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'Ear, 'Ear, 'Ear...

I think I was about seven years old when my mother got her first washing machine. Prior to that, she’d always done the washing by hand. Crude and primitive though that original washing machine was by today’s standards, for my mother it was the labour saving device to beat all other labour saving devices and she absolutely loved it to bits.

Nowadays, of course, such machines are ubiquitous and, personally speaking, I never give the washing a second thought. Throw stuff into the machine, toss in a scoop of washing powder, turn the machine on and come back an hour later. Then, depending on the weather, either throw the damp clothes into the tumble dryer or peg them out on the washing line to dry in the sun. Job done.

Of course sometimes things go ever so slightly wrong…

When my mother washed everything by hand she always had to pick up each item one by one and therefore, before she dunked it in the water, she would check to see if my father or I had left anything in the pockets, something that both of us were wont to do. Over the years, she rescued many precious items from a miserable, watery fate.

However because of my rather more cavalier approach to doing the washing, invariably there are times when things that probably shouldn’t come into contact with water go through a complete washing cycle. Usually it’s just a mild annoyance. Keys and gold coins come out bright and shiny and even today’s modern plastic banknotes survive unscathed (I’ve never washed a credit card, so I’m not sure how they would fare). Used tissues come out of the wash quite clean, and on rare occasions you can even use them again (something that appeals to my frugal Yorkshire soul) but more often than not they just disintegrate and attach little bits of themselves to every item of clothing in the load. Picking the bits of tissue off one by one is a salutary lesson in applied patience and I always vow never to wash a tissue again until the next time (a vow I have always managed to keep). But sometimes other things lurk unnoticed in my pockets.

Last week I accidentally washed my earphones…

When Jake the Dog and I go for our walks, I usually listen to an audiobook. I generally have several of them stored in my mobile phone and I listen to the story through a set of fairly expensive earphones which live in my shirt pocket when they aren’t being used. When Jake and I walk out of the door, it is a matter of but a moment to retrieve the earphones from my pocket, and plug one end into my phone and the other end into my ears. Then I press a magic button that lives in a tiny box attached to the right hand ear bud, and voices fill my head. I’ve got so good at doing this that I can even manage it while Jake and I continue to walk – there was a time when, because I am quite unable to multitask, Jake and I had to stop while I wired myself up. Jake always found this very puzzling and he used to complain about it a lot. Now that I have mastered the art of earphone insertion, he’s a lot happier with me.

I have very strangely shaped ears and most earphones/earbuds, call them what you will, fall out of my ears within seconds of being inserted. This is frustrating because Sod’s Law requires that it always happens when the sentence that explains the whole complex plot of the story is about to be uttered and consequently I completely lose track of what is going on! I generally say a rude word when this happens and Jake and I have to stop while I re-insert the earphones. Then I poke desperately at the screen of my phone to try and rewind the story to the vital bit that I missed. Jake hates it when that happens and I’m not too fond of it either.

However I have finally found an earphone design that will stay put until either I remove them gently myself or until Jake drags me into a bush that grabs hold of the dangling cables and wrenches the gadgets painfully out of my ears. Despite that, I think that these are the best earphones ever and I am very fond of them. But remember, they live in my shirt pocket…

I’ve had several narrow escapes over the months that I’ve been using these earphones and on more than one occasion I’ve had to go diving deeply into the dirty clothes basket in order to rescue them from yesterday’s shirt so that I can transfer them into today’s. (Usually I take them out of my shirt pocket of an evening when I get undressed for bed, but sometimes I forget. Despite all appearances to the contrary, I am not perfect). I suppose it was only a matter of time before they went into the washing machine, and last week that’s just what they did.

The machine was about half-way through its cycle when I went hunting for my earphones so that Jake and I could go for a walk. Odd! They weren’t in my shirt pocket. I wonder where… The penny dropped. It was far too late to try rescuing them from their watery fate, so I dug out an old and much less satisfactory pair from the back of a drawer. Then Jake and I went walking and left the original earphones to it.

When we got back home the washing machine had finished processing its load. I opened the lid and I found that my earphones had tangled themselves around the arms of two shirts, giving the distinct impression that the shirts had been handcuffed together and were now under arrest. I gently untangled everything and examined my earphones carefully. They were certainly very clean – over the months they had turned from shiny white to dull grey as nameless substances accreted themselves onto the cables, but now they were as bright and shining white as they had been on the day that I first plugged them in. So that was nice.

They looked extraordinarily good on the outside, but who knew what state they might be in inside their external shiny whiteness? I wondered if perhaps I should just throw them away, but then I had second thoughts. The electronics hiding inside a set of earphones are very rudimentary and are presumably therefore correspondingly robust. In fact, most of the magic gubbins, such as they are, are sealed away behind thick layers of waterproof plastic. The only holes in the structure lead to the speakers in the earbuds and to the microphone that lurks in the same little box that contains the on/off switch for the phone’s media player. I decided to let the earphones dry out in the airing cupboard for a week or so before I tried using them again on the grounds that once all the water had evaporated, there was probably a very good chance that the earphones might still work.

And so it proved. A week later I plugged them in to my ears on one end and in to my phone on the other end in the usual way, and I pressed the magic button. The narrator of my current story began burbling cheerily at me. My earphones, it seemed, were none the worse for their ordeal.

I cannot honestly recommend using the washing machine to clean your grubby earphones. But if you do accidentally subject them to a wash and spin cycle you may be surprised at just how well they stand up to it.

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