I’ve never been one of those fellows who are romanced by gadgets. As far as I am concerned, they mainly fall into four categories.
- Things which make a simple task easier, but offset this by being temperamental, proving difficult to clean or store, or in some other way creating more complications than they solve.
- Things which allow you to do something that you will probably never do anyway. That famous housewarming present, the fondue set, is a classic instance of this. Another example might be the two bulky and unused slow cookers with which successive housemates have cluttered my cupboards.
- Things which facilitate the tremendously enjoyable task of frittering away time. Yes, PlayStation 3, I am referring to you, and to the remote control dune buggy that I surreptitiously race around the kitchen when no-one else is home.
- Things which are genuinely useful.
This last category contains many obvious devices. I suspect that the two most useful gadgets in my house are the kettle and the boiler, but other candidates might be the microwave, the fridge freezer, my laptop or my phone. I would argue that these are too commonplace and essential to count as gadgets (you wouldn’t count a toilet as a gadget, would you?) so am excluding such items from my list.
There are, however, some frivolous pieces of machinery which, though non-essential, make life that little bit sweeter. Here are my top five:
1. The food processor
At first glance a prime contender for category 2 classification, but actually something I use all the time. I have dim memories of the days when I used to make coleslaw by laboriously grating carrots, rub shortcrust pastry by hand, buy breadcrumbs from the supermarket or mince leftover meat for rissoles with a knife. It has a juicer attachment that has seen me fortified by fresh orange juice through my dry January, and a little bowl where you can make quick honey mustard dressings or fresh mayonnaise. Peculiar that a food processor should help one eat less processed food, but it seems to do just that.
2. The beard trimmer
Shaving every morning is, for the modern fellow, a bit of a palaver. Either you take your time and make yourself late for work, or you rush it and end up with razor burn. Far better to run a facial strimmer over your stubble every couple of days. Having used plenty of serviceable yet inferior ones, I now possess an excellent one with a nice efficient action, a battery that lasts for ages and a laughable name (it is called the iStubble, as if just sticking the letter ‘i’ on the beginning of something makes it cool).
3. The Nespresso machine
Though the uninitiated might consider it the most wasteful and superfluous kitchen machine in history, I defy you to find anyone who has one and does not think it is amazing. Of course on a weekend or when you have a bit of time on your hands, a stove-top espresso pot or a cafetière of fresh coffee are wonderful things. But when your breakfast must be condensed into fifteen minutes or less at an uncivilised hour of the morning (by which I mean any time before 9am), the ability to produce a cup of delicious espresso with thirty seconds of minimal effort is a beautiful thing. Significantly, they have even managed to make decaf taste nice – not that there is any place for decaf in my life.
4. The windsurfing downhaul winch
I realise this will not mean much to most people, but visualise if you will a fellow like me slithering around on a muddy bank at the side of a reservoir near Chingford, sitting with his feet braced against the mast foot and straining to tension his sail by tugging on a block of wood with the downhaul cord wrapped round it. Visualise the same (handsome and charismatic) man, significantly more relaxed, calmly winding a winch handle. A simple device, yet one eminently deserving of praise.
5. The coffee grinder
Having two coffee-related devices in my top five does make me sound like a bit of a wanker, but there’s nothing wrong with liking nice things, and freshly ground coffee, consumed in large quantities on a Saturday morning, is a very nice thing. I used to have a hand-operated one, which had the same result, but did involve cranking a handle furiously for five minutes or so to get enough for a modest-sized cafetière.