The Machinery of Life


Ok I’ll be upfront with you, I have a love-hate relationship with machinery. To me, they are bits of steel which are supposed to make life easier, not temperamental gods who must be appeased with devotional offerings. But I don’t fall into the Basil Fawlty school of relating to machines either, in turn swearing at them or trying to negotiate with an inanimate piece of metal.
Every house  has its own way of working supported by its individual machinery. This modus operandi  is so automatic for the owners, that often it is not until the appearance of a new house sitter and the need to explain how things work, that owners become aware of  these domestic operations.
With each new house-sit, I need to learn a new set of household routines and machinery. Most machines are relatively easy to learn and based on a way of working which makes either logical or intuitive sense. Then there are those “flavour of the month/week/year” machines , which once you’ve mastered in one house, you can use automatically in all other homes.
I’m a retired Learning and Development consultant who still has a curiosity and passion for how we learn. My learning style adapts to the individual machine-If its a manual car, I have to feel the gear for myself, if its a home entertainment system, a list of operations will do.Then of course I bring my own machinery, a tablet, phone and mobile wifi.
“Its easy to use”  hmmm I’ve heard that said a lot in the context of an tricky older car or piece of machinery. The owner has forgotten all those little adjustments they’ve made over the years in order to get it to started. I can appreciate attachment to older machines, though and in many ways admire holding on to them rather than instantly upgrading at the urge of manufacturers.


I have developed my own routine for adjusting to each new household operations and that is to take the pressure off in the first few days and concentrate on essentials like the daily routines for the pets. I am cautious when using the property of others, particularly for the first time. Slowly, I get to understand and work with the essential machinery. I’m pretty resourceful and if something proves difficult, I usually find another way around it or refer to those with the necessary expertise like the friendly neighbour or local plumber.

Each home owner is different too. Some will write out a clear list of routines, important contacts and advice for using machinery. On some occasions I’ve had owners due to leave in an hour, who can’t understand why I am pressing them for the necessary information and I end up following them around with my notebook and pen as they pack their bags.


I did have one pair of  home owners who invited me to stay for four days before their departure. Each day, I was given an overview of the operations of a  piece of machinery, provided with detailed diagrams and notes, than asked to demonstrate my understanding by using the machine.  I felt like an undergraduate awaiting for the outcome of their first semester exams. When learning to drive an old manual up their driveway which was so steep local businesses would not deliver there particularly in the rain, I had it pointed out that my hands were incorrectly placed on the steering wheel. Hmmm I learnt to drive 40 years ago and have a good driving record.

I think it’s important to be honest in my communications-its a cornerstone to building a relationship of mutual respect and trust. I pointed out that I was house sitting for the pets and was not wanting or needing such a detailed program on the operations of the  household machinery. The owner became so upset and begged my forgiveness, could see that the pets had taken to me, then disclosed that his behaviour was causing him problems at work. I felt for him and could see how his need to be perfect-and needing to control others’ imperfections-had caused him such difficulties. This situation ended well with both of us have a clearer understanding of each other’s needs and increased respect.
In the end, it’s about understanding and respecting the individual needs of the home owners, pets and myself. I’m certainly learning a lot about all three, oh and some machinery of life along the way.


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