Midget Gems number 14

Since you asked, these are my four most disliked modern machines and appliances:

1. Vending. When these window-faced arsewipes are not telling me to ‘USE CORRECT CHANGE’ they are hacking at the back of my hand with their surprisingly-hooky sideways doors. Then there’s the treble beep when I hit G7, which clearly has a wealth of Toffee Crisps, only to be told by that snide digital slit ‘ITEM UNAVAILABLE’, with those words in Speak & Spell lettering. The beeps are an air raid siren to me, and I usually flee in anger to hide behind the nearest bin or old lady. Leither 97At least while I am hiding, though, I can avoid the most hellish of perils a vending machine offers: the hanging item. Once selected, this item, usually though not exclusively a packet of crisps, is nudged forward by the small Victorian kids who man (or child) these machines from their rear, but only as far as the last centimetre of the last metal holding coil. The item’s top half hangs loosely over the edge, its bottom half remains in situ as if saying ‘Just jump, go for it, leave me’, like a person in recent hit motion picture Tremors shouting to Kevin Bacon while disappearing into a hole. The Victorian child just laughs. It is the only entertainment it has since its family died in 1863. When this happens, I am firmly in the ‘shake machine until someone tells you to leave the building’ camp, rather than the ‘plough in another 70p and have two of them’ camp, just so you know.

2. Self-service. There is nothing ‘unexpected’ about a tin of beans when you are a self-service machine in a supermarket. It is what you are manufactured to expect. Your Bagging Area lives for these items. They are its bread and butter, though you probably find bread and butter a bit leftfield and zany. I’m not sure why I’m addressing you in person. I bet you didn’t expect that, did you? Is it unfair to blame you, the machine? Should I be blaming the Bagging Area itself? Perhaps your mate Bagging Area is the most easily-surprised thing you’ve ever known. Perhaps when a customer bawls ‘I HATE THESE FUCKING MACHINES. THEY ARE JOB-STEALING COCKJAWS’ Bagging Area sends you a signal which says: ‘What an unusual and original attitude that old dear had.’ Or am I asking too many questions? Which brings me to…

3. Deli staff. Not strictly a machine or appliance, more of a person or persons. I walk in to a sandwich place and the man behind the counter is already halfway through asking me what I want to eat. It is possible that his question started while I was still in the shower that morning, or even attending infant school. Or perhaps he is just on loop, fated to stand asking the same question until a colleague palms a wholemeal bap into his face. He continues to ask it as I look upwards at the blackboard menu above his head. So many options on there. ‘What can I get you?’ Sandwiches, soup of the day, hot dishes. ‘What can I get you?’ White and brown bread. ‘What can I get you?’ Roll and sliced. ‘What can I get you?’ And panini. ‘What can I get you?’ Or a toastie. ‘What can I get you?’ Oooh, a wrap, yes. ‘What can I get you?’ Now, what to have in it. ‘What can I get you?’ Maybe falafel and houmous. ‘What can I get you?’ Mind, that feta and sundried tomato sounds nice. ‘What can I get you?’ Or the Mexican chicken. ‘What can I get you?’ Yes, I’ll have that. ‘What can I get you?’ Or maybe a cheese and ham toastie. ‘What can I get you?’ No, definitely the wrap. ‘What can I get you?’ Erm, carrot and coriander soup, please. ‘Do you want a brown or white roll with that?’ pipes up another voice. I run out of the shop and chew on my hands.

4. My daughter’s toys. Not all of them. I like the wooden ones and the ones with bubbles and the one that’s a talking doll of the late great croc-botherer Steve Irwin. It’s the ones with batteries. The worst of these is a small hamster which is impossible to turn off (and possibly to turn on, I haven’t tried, I’m not that way inclined, but each to his own, whatever floats your boat). It likes to wait until I am alone, watching television late at night. I hear its motorised wheel feet first, the wee gobshite. They spin into action and it rattles along the wooden floor towards me, wittering in Japanese. It then rams my feet, back and forth back and forth, all the time wittering in Japanese. But I know what it is saying. It is saying: ‘Daniel son. Tomorrow, you must remember to take the correct change with you to work.’


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