Whilst I was in Tanzania my house was let out, and during that time both the oven and the washing machine were replaced. So I was met on my return by new appliances which I had bought while away. And splendid appliances they are too. Washing machine does the job it's supposed to, I might even experiment with settings other than cotton 40 degrees one day! And the gas oven is great, having cooked electric for a while the responsiveness of gas is very nice.
And, needless to say, these appliances come with safety features. So the washing machine, not unreasonably, does not allow me to open the door whilst the machine is in use. That's fine, I could end up by flooding my floor and injuring myself, that makes perfect sense. What is slightly annoying is that, at the end of the cycle, the machine bleeps at me to say that it's finished, the machine is indeed empty of water and motionless - but it still won't let me open the door for a few minutes. So two questions here: why bleep at me and then not allow me to open the door? And why not allow me to open the door once the cycle is finished?
Meanwhile the gas oven has a number of features built in. Of course, gas cooking means there's a flame, flames cause fires, fires burn houses down, there is the need to be careful here. Also, you don't want to cook the controls by accident then to fill the house with gas, that wouldn't be good either. So, to get the cooker going there is the need to turn the dial to the flame on, the flame does indeed come on - but then you have to hold the dial in that position for a few seconds before releasing, otherwise the flame goes straight out. Basically, lighting the flame requires a series of actions which could not reasonably come about by accident.
But there is one more thing. As is normal with these kinds of ovens, there are two lower compartments, the lower and larger one for roasting or baking alone, the other also acts as a grill. So for a small domestic appliance, this gives a level of flexibility of use which I appreciate. The upper compartment, when used as a grill, must have the door open, which is closed when used as an oven. So - if the door is closed when the grill is in use, the flame automatically goes out.
Which is good, isn't it? Not difficult to imagine the problems which could arise by allowing the grill to overheat. So why aren't I feeling pleased that I have a cooker which is safe to use?
A number of reasons I think. One is that these safety features add an extra level of complexity to the appliances, something else to go wrong. One of the reasons I like reversing cameras on cars is that it is obvious if they're not working properly, which does not apply to proximity detectors when reversing, is it not perfectly possible that avoidable accidents occur because the driver is relying on the proximity detector when it is malfunctioning?
But the main reason is the sense of being wrapped up in cotton wool, not allowed to take responsibility for my actions, 'they' - whoever 'they' are - will look after me. Some while ago I wrote this blog post looking at various sayings of Margaret Thatcher, UK prime minister 1979-1990, particularly, 'There is no such thing as society, only families and individuals.' Is this not another example of appealing to 'society', if only 'they' do their job properly I don't need to worry about health and safety at all?
But - would I buy an oven which allowed me to use the grill with the door closed in preference to one which doesn't? No, I wouldn't, it's a perfectly sensible feature to incorporate. I suppose my point here is that features like this come at a price, we need to ensure that such features are genuinely helpful and do not give us the sense that we no longer need to worry.
OK, rant over, as always, very interested to know what you think, particularly, is it possible to accept the help offered by these safety features whilst, at a psychological level, still taking responsibility for our own safety and those around us? Thank you for reading, enjoy the long weekend?