Melissa Kite

Real life | 14 January 2012

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Is it too much to ask for the machines in my life to stop ordering me about? Am I reaching for the stars in wanting to be loosely in control of my car, my phone and my laptop, rather than me being at their beck and call?

I’m not talking about the odd message telling me a battery is low or the petrol is running out. I’m talking about them treating me like a despised underling. The other day the laptop decided to kick ten bells out of me for no reason whatsoever. I did everything it asked from the second I switched it on. There was, as usual, a new version of Mozilla Firefox that it was desperate to download. Then it wanted to run a security scan, so I clicked the ‘scan now’ button — I’ve learnt not to provoke it by trying to ‘scan later’ — and let it rummage around looking for viruses until it declared itself 100 per cent satisfied.

Then it went quiet. So I started to get some work done. I’d been typing for two hours when it suddenly informed me that it was ‘shutting down now to install updates’. My screen went blank, my work was wiped and I was left weeping and trembling. ‘Please, please, no!’ I wailed, as I powered the computer back on and looked for my file. But there was to be no mercy. Autosave had mysteriously auto-turned-itself-off. I used to entertain notions that something I was doing was producing these misfortunes. But I no longer believe I have any control. The laptop wants vengeance. It is deeply bitter. I’m not sure what’s eating the Volvo, however.

I’d only been driving it for a few days when a message flashed up on the dashboard and it started to complain about needing a service. I rang the dealership and they reassured me that it had just had one. ‘But it’s demanding another one,’ I said. ‘Are you sure it had a proper one?’ They were quite sure. It had a really big, proper service. Ignore it, was the advice of the dealership owner. It will stop going on about it after a while. And indeed after a week or so the message did stop flashing.

A few weeks after that, the hazard light went on again and it started to complain that the brake fluid was low.

I had a male friend open the bonnet and top it up. It had only dropped a tiny little bit. ‘Modern cars are very sensitive,’ my friend explained. You’re telling me. It will be demanding white lilies and Kabbalah water next. Sure enough, a few days later, the hazard light went on again. ‘What now?’ I screeched. ‘You can’t need anything else.’

But it did. ‘Bulb failure: Parking light.’ I decided not to give in. Who needs a parking light? I will brazen this one out, I thought.

How wrong I was. The Volvo did not just require a new parking light, it had also set its heart on a new parking light, so much so, in fact, that over the next few days the warning message flashed ever faster like a strobe light on the dashboard until I couldn’t take my eyes of it and swerved across two lanes nearly having an accident.

Then it stepped up its campaign and started alternating the bulb warning with a series of other messages while I was driving from Surrey to south London. I couldn’t read them, because I was trying not to jack-knife across the carriageway but I think, when you put all the messages together, it said something like this:

‘Your parking light still hasn’t been fixed, Melissa. You didn’t bother to go to Halfords when I first warned you about it, did you? So now I’m going to flash even faster. What’s the matter? Can’t afford a parking light bulb? Times that hard? Or are you just being lazy? It’s not that you’re trying to defy me, is it, Melissa? Because I wouldn’t like that. It would make me sad. And angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. When I’m angry I become forgetful. I could shut off the entire engine when you’re on the A3. Just like that. Oh, whoops, I can’t concentrate on powering the car, because I’m so angry about you ignoring me. Do you want that to happen, Melissa?’

It flashed and flashed, faster and faster until I couldn’t stand it any longer.

‘Alright, I’ll go to Halfords. Wait, better still, I’ll take you back to the garage where I bought you. Tomorrow morning, first thing.’

‘I don’t know. You’ve made promises before. And I hate it when you break your promises...’

‘No, please, I’ve learned my lesson, honestly.’

‘Good. And I want Kabbalah water in the screen wash.’