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In her New York Times column today Alice Rawsthorn reports thoughtfully on the dismal experience of trying to buy an electric kettle. So true, although her thesis that countertop appliances represent the low-rent end of product design doesn't explain why most mobile phones look like crap. 

In her New York Times column today Alice Rawsthorn reports thoughtfully on the dismal experience of trying to buy an electric kettle. So true, although her thesis that countertop appliances represent the low-rent end of product design doesn't explain why most mobile phones look like crap. 

But well done Alice for getting the kettle repaired - a triumph in contemporary terms - and back to the seemly boiling of water:

I resolved long ago to evade the electric kettle by going for the old-fashioned, whistling stove-top device. Partly because of the shop of horrors that Rawsthorn identifies electric kettle design to be: the stovetop kettle is inherently a simpler thing. Also because a vigorous cook naturally avoids cluttering her vital work-surface with electrical cords and cordless launchpads. When my anonymous and functional stainless steel kettle finally disintegrated I went - with some misgivings - for le Creuset, and with it a modicum of design. Not, as it happens, the ersatz "Traditional" version Rawsthorn rightly scorns but the Kone, more post-modern armaments factory than "witches' coven". I don't love it, but I don't mind it.

My own dismay in the electrical department of John Lewis came as I entered in search of a new filter coffee machine. My years in the United States accustommed me to insist on filtration. Beats me how the Cafetière became that icon of late 20th century meeting-chic when it pours forth sludge. And although one admires the natty Bialetti Moka Express, staple of all Italian high-street hardware merchants in an awesome range of sizes, and its more stylised scions, I think in England it makes foul coffee.

The Krups filter coffee machine we acquired as a wedding present disintegrated after ten years, and my, how the domestic coffee landscape had changed! Apart from one gigantic filter machine, parodically elaborate in its functions, John Lewis had nothing but countertop espresso-makers as far as the eye could see. Urbanely, I sneered at those who make their own when how much more cosmopolitan to get one at the corner and consume it shoulder-to-shoulder with other citizens. I shivered, moreover, at the apocalypse of energy is must take to push water and steam through these things, although this may be an illusion stimulated by the prevailing ersatz, age-of-chrome, industrial styling.

I left with a Krups coffee mill instead, a compact and single-functional concession to countertop appliances, trusting that somewhere - somewhere - in London you could still buy a 1 x 4 plastic or ceramic coffee filter. Curiosity led me to the Monmouth Coffee House, where, sure enough, there's a plastic filter and a pyrex jug from an anonymous Eastern European manufacturer, winsomely boxed up as the "Continental Filter", for about a fiver.

We simulate the warming effect of a filter machine with the small burner and a heat diffuser. I'm pleased to say that this morning ritual of grinding and hand filtering yields a good volume of coffee, richly aromatic and sludge-free.

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