Friday, 16 May 2008

Filling the vacuum

I’m in love – with a Dyson. My former lover, soulmate and partner-in-cleaning has taken pity on the vacuum in my life and bought me one as an early birthday present (the end of September, put it your diary). It’s been sat by the door of the living room since it arrived, on the grounds that I’ve not had a spare moment these past few weeks, what with producing some magazine or other, nipping off to be tied up in wheelchairs and trying to sustain some semblance of a long-distance runner’s training regime.

I’d expected to have to set aside an evening or two to assemble it. These sorts of things don’t come cheap, but they’d be even more expensive if the manufacturers couldn’t depend on the purchasers poring their way through complicated instructions badly translated from the Chinese, checking for polystyrene packing in the innards and going back to Argos for the bits that are missing.

The Dyson is different. The instruction booklet is in 17 languages, 18 if you include the Braille on the cover, but it takes you from unpacking to vacuuming in four easy sentences. There’s even a freephone advice line (though probably not in 17 languages) if this is too much for you. And the suction! I could write entire novellas about the suction. Cyclonic separation, Mr Dyson calls it. You should see my carpet. One day all electrical equipment will be made this way.

I’ve been fascinated by James Dyson for a long time. As every article that’s ever been written about him will tell you, it took him four and a half years and 5,127 prototypes before he came up with the vacuum cleaner he was seeking. He says he got his perseverance from a love of long-distance running. ‘I was quite good at it, not because I was physically good, but because I had more determination. I learned determination from it,’ he told Forbes magazine in 2006. I like that about him, and I’m intrigued by the fact that he came into design via the Royal College of Art; he was there in 1968, the year that he married Deirdre Hindmarsh, whose job as an art teacher supported him before his inventions started making money.

This year’s Sunday Times Rich List, published last month, estimates his family’s wealth at £760 million, which includes a country estate in Gloucestershire, a town house in Chelsea and a chateau in France. It’s a lot of money for a man who claims, ‘I just want things to work properly.’ And his decision to move production to Malaysia in 2002 cost 800 people in this country, many of whom had been making vacuum cleaners for him from the beginning, their livelihoods.

But anyone who has spent their life struggling with things that don’t work properly will understand what it’s like to have a vacuum cleaner that really sucks. Some rich bastards are simply rich bastards; some of them actually do something worthwhile.

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