David Swann lives at the end of a hilly no-through road in Montmorency. By his driveway there is a sign that says Swann’s Small Appliance Repair. It lists the opening times: standard business hours, but on Fridays he knocks off at 4.30 pm. Last Friday he placed a large black CLOSED sticker across the sign and knocked off for good.
I had called up out of the blue the day before, and told him I’d like to learn how to fix appliances. It was an odd request, but David gave me advice. “You need to know how electricity works. Once you get the basics, there’s a lot you can do,” he said. “The repair industry isn’t quite dead, but it’s in the death throes. We need new blood in the system and I’d be happy to give any help I can.”
I asked if I could visit.
Down the gravel path at the side of the house there is a wooden shed, with a front counter and a workroom behind. When I arrived, David was packing boxes.
He had already cleared out the spare parts from his many shelves, removing the bits and bobs, motors and mechanisms he’d gathered over two decades. Some tools remained: a torch, a multimeter, multigrips, files, and a soldering iron with the finest tip you can get. There were screwdrivers of all shapes and sizes, some with special Torx heads, which have a tip like a six-pointed star.
He needs strange screwdrivers because most appliances now have tamper-proof screws. They stop people from inadvertently electrocuting themselves, but also from repairing the appliances.
It’s just one sign of the times. Coffee machines and vacuum cleaners are becoming rocket ships, with sensors controlling myriad functions. Kettles used to have separate elements, but now they’re moulded in place. New irons and toasters are no longer fixable. “A toaster is not a toaster anymore,” David said. “It’s electronic gadgetry.”
Five years ago, he would fix twenty microwaves a week, now he does a few a fortnight. Now most appliances come from China, and they’re throwaway cheap.
But David says there’s still plenty that can be mended. He used to fix aeroplanes. With repair work, he told me, he’s like a dog with a bone. Sometimes he wakes in the night puzzling on problems. “If you’re not an investigative soul, it’s not the right job for you. You’ll just throw your hands up and stop.”
He suggested I dismantle some appliances to see how they work. So here goes:
Green’s Guess Appliance Repair is now open for business*. This is the inscription I’ve placed by my workshop (with thanks to the Statue of Liberty):
Give me your tired toasters, your poor gadgets
Your huddled microwaves yearning to cook freely
The wretched refuse of your teeming kitchen
Send these, the homeless, trash-tossed to me…
Swann’s Small Appliance Repair will soon re-open in Apollo Bay. In the meantime, bring your damaged goods to me.
* Preliminary slogan: ‘Green’s Guess is as good as yours!’