This is a story about a pickle and a mess. It’s also a story about a dishwasher.
I have always prized the humble dishwasher. Not for me the quintessential mindfulness practice of mindfully washing dishes, feeling the soap suds beneath my hands, sensing my feet on the floor, and watching thoughts come and go like bubbles for forty minutes every night (every night!). The technological revolution was supposed to liberate us from hours on our feet or knees, scrubbing away problems and cleaning our desks of detritus. So when I moved house earlier this year, getting a dishwasher was first on my list. Little did I know what awaited.
The first problem I owed to the 1990s. My kitchen is a fitted MDF creature whose cupboards, it became rapidly apparent, were so tightly squeezed and glued together that there was no chance of ripping one out to make space. I spent an evening yanking on bits of reconstructed wood and undoing screws, only to put them all back in again. But I fixed that one: I moved the fridge-freezer, revealing calomine-lotion-pink 1990s décor behind, and a healthy gap for my new technological friend. So I ordered my dishwasher, which sat – square, enormous, promising liberation – proud in the middle of the kitchen, and I called in the plumber.
It took several weeks to get a plumber. When he arrived, he poked and prodded and peered round the back of my MDF kitchen, grim-faced. The wiring behind the gap was wrong, he told me, and I would need to call in an electrician to fix it. There would be no dishwasher today.
He must have seen my face (more mindful washing up! More money! More time!), because he called his boss, who called his friend, who said he could come round three days later to sort out the wiring. Meanwhile, he said, he could set up the plumbing so that it would all be ready to go. Which he duly did: within an hour I had a pleasing array of tubes sticking out of holes in the sides of my MDF cupboards. This was progress.
We could unwrap the dishwasher and move it into the gap, he said, so that it was out of the way in the kitchen. I grabbed a pair of scissors and we set to on the packaging. There was a lot of it: cardboard, plastic, polystyrene, wooden planks for stability. This was the time when the Edinburgh bin-men were all on strike, and I was storing the recycling in my bath. I carted bits of it away as we worked; the last bit of plastic came off, I shooed the puppy from munching the polystyrene, and that’s when the plumber said, ‘your dishwasher doesn’t have a door.’
And I said, ha, ha, very funny.
But then I looked and, dear reader, my dishwasher didn’t have a door.
More precisely, it had something. It had an ugly, edgy, holey, grey metal something. I could tell that the plumber was not impressed. He kept shaking his head and muttering. I called the electronics delivery company and asked them why my dishwasher had no door. ‘You ordered an integrated dishwasher,’ the nice man on the phone explained. ‘Yes!’ I said. ‘I ordered a dishwasher! I expected it to have a door!’
‘Ah,’ he said patiently. ‘But you see, if you wanted a dishwasher with a door, you should have ordered a freestanding dishwasher. An integrated dishwasher is fitted into your kitchen. It needs a door fitted onto it that matches the rest of your kitchen. And it requires different plumbing from a freestanding dishwasher. You’ve got an integrated dishwasher.’
That’s when I realised I had ordered the wrong dishwasher.
I hung up and dialled the original retailer. ‘Have you unwrapped it?’ the woman on the phone asked me. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I had to unwrap it in order to discover that it had no door.’ ‘Oh dear,’ she said.
There was a pause. I felt the chill cold hand of a nervous breakdown coming upon me. I lived, I realised, in a world where you could buy a dishwasher on a website that looked identical to the dishwasher that you needed, but that would show up without a door. I had a useless five-hundred-pound household appliance sitting in my kitchen, like a giant, ugly, metal reprimand.
The plumber continued to mutter, Scottishly. The puppy, deprived of the polystyrene, looked hungry. I wondered if it counted in the adulthood rankings if I could at least feed a dog, even though I couldn’t order a dishwasher. This, frankly, was a Pickle and a Mess. I waited.
‘Let me see what I can do,’ she said. ‘It’s possible that we can take delivery of it and just charge you a restocking fee to repackage and put it back in the warehouse. I’ll call you back.’
I had to wait two days to confirm that my wretched dishwasher could be Returned to Sender, for the princely sum of forty pounds. Then the electrician came, and fixed the wiring; the nice electronics delivery people returned, with a new dishwasher. I gave them the packaging from the bath, and they took away the old one. The ship that didn’t sail; the dishwasher without a door.
What is the moral of this story? It is, perhaps, that sometimes what arrives in life and work is exactly what you do not need. That occasionally things don’t work for a very long time. You can’t move the cupboard, you wait years for the plumber, the wiring’s not right, you have a bath full of cardboard, the dishwasher has no door. And it’s expensive.
What I do remember is that people were kind. The plumber who called in the electrician; the electronics delivery man who patiently explained to me what I had done; the retailer who pulled strings to get my wretched dishwasher restocked. But what really helped was when I called my friend J, and left her a long voice note with the whole sorry story. We were relatively new friends; it made her laugh like a drain, and it took our friendship a little deeper, as trials and tribulations often do. Now I have a dishwasher, and a friendship with a new catchphrase: ‘Does it have a door?’
When you, too, are facing a Pickle and a Mess, take all the kindness you can get. Laugh hard. It helps.