The tale of the first Torkle machines.

StoryKettle » Torkle » torch

Copyright © 2007, Michael M Wayman

Where I was I didn't know, in some small town somewhere. When it was, I did know, it was dusk on a Saturday in July and the crowd was waiting. We heard the sound of drums and around the corner came the band.

Had we been waiting? Oh, yes, very long. It always starts late. Should I leave? Could I wait? I looked at the woman in front of me. She was the right size and shape for me, ten years older than me or perhaps fifty, it was getting dark. To pass the time I thought of a name for her, Mrs Torch, Mrs T and then Mrs Torc, yes, Mrs Torc.

They made a great noise, they hit things, bits of metal, bits of wood and stretched skin. They wanted to make a great noise. And after the great noise the burning flames. Cowboys and Red Indians, Superman and Charlie Chaplin, kings and queens, cavemen and mad professors, top hats and bonnets, beauty queens and monsters: each holding a burning torch in the raised right hand.

The women's bicycle band was from Holland, the bicycles were customised for the drums. More blazing flames. The German Fanfarenkorps blew their trumpets.

After the torchlight parade was the big firework display, as soon as the wailing Scots in kilts had gone by, the crowd made a rush for the park on the other side of the road. Mrs Torc moved forward, but stumbled and fell. I grabbed her and held her, she could been injured or trampled to death. I held her for what seemed a long time. “Thank you! Let's go and watch the fireworks!”

How can you describe a firework display? There was plenty of oooohing and aaaahing. At the end a huge silhouette of the Great Leader was lit using hundreds of white flares. The National Anthem played and we all stood to attention, we were all standing anyway. “I don't live far away. We can walk there” she said.

We sat on her sofa and drank wine. She lived in a big house and showed me round it. Next to bathroom was a funny shaped door with a key in it. “What's in there?” “Oh, you can't go in there. You wouldn't like it. It's my torture room.”

Was I curious and did I want to see it! The room was full of very odd looking machines. One was a large wheel with a seat on the side of it. “Oh, the Big Wheel! Oh, yes, that's my favourite. I use it once a week. My late husband made all these machines. I was very proud of him.

This one is made of bicycle bits and an electric motor from an old lawnmower. You sit here, turn it on.” She moved a big switch, the machine began to hum. “Push this lever to the left and the little wheel touches the revolving shaft.” The Big Wheel slowly started to turn, it turned half way round, it moved to the first of two marks labelled T and Mrs Torc released the lever. “You push the lever to the right and the other little wheel comes into play and the Big Wheel goes back again.

Oh, T is for me and the H was for my husband.” She did not explain however what the machine was for. “Let's go and have another drink!”

I woke up in the morning on the sofa. Mrs Torc had fallen asleep on top of me. “Good morning! What would you like for breakfast?” Nice breakfast. “It is only now that I realised how much you did for me; you saved me last night, I could have been injured or trampled to death. I want to thank you again. I have decided to invite you out for lunch.”

I was thinking about the torture room. “Torture room? There is no torture room.” I went to the bathroom and there it wasn't; I could not find it, very odd.

She drove me to a big house in the country, “Sunday Lunch – all you can eat for twenty dollars”. It was a big party, young people, old people, children playing, old men and women smiling. Mrs Torc and I tried all sorts of interesting food.

“Tell me! What's your name?” I asked. “Oh, it's Mrs Torc, you told me yourself.” I had not told her my fantasy name for her. “Yes, I am Mrs Torc and I am eating tortellini.” “And I'm eating mock turtle soup with extra tortoises.” We both laughed.

We went for a long walk in the fields and woods. Before crossing a busy road, I put my arms round her and held her tight for five minutes. “Oh, I needed that!” she said.

I asked her about the torture room. “Oh, you'll have to wait. It's only there in the evening, sometime between five and six it will reappear.” I was patient, I waited, I wanted to try the Big Wheel. There was now a third mark labelled U on it. “Oh, that's for you!” she said. I used it first, then Mrs Torc. It was delightful, I had discovered what it was for, not really torture at all. “Oh, just my little joke! No torture at all!” she said.

The next morning I woke up lying under the coffee table. I thought to myself, this is very odd, she hasn't asked me to stay, she has not insisted, she has said nothing, but it is clear that I am not leaving.

Mrs Torc is an evil witch, she is keeping me here in her castle, she has cast an awful magic spell on me. Mrs Torc came into the room and said “probably!” I decided she was crazy. “Probably!” she said again, “Breakfast is ready.”

We went shopping, we went to a supermarket that I had never visited before. It sold real food, nothing in packets. “What do you want this evening?” We used the Expanding machine. “With this lever you can control how fast it moves.” I noticed that some of the machines were unused. “Yes, unfortunately some of them are broken.”

I discovered a big switch marked “maintenance mode” on and off. The next morning I hit the switch and the torture room reappeared for an hour or two. There was a small workbench with tools in the corner. I repaired the Joggle machine, just loose screws and the main drive belt had fallen off. Mrs Torc was really pleased that evening. “I do like a good joggle!”

The next morning I woke up lying under the sideboard; Mrs Torc slept on top of it. She drove me to the big do-it-yourself store, I needed some bits to do some more repairs. What a man likes to do in a big do-it-yourself store is to go to the screws, bolts and nuts section and count them.

