“Aha,” I thought, as I turned the corner of the house and spotted a dark grey entity lurking in the corner of the lawn. “The robot lawnmower has arrived.” But why wasn’t it moving? My neighbour informed me that it had run up against the wall and exhausted all its energy in trying to escape, so now its battery was flat. We pay a man to do our garden, so like my neighbours, I waited for him to come by and pop the little mower into its docking station.
Two days later, it was still stuck in the same place and in the meantime I had read through all my post and discovered that my neighbours and I had forked out four thousand Swiss franks for the thing, described as an “Auto Mover” on the receipt (obviously not written by an English speaker – it certainly didn’t appear to be a mover, though maybe it would turn out to be a mower eventually). At that price, it ought to work – not only cutting the grass but bringing me a cup of tea and some biscuits when I sit outside, or even a G&T at Happy Hour.
I picked it up and carried it to its kennel, shoved its nose in as far as it would go, and left it. According to my friend who also has one of these little helpers, it should take about 45 minutes to charge its battery. That was on Friday evening.
On Saturday, there was no sign of life from it. It remained dormant throughout the entire day and night, and comatose on Sunday. I decided to wait and phone the gardener on Monday morning, and worried that maybe I had docked it incorrectly. My neighbours, its co-owners, would not be happy if I had done something that invalidated the guarantee right at the start of its career with us.
Come Monday, I decided to have my breakfast first, before doing anything requiring any effort. As I sat outside sipping my coffee, I suddenly heard an unfamiliar but not unpleasant buzzing and rumbling: and there was the Auto Mover steadily approaching, munching at the grass as it came. It paused next to my table.“Hello! “ I exclaimed with a smile, “So you are working after all!” and then I realised that if anyone was within earshot, they would be wondering why I was addressing this inanimate object in such a friendly manner. Did I say inanimate object? No, that’s really not true. There is something about robots that is very lifelike, and this one certainly seemed on a par with a little dog, or at the very least a Henry vacuum cleaner. I had a wild desire to paint a little face onto it. It really does need some eyes to see its way around.
I must have sat watching it for a good ten minutes, fascinated, trying to figure out how it knows where to go. A straight line, then a sudden turn to the right, straight ahead again, then a diagonal that brings it up against the hedge where it turns on its heel and runs along parallel to the hedge for a while, then an about-turn and back in a different diagonal … It appeared to do a little dance at one point, pirouetting on the path before taking off onto the grass border on the opposite side of the paving.
But why had it taken so long to charge its battery? Then it dawned on me. Today was Monday. I had docked it on Friday. This is Switzerland, where weekends and especially Sundays are sacrosanct: unlike in uncivilised Anglo-Saxon countries, you do NOT wash your car or work in your garden at the weekend. So our little mower, in good law-abiding Swiss fashion, has been programmed to observe both the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath!
Inanimate object? No way! It runs around indefatigably even in the rain, a busy little herbivore, and every time it passes my French window I greet it warmly. And if it gets stuck again, I shall rescue it and speak words of comfort into its little plastic ears.