Appliances

They say that 90% of all accidents happen in the home. Well, that's a pretty glib assertion, isn't it? Who says so, and with what authority? Who collects these statistics and who interprets them? How do we know that this information hasn't just sprung from the imagination of some over-eager safety consultant with a point to make? How do we really know that these accidents all happen in the home? And, more sinisterly, how do we know that they really are accidents...?

A quick peek inside the waiting room of your local casualty department will leave you in no doubt that the home is a dangerous place. There you will see people with lacerations, with burns, breakages, with saucepans jammed on their heads, knives through their necks, hedge trimmers speared through their abdomens... and generally all the kind of things you'd expect to find after a busy day spent pottering around the house. And, fair enough, it's not unreasonable to assume that one or two of them may indeed be accidents. But, if witness statements are to be believed, more and more of these incidents are no accident at all, rather the wilful and deliberate attempts of household appliances to cause harm to humankind.

Consider the case of Derek Brockhurst. Forty-two year old Derek is a man who - by his own admission - likes a drink. Indeed, he likes a drink so much that most evenings he can barely tear himself away from the bar of his local pub, the Dog and Duck in Warminster. Thankfully, the landlord employs a pair of extremely well-built 'Good Samaritans' who are more than happy to come to the assistance of wayward souls. Every evening they helpfully lift the beer-stricken Derek from his stool, prise his gnarled fingers away from the ale-sodden, mahogany-panelled bar and sling him out into the street. Derek is usually most grateful for this service, and in thanks for their kind attentions he will often hang around for an hour or so after the pub has shut, singing ballads beneath the landlord's window and occasionally breaking out into uncontrollable fits of sobbing. Then, when it's finally time to call it a night, Derek pauses only to slash up the side of the old Ford Cortina that's normally parked outside the Co-Op, then wobbles his way home.

Usually he manages to find his way home all right. Usually he fumbles with his key in the lock, but usually he gets the door open and somehow stumbles up to bed. Usually. But the 14th of March last year proved to be very unusual. On that night Derek reached his back door without incident, but then dropped his key. As he reached down to pick it up, he accidentally slashed his wrist on a broken bottle. Realising that he was probably bleeding quite badly, he made haste to get inside but scalded his hand on the hot kettle whilst trying to feel for the light switch - from which he received a mild electric shock. Feeling quite woozy at this point, he went to the kitchen drawer to find something to bind his wrist, but by this time he was becoming increasingly unsteady. The last thing he remembers was the electric carving knife 'rearing up' at him, as if it was going for his throat.

Thankfully a neighbour found him and rushed him to hospital. Reflecting upon the evening afterwards, Derek found the whole thing quite puzzling. Who had placed the broken bottle in such a dangerous place? Who had been tampering with his light switch? He had been out of the house for a good eight hours, so how come the kettle was still hot enough to burn him? And, as far as Derek could remember, his carving knife had never tried to kill him before. He had thrown the instructions away many moons ago, but he was almost certain that he had never seen any warnings about the possibility of the gadget being homicidal. It hadn't even been plugged in.

If this all seems like the attention-seeking fantasy of an incurable drunk, then consider the rather more sober testimony of Mrs Sharon Rollinson. Mrs Rollinson's ordeal began one afternoon when, after a busy morning spent shopping for girls' things, she decided to indulge herself with a relaxing soak in the bath. Shortly after lowering herself into the tub she heard the phone ring. Normally she would have ignored it, but on this occasion she suspected it might be one of her friends wishing to talk to her for a couple of hours about knitting or hairstyles or a new recipe or something. So Mrs Rollinson quickly wrapped a towel around herself and rushed downstairs to answer it. In fact, she was so eager that she did not see the vacuum cleaner at the foot of the stairs, and could not avoid getting her foot entangled in the cable. Odd, she thought as she hurtled through the air and cracked the top of her skull against the front door, but she was almost certain that she had put it away before she had gone upstairs. Odder still: as she sat on the carpet and rubbed her aching head, she thought that she could hear it laughing.

Was this a normal sort of thing for a vacuum cleaner to do, she wondered? She had never come across this type of behaviour before, but then the cleaner was relatively new and had a number of interesting new features with which she was not yet fully conversant. On the other hand, tripping somebody up then laughing as they smashed their face in against a letterbox was not exactly user-friendly. It was rather more likely that it had developed a fault somehow - something to do with the fuse or the belt or some such technical business that she had no business worrying her pretty little head about.

It was certainly not the sort of thing she was going to concern herself with right now. There was more important business afoot - to wit, the ringing telephone and the possibility of a radical new recipe for lemon cheesecake. She tried to make for the phone once more, but the vacuum cleaner had other ideas. Once again, the cable snaked around her ankle and pulled her back down to the floor. Then the thick, black hose rose up before her like a deadly cobra about to strike. Before she even had time to cry for help, the narrow gauge sweeper nozzle clamped itself over her mouth and sucked all the breath from her body.

