Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may have noticed that I'm one of those people who tends to treat machines as if they were people - I'm told it's called 'anthropomorphosising'. If I'm not careful I say 'thank you' to automatic doors when they open for me and to cash machines as I pocket the notes they spew out, In the privacy of my home, my language is often less than ladylike when addressing my computer that persists in throwing up alarming or completely untrue statements on the screen, such as 'the scanner is not switched on', when it's plain for all to see that it is. And it goes without saying that my car is called Guinevere and I worry about her when she goes off for her service and MOT as if she were going for a hospital check-up.
I think it's partly the forgetfulness of old age and partly a rebellion against the way our lives are increasingly being taken over by machines, the workings of which I often find difficult to understand. Not that I'd be willing, for one moment, to give up the convenience of being able to transfer money from one bank account to another at the click of a button, without leaving my chair. I've even started using the self-scanning machines at the supermarket to save time when the queues for the cashiers are long!
But a couple of weeks ago I came back from a quick flit around Tesco feeling quite fraught and all because of the woman who lives inside the self-scanning machine. While I was trying to concentrate on pressing the correct buttons and searching for the bar codes on odd-shaped things like plastic bags of grapes, a loud and apparently disembodied voice was issuing from a nearby, completely deserted scanning machine.'Unexpected item in bagging area. Please remove before continuing.' I looked around, expecting to see that some poor novice had broken the rules and allowed an unwieldy bag of potatoes to fall down into the 'bagging area' but there was nobody there. On and on went the voice, 'Unexpected item in bagging area...' completely distracting me. Somehow I managed to press the right buttons to record how many of my own bags I'd used and even remembered to take my receipt as it shot forth out of its slot. But then a deafening booming noise almost, but not quite, drowned out the 'Unexpected items...' mantra - someone had obviously tried to leave the shop with something they hadn't paid for. Or maybe, more likely, the automatic sensor had sprung a fault?
Either way my trip into town for some fresh air and a few necessary supplies had been anything but therapeutic, a far cry from when my mother used to sit on a bentwood chair in the Co-op reading out her shopping list while the brown-overalled shopkeeper scurried about fetching her sugar and eggs and margarine, piling it on the counter to be delivered by push-bike later and writing it all down in a little book, my mother chatting about this and that all the while and me watching, fascinated, as an old woman mopped the tiled floor with a filthy mop and even filthier water!
But my nostalgia gave way to an attack of Anthropomorphosising Syndrome and I started to feel sorry for the woman inside the scanning machine. It was a very hot day and she must be desperately uncomfortable inside there! No wonder she gets a little irritated when people don't follow the instructions to the letter and allow 'unexpected items' to stray into the forbidden 'bagging area'! Obviously I am aware that it's perfectly ridiculous to attribute personality to a machine - but on the other hand, we always refer to ships and boats as 'she' and give them female names and the builders who worked on my Herefordshire house, surprised me by referring to their tools, and some of their supplies, as 'he' or 'him'!
On Monday I was in Tesco again with my little basket of shopping and sizing up whether to head for a queue or a scanning machine when a nice young man in a smart Tesco uniform offered to put my goods through the machine for me. Well, I'm perfectly capable of doing it myself now and quite proud of the fact; but he looked a bit underemployed so I gave in and let him do it for me. Standing behind him, I didn't see what offence he committed but he obviously upset the woman inside the machine and she started with her, 'Unexpected item in bagging area..' routine. The young assistant looked a quite flustered so, to ease the situation, I suggested that the owner of the voice must feel pretty cramped, cooped up inside the machine all day. Feeling utterly stupid, senile even, as the words left my mouth, I fervently prayed that, in the general hubbub, he hadn't heard me!
It appeared that he hadn't as he concentrated on swiping something with a special little card that was chained to his pocket, cutting off The Voice in mid-sentence, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then he turned to me, grinned and said, 'You wouldn't believe how many times I've tried to divorce her!'