Soulful machines.



 Soulful machines.

Soulful                                                           something with human abilities

Recalcitrant                                                  rebellious, disobedient

Mechanic                                                      a person who fixes machines or engines

WW11                                                           World War 2

Wringer                                                        part of a washing machine that squeezed out the water

Grind to a halt                                             to stop working

Intricacies                                                     intricate, difficult to learn, complicated

Vent                                                               to complain bitterly, be angry


Someone recently put the question to me, which is the most ‘human’ machine I own. This got me thinking; after all we use machines all day every day in our modern life.

It took me a long time to consider this, about five seconds actually, and the answer? I blame my mother.

You see, I am a child of the pre-flower-power sixties, growing up in the fifties. My father was an airplane mechanic during WW11 and then a car mechanic until he retired. My mother was a homemaker, a terrific cook, seamstress and grandmother, but mechanically challenged. While my father learned the intricacies of pistons, sparks and fuel injectors, my mother perfected learned helplessness. When anything mechanical went wrong in the house she called out….”Fred, the dratted washing machine won’t work again!” So dad ambled in with his spanner, screw driver and mandatory dirty rag and twiddled and fixed it every time.

This heritage of learned helplessness was passed on to me. Unwittingly I accepted the fact that women called for men to fix things, and men fixed things. It was one of the basic laws of nature. This problem was compounded when I married a man, who, like my father, was in my eyes, a mechanical genius. It was the normal thing for me to yell out…”Peter, the oven won’t go!” and he would toddle in, fiddle with something and the oven would then happily purr along doing its job.

Now, when you are talking about the old fashioned washing machine with wringers, ovens with no automatic timers, and cars without computerised insides, machinery was fairly simple. But today, machines know things. They have an inbuilt sense of who is using them. They can tell the difference from a woman gently lifting it out of the cupboard and onto a tidy bench to use, and a man yanking it off the shelf and dumping it down somewhere after using his forearm to clear the clutter off the bench. Machines just know this stuff now. And they will not work for a woman.

I have had so many experiences with machines, where I tried to use something, and it sat there, showing passive resistance, not talking, just refusing to turn on. Occasionally it would almost start, and then grind to a halt, never to move again. Well, that is, not until a man entered the room. If you are a woman, how many times has the man in your life come to ‘fix’ a machine, only to find that it works perfectly the first time he tries it? How many times have you vented your justifiable frustration on a stupid machine that is obviously ready for the heap, only to find that the man of your dreams just has to touch it for the motor to work perfectly until he exits the room? Frequently, I am sure.

The person who put this question to me, has to be a man. No woman would ever describe a machine as ‘soulful’. No, it must have been a man for whom machines just purr along. So, after this rather lengthy explanation I have to say that I do not own any ‘soulful’ or ‘human-like’ machines, although I could stretch a point and say that many of them act like recalcitrant children, naughty in the extreme. And I am sure that you will now understand why none of this is actually my fault. Rather, I am the product of my parenting, and having been instilled with the necessary female art of learned helplessness, I blame my mother for this.



  1. Is the writer a female or a male?
  2. What is the main point of this article?
  3. Did the writer find it easy or hard to make machines work properly?
  4. Why did she get angry?
  5. What happened when a man tried to work the machine?
  6. Have you seen examples of this in your family?
  7. What is ‘learned helplessness’?
  8. Do you have a machine that works well for you and never gives you trouble?
  9. What is that machine?
  10. Do you agree with the writers thoughts in this article?

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