It’s not what you think. It’s winter here and, unless you’re a dog, swimming is out. No, it’s a different kind of Shark. One which my family have been teasing me about for the past few weeks.
I first heard about the Shark Rotator when we were in an apartment last summer, visiting family in Adelaide. My daughter fell ill just before Christmas, and had to stay in the apartment during the day. With nothing much to do, she amused herself by watching television. She particularly liked the Shark Rotator vacuum cleaner advertisements. My son took on the accents of the demonstrator, a shiny thirty-something brunette. Emma recited long tracts of marketing spiel. And then we left Adelaide and I never gave the Shark Rotator another thought.
Three months ago, dragging round our heavy old barrel cleaner, bumping my shins against it and cursing the cord which hasn’t retracted properly for years, I started fantasising about how much better my life would be with a swish new vacuum cleaner.
My new vacuum, I imagined, would follow me up the stairs. No more humping and dragging my old one by the hose. A new vacuum would suck the dog hair and sand from my car with barely a sigh from me. With a new vacuum in the cupboard, I would positively want our dog to deposit sandbars on the backseat after visits to the beach, knowing that I could whip it out and make the car as new.
Another month passed. I forgot all about new vacuum cleaners. It was all I could do to keep my head above water with my work and family. But then, late one night, when I had better things to do, I found my way to the Shark Rotator website. There it was, in all its mesmerizing glory. The banal yet polished advertisement for God’s gift to vacuuming. ‘Cleaner Air’, it whispered. And there was more: ‘Never Loses Suction’, ‘Extra Long Cleaning Reach’, ‘Enhanced Swivel Steering’, ‘Ultra Quiet Operation’, and ‘Versatile and Ergonomic Tools for Cleaning Every Surface’.
Some grow skeptical as they get older. I grow more gullible. Perhaps, I told myself, US technology really has come on since I bought my vacuum cleaner twelve years ago. Perhaps the Shark really is the new Model T Ford. God knows it couldn’t be more plasticky than the vacuum cleaners in the city white goods store I’d just looked at. I wanted to believe the hype. I wanted to believe that my life could be turned round by the purchase of a new vacuum cleaner.
My two teenagers were not one bit persuaded by the promise of the Shark Rotator. They rolled their eyes when I mentioned I was interested in getting a new vacuum cleaner. But then, I told myself, they weren’t responsible for humping our old vacuum cleaner round the house, and so could afford to be high-minded.
There it is. Late one night, six weeks ago, I fell for the Shark Rotator. I got a small high from hitting the Buy button, believing that by pressing it I had put in train my good life to come.
Just ten days later it was in the front porch, in all its foam encased glory. It was, I realised, more plasticky than I’d hoped it would be. But I forgave it that. Because what I really cared about was its performance in our old house, on our gappy floors, thick rugs and painted stairs.
Having a dread of instruction manuals, I persuaded Emma to assemble the Shark Rotator. Twenty minutes later she switched it on. Putting my head round the kitchen door, I saw huge clouds of dust filling the front hall. The dirt from our rug was being pumped out of rather than into the Shark’s bagless casing.
Switching it off, Emma jiggled it about before trying it again. Same deal. More dust. Only this time there was also the smell of burning rubber, and a different kind of smoke. My son bit his lip. My husband shut his study door.
‘Bugger’, I said loudly. You can guess what came next. Furtive calls, late at night, to Connecticut, to allow for the time difference. A sassy saleswoman immediately offered to replace my Shark Rotator via express post. ‘But what will I do with the old one?’ I asked. ‘Can you dispose of it in the rubbish?’ asked the chirpy saleswoman. ‘Oh’, I reply, ‘I’ll have to think about that’.
I thought and thought. The next day I took my faulty Shark Rotator to the local vacuum cleaner repair man, to get his opinion. The repair man, with forty years of experience in the trade, looked in dismay at my shiny new purchase. He shook his head. ‘I’m sorry’, he said, ‘but we really can’t do anything with that kind of US make’.
After a longish conversation with the repair man, I realised that my old vacuum cleaner, with its trusty German engine, may not be ready for the clappers. Fitted with new filters and given a quick tune, its performance might dramatically improve. It would never follow me up the stairs, but it would definitely remove pet hair from our rugs. There may be nothing wrong with it that a couple of hours’ work wouldn’t fix.
So there it is. And the Shark Rotator? I gave it to the vacuum cleaner repair man, who put it on display as a warning to unwary customers who secretly hope that a shiny new vacuum cleaner might change their life.