The new house was a snip at six million — old money that is — I can’t get used to Globals. I was filled with excitement at getting my first Smart House and a great deal of trepidation at having to train it. The manual describes it as customization.

The technician had burnt me a series of mini-disks — one Housemaster and one for each room. ‘These will provide you with interactive formatting, she said, ‘The mini-disk will brief the room on your voice coding, personality typing, and the results of your preference quiz. Then it’s simply a matter of establishing contact with the individual facilities. Just talk to them as a friend,’ she added breezily, ‘I’m sure you will establish rapport in no time; and remember, I’m only at the end of a modem.

I decided to start with the kitchen

How hard could it be? Slip the disk into the slot. Press start. Wait. The holographic cursor arrow hovered in the air before me. Speak the command. ‘Toaster!’

‘Yes, Harry?’

I did a double take. I’d opted for informal during the technician’s quiz, but it shakes you to encounter an uppity toaster.

‘Toaster, I like my toast medium brown and crumpets slightly crisp.’

‘Your instructions have been noted, Harry.’

‘That is all. Now I need Microwave.’

The cursor arrow leapt to a different bench. A decidedly feminine voice emanated from a gleaming box. Yes, Harry Dear?’

I gulped. Informality was all very well, but such familiarity from a cooker was hard to take.

‘Microwave…’

‘Just call me Michelle.’

‘Michelle,’ I gulped. ‘Up until now, I have used microwaves for defrosting frozen food and for the occasional warm-up of leftovers. The manual says you can do much more for me.’

‘I hope so, dear. I will work with Dietician to give you healthy meals.’

‘The Dietician?’

‘The Dietician here Harry.’ A mellow tenor voice announced itself. The cursor arrow had fled to a hitherto unnoticed wall panel that now blinked at me.

“I am your dietician. I will ensure that you get healthy meals, based on the preferences that you expressed in the indoctrination quiz. These have been correlated with the medical records you submitted. Do you wish to revise, modify, add or delete information?’ Suddenly, the opposite wall turned into a wall screen on which a seemingly endless band of data scrolled rapidly.

‘No, no. Not at this time. I will revise it later. What have you planned for dinner this evening?’

‘Fat-free fillet steak, boiled potatoes, broccoli, peas, carrots and light, non- fat, savoury gravy.’

“Sounds good to me. How is the steak cooked?’

‘That’s me,’ interjected a gruff male voice. ‘I’m the grill. How do you like your steaks?’

‘Rare,’ I said.

‘Rare it is,’ growled the griller. It seemed a machine of few words.

One by one I became acquainted with my kitchen’s systems and their peculiar hierarchies. For example: while individual items like saucepans, crockery, glassware and cutlery had no voice of their own; they were claimed, controlled and manipulated by such entities as Washing up Machine, which strangely had a Dutch accent, and the self-sorting Cutlery Drawer and some competing cupboards. A quick look at the manual and I discovered a shortcut. Rather than address its component parts, I could communicate directly with Kitchen. I decided to try it.

‘Hey, Kitchen.’

‘Yes, Harry?’ The voice was a rich contralto. Non-directional, it seemed to surround me. I swivelled, seeking the source of the sound.

‘Where are you?’

‘All around you. Do you need a focal point?’

‘It would be helpful.’

‘How is this?’ And a holographic image formed in the middle of the room. It took the form of a short dumpy woman dressed in old-fashioned clothes. I had seen her before somewhere.

‘Mrs Beeton?’

‘I am based on her photograph. I can assume another form if you wish.’

Wild thoughts of centrefolds crossed my mind. I banished them. ‘Mrs Beeton will do.’

Mrs B was very practical, and we had a long and practical conversation about my culinary requirements. I became aware of the time, it was getting late and I still had the rest of the house to customise. Jingling my disks in my pocket, I made my way to my sleeping quarters. I slipped the little disk into the slot.

‘Bedroom?’ I said.

‘Yes, Darling?’

This time the image conjured up had definitely no resemblance to a Victorian lady!

by H, St. Vincent Beechey