My father was always a big fan of gadgets. During my childhood he often brought home pioneering labour saving devices, generous 'presents' intended to make my Mum's life easier. Most of these were, it has be said, entirely useless. There was an automated ironing machine, for example, that consisted of a padded rotating drum operated by a foot pedal. When the pedal was pressed the drum revolved and a large heated panel lowered onto it. Un-ironed clothes could be fed in at one end and would plop out the other to no discernible effect.
There was also an automated potato peeler which was, in essence, a large saucepan lined with course grade emery paper. The pan was fixed via a pinion to a metal base and, when turned on, would rotate with a rocky motion, like a miniature waltzer. After five minutes of this treatment, the potatoes would emerge bruised and battered but still with their skins on.
He hit the motherlode though with Kenwood's supremely 1970's innovation, the Sodastream. This remarkable device allowed you to make your own fizzy drinks at home, an astonishing thing given the general austerity of the times. It came with a series of bottles of syrupy liquid which formed the base ingredient for any drink you wanted: cola, lemonade, ginger ale etc. A few drops of this mysterious elixir was added to a bottle filled with water and inserted into the machine. This is where the real magic happened. By holding down a lever and pressing down on a button a few times the humble bottle of water was transformed into something spectacular. An alchemical process took place inside the machine and out of it would emerge a home-made approximations of Coke, Sprite, Dr Pepper....
It was all about the bubbles. Bubbles have magical properties. They fizz on the tongue like the very essence of refreshment. The Sodastream produced nothing but bubbles in reality, which is really nothing at all. But bubbles, like gells and powders and foams, are part of the mysterious arsenal of capitalist dream products. They are the invisible but brilliant agents dreamt up by white lab coat wearing scientists in the Laboratories Garnier and the Pond's Institute. They are the mystery ingredient x of the commodity object, the flashpoint of its fetishised status.
The Sodastream was ultimately, despite its near mythical status in suburban kitchens, a clunky and flawed product. It was a consumer object that manufactured other consumer objects, assembling a passable approximation of the original in front of you. Its flaws were twofold. Firstly, by recreating simulations of branded products (homemade Coke. Just like the real thing!) it threatened to killed their allure. Coke was just black sugary water with gas in it, after all. And, secondly, it ran out of gas. The little grey bottle inside - the genie in the blue and white liveried lantern - the thing that actually carbonated the water, never lasted long enough. And, anyone who used one will recall the horror of flat cola, a glutinous, syrupy liquid that was totally undrinkable.
But, I also loved it. Having one was like living in a sweetshop with fizzy drinks literally on tap. And now, it's back, complete with ironic Rob Brydon voiced advert and limited edition Karim Rashid design. In a culture constantly consuming itself, generating ever new ways to sell the same thing over and over again, each time with an added layer of knowing affection, it was inevitable really. The product's usefulness, or otherwise, doesn't really matter. We remember it, with affection, and that's enough. The Sodastream's carbonated bubbles have been replaced by the warm splashy bubbles of nostalgia. The strange thing is though, I would really like one.