Of bias and washing machines

After playing up for a while, my, no, our washing machine broke down. ‘I’ll take care of this,’ Hugh, my very supportive husband said. Within a few days a repairman showed up on our doorstep at 8 a.m.. Together they went to work. 

Half an hour later I was called to the scene. The moment the repairman saw me, something shifted in his demeanour. I felt my stomach tighten. The man looked at me gravely and mumbled something about carbon brushes. Then he stood taller. Dramatically, he shook his head. ‘Your machine is very old, Madame. It really is totally worn out.’ 

Indeed, it is 21 years old. 

‘Look.’ He showed me an electronic tablet on which a series of new machines were displayed. ‘I’ll give you a 50 Euro discount.’ 

‘He can replace the brushes, but it’s going to cost nearly as much as a new machine,’ my husband said. ‘What shall we do?’ 

‘Let’s look at our options,’ I said. 

Softly, the repairman scoffed. ‘Of course you don’t need to decide now, Madame. You need to sit down and discuss it. Of course.’ He started packing up his tools. 

Quietly, I went to my computer and looked up carbon brushes. A new set cost 13 Euros. Next, I watched a video about how to replace them. 

‘Can you help me have a look at the motor?’ I asked my husband, once the repair man had gone. Together we turned the machine on its back to expose the mechanism under the drum. I could see where the guy had taken out the old brushes. 

‘Let’s do this ourselves,’ I said. 

My husband laughed. ‘That’s why I married you. How did you even think of that?’ 

Carbon Brushes

How? You see, I was raised by parents who were both unconventional and extremely self-reliant. They bought a dilapidated house and spent many years doing it up. I, and my sisters, happily absorbed all that creative drive. While at our girls-only school we learned to knit, crochet, embroider, dust and clean the floor, at home we learned to lay bricks, plaster walls, paint woodwork, weave, grow vegetables and repair the roof. Above all, we learned that we can do anything if we put our mind to it. 

The carbon brushes arrived by mail. My husband brought out his tools and lay down by the machine. After a while he sighed in despair. ‘I can’t get to it. We’ll have to dismantle the whole thing,’   

When he disappeared to take a break from his uncomfortable position, I crouched. My hands are a lot smaller than his. I took up one of the brushes. Slowly I managed to squeeze its spring into the metal tube on the side of the motor. It was very fiddly. The spring kept jumping out. My fingers ached. But after a while I managed to slot the tiny brass end-piece over the mouth of the tube. This brush was in. 

The other one was a different story. Its tube was at the back of the motor. Even though I could reach it, it was impossible to see what my fingers were doing. I fiddled and fiddled, to no avail. All of a sudden I had an idea. 

With a clamp I attached a little hand-held mirror to the bottom of the machine, so I could see what I was doing. It took a while before my brain wanted to coordinate the opposite movements, but I managed to get the spring inside. The latch, however, didn’t want to go in, no matter what I tried. 

At this point my husband came back. We discussed what could be the matter. In the mirror I looked at the situation again. It was counter-intuitive, because the device was factory made, but it seemed that the latch was slightly too long. 

What did I have to lose? If I couldn’t get the brush in, we’d have to buy a new machine after all. 

‘Do we have a file?’ I asked. My husband jumped up and brought back a small collection. 

At different points I filed bits off the metal and tried to fit it again. And yesss! The latch slid in place. 

We put the machine back upright and started it. It worked. 


I’ll admit it’s been a long time since I felt so pleased with myself! 

So ladies, never be held back by the assumption that you can’t do it. Never be held back by the ‘ah, a-woman-who-knows-nothing-about-guy-stuff’ bias of repairmen. I knew our machine was in good condition, because I have taken it apart before. Take your screwdriver and have a look inside. And make sure you have your mirror with you too :). Don’t give in to the pressure to buy something new before it’s necessary, and further pollute our dear earth. 

Yes, you can!

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