My mam and the 30-year-old dishwasher that never died

They do not make appliances the way they used to, and the same could be said for my mam

“I keep everything.”

My mother is rifling through a small accordion file. It only takes a few seconds before she pulls out the treasure she was after: a pristine booklet, stashed away with others of its type.

Hotpoint Handbook Dishwasher, it declares – an odd distribution of words. Perhaps "Hotpoint Dishwasher Handbook" would have had a less "me Tarzan, you Jane" ring to it? The booklet is soft and faded warmly with age. Thirty years of occasional thumbing and careful safekeeping have treated it well. My mother has treated it well.

I want to find the copywriter responsible for the contents of Hotpoint Handbook Dishwasher and shake their hand

The accompanying dishwasher is similarly blessed. In 30 years, it has never broken down, given up or flooded, and has rarely produced anything less than a gleaming glass or plate. My parents bought it in the autumn of 1987. “Dishwashers were beginning to be popular,” Mam remembers. “Everyone else had one so we got one too.” They paid for it in instalments tacked onto their ESB bills. “There were ESB shops. We got it in the one in Naas. You wouldn’t have that much spare cash, so you’d get it there. It was the way people did things.”


Hotpoint leviathan

Mam is bemused by my fascination with her elderly Hotpoint leviathan in the kitchen, and its three-decade long service. She minds things. It’s second nature to her. She keeps everything that needs to be kept. She consults the modus operandi. She respects the Dos and the Do Nots. “I suppose other people have probably gone through two or three in that time,” she concedes, “but I just read the booklet and looked after it.”

And what a booklet. The utilitarian Hotpoint Handbook Dishwasher cover belies the 19 pages of cajoling and reassuring advice and instructions contained within.

“You are no doubt keen to use your new dishwasher for the first time, so that you can forget about the chore of washing up,” it begins. After a few more paragraphs of welcoming and congratulating, it delivers the punchy news that “there are many more items you can wash in a dishwasher than you can imagine! Teapots, hob fittings, glass microwave turntables – the list is almost endless, and you will no doubt find some items to add to it!”

I want to find the copywriter responsible for the contents of Hotpoint Handbook Dishwasher and shake their hand. In a world where setting up a new appliance is more likely to be condensed down to a web address to visit or an app to download, the reassuring page that leads with "there is no correct method for loading the dishwasher" is almost like a hug.

Feel loved

Of course, there is a correct method for loading the dishwasher, and Hotpoint Handbook Dishwasher tells you what it is. It just makes you feel loved while doing so. If there were some kind of nostalgia museum for the bygone days of white goods manual writing, I would be recommending this booklet for an exhibit.

Mam followed all the advice to the letter. She made sure the jets weren’t blocked. She rinsed where rinsing was called for. She checked the upper spray arm was free to rotate by giving it a spin with her hand. In fact, I saw her doing this at Christmas, when the big fancy plates were called up for a St Stephen’s Day feast. They played havoc with the upper spray arm and its freedom to rotate.

Of course, Mam wasn’t the only one doing this work. We children (three of us) did our fair share of loading and unloading. Or at least the share we were motivated to do by threats about withholding TV or pocket money. Dad was a kitchen stalwart too. He died 10 years ago this May, but to quote mam “he loved washing dishes”. He’d use so much Fairy Liquid he’d have to scoop up flows of suds that were encroaching on the counter.

If she moved, she says, she'd have to leave it behind but would be sad to say goodbye

Even when the dishwasher came along, the pots and pans were still always sink-bound, so his dishwashing needs were met. I always thought the pots and pans were forbidden in the dishwasher because they were bad for its inner workings, but Mam said they just took up too much space. Now that it’s just her at home she’s more lenient. Even the Good Knives go in. “Dad used to go around with the tea towel going at the dips at the tops of the cups where the water would settle. I do that now too.”

That the magnets that cling to the front of the dishwasher have been there 17 years is almost as incredible to me as the age of the dishwasher itself. They date back to my eldest niece and her toddling days. Every grandchild has played with them since, the three little dogs and the three little bears, sitting inside their magnetic vehicles. “They’ve gone missing around the house a few times,” Mam says, “but I always track them down and put them back.”


Of course, it’s not completely perfect. The lower basket and the cutlery holder suffered some corrosion some years back and so Mam and Dad tracked down replacements in an appliance graveyard, relieving a less well-cared for dishwasher of its perfectly good accoutrements. Some enamel paint has been used to touch up a spot of unsightly rust here and there – I hasten to add the rust is merely cosmetic. And in more recent years, a spring on the door has given up the ghost, meaning the dishwasher is either closed-up tight, or open for all the world to see. There is no in between.

I wonder if Mam is attached to it, after all these years? “I thought of replacing it, when there was all the talk of water charges. It’s not very economical.” And if she moved, she says, she’d have to leave it behind but would be sad to say goodbye. “It’s been well-cared for . . . and I was just lucky, I think. It was well made.” And so were you, Mam. So were you.