How has shopping during the lockdown been for you?
Last week the lockdown flash fiction task for my writers’ group was to write a story to go with any song title. That’s like saying, write about anything you like! To my mind, much harder than being given a specific topic to write about. It was the same when I was at school and the English teacher said we could write about anything. I would be completely stuck. And I was this time too. Until OH (to his credit) suggested I write about Ocado’s robots. The only limitation was the word count 450-500 words max.
Here’s my story. Please let me know if you like it.
“YES, WE HAVE NO BANANAS” *
It was the week before Christmas at Ocado’s main warehouse in Kent and the 3,500 robots, who normally fulfilled customers’ orders, were having a noisy union meeting.
“It’s not fair,” moaned robot X who normally dealt with the grocery aisles.
“We do all the hard work and the delivery drivers get to have all the fun.”
“Not to mention the Christmas bonuses!” added robot Y.
“You’re right” agreed robot Z. “They get to drive all those trucks and meet people.”
“Not just people,” replied robot 69. “Women. They get to meet women.”
“And men,” said robot 55. “Men too!”
“And they get thanked,” grumbled robot R. “We never get thanked!”
“Let’s put it to the management,” offered robot 127. “X, Y and Z come with me.”
“We’re all coming!” the robots shouted.
“What do we want? We want to deliver!”
“We want to deliver” echoed all the other robots in unison.
And deliver they did.
They overpowered the delivery drivers, took over the trucks and fulfilled customers’ orders in half the time it had been done previously.
It made the headlines in all the newspapers.
“ROBOTS REVOLT!” Said the Daily Mail.
The front page of the Watford Observer read, “YES, WE HAVE NO BANANAS!”
And “ROBOTS REDUCE THE COST OF DELIVERIES” was the headline in the FT.
Management had promised the truck drivers that after Christmas things would go back to normal but there was an outpouring of complaints from the general public. Notably from women all over the country who were enjoying the added benefits of a hitherto little used robotic function, hailed in a scientific paper as the absence of RED. Robotic Erectile Disfunction. Research showed that this was the case because robots never ran out of essential oil.
In the new year there were more divorces than usual. Not surprisingly the robots were blamed.
Many of the other major supermarkets decided that they too would use robots – not only to fulfil orders, package goods but also to drive their trucks. The unemployment rate rose dramatically and again it was the robots who got the blame.
But, thanks to all the publicity, robots were no longer hidden behind the scene and became far more visible in our society.
The NHS started training robots to replace receptionists at GP practices all over the UK.
Robot R appeared on Strictly. And hardly anyone noticed when a robot replaced Fiona Bruce on BBC Question Time.
It’s rumoured that a robot might even stand for parliament in the next election.
Channel 4 are currently making a documentary on what robots really think.
Some robots are now reading the news and a few have even infiltrated neighbourhood writing groups. Who do you think wrote this?
© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems
*(“Yes, We Have No Bananas” was first recorded in 1923 and subsequently by Benny Goodman and a number of other performers over the years.)