I own an old coffee machine.
To give an idea of the vintage, it has been in my possession for roughly twice as long as my son has been alive – and on his next birthday he will reach double figures. I bought it second-hand when I was a young man in my 20s.
The method is simple. There is a little filter on the top into which I place ground coffee. Then I add water and fresh coffee drips into the clear jug below.
I like black coffee with no sugar and have never developed much of a taste for instant brands. I would estimate that I have used the old machine to make thousands of cups of the bitter, steaming black liquid over the years. I drink a coffee first thing after I wake, another around mid-morning, another at lunch and maybe one in the afternoon. I try to avoid coffee at night because I have enough trouble sleeping. I have few ambitions left in life, but one is certainly to just once more get through a night’s rest without having to rise to go to the toilet.
I would freely admit that the old coffee maker is not a thing of beauty. It is large and clunky with a garish silver and black exterior which looks like it belongs to another time. It takes up a lot of space on the kitchen counter and my wife complains incessantly about how ugly it is. When we have visitors, she insists that I hide it.
It is also high maintenance. After each use I have to remove several parts to be rinsed and washed. This has to be done a number of times every day. The wet ground coffee is messy stuff which has a troubling habit of spilling out when I’m cleaning the machine and ending on the floor like the droppings of a prolific mouse.
And, like myself, the machine is starting to show its age. It doesn’t do things quite the way it once did. Sometimes it makes a gurgling noise and emits steam, but no coffee appears. When this happens, I turn it off and on and hit it with several hearty slaps until normality is restored. The coffee does not taste exactly the way it once did, certainly it is unrecognisable from what it served in cafes.
The situation deteriorated further a few months back when I dropped the plastic jug while removing it from the dishwasher. Part of the black handle snapped off and a long crack spread across the surface. My wife assumed that this would put the machine beyond use, but she underestimated my persistence.
I began to stuff the area around the machine with kitchen roll because black coffee now leaked slowly from the crack in the jug. Moreover, because the handle was no longer intact, I had to use oven gloves to hold the jug when I poured the boiling liquid (please do not try this at home!) Worse, because the fall had snapped off part of the lip of the jug, it meant that every time I tried to pour a cup the majority of the coffee would end up on the counter, the floor or over my trousers. Every time I wanted a cup, I had to produce about three times as much coffee as I needed. My wife despaired, but still I went on.
And then, on one black and frosty morning in December, my machine stopped producing hot coffee. I went through the usual torturous routine only to discover that the end product was freezing cold. I tried again and the result was the same. I endured the processes of turning it on and off and walloping it with my hand, but nothing worked. I had to admit the sad reality – it was dead.
‘There’s something wrong with this flipping coffee machine!’ I shouted upstairs to my wife. She did not respond, although I had a strong suspicion that she had heard what I said. I went to the front room and sat on the sofa in the dark, sadly contemplating the rest of my life without coffee. I might have cried a little.
On Christmas morning there were two brightly wrapped presents for me under the tree from my wife and son. I eagerly ripped them open to discover one contained a new coffee machine, and the other coffee capsules.
I eyed the machine suspiciously. It was not the same as the old one. It was smaller and this device worked through the insertion of the little capsules, rather than ground coffee. Furthermore, the instructions said it made Americano, cappuccino, latte, hot chocolate and multiple other drinks. Sniffily, I set the box aside and put my mind to other tasks.
Later in the day I set the machine up on the counter. I had to admit it looked better, being more compact, shinier and sleeker. But the instructions seemed to run to several hundred pages and were mostly indecipherable. I left it again.
I didn’t sleep well that night, tortured by dreams of my old machine. I rose disturbingly early on St Stephen’s morning and headed determinedly for the kitchen. I had braced myself for an ordeal but discovered instead that the new machine was simple to use. It was also much more practical and cleaner. But the most compelling point was the coffee, I had to admit it was far superior.
As I sat at the kitchen table contentedly sipping the black liquid, I went through a process of self-reflection. I thought about how my stubbornness and inability to change had ensured that I had held onto the old machine for years longer than was surely sensible. I shuddered at how annoying my habits must be for those who live with me.
I fear change, but often it turns out that change can make things better. This seemed like a useful lesson to take on board at the start of a new year. I ran excitedly upstairs to my wife who was sleeping.
‘Wake up! Wake up! I’ve figured out the new coffee machine! It’s awesome!’
‘Come on, get up! I can offer you Americano, cappuccino, latte, hot chocolate….’
‘Go away, let me sleep!’ she protested, pulling the duvet over her head.