Gadgets fascinate me; the simpler, the more ingenious, the more useful, the better. There is something about a pencil sharpener, a spirit level or even the humble paper clip that I find absorbing but others rarely share my interest. Were I to start explaining to my wife, Rohan, the details of the Post-its endless re-stickiness, somehow she would soon change the subject!

I also enjoy doing repairs around the house, so a recent crash in the night presented me with an opportunity to indulge in two pleasures. The  incident meant that for several days I would be working to replace a rising-butt door hinge with its nifty spiral design (see the illustration). What could be better?

This was the second captivating gadget in a fortnight. With the first, I was marvelling at a very different device. Gadgets can be mechanical or electronic, and this first one was state-of-the-art electronic and it had me hooked. But more of that later.

Back to the hinge. Like many men of my age I often need to get up at night. It was around three in the morning when, on opening the bedroom door there was a loud cracking noise followed by a sharp metallic pingas something hit the floor. Next I felt the top of the door lurching towards me. Once I had realised that the doors top hinge had snapped, I carefully pushed the door back to the upright position, put chairs around to make it stable, told a sleepy Rohan what had happened and went back to bed.

The steel pin that holds the leaves of the hinge together had indeed sheared off. The hinge could well have been put in place when the house was built in 1896, and after 122 years of the door being repeatedly opened and closed its pin had succumbed to metal fatigue and suddenly snapped at its base; even the hardiest of steels are susceptible to weakening and breaking in this way.

Why the spiral design? With this arrangement the door automatically rises as it opens, so preventing its lower edge rubbing on any carpet. Here was the perfect, carpet-sparing gadget which, in our house, had been fitted to the doors leading to the two bestrooms – the main sitting room and the masterbedroom – where carpeting would have been likely. The idea of the spiral is so simple and so neat.

Finding a replacement for a 122 year-old hinge with the correctly orientated spiral took three days of research and two hours of bus rides. Fixing it took most of a morning. Handling and marvelling over the original hinge gave lasting pleasure, partly because, as always, it made me puzzle about the inventors feelings when the idea struck.

The second mesmerising gadget was a mobile phone with its sat-navapplication. These days we rarely drive a car in the UK but over a recent weekend we decided to visit friends in towns dotted around the West Country. For the trip Joshua, our eldest son, suggested that, rather than follow a map, we might try some modern technology – satellite navigation – which could prove especially helpful at night. Such a system had been sitting in our phones unrecognised and unused for years.

The use of satellite navigation had passed us by. It has been used in cars for nearly twenty years but it was a first for us and both Rohan and I marvelled at its genius. Rohans mobile phone, now with its uncanny ability to know exactly where we were and to instruct us where to go, became a treasured and admired friend. With its calm voice and clear screen map, this ingenious gadget directed us to our next destination and, without scolding, re-routed us when we made mistakes. Somehow, it also reminded us of speed limit restrictions almost as they changed and, very importantly, told us how far away we were from our next stop and how long it would take.

Our newly discovered device dominated conversation throughout the trip. We were transfixed converts. Such a simple concept so carefully applied and backed by such extraordinarily complicated technology made it a gadget par excellence and using it gave great pleasure.

Through their capacity to provide immediate pleasure and entertainment, to demand attention and to be quasi addictive, gadgets are like childrens toys. Unlike a child I can also enjoy juggling with abstract ideas and can even manage simple philosophical concepts. However, for me, a good gadget still remains especially fascinating, particularly if it has a history and fulfills a purpose. For gadgets, or should I say toys, it has been a very absorbing fortnight.

The illustration shows the original rising butt hinge together with its replacement. It was the broken pin of the original hinge that fell to the floor. The just-visible letter Ron each of the two lower leaves indicates that the hinges are for the right hand edge of the door with the free left edge opening into the room; the 4Injust legible on the older hinge indicates its leaf length in imperial measure.  

For help with this blog I wish to thank Joshua, Mike, Vivien and Rohan.

4 thoughts on “Gadgets, Toys and a Case of Metal Fatigue

  1. I’ve had a mobile phone for years, but I’ve always been the butt of my family’s jokes, because it is never charged, it
    is so old, and I hardly ever know where it is. Then my Rohan bought me a spanking new one recently, soon after we finally ditched our home phone (which had become the easiest way that charities and sales people could interrupt us, usually at very inconvenient times). The result? I’m often noted being amazed at some technical wizardry that everyone else takes for granted, like i can hear it when it rings (unlike my last one). The last phone call I got, from my Rohan, was ‘I’m just ringing to see if you know where your phone is.’ I’m sure there’s more to it than that.


  2. I’m told that every part of a helicopter has a life of so many hours. and must then be discarded and replaced.
    Perhaps it would be wise policy to apply this to everything we use: riser hinges, rolling pins, door knockers, scissors, shoelaces. And what fun it would be for the member of the household appointed to keep a tab on these things.


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