Cooker Island

South of India, shining like a sparkling emerald beneath the hot tropical sun, is an island. Seven miles from coast to coast, the island is thick with lush vegetation and myriad species of multicoloured butterflies. The ocean currents lap gently at its sandy beaches, washing the occasional piece of flotsam or jetsam up against the shore, but leaving it otherwise unspoilt. And unspoilt it remains, for it receives few visitors, despite its idyllic setting. This place is ignored, forgotten. It rarely appears on maps, but when it does it’s only as a tiny pinprick - bearing the name 'Crispin’s Isle', after the Portuguese explorer who discovered it. To the local fishermen it is known as 'Chumbha-Harvel', meaning literally ‘silver jewel beneath a moonlit sky’. However, to Clinton Parkes, the biologist who uncovered its extraordinary secret, it goes by a much more prosaic name: Cooker Island.

Rarely visited though it may be, uninhabited it certainly is not. Apart from the indigenous population of butterflies, lizards and parakeets, the island is now home to an altogether more bizarre branch of the animal kingdom - rogue cookers. And not just cookers, but toasters, washing machines, sandwich makers and all manner of discarded appliances, which dwell deep amongst the island's flora, stalk its sandy beaches and swim around its coral reefs. Cast aside by the Western world, they have flourished on Crispin's Isle for many years; an embarrassing reminder of the needless waste that characterises our so-called 'modern' disposable society. Theirs is indeed a sad story - one that begins back in the fifties.

The years immediately following the Second World War had proved to be times of great austerity for many. Nevertheless, investment and rebuilding programmes led to a strengthening of most economies. And as the nations of Western world struggled shakily back onto their feet, the population came to demand the kinds of innovations and home comforts that new technologies were able to deliver. Thus was born an entirely new phenomenon: consumerism.

"They wanted them all shiny with metallic chrome and big fins"

People wanted faster cars, bigger TVs, the latest record players, up-to-the-minute gadgets and gizmos. And they wanted them NOW. And they wanted them BIG. And they wanted them all shiny with metallic chrome and big fins. As technology grew, so did the demands of the consumer. And no one proved to be more demanding than the American housewife.

The USA was in a much stronger position than many nations following the war, due in part to a diligently observed policy of hiding for most of it. The typical American housewife suddenly found that she had a disposable income to spend on crap that would cut her workload in half and keep her hands free to eat more potato chips. She wanted washing machines that would wash her whites whiter, irons that would iron flatter, refrigerators that could deep freeze a bison in two minutes and cookers that could instantaneously provide a healthy, nutritious three course meal for the whole family, without it tasting like shit.

Washing Machine

And manufacturers were queuing up to give it to her. In the race for Mrs Average-American's cash, they were forced to constantly turn out newer and better products to keep ahead of the competition. This led to some surprising innovations, since it was no longer enough for a cooker to just cook, or a toaster to toast - there had to be some other selling point. By the end of the decade you could buy washing machines with built-in bunk beds, vacuum cleaners that could take the kids to school, or radios with chimneys.

What this meant was that whereas at one time a new oven might last you fifteen years or more, now you would be lucky if you got to the end of the week without it being superseded by a better model. Consequently, thousands upon thousands of unwanted old appliances were tossed onto the scrapheap. However, the story didn't end there.

"Toasters with misshapen slots, food mixers with hideously deformed whisks, steam irons with humps and gingivitis"

Technology had come along in leaps and bounds, and had developed to the point where many appliances could display a kind of rudimentary intelligence. Unhappy with their fate, they took to wandering around affluent neighbourhoods, scavenging and begging for small change. At first they were only a minor nuisance, easily dealt with by local refuse collectors and street cleaners, or moved on by the police. But after a while they began to band together. The trouble really started when their groups began to be infiltrated by an organisation calling itself 'The Rejects'. These were appliances that had never made it to the comfy showrooms and glossy catalogues; the faulty, rejected appliances that the public never saw. Some of them were horribly mutated - toasters with misshapen slots, food mixers with hideously deformed whisks, steam irons with humps and gingivitis. Embittered at being so casually neglected, they began a protracted campaign of disruption against mankind.

Toaster

Their attacks were sporadic, largely ineffective and mostly directed at Mrs Edna Walchovsky of 22a Bordello Street, New Jersey, who later went on record as saying that she wasn’t at all happy about it. By and large, their offensive capabilities were pitiful - toasters, lacking limbs, found it incredibly difficult to hurl petrol bombs, and even the biggest and most daunting of fridge-freezers could be disabled with a simple screwdriver. But as their numbers increased they moved on from Mrs Walchovsky and started to attack more strategic targets.

The turning point came on June 4, 1958, when a squad of heavily armed coffee percolators took over a local telephone exchange. They made their demands quite clear - they wanted equal rights, a voice in congress and new filters. President Kennedy declared a state of emergency, which some felt was a little presumptuous on his part, since he didn’t actually take office until two years later. He completely rejected their demands and called in the National Guard, instructing them to put an end to the rebellion once and for all. The fighting was bloody and protracted, but eventually the percolators surrendered. However, this was not enough for the president, who wanted to make an example of them. He ordered that each and every one of them be dismantled.

Over four hundred coffee percolators lost their plugs that day. It signalled the end of the revolution, and even today is still regarded as one of the darkest hours in the history of hot beverages.

