—So you’re not changing it?
—My boss is going to call you.
—Are ye changing it or are ye not?
—It was full of dog hair.
—Yes, we’ve got dogs, she said.
He shrugged and said that’s why it was blocked. It wasn’t a fault, it was dog hair. Excessive dog hair.
—Are you saying I’ve got a dirty house?
—Whatever! he said and my blood surged.
— It shouldn’t be blocked with hair. It should be getting rid of every hair as it comes in if it’s a self-cleaning-filter, she said.
—It’s not designed to deal with excessive hair.
—How much hair is it designed to deal with?
—A handful. Ten? Twenty. Many?
—Not dog hair.
—So why doesn’t it say – this machine is not designed to deal with dog hair? Do not buy this machine if you’ve got dogs?
—I’m only the engineer.
—There’s something wrong with that machine and you’re covering it up aren’t ye?
—We’ve had no other complaints.
—A quarter of Britain’s got dogs, Connie said, —There must be a fair number of them have this exact machine, are you telling me you’ve not had any complaints from them?
—Okay, said Connie, —If you’ve had no complaints from people with dogs then there must be something wrong with this specific machine.
—Eh? he said and she repeated it but I don’t think his brain was set up for that kind of logic so he said whatever again. And he kept saying whatever. And every time he said it my rage rose. And the hammering outside was tinging in my ears. I made to put Steve on the worktop. But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t put him on the worktop. The only place that seemed right was his bed. And that was on top of the washing machine. This dead cat, Steve, it was the only thing stopping me from going out there and laying into the washing machine guy. My temper was on spin cycle as I hiked from place to place in that kitchen with a dead cat in my arms. By then Connie was shouting.
—Hey, here’s some news for ye, —A fucking revelation, she said, —Human beings have got hair too! she said, —Not unless that machine’s only for baldy bastards.
—If you say whatever one more time I’ll stick your big meaty head in that machine, Connie shouted.
I don’t know why but I laughed at that. I think it was big meaty head. So there was me leaning against the cooker sniggering, two different kinds of tears coming down my face, my ears ringing and a dead cat in my arms. So when he said whatever again I burst out laughing. Loud and clear it was.
And he left. He started his car and manoeuvred through piles of bricks and wood and scaffolding stuff. Connie came into the kitchen and burst out crying. We held onto each other with Steve between us.
We put him in his bed on top of the washing machine. He felt alive. He looked alive. His eyes were wide open and you thought he was looking right back. Connie said to leave it till we were sure.
—Till we’re absolutely sure, she said.
We tucked him in and took a couple of photos. He was so beautiful with his eyes open. Even though there was no washing Connie turned the machine on for Steve’s last snooze. As it thrummed away she called Hotpoint to complain. What she got from them was another load of abuse. And they told her our guarantee was null and void because we’d allowed a Comet engineer to open the machine. Clang clang went the scaffolders.
When the full wash was over rigor mortis had set in. We went for Maggie and buried Steve in the garden and threw in a few clematis. There’s more to life than leaking washing machines but that day sure didn’t seem like it.