Bendix | Steve Ashton

The spin cycle turned out to be more than we bargained for.


By Steve Ashton

For the Crater Mountain Award

If you think working in TricityLux customer services is dull, think again. Only last week, an Icelandic dealer needed a rubber grommet for a 1987 TX390 tumble drier. Yup, we’d FedExed a replacement to Reykjavík within the hour. Crazy, huh?

Imagine my reaction, then, when a customer reported a problem with her Bendix Turbulator washing machine, a classic front-loader of 1970s vintage.

“It still works?” I said.

“After a fashion,” she said. “You’d better see for yourself.”

She gave her address as The Mansion, Sutton Scotney. Just a stone’s throw from our Basingstoke office. Who says there’s no serendipity in white goods? Rochdale’s Museum of Household Appliances has a working Turbulator, but you can’t beat the thrill of handling one in the field.

I expected a butler but Lady Fotheringay opened the door herself.

“Your servant, Ma’am,” I said, bowing at a right angle.

She fluttered her bejewelled fingers and led me to the utility room. “You see the problem?” she said, pulling a tight-fitting top over her blouse.

“Perhaps it’s defaulting to the hot wash.”

“Shrinkage is not the issue,” she scoffed. “This tank top used to be a cowl-neck jumper. I look like some hideous disco queen.” She insisted I wash my own clothes to prove the fault wasn’t a one-off.

We stood side by side – me dressed in boxers and her late husband’s smoking jacket – and watched my sudsy Ben Sherman and beige chinos writhe against the Perspex window.

After the short spin, I pulled out a floral shirt and a pair of yellow flares. Hmm. I popped them in the tumble drier while mulling over possible explanations for this fashion fiasco.

As I wriggled the pants over my pelvis, I spotted something amiss with Turbulator. The door had been hung upside down. Milady explained that yesterday she’d asked a passing tramp to fix the wobbly hinge.

I poked my head inside to see if he’d damaged the drum while drilling new holes. My scalp and cheeks tingled. When I withdrew, Lady Fotheringay yelped in alarm. I looked at my reflection in the Turbulator’s polished aluminium fascia and saw – not with horror but, rather, an odd sense of pride – that I’d sprouted sideburns, a Burt Reynolds moustache, and a fecund mullet.

Sensing a mismatch with my Clarks slip-on shoes, I poked each in turn into the drum and transformed them into white patent-leather platforms.

“Tell you what,” I said, sensing money in memorabilia. “I’ll swap this old Turbulator for a brand new TricityLux Turbowash free of charge.”

“Done,” she said.

After phoning the order through to head office, I began to make plans. I could feed the Turbulator with charity shop clothes and open a 70s retro boutique in Basingstoke High Street. Better still, I could offer a cure for baldness. ‘Just stick your head inside that drum, good sir.’ Hundred quid a pop. They’d be queuing round the block.

Then it struck me, the Golden Goose was not the Bendix Turbulator but the fellow who’d warped time by fixing its door upside down. I grabbed Lady Fotheringay by the wrists and begged her to reveal where the tramp was headed. She twisted a hand free from my sweaty grasp and pointed east.

I found him leaning against a tree in a meadow. “I have a business proposition,” I said. “Fifty grand for modifying a dozen washing machines.”

He said nothing as he munched through a corned beef sandwich.

“Not bad for a day’s work,” I said persuasively. “Your tramping days would be over.”

He shook his head. “I’m safer out here, where I can’t do any more damage.”

“At least tell me your secret,” I pleaded. “Do you simply remember your happiest days and then imbue objects with a Seventies aura?”

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” he said, spluttering shreds of unappetising beef. “Three-day week. Threat of nuclear Armageddon. ABBA.” He took another bite of sandwich. “Vesta Chow Mein.”

“So why do you do it?”

“It’s not a gift, it’s a curse. You’ve heard of King Midas? Well I’m King Lenny – everything I touch turns to shite.” He looked disdainfully at his sandwich. “This was a smoked salmon canapé when I cadged it from Lady Fotheringay.”

Unable to persuade Lenny to relinquish his mendicant ways, I returned to the Mansion to retrieve the Bendix Turbulator.

In the driveway, I met a contract plumber loading tools into his van. “Job’s a good un,” he said.

“Where’s the Bendix?”

“Down the tip – Lady Fotheringay said you hadn’t bothered to come back for it.”

I found the Turbulator half dismantled at the recycling centre. I thrust my Casio watch into the drum hoping it would turn into a wind-up Timex. No such luck. A sinking feeling came over me (literally – my platform shoes were subsiding). As my flares narrowed to chinos, and my floral shirt reverted to Ben Sherman conventionality, I clasped my head. Noooooo! The mullet had retreated from my bald patch, and the moustache and sideburns shrivelled to designer stubble.

What can I say? The Seventies were good while they lasted.

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