"Even those appliances that had remained loyal to their human masters were placed under strict curfew"

Further insurrections were met with equal severity as the American government declared all out war on the rogue appliances. Toasters were ruthlessly hunted down, washing machines were shot on sight and dehumidifiers were rounded up and put in condensation camps. Even those appliances that had remained loyal to their human masters were placed under strict curfew and severe beatings were issued to all those that broke the rules. In times of war, the innocent must also suffer.

Whilst persecuting kitchen appliances was fun, it was evident that a more permanent solution was required. A number of vocal commentators and lefties, both in the States and abroad, were greatly concerned about the moral implications of keeping appliances under lock and key. The American government came under increasing pressure to find an alternative arrangement. And so it was suggested that a reserve be set up, where the appliances could roam freely and enjoy their lives to the full. After much searching, one of the more observant members of the White House staff spotted Crispin's Isle on the map, noticed that it didn't have a flag in it already and claimed it for the USA. Since it didn't have any oil, it was deemed that this would be a perfect location for the reserve.

Cooker

And so, in an exercise code-named 'Operation Fly-tipping' every disgruntled cooker, troubled toaster and stroppy vacuum cleaner was rounded up and loaded onto an aircraft carrier, the USS Bendix, which then put out for Crispin's isle. The rogue appliances were put ashore and left to their own fate. On the ship's return, all crewmembers were sworn to secrecy; all records, files and papers concerning the mission were nibbled to destruction by government chipmunks; and an elaborate series of cover stories were invented, mostly revolving around aliens and Soviet brain-shrinking devices.

Cooker Island was forgotten about. Cooker Island never existed.

"State-of-the-art radio sets nested in the treetops"

But Cooker Island never really went away. Whispers and rumours still circulated, and occasionally strange stories would emerge - stories of a mysterious island in the Indian Ocean where herds of gleaming white kitchen appliances grazed on the plains, and state-of-the-art radio sets nested in the treetops, their incessant chattering ringing through the air.

Then came the strangest tale of all. In 1971 a container ship bound for Singapore sank in the vicinity of the island. There were only two survivors, who were both dehydrated and delirious by the time they were rescued three days later. One of the men never spoke again, and died five years later in a hospital in Delhi. But the other man had a bizarre story to tell. Frightened and confused, he was unwilling at first to relive his experience. But gradually, piece by piece, his story emerged. He spoke of a sudden, unexpected whirlpool that had sprung up from nowhere, and rapidly dragged the ship to its doom. It was the work of some strange and terrible monster, he was sure. He described the horrifying roar it had made, the hungry, insatiable gurgling noise as the ship was pulled beneath the waves, and then the loud, abrupt 'pop' as it disappeared all together.

Roar, roar, gurgle, gurgle, pop.

The Extraordianry Fauna of Cooker Island

It was assumed that his account was just the feverish ramblings of a man half crazed by his ordeal. His story never made it into the official report, although it did make it to the pages of a number of cheap supermarket tabloids. And it was in just such a publication that it was brought to the attention of Clinton Parkes, a young biology graduate from Delaware. His grandfather, Enrico Parkes, had served on the USS Bendix during its involvement with Operation Fly-tipping. In his later years, he often regaled young Clinton with his story of rogue washing machines. The family had, quite naturally, assumed that Enrico was as mad as a fish, and had him committed to an asylum. It was only after his death that they began to suspect that there might have been a grain of truth to his story - turning up at the institution to collect his belongings they found his pet toaster running around in excited little circles, yapping noisily.

Clinton Parkes was intrigued, and after seven years of fund raising, collecting used stamps and hiring out his backside to deviants, he finally managed to raise the funds to mount an expedition. He assembled a team of experts from a number of different fields, including botanists, zoologists, gas fitters and electricians. They landed on Crispin's Isle in the spring of 1979 and made a startling discovery: not only did the rogue appliances survive - they actually thrived.

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Without delay, his team set about cataloguing the plethora of new species they encountered on the island. The appliances had adapted startlingly well to their new environment, having interbred and evolved. Parkes identified blenders that had bred with vacuum cleaners to produce creatures capable of sucking up their prey and mashing it into an easily digestible form. Washing machines that had evolved prehensile cables, that were capable of gripping branches - lumbering and ungainly on the ground, these creatures appeared graceful and balletic when swinging through the trees. Apart from one or two species, the entire indigenous fauna of the island had been replaced. A whole new ecology had sprung up - from the placid, herbivorous TV sets grazing across the grassy plains, to the terrifying, ravenous cookers, which could rip the pump out of a refrigerator in ten seconds flat.

Parkes' most remarkable discovery was when he finally identified the deadly whirlpool that had sucked the container ship to a watery grave all those years ago, and so sparked his interest - a powerful waste disposal unit lying in a deep underwater trench, feeding on whatever marine life it could suck into its powerful gullet.

And the work goes on. Cooker Island is constantly throwing up fresh wonders. There is so much more we can learn from its extraordinary ecology. Parkes has spent the last twenty years continuing to catalogue the remarkable animal life of the island, and is still discovering new and exotic species. It is thanks to his diligent work that the island is now designated an official reserve. What is more extraordinary is that, after all this time, Parkes' commitment is absolute and his enthusiasm is as strong as ever. And this is in spite of being badly mauled by a sandwich toaster in 1997.


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