What Boris Johnson’s vacuum cleaner saw

22 May 2021

9:00 AM

22 May 2021

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3199, you were invited to supply a poem in which an inanimate object comments on its owner’s behaviour.

Shoshana Zuboff’s recent book about the growth of surveillance capitalism gave me the idea for this competition. In it she warns of a future in which, to satisfy big tech’s insatiable appetite for data, the internet of things — our heating thermostat, vacuum cleaner, mattress — takes over our homes, robbing us of our ability to be invisible in those places where, Zuboff writes, we ‘first learn to be human… where our spirits spread and take root…’.

Moray McGowan’s poem, featuring a fridge that locks itself to foil midnight binges, and uploads data about unhealthy eating habits to the owner’s insurance company, chimes very much with Zuboff’s vision. But it’s those entries printed below that earn their authors this week’s prize of £30 apiece.

As the cordless source of info that they blame on Chatty Rat,
I am there.
At the shake-and-vac conception of another mop top brat,
I am there.
When he runs the crevice cleaner over Ms Arcuri’s pole,
when he dusts the Lulu Lytles now that Carrie’s in control,
like the old J. Edgar Hoover or the latest Miele mole,
I am there, I am there, I am there.
Although Dyson’s in his contacts, for an old-school furry bag
I am there.
At the dual-cyclone climax of a carpet-burning shag,
I am there.
So for insight on the vacuum at the heart of Tory hell,
when the PM’s done the dirty and you hope for suck and tell,
it’s the factory-setting password and you’ve got my URL:
I am there, I am there, I am there.
Nick MacKinnon

I have watched you, during lockdown, treating cupboard shelves as grottos,
And applaud your use of Vegemite to titivate risottos;
I was awestruck by the boldness of your Spam-inspired frittata
And marvelled at the chutzpah of your chocolate-based moussaka.
Turning Twiglets into croutons could be termed iconoclastic;
Viennetta on your cornflakes is undoubtedly fantastic
(Clever you to dream up that one when the cashew milk turned sour!)
Though I question using sawdust as a substitute for flour.
While some turned ever-inward, hypnotised by self-regard,
You drizzled warm Ribena on your chervil chiffonade;
I was privileged to witness your clandestine double-dipping,
Relieved to see your ‘wickedness’ betrayed no sign of slipping.
Hats off to you, Nigella — if I had one, I would doff it —
My only tiny little tip: I think that you would profit
From a lesson in politeness — what I bitterly dislike:
That you call me ‘Meecro Wah-Vey’ when my real name is Mike.
Richard Spencer

To serve him I am always free
And wait here till he sits on me.
I see a side no others see
When we’re alone.
He’s humbled, though a king to be,
Upon this throne.


In public he has dignity,
Crème de la crème of royalty
But when he is exposed to me
All grandeur goes.
And sometimes, confidentially,
He’ll voice his woes.
Max Ross

He chose me for my solid look,
But I was smarter than he thought:
I digitised the things he bought
And every call he made and took.
Couch then, I now am more divan,
A place for horizontal thinking,
For quiet retirement, forty-winking —
The seat of where the end began.
The fact is we have both grown wearier —
As he counts up (and down) the years,
I tire of being Google’s ears
And fear as well for my interior.
He’s added padding, I’ve got less;
On sitting down he sighs, I creak;
So while my signal’s not too weak
I’ll play him ads for DFS.
W.J. Webster

I’m wireless, not witless:
New Year to post Christmas
I relay the programmes you loudly abhor.
You’re snarking and sniping,
Pedantically griping
At all that’s progressive on Radio Four.
I’m listening: you’re bristling
Alone in the kitchen
As Thought for the Day simpers out of my grille.
You’re sneering and jeering,
I’m flung at the ceiling
Should Reverend Giles Fraser be on Today’s bill.
Adrian Fry

No. 3202: lost love

You are invited to choose a well-known book with the word ‘love’ in its title, substitute the word ‘love’ with a word of your choice, and submit a short story with that title. Please email entries of up to 150 words to by midday on 2 June.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments