Wheaton’s Way

Hide all the spoons

As I wrestled with an electric hand mixer on the weekend, it occurred to me that reading the instructions of how to assemble and operate unfamiliar objects is really key to avoiding injury.

I had found a recipe for banana cinnamon pancakes that wouldn’t wreck my Weight Watchers programme, and was so eager to try them, that I was actually willing to cook.

The fact that I could even find the mixer was a small miracle, as I’d forgotten we had one.

First, I plugged it in. Second, I tried to insert one of the two beaters. As soon as it took, the device sprung to life, almost taking my finger with it. I threw the assembly clear, nearly breaking it in the process.

Start again.

First, I inserted the two beaters.

Second, I plugged it in…

Processes like the above should be common sense, but it’s amazing how many times we will eschew the logical path, to our detriment. Is it laziness? A lack of patience? Stubborness? It’s like the old joke about men never wanting to ask for directions (before the world of GPS), where they’d drive for miles out of their way, staring blankly at the map, while their wife tried to convince them to just pull over and ask someone.

I remember driving all over the US in the 1990s with my then-comedian boyfriend, who was taking us from gig to gig in his two-seater Toyota. One night, we had miscalculated the distance to the next city or something and the car was running on fumes.

We pulled into this small, out-of-the-way place – a one-bar, one-motel town – at around midnight. Everything seemed shut except the bar. Not even sure we could get a room, it became clear that my other half thought we could be sleeping in this matchbox of a vehicle.

Determined to not have that happen, I announced I was going into the bar to see if we could get some gas. Naturally, I was mocked. The gas station was cloaked in darkness. What was someone going to do? Siphon petrol from their own tank so we could be on our way? Sigh… British people.

Well, in I marched, and I asked the bartender for help. Next thing we knew, the owner of the station was cycling up, out of the darkness, to get the pumps going for us.

“You’ll be wanting a full tank?” he asked, rhetorically.

“Yes! Of course!” I blurted out.

We paid Mongolian-outpost prices per gallon, but we got what we needed and moved on down the road to a hotel room with a toilet. Worth every penny.

Using the right tools for the job is another valuable lesson. I once went to change a car tyre and, being unable to immediately locate the scissor jack handle, I instead reached for a wooden kitchen spoon.

I slotted the handle into the hole on the jack and started turning. Most of you can guess what happened next.

Turns out, the correct implement is forged from metal for a reason. Seems that the type of wood usually employed for stirring soups is not built to take on the torque necessary to lift a car off the ground.

Now, if I had just taken the 20 minutes to find that metal pipe, it would have saved me the 30 minutes spent being hit in the face by splinter projectiles. With every turn, another piece of the spoon violently broke off. By the time I, miraculously, had the car high enough to continue my work, my sore palms were holding a wooden nub of all bowl and no handle.

How many of us have used a flat head screwdriver, when really, a Phillips-head screwdriver was needed for the job? Or, for extra points, gone with our trusty butter knife?

Eyeballing measurements usually ends in tears as well, unless you’re an expert. Foregoing the tape measure for a thumb-to-little-finger substitution is a surefire way to end up with four different leg lengths on that homemade table you’re building.

The same theory applies to cooking. ‘About a cup’ and ‘close enough to a tablespoon’ don’t cut any mustard on ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ and nor should they in your kitchen.

Without accurate proportions, that souffle could end up looking like a sinkhole. Wear a WWPHD bracelet (what would Paul Hollywood do?) to remind yourself that measuring cups and spoons were invented for a reason.

Seasoned bartenders use jiggers all the time. Why? Because accuracy ensures consistency.

I have a blender that really needed a proper clean. We had never taken it apart before, and so, without any guidance, began pressing buttons and pulling levers to try and break it down to its basic parts – what I call ‘intuitive disassembling’.

We could not get the ice hopper to budge. My default theory was that it was stuck, due to never previously being touched. I grabbed and pushed and twisted and wrenched, but nothing. Just before I went to get a spoon to gain some leverage, my dear friend Lynne gently suggested that perhaps I should try to find the user manual on the internet for the $400 blender I was about to go all Mad Max on.

Thanks to www.manualslib.com, I discovered that there was a small button hidden behind the ice chute that allowed us to remove the hopper with ease. The cutlery could stand down.

At the same time, I came to a profound realisation. It occurred to me that fixing small appliances, electronics and a host of other items is like being in a relationship. If you have to force it (or always use a spoon), it’s best to just walk away.

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