The trouble with Henry

I hate Henry.

I hate to admit is, but I loathe the happy, grinning face on the body of our vacuum cleaner.

It’s worst when the cleaner (I refuse to call it ‘Henry’ or ‘he’) has wedged itself on a chair leg and I have to trail back to untangle it.

Or the flex has become entwined in the banisters and I have to struggle back downstairs to release it, carting said vacuum with me. And all the while, I’m being stared at by that unrelentingly cheery look.

The origins of the face are, according to Wikipedia (that source of all accurate information) to ‘prevent late night and early morning workers from feeling lonely.’ Created and built in the UK, it first started sucking up dust in 1981. If there were such a crime as violence towards inanimate objects, what might the incidence rate have been before that date and after? A sharp rise, most likely.

Described variously as ‘iconic’, ‘loveable’ and a ‘legend’ by the manufacturers, Numatic, Henry has been joined by other family members. There is a Hetty, whose contribution to equality of the sexes is a pink body and large fluttery eyelashes. Whether this subtle femininity would help me contain my bursts of anger I can only conjecture. There are also Henry’s cousin’s Charles, James and George and probably, before long, a Boris, a Kier and a Sir David.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the vacuum cleaner is only in use when I’d rather be doing something else. It might be the result of a three-line whip to clean the house, often in preparation for a cleaner coming. The house apparently mustn’t be too dusty or untidy for such visits.

Or it’s a displacement activity. Like when I’m agonising over writing a particularly troublesome paragraph. Getting out the vacuum cleaner to suck up a cobweb that’s been irritating me for months is one way of escaping the frustration of writer’s block, at least temporarily. But it means I’m already predisposed to rage. It inevitably erupts when, perched on a chair and stretching, the nozzle doesn’t quite reach, the face topples and I lose my balance, leaving me on the floor alongside that face baiting me., still grinning.

Perhaps the answer is a cordless vacuum cleaner. My experiences have not been good, though. Scarred in my youth by a Pifco cordless, a Ewbank, and a battery driven cleaner that neither cleaned nor lasted long enough to manage a rug, I am left deeply distrustful.

A recent arrival is an Amazon Robotic Vacuum Sweeper. Like a floor-mounted drone, it buzzes across the kitchen and aggregates an alarming amount of dust and detritus, no matter how many times the floor may have been swept already. But although spared the Henry face, it still drives me mad, demanding attention. Its apparently random movements and wild trajectories make escape from it like some futuristic game of dodge ball.

And if you leave it to its own devices, it’s quite likely to fall down a step or trap itself on some unlikely obstruction. Then, like an ostrich stuck in a corner, it will bounce endlessly from side to side until it’s rescued. I want to punish it for its stupidity, pick it up, shake it, except that’ll result in all the dust its collected returning to the floor.

But the truth is, I guess, I just hate housework.

And at this point, I was planning on concluding that I should acknowledge the efficiency with which these devices have the desired effect of cleaning dusty surfaces and it’s really all my fault. That the problem is mine, not Henry’s.

Then I changed the end and decided to suggest that maybe the manufacturers of Henry, Hetty and the rest could help me out by creating a different face; one that is responsive to my mood, offering me an expression that is non-patronising, sympathetic and understanding.

Then I changed my mind and went for an excoriating paragraph on anthropomorphism, that a face on a vacuum is entirely inappropriate. I’m quite justified in my ire, I was going to write. But then again, isn’t that a sign of personal weakness . . . ?

At which point, I concluded it was all just too problematic to find a decent end and  . . . if I’m not mistaken, is that not a sliver of dust under the sofa? Excuse me while I go and fetch the Henry . . .

If you enjoyed this blog, maybe you’ll enjoy my first novel ‘Homeward Bound’, a feelgood tale of family, ageing and ambition. Available from bookshops, Amazon (paperback and e-book) and other online retailers.

Author: Richard Smith

I'm a writer and storyteller and for much if my life produced sponsored films and commercials. Subjects were as varied as bananas in Cameroon, oil from the North Sea, fighting organised crime and caring for older people. Their aim was always to make a positive difference, but, worryingly, two commercials I worked on featured in a British Library exhibition, ‘Propaganda’.

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