(Film and TV Rights Strictly Reserved)
Allow me to introduce myself. Simon Bradley is the name. I’m in my fifties and I’m not a bad person, although I know my obsessive behaviour can be annoying. My downfall is my compulsive need to fiddle with mechanical and electrical things. I can’t help it. If I see something that isn’t working, then I can’t settle until I’ve fixed it.
I’ve always been a nut for gadgets. Right from an early age I loved fiddling about with mechanical toys, taking them apart to see how they worked and then putting them back together again. I remember making my own crystal receiver when I was about ten years old. For an aerial I strung a length of wire from my bedroom window to the clothes post at the end of the garden. Then the excitement of plugging in the earphones and tickling the crystal with the ‘cat’s whisker’ to tune into whatever station I could pick up. After some crackling, I finally found one station that I could listen to. After two days I tired of the contraption and it was put in the shed, never to see the light of day.
The point is, I enjoyed the challenge of constructing it, but wasn’t especially interested in using it. My next project was making my own telescope to study the stars. I spent weeks finding the components, working out the effects of the various lenses. All together the project took we many weeks. I only used the completed telescope three times, before it was consigned to the attic. When home computing became fashionable, I learned BASIC computer language and spent hours inputting data to create a PacMan or Space Invaders game. As anyone familiar with the process will know, a single comma out of place could render the program inoperable. Finding the error could sometimes take as long as the original input process. Of course, once I had the game working, I immediately abandoned the program to move onto my next project.
You may be excused for believing that once I had achieved adulthood, I would have a more sensible approach. Not at all. If anything, things got worse because the projects became more ambitious and larger. I could not resist an advertisement for a sports car kit to build at home. It took ages to assemble in the back yard under a temporary lean-to made from a tarpaulin sheet (a project in its self.). I think it was the sports car project that began to cause the air of hostility between me and my wife, Maureen. “I’m sick of looking out the window to see an old tarpaulin and bits of car.”
“You’ll love it when its finished love,” I assured her. “Just imagine the breeze in your hair as we speed along.” Unfortunately, the vehicle was not completed until November, just as the cold winter weather began. I had not purchased a top, which was an optional extra.
“If you think I’m going out in that thing in this weather, you have another think coming,” Maureen declared. I drove the car along the by-pass a couple of times but the cold, misty air soon convinced me to return to the warmth and comfort of our saloon car. I sold the home-assembled sports model on eBay for a sum considerably less than the cost of components, however as the purchaser was a bit short of readies, I agreed to accept a vintage Fordson tractor in part exchange. I had always fancied the idea of restoring a classic tractor.
My wife was less than delighted. She said little as she began to pack a suitcase. “I’ve had it. I’m going back to Mother’s”
“But love, it won’t take long then I’ll sell it for a profit. We could have a nice holiday. This is my last project. I promise.” Maureen wasn’t listening. She loaded her case into the boot of our car and her final words as she slid into the driving seat were “You won’t need the car; you can use the tractor. I swear that your constant messing about with machinery and gadgets will be the death of you.” How prophetic that parting shot would prove.
I tinkered with the tractor under the tarpaulin cover, but somehow my heart wasn’t in it. I would come back into the house to spend the long winter evenings alone. I was missing Maureen more than I thought. I rang the mother-in-law several times to be told Maureen didn’t want to talk.
I turned my attention to the house. I knew there were several jobs that needed to be done; the odd repair, some decorating and other minor repairs. Perhaps if the missus knew I was doing things to improve the house she might give things another try. I started to plan a schedule of home improvements.
My interest in gadgets hadn’t totally been abandoned. Watching TV one evening I saw an advert for an Amazon Echo. It looked interesting so I ordered one and waited as excited as a teenager for it to arrive. Once I had connected the device, I immediately began to check out the possibilities. “Alexa, what is the time?”
“Alexa, tell me a joke.”
“Have you heard about the ice cream seller who was found dead in his van, covered in raspberry sauce and chopped nuts? The police are working on the theory that he topped himself.”
“Ha Ha! That was a good one Alexa. Give me a news update.”
I asked Alexa what else she could do. She suggested we try a quiz. I didn’t do too well with the history quiz so I tried general knowledge when I did much better. My Maureen is very keen on music so I thought it would be a good idea to subscribe to a music streaming service. I could see it in my mind’s eye – The wife back home to a freshly decorated living room, scented candles... “Hey, Alexa where can I buy some scented candles?”
“Great, Thanks Alexa.” Then I thought we could play some music. “Alexa play Rolling Stones.”
“You do not have Rolling Stones In your music album.”
“Oh no, that’s right. I must subscribe. Alexa, how can I subscribe to a music streaming service?”
As time went on, I found myself in a continuous round of conversation with Alexa. Whatever I wanted to know; Alexa seemed to have the answer. I soon found out that with adaptation, it would be possible to control the light switches through Alexa. I quickly ordered the necessary apparatus and waited impatiently like a kid waiting for Christmas for it to arrive. When I unpacked the kit, I discovered that the adaptation was simple, almost an insult to my creative skills. The lounge lights could now be switched on and off with a simple “Alexa, lounge lights on.” Or “Alexa, lights off.” Before a week had elapsed all of the house lights could be operated verbally.
All through the processes of adapting my property to be operated remotely, Alexa and myself chatted like old friends. We shared jokes, swapped stories, talked about the weather and Alexa kept me abreast with all the important news of home and abroad. I fitted Echo units in the bedroom, the kitchen, even the bathroom so that we could continue our chats.
My attention turned to the TV. It was an easy matter to arrange it so that Alexa could tune in to any channel that I desired. “Alexa, what’s showing on The Drama Channel tonight?”
“An episode of Judge John Deeds.”
“Great, I like that. Tune it in Alexa.”
Then my thoughts turned to the house security system, which I hardly need to say, had been installed by yours truly. It was time for an update.
“Alexa, alarms on.” “Alexa, alarms off.”
“Alexa, how many social workers does it take to change a lightbulb?”
“Only one, but are you sure that the lightbulb wants to be changed?”
“Ha, Ha. Very good Alexa. Now you ask me one.”
“How many Irishmen does it take to change a lightbulb?”
“I’ve no idea Alexa. How many?”
“Two. One to hold the bulb and one to twist the ladder round.”
“Ha, Ha! But wait. That’s not politically correct. I’ve got Irish blood in me. I’m really offended now.”
“OK Dude. So, sue me.”
“Anyway, to be serious for a minute, any ideas for another project Alexa?”
“How about having me control the heating system.”
“Good idea, Alexa. Let’s do it.”
The central heating and hot water system were a challenge, calling for several modifications to the existing installation.
“Alexa. Lounge 70 degrees.”
With some satisfaction I heard the central heating kick in.
“Hey Alexa, tell me a joke.”
“Have you heard the one about the Englishman, Irishman and the Scotsman who went into a bar?”
“Alexa! I don’t want to know. Something always comes off badly for the Irish Dude. I’ve told you about Irish jokes before.”