Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Nevil Shute and The Dishmop

I was doing the washing up by hand yesterday.

For years I had been using a rough sided sponge and a brush when one day my wife had brought home a regular old-fashioned dishmop.

For those who are so 21st Century as to not know, a dishmop is a stick made of twisted wire with a mass of individually twisted fibres tied to one end. It is a normal floor mop in miniature. I had used one in the dim past but not in recent memory and I wondered if it was really useful.

I was quickly surprised how functional and versatile this remarkably simple thing was. It was very good as a mild scrubber and cleaned into all sorts of crevices very effectively because the mass of individual fibres act both as a mass and as individuals chasing food residue out of tiny crevices. I am sure that Chaos Theory enters into this but let's not go down that road because I know nothing about Chaos Theory whereas I have managed to do the washing up.

It occurred to me that this dishmop represented a perfect example of good engineering. Then I smacked my head as I realized that in all probability Nevil Shute made the same realization 56 years ago when he wrote No Highway. I strongly suspect that Shute used the dishmop in No Highway because he saw it as a perfect piece of engineering in its simplest form and because it had deep emotional implications about domestic life.

The dishmop is a simple design, cheap to construct, almost indestructible, incredibly efficient and able to be used in several ways. I even found myself wanting to use it as a weapon to hit a cockroach in our kitchen but I luckily realized that wouldn't be a good idea. (even the very best and cleanest homes in Sydney's high class, but humid, Eastern Suburbs get cockroaches in Summer)

"No Highway" was a book about nuclear physics and the presence of the dishmop made a humble contrast to the normally unimaginable mathematics and invisible physics of metal fatigue.

Though the hot water heater had a well-credited co-starring role, it was the dishmop that became the star of the show in the book of "No Highway". It is remarked upon for its ease of use and also its versatility as it can double up as a young girls dolly.

The lack of a dishmop was used to show that the Honey household, though existing on a lofty intellectual plane was distinctly backward in a current domestic sense.

I feel pretty certain that Shute saw in the dishmop the perfect completion of what a working person needs.

In its dishmopping role the dishmop represented a domestic stability expressed in the contentment of washing up together after a pleasant evening meal. Shute knew that domestic peace was vital to someone working as intensely as Mr Honey.

In its role as a child's dolly, the dishmop represented family happiness and contentment. And, as most Shutists would know, happiness and contentment come from good engineering.

Richard Michalak
Feb 04 2004