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Inside The Factory: Finding solace in repetition

Gregg Wallace's fascinatingly boring show offers a reassuring and uncomplicated form of grief displacement for Lucy Sweet

Inside the Factory host Gregg Wallace grinning next to a conveyor belt

Inside the Factory, Gregg Wallace Image: BBC/Voltage TV

I’ve had a somewhat trying time of late, including the illness and death of the most important person in my life, dog diarrhoea on shag pile rugs, a broken toilet, an infestation of flies from the rotting corpse of a rodent that has died in an inaccessible place under the floor, and this morning the unexpected bonus of a spider in my hair. 

People talk about ‘looking after yourself’ when bad things happen. I suppose they’re referring to eating, sleeping and not drinking vodka in bus shelters. But what does it mean in practice? Well, recently I’ve found solace in some unexpected (and frankly, quite boring) places. Washing the car (big gun with foam coming out of it = ace), doing the dishes, making porridge, ripping out weeds, throwing things out, doing Wordle and going to Poundland, to name but a few. I think it’s the everyday tedium that does it for me – suddenly, stylish sophistication seems hollow and futile, and ambition laughable. 

So the other day, I found myself engrossed in the most boring grief displacement activity of all – watching Inside The Factory. Now, if I was firing on all cylinders, I would be mean about its presenter Gregg Wallace, saying something about his voracious, glassy-eyed egomania, but I felt almost tender towards him as he bounced around the factory where they make Henry vacuum cleaners. 

Wallace LOVED playing around in the recycled plastic they use to make the wheels. He couldn’t disguise his childlike glee when he was shown how they put the smiley faces on them. He had a go at wiring the switches and laughed heartily at how the shiny dome of a Henry hoover was just like his. He even seemed happy to listen to a very dull explanation of how the internal motor worked.

(Actually, I’ve just found out that Wallace has recently quit the show after an allegedly offensive incident at the Nestlé factory in York, but let’s not dwell on that.)

In this episode Gregg’s face, glasses and head shone with genuine delight, and I could imagine him as a baby, spelling his name out in building blocks and marvelling at the world. But it’s not Wallace that makes this show so boringly compelling.

Factories – with the exception of abattoirs and Amazon warehouses – have a structure and a rhythm that’s just the kind of dull I crave. Perhaps this is a sanitised view based on watching too many episodes of Camberwick Green as a kid, but it seems that in a factory, everyone knows what they’re there to do, and if anything goes wrong a man called Malcolm in a hard hat and a hi-vis vest will come along to fix it.

Also, who doesn’t love staring blankly at repetitive processes? My beleaguered brain was treated to a warm bath of complete inanity, as I watched injection moulding in real time. (There was even a bit of bonus content with a trip to a brush factory, but to be honest, brush making has got nothing on injection moulding.)

I learned about the history of the vacuum cleaner, and was amazed that one Henry tumbles off the production line every 30 seconds, ready to wrap its lethal, snake-like trunk around the legs of unsuspecting people across the nation. Plus, I would pay money for a go on the machine that bends the metal bars on the hoover attachments. 

In the end, an army of jolly Henry the hoovers were packaged and shipped out, providing a shiny solution to a universal problem, and for a moment, I felt like the world made sense again. After all, when life really sucks, you need a Henry. And maybe a car wash, and Wordle – and just the occasional tiny little bit of vodka in a bus shelter. 

Lucy Sweet is a freelance journalist

Inside the Factory is available on BBC iPlayer.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

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