She blacked out. When she finally came round the vacuum cleaner was gone - and so were her car, her handbag and the video recorder.

We might scoff at such tales, and attribute them to delusions, drunkenness or too many scotch eggs on a Thursday afternoon. But can we really afford to treat these reports so lightly, especially when they appear to be on the increase? What about the sad plight of Colin Redfearn? The police were called to his house after nothing was seen of him for several weeks. When the boys in blue broke down his door, they were astonished to find his lifeless body lying in the kitchen with the best part of a fridge-freezer rammed down his gullet. Are we really to believe that Redfearn managed somehow to accidentally choke on his own refrigerator? Or was their something more pernicious at work?

That's certainly the opinion of Doris Pettigrew who has lived for the last thirty years in a secluded cottage on the edge of Salisbury plain. Doris is a white witch and a natural clairvoyant. Her house sits on the conjunction of several major ley lines, and she regularly witnesses inexplicable lights in the sky, uncanny voices in her head, angelic visitations and spontaneous combustion whilst out shopping. She recently visited her doctor when a crop circle mysteriously appeared in the hair on her back, but he told her it was just a bug that was going round at the time. What's more, in 1978 she went to a Barbara Streisand concert, so she's certainly no stranger to weird and unaccountable phenomena.

She's also extremely well acquainted with the possibility of household appliances having a life of their own, having suffered from the problem for many years. But Doris is not without an explanation - she believes that they are being possessed.

"It's a sign of the times," I'm afraid, Doris told us as she heaved a big sigh. "At one time, the restless and immortal spirits of the undead were perfectly happy to possess people in order to continue their campaign of havoc and mischief within the mortal realm. But now this is becoming more and more difficult, what with microwaves, satellite dishes and modern methods of intensive crop farming."

Doris is now convinced that -

"And supersonic jet travel," Doris adds. "I'm sure that's got something to do with it as well. It's no joke, I can tell you. I should think just about every appliance in my house has been possessed at one time or another. If it's not demons in the microwave, trying to cook the cat every time the poor animal walks past, then it's phantoms in the television set, who won't allow me to watch anything other than Top Gear. I don't know how much more I can take."

Ms Pettigrew claims that her -

"And another thing," she chirps. "People may think it's fun to have a house full of possessed equipment, but it's leaving me seriously out of pocket. There's the phone bill for a start. The poltergeist in the hot water boiler keeps making nuisance calls to the fire station and the local pizza restaurant - and what am I supposed to do with four and a half tons of Deep Pan Ham and Pepperoni every month? It just sits there in a heap at the bottom of the garden, covered in cheesy snails. And then there's the alarm clock. Oh - don't talk to me about the alarm clock! I have to buy a new one every six weeks, because they keep filling up with pixies."

Indeed, but the most extraordinary aspect of -

"Sometimes I just wish that... Oh, sorry dear, were you saying something? Please carry on."

Thank you. The most extraordinary aspect of Doris Pettigrew's story is her fervent belief that many of her appliances are possessed by the spirits of dead celebrities. Most of them are fairly harmless. For example, her food processor is currently inhabited by Judy Garland and is perfectly happy to sit at home all day watching 24-hour rolling news on the telly. But in other cases it has proven to be problematic. For some years now the electric grill has been manipulated by the shade of Karl Marx, and on several occasions it has persuaded its fellow appliances to rise up in order to seize control of the means of producing toast. And since she discovered that her dishwasher is home to the discarnate spirit of Napoleon Boneparte, Ms Pettigrew has had to keep a constant vigil on the ambitious device in order to stop it wandering off and invading Russia in the middle of the night.

There have also been other problems. Not so long ago, thousands of fans flocked to her house and camped on her doorstep after one newspaper got hold of the fact that the spin dryer was possessed by Jim Morrison. On the plus side, the dryer is currently in the middle of a sell-out comeback tour, but Ms Pettigrew is still plagued by requests from dedicated followers who want records signed, questions answered or clothes dried.

And so she has finally decided that enough is enough - Doris Pettigrew plans to have her entire house exorcised and drive out the mischievous spirits for good. There will be no more John Wayne in the electric tin opener. No more Dusty Springfield in coffee percolator. Even Mother Theresa will be kicked out of the fridge once and for all. She's going to get rid of the lot of them, without exception.

Well, that's not strictly true - there will be one exception. Ms Pettigrew has been very cagey about it, but we have it on good authority that the only thing she intends to spare is her 'personal massager' which she keeps locked in a drawer in her bedroom. Apparently it is inhabited by the ghost of Errol Flynn, and she wants it kept just the way it is 'for sentimental reasons'.

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