Wendyl Nissen: Busy little sucker is this housewife's BFF

ONE of the greatest things to support the supportive wife was the advent of machines to help with all her housework.

Not so long ago a good housewife devoted three days to washing. First there was wash day which involved boiling up the copper. You then washed, then rinsed, wrung then hung clothes which were made out of such difficult fabrics as wool, linen and silk.

The whole process took all day and used up the energy equivalent of running a marathon.

The next day was devoted to getting the damn things dry, which in winter usually involved hanging them all up from the ceiling of the kitchen.

The next day you ironed until the cows came home.

Today's housewife can get the washing done in half an hour, throw it in the dryer for another half hour and very little needs ironing these days thanks to the wonders of modern fabric manufacturing.

This supportive wife in her old corporate days started every morning shoving the washing for five children and two adults into her trusty washer before heading to work.

While she toiled on the phones and bossed staff around, her clean washing was patiently waiting for her to return and hang it out.

In the 1950s fridges were a relatively new invention and they were wee things with a tiny box at the top for making ice or perhaps keeping a pint of ice cream. But it was something. No more burying pats of ice in the garden to keep them fresh or finding a use for day-old milk because it'll be off by the morning.

Couples might get a washing machine or a fridge as part of their wedding presents, or they might get them on hire-purchase, paying the expensive items off week by week for years. But they were safe in the knowledge that they were built to last and they'd probably still have their time-saving machines when hubby retired.

As a child I used to imagine that when I grew up it would all be a bit like the Jetsons and I would simply spend my days managing a difficult but amusing multi-tasking robot who did all the housework while I watched her, smoking a lot and fiddling with my curlers. She would become my best friend.

When we moved back to New Zealand from Sydney 12 years ago we bought a new fridge, a new washing machine and drier and a new dishwasher.

The dishwasher packed it in years ago but almost to the day both the washing machine and fridge retired on their 12th birthday.

It was as if a little fuse was implanted in each with a timer set to go off at 12 years, making them obsolete and in need of replacement. A brilliant ploy by manufacturers who realised that making things which last is ridiculous. Why sell one when you can sell four or five in a lifetime?

In the early days of these machines it was a great idea to make things that last in order to persuade people to try something new and expensive.

"Oh well if it's going to last our lifetime dear, then we will put away the dollar a week it takes," said husbands to supportive wives. "It can come out of your $50 housekeeping," he added generously.

I replaced the fridge with a much smaller model, to save energy but also because there really is no need to store food for one family in something the size of a small car. And the new washing machine is so confusing I just close my eyes, press lots of buttons and hope for the best.

And in some ways my Jetson dream has been realised. I bought myself a Roomba, otherwise known as a robot vacuum cleaner.

He spends his days scuttling around the house vacuuming up bits of pet hair and dust, comically bumping into walls, getting stuck under couches and terrifying the cats. The rest of the family hates him and leaves the room when he eagerly turns up to bump into their feet.

But for the supportive wife he's my new best friend. I just hope he hangs around longer than 12 years.