Techno Mum: a fun short story from our archives

Cartoon woman and washing machine

By Angela Pickering

Her son might think her more than a bit daft, but she knew better, though, didn’t she…?

“Mum,” Paul said, “you are silly.”

“You wait until you’re my age,” Shirley replied, “you might be a bit silly yourself.” She grinned. “I hope I’m here to see it!”

He threw an arm around her shoulders. “I hope you are too,” he said and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Mind you,” he continued, “I still don’t see why you find it necessary to thank the washing machine.”

“It does my washing,” she said. “It’s only polite to say thanks.”

“And the boiler, and the computer?”

“All of them,” Shirley insisted. “A little politeness goes a long way.” She patted his cheek. “And you know, sometimes when the computer won’t start up properly, a kind word is all it needs.”

This time Paul laughed out loud. “Completely bonkers!” he said.

Maybe it was the first sign of senility

By the time Paul went home Shirley felt in need of another cup of tea. She filled the kettle with just enough water and patted it. When it had boiled she opened her mouth to thank it, and paused. Maybe Paul was right, she mused. Maybe talking to my machinery was the first sign of senility, but I’ve always done it.

She cast her mind back to her early days of working for a living and the bustle of an office, when everyone used manual typewriters. She remembered her own favourite; a heavy Imperial.

She’d come to know all its little foibles; which keys stuck in cold weather and how the platen would squeak sometimes as if to protest against rough handling. Computers were lovely of course, but she did wonder what had happened to that old machine.

“Technology heaven,” she said aloud, and briefly wished that were true. The last time she’d used that old machine she’d whispered her farewells to it. No-one had noticed although she had glanced around the typing pool to check.

Her next machine had been an electric typewriter, and how scary that had been. The slightest touch printed the letter, often before she was even conscious of having typed it. She’d told it to slow up, and over the weeks it had done just that.

They’d worked together in harmony for a few years, until she’d left work to take care of Paul.

Ta,” she said to the kettle.

Shirley smiled to herself and made the tea. Everything was so much easier these days, but not necessarily more fun. “Ta,” she said to the kettle and wandered, tea in hand, into the lounge.

The television soothed her into a nap while her tea cooled on the coffee table where she’d put her feet. Her dreams were punctuated by the noise of next door’s lawn mower dashing up and down. Every now and then it would groan with the effort and mumble about tough grass.

Her fridge freezer murmured encouragement and Shirley wondered if her own mower out in the shed was feeling left out.

When she woke up, the house was quiet and her tea was cold. She sighed. She’d wanted to get so much done that afternoon. Still half asleep, she staggered into the utility room to take the vacuum for a much needed outing.

She tripped over the loose piece of carpet she’d been meaning to fix and barely had time to register the approach of the floor before it all went dark.

How did he know I was in trouble?

Later, when she woke up, Paul was holding her hand and she could hear an ambulance in the distance.

“You’re going to be fine, Mum,” Paul said, “your neighbour called me.”

Shirley frowned and wriggled her fingers and toes, just to make sure they were working. “How did he know I was in trouble?” she said.

“That’s the funny bit,” said Paul. “He looked over the fence and saw you on the floor. The noise of your vacuum and lawn mower made him wonder what you were up to.”

Paul shook his head, in mock annoyance. “What on earth were you doing with both of them switched on at the same time? Apparently the fridge sounded like it was about to explode, and the TV was blaring out too.”

Shirley managed a faint smile. Her brain was feeling a bit muzzy, but not muzzy enough to try to explain what she thought had happened.

“Thank you,” she whispered to anyone – or anything – that might be listening. “And you’ve done the  washing as well.”

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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me