James Dyson. Lifeblood of a nation. Salt of the earth. King of Britain. Last great hope of a former giant of international manufacturing now populated entirely by estate agents and Cafe Neros. James Dyson: the hills from whence our salvation will come.
If you'll buy into the vibe he circulates, Dyson has invented everything good in post-Thatcher Britain. The electric lightbulb. The self-opening packet of Wotsits. Big Mouth Billy Bass. He is apparently the greatest British inventor since Stephenson, since Faraday, since Charles fucking Babbage; the real-life Wallace without the air of creepy lonerism. He's also been knighted twice by the Queen for inventing a way of disciplining servants with remote-controlled electric choke collars. He is, in short, our Ingvard Kamprad – proof that in the age of corporations, individuals can still come along and, by sheer dint of their genius, change the direction of international trade flows, along with the way we live.
Well, I'm sorry, but, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit?
As he releases a tap that dries your hands to the sort of acclaim normally reserved for world hunger-ending cancer-cures, and is again lauded in endless puff-pieces by moist-eyed patriot hacks, let's look through Jimmy Dyson's greatest hits and come to a more balanced view of who and what he is.
THE CONTRAROTATOR WASHING MACHINE
In general, James Dyson takes things that already exist and he gives them a little twist. He tweaks them, as if to say, “You thought you knew what a toaster looked like. Well, how about I offer you a see-through toaster so you can see your toast being made in half the time? You've never seen that before, have you?” And you say, "No. And that sounds pleasant."
Well, it is pleasant. His stuff looks cool and it does cool things. But there's a sting. He turns round and tells you that because he's had to buy lots of pricey space-age materials, it's gonna cost £240. Are you OK with that? Well, no. Frankly, £240 is a lot of money to piss up the wall on a toaster. All that orange Perspex is lovely, but at the same time, it's only fucking toast.
A great example was when Dyson reinvented the washing machine in 2000. After some scientists at Dyson's labs figured out that 15 minutes of hand-washing allowed you to get stuff more clean than an hour of machine-washing, he decided he'd build one with two drums. Two drums, in general, cost twice as much as one. So by the time he'd sorted out all his space-age materials, the thing was pegging a market price of £1000 a go. Result: James couldn't engineer his way around the laws of supply and demand, it flopped and they stopped making them in 2010. I'm no McKinsey consultant, James, but maybe you could use one drum like everyone else? And then it'd be about half the cost. Hey – that's cool, don't even mention it.
DYSON DC07 VACUUM CLEANER
Remember vacuum cleaner bags? Boy, do I ever. You had to put the bag in the vacuum cleaner, then use the vacuum cleaner for a couple of months, take the bag out of the vacuum cleaner, put it in the bin and put another one in. How did we ever survive? It was a real nightmare. In fact, I reckon if you added up all the time you spent pissing around with vacuum cleaner bags, it probably amounted to 20 minutes a year. Unless you had a life partner or a cleaner, in which case they'd do a large amount of that.
Until, that is, James Dyson came along and unchained us. It was like that Ridley Scott Apple commercial. He broke the mould. Suddenly we weren't just mindless zombies using vacuum cleaners with bags in. Now we were liberated hip zombies who enjoyed all the lifestyle benefits that translucent Perspex could bring. Thanks, James! Thanks, Dyson!
THE DYSON AIR MULTIPLIER
Before he revolutionised the way we clean excess piss off our hands with Dyson Airblades, JD went through a patch of indecision where he funked around looking for the next big thing. Although, all the while, he suspected it would come from moving air.
Dyson engineers worked out that ordinary fans blow air in choppy wave patterns, which is a real ball-ache. I mean, how many times have you been round someone's house when they've had the fan on and you've been like, “Look, I'd love to focus on what you're saying right now, but the blade action of this fan is causing air to be pushed towards me in chopped microsecondal bursts rather than a smooth streamed pipeline. That means I have pretty much the attention span of a fruit fly right now it's fucking me off so much, so please just turn the bloody thing off or I'm out of here and you'll never get to the end of your stupid anecdote about meeting Pete from Big Brother season six in a Wetherspoons.”
So they decided they'd build a fan-less fan. That way you could have all the air you wanted, but without that infernal bloody choppiness to it. What's even better – as this video clearly demonstrates – the air moves straight towards you, as opposed to curving slightly upwards when heated. It seems very posh – it's like the air equivalent of going organic.
Unfortunately, again, all this tech was so marvellous that making them ended up costing a colossal sum. So today you can either buy Dyson's £200 version, or you can buy this £8.99 one from Argos – the choice is yours. Exactly how much patriotic dosh are you going to put behind a Great British invention? That's what Dyson does: he takes a problem you didn't know you had and finds a solution for it that doesn't account for the fact that if you could afford a car, you wouldn't need a better bus ticket.
The ballbarrow was one of Dyson's earliest hits, setting him up for breakout success. It's a wheelbarrow, but Dyson has cunningly stuck a ball on the front of it, so it is now a ballbarrow. You can't patent a wheelbarrow – somebody already did that around 8,000 years ago – but you can patent a ballbarrow.
So what advantages does the ballbarrow have over the traditional wheelbarrow? Firstly, the larger spread of the ball means that it won't sink into boggy ground. That's positive. On the other hand, it's going to be harder to walk it along a plank – which pretty much every builder needs to do all the time – without it gliding effortlessly off one side into a pool of freshly-laid cement.
THE DYSON PET GROOMING TOOL
Have you ever had a problem with your dog shedding unsightly hair? Pah – is that even a question? What dog owner hasn't? Which is why James Dyson decided he'd use a special brush and his vacuum cleaner technology to solve this exact problem.
And it's good. It works. Well done to him. But is it better than this talking dog collar? And why hasn't the inventor of the no-tangle two leash solution ever been profiled in the FT? Also, could it not be said that the inventor of the Soggy Doggy Super Shammy is worthy of a standing ovation from the rest of humanity on the well-established principle that wet dog is logarithmically worse than moulting dog? And isn't helping dogs to understand their complex and vibrant ethnic heritage worthy of more laudatory space in The Guardian? Also, hasn't JD basically just invented this?
Forget fiddling at the margins. If he wants to realise his potential, Dyson needs to go back to his early days. You barely see a mention of it now, but in the early 70s he invented a boat with cup-like wheels instead of propellers. It's like a big water car, but it ain't a hovercraft. It's just a ten-foot-tall daddy longlegs of the seas that does 40mph on land or water. This is obviously incredibly cool. If James Dyson wanted to really change the world, he'd use his £1.5 billion fortune to ride a fleet of them up the Somali coast, Mad Max the shit out of any pirates he met and establish an eternal Perspex dictatorship of the tasteful bourgeoisie right in the arsehole of the known universe. That'd be real progress.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
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