Do you remember the advert from last Christmas where they had that robot cheering up sad single people, well I don’t think I told you, but I brought one – a robot that is.
In case you’ve forgotten, the advert showed lots of solitary people sitting in grey, hard edged homes with microwave dinners, looking sad. It showed them – still in grey – in various situations with other people whilst everything and everyone else was in colour, all to the sound of ‘All by myself’ – the Celine Dion version. As each of the singles woke up on Christmas morning they discover a large shiny red present sitting mysteriously in their kitchens, hallways or living rooms. After seeing the gift beginning to be unwrapped in the various homes, things move on quickly to full-colour scenes where the robot is at the Christmas dinner table with family or friends, a bit of the shiny red Christmas paper still stuck to his outer casing. Everyone is in full colour, including the previously sad single people and everyone is happy and laughing at bad cracker jokes. The soundtrack merged into ‘Thank god it’s Christmas’ by Queen.
Despite the ad’s misguided assumptions about single people and what makes them happy or sad – the desire for merchandise was so unquenchable that they had to move on from the cuddly toy robot to an actual real, working robot. He’s still flying off the shelves, despite the enormous price tag. Naturally he’s from Japan and is white and shiny, just as a robot should be. I named him Bob because this is what I call almost everything that feels like it needs a name.
I took him home to meet my family, but they just smiled reluctantly and nodded when I introduced him and carried on as normal. They didn’t ignore him as such but they didn’t talk to him either. Bob, being a robot, didn’t take this personally.
If I’d brought home a second hand Flymo and plonked it on the dinner table, the conversation would have flowed with gusto. “Ooh we used to have one like that didn’t we?”, “No, ours was an 8200, that’s a 6700, and it wasn’t that shade of orange, that’s an earlier shade”, “Oh yes, that’s right. I really liked that lawn mower.” And so on. But Bob, being a total unknown, essentially doesn’t exist, at least not in my family.
“Pass the sprouts please” was about as much as I could muster as the weeks went by, feeling there was no hope of change. When I talked about how much Bob has made my life better, happier, more fulfilled, they would interrupt and talk across the table about how no-one had realised that the potatoes weren’t home-made but actually Auntie Bessie’s! No-one minded because they’re so delicious.
Instead of resigning myself to the situation, I decided to take this on as a challenge. I will get a reaction! So next time Sunday dinner came around, I took home a goat. I tied him up to the chair and put some raw vegetables on a plate. Nothing, no interest, no questions. Even when he started bleating really loudly. “Did you see Strictly this week? They shouted over him, “I can’t believe that awful bloke’s still in it, what’s wrong with people!” Quite, I wonder.
The next time I brought an exercise ball to which I had attached a moustache and a monacle. Nothing. I put an air pump alongside the other food on the table and reminded the family that this is just for Bob – yes, the exercise ball is called Bob too. They don’t hear me of course because there is a heated debate taking place on which of the two local Morrison’s is bigger than the other.
You might wonder, as do I, why they aren’t interested in me and the things in my life and don’t show any interest in understanding my unusual guests or their importance to me. But eventually, three farm animals, two dressed up inanimate objects and a large pot plant later, I realise it’s me that hasn’t understood.
There’s nothing I could bring home to dinner that they wouldn’t accept as part of me – without question, because I am family. Interest doesn’t equal love. Understanding doesn’t equal love. No matter how infuriating those who wield it are, family love is immovable and uncomplicated. Unlike mine which clearly had conditions aplenty attached, including being interested in the things I’m interested in. I feel a pang of shame but Bob (the robot – I had to return the animals to the petting zoo) re-assures me that I am only human and that I should forgive myself. I had installed some free self-help software which has proved very useful.
So I stopped trying to get a response and brought Bob back. He is my companion after all, and he was really flipping expensive, so he stays. Also, Bob had said that they would eventually get used to him and treat him like one of the family.
This did come to pass. In the summer, Bob had to be sent back to Japan because his ‘Greeting’ function kept sticking. So instead of being greeted by a gentle ‘Good Morning’ when I woke up instead I had a slightly sinister sounding ‘good, good, good’ which felt more like an instruction than a greeting. I know Bob didn’t mean anything by it, buy my insecurity settings are still in the dark ages.
Anyway, when I arrived home for Sunday lunch, much like a new mother turning up without her fresh pink baby, my family launched straight into a ‘where’s Bob?’ questioning session. I don’t believe I got so much as a hello. The family, now accustomed to Bob’s presence felt unbalanced without him. It was as if everyone were in danger of falling over and into each other without Bob there to act as a breakwater.
It cost a lot to fix and return Bob from his home in Japan. It turned out that I’d rendered the warrantee invalid by installing the dodgy free self-help software. It’s OK though as they upgraded Bob whilst he was being mended and the latest edition includes a new backdated Strictly download which will come in handy.
So now, I have more than I bargained for. They are ONLY interested in Bob. “Bob, do you agree that ‘Clover’ is better than real butter?” “Bob, is it quicker to get to the Tesco in x or the Sainsbury’s in Y?”
So I let Bob do all the talking and just enjoy the Aunty Bessie’s potatoes – which really are very good.