Column: May 18, 2011

IF VENDING machines and I had any sort of relationship, and we were both on Facebook, it would definitely be described as “it’s complicated.”

As somebody who is not in a tea round in work, I am dependent on the office machine to prevent me from dehydrating. And it, itself, is dependent on the more-or-less constant stream of cash from my pocket for its own livelihood.

A vending machine only has one job to do: take my money and give me what I’ve paid for.

And yet it continually goads me and makes me jump through hoops in order to get at its little treasures.

On several occasions, I have had to seek out a ruler, assume a prone position and shove my hand into the slot to dislodge a bottle which has been trapped en route to the holding area.

This, of course, is something I will only do when nobody else is around. Nobody needs to see my impression of a vet for robots.

On several more occasions, I have found myself risking life and limb rocking the vending machine in a, usually doomed, attempt to shake free a tenacious packet of crisps hanging on to the spiral like Harold Lloyd to a clock face.

Depending on the level of my desperation, I eventually give in, and drop another couple of silver coins into the machine, assuming that I will end up with two packets of crisps, one of which I will put in my drawer for another time.

What I actually get is one packet of crisps and a new Harold Lloyd. While most people are taking advantage of BOGOF offers, I end up with a SODOF (Shelled Out Double. Oh, Flip).

On several fewer occasions, the vending machine will present me with an ethical question. It will give me too much change.

That leaves me with two options: pocket the cash – something I would never do if it happened to me in a shop – or insert the cash back into the machine and pass the moral dilemma on to the next person who wants a Vimto. That is my favoured option.

Or the machine will present me with two Kit-Kats – my own, and somebody else’s Harold Lloyd. Given that it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle, I tend to give the windfall away, sanctifying it as a gift.

But yesterday, my usual vending machine played a new trick on me. I hankered after a refreshing can of Diet Coke. I appreciate that I am a man in his late 30s and not a 22-year-old woman, but this is by the by. It is not your place to judge me until you have walked a mile in my shoes and that is not going to happen, because I jealously guard my shoes after a dream I once had about going to work without my shoes.

I digress . . . 

I dropped in a pound coin, carefully typed in the two-digit code (I’ve been burned by an accidental Diet Fanta on too many occasions) and waited. I wouldn’t say there was an air of eager anticipation about the enterprise, but I was fairly hopeful.

The machine beeped. “Cannot make change,” the display slowly scrolled. “Hmph,” I thought. The can was priced at 65p. I took my quid back and inserted a 50p and 20p. “Cannot make change,” it reiterated baldly. I realised that it was a lack of five pence pieces causing the difficulty. I did not have a five pence piece.

“Look, mate, you can keep the change,” I said. The machine did not reply. It was a machine.

I am not sure if there is a word for the frustration I felt at that point. I walked away and went to the shop next door. They didn’t have any cans of Diet Coke. I had to buy a bottle instead.

Nobody came out of this well. Because of the pig-headed honesty of the machine, it was deprived of a sale, plus an extra shiny five pence piece. And I had to shell out an extra 40p. And it was raining.

Thankfully, I was wearing my shoes.

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