This takes time, several hours. Usually however after only five minutes the wife always complains: “What are you doing? Can't you just pick the bits you want and then we can go. I'm getting bored.” And so forth. It really spoils the whole visit to the store. After several hours Mrs Torc asked “How many have you counted?”

I repaired all the damaged machines and we both had a good time. Each one of the machines had a motto, engraved on a brass plate, such as “life is wasted on the sane” and “better all screwed up than a screw loose”.

However this was not enough, the machines were getting far more attention now and had started to squabble. They kept moving about when we were not there. I thought about bolting them to the floor. Mrs Torc came into the room, “do you think that will really stop them moving about?” She was right of course, I had to find some positive method to make them happy.

The next day at the do-it-yourself store I bought several cans of brightly coloured paint. “If you are going to paint the roof, it should be all one colour.” They liked it, they were pleased for two days, then they squabbled again. I hit them with a hammer, oh, they liked that.

Mrs Torc helped me to choose the right colour for the right machine. Now, they were happy, most of the time anyway. A good hammering from time to time and the right colour scheme and your machine is happy. Anyone can hit a machine, you're done it yourself, but it takes an expert to know where and how hard to hit; the correct choice of hammer also helps.

One by one I tried out all the machines in the torture room, of course with a lot of help from Mrs Torc. Mrs Torc was very pleased, she said that she was proud of me and that her late husband would have liked to see them all working again. “Perhaps if I think hard about him, he will come back.” I half expected him to come in and look at them, however he didn't, maybe some other time.

I had all the machines up and running again, and reasonably happy. Mrs Torc was really happy. A little routine maintenance from time to time however didn't give me enough to do. I designed a new machine and built a prototype, it was OK but not good enough. The torture room expanded to provide more space. I built it again and it was perfect.

That evening, the first day of operation, I pulled off the cover and gave Mrs Torc a big surprise, I had to hug her for half an hour, she was so pleased. “Can I try it out?” “Of course!” Oh, she did enjoy it. “You built it for me, you know my birthday is today. It's so delightful!” Making Mrs Torc happy is very important to me, I knew that she would sleep on top of me that night.

Mrs Torc went into a black phase, no, she was not unhappy, she did black things, in the kitchen she prepared black chicken, black pudding, black duck, black fish, there was no limit to the blackness. We painted the new model, the Solemn Slotting machine black. I was into thinking, for several months there had been no new construction, just lots of hammering, hugging and using, just delightful.

Mrs Torc helped me with design of the next machine, that made it even better. We designed more, we improved. It sometimes took six months from the first idea to the first day of operation. We spent hours working on the plans on the dining table.

Mrs Torc said that she wished that she had studied engineering instead of practical theology. Then came the great idea, a bigger machine for two people, more work but Mrs Torc and I could use the machine at the same time. It was the big step forwards.

I learnt how to weld and draw proper plans. Mrs Torc's late husband helped us with the difficult bits. Mrs Torc bought more power tools and learnt how to use them. The torture room grew and grew. Who else on this planet would like to use these machines?

There were lots of birthdays, Mrs Torc had a list of all the first days of operation, yes, for each machine.

The birthday machine was decorated with flowers and Mrs Torc and I wore festive clothes. The machine got hammered, which rather spoiled the flowers, and Mrs Torc got hugged. We used the machine many times and had a good time, all three of us. Mrs Torc always slept on top of me, even if I had crawled under the coffee table or the piano, after a celebration.

I was thinking to myself “The machines get hammered and Mrs Torc gets hugged.” that must be my philosophy of life. “Yes, I think you're right there!” she said. I have mentioned before that it takes an expert to know where and how hard to hit a machine, Mrs Torc is the same, you're got to know when, where and how long to hug Mrs Torc. She says that I have got this right.

Mrs Torc does everything for me, I'm really lucky, she buys me food, she cooks it real good, she buys me lots of screws and bolts and tools, but she wouldn't buy me a bed. “What do you want a bed for? You're happy on the carpet.” She sleeps on the dining table or me. There are no bedrooms in the house.

We decided to exhibit one of the machines at the county show, we chose the Joggle machine, it won first prize for innovation. People wanted to buy it. We found a small engineering company that would make it for us, we ordered ten of them and sold them all in one month, big success, but much more work.

The Joggle machine was a really good choice for the first model, fairly simple, easy to understand and it needed no adjustments. However there is a big difference between building one machine from spare parts and bits from the do-it-yourself store and producing machines to order. We had a lot to learn.

The orders kept coming in. We decided to build two Joggle machines a week under the brand name Torkle. The price was set very high, which helped as the parts were expensive and the labour costs high, three people at the engineering company. The machines were simply made, hand made and easy to maintain.

There was no user documentation, most customers wanted a party. Mrs Torc and I would dress up and demonstrate each machine at the customer's party. The parties were very popular. Mrs Torc had some very theatrical clothes made for us, not really my style, but they made Mrs Torc more attractive than ever.

I noticed that the customers were odd, they were prepared to pay a high price, they wanted the original, there was no competition, they were prepared to wait months for their machine.

They had to choose their own colour scheme and of course their own motto. We could not possibly have sold machines to people who could not think of a motto. They were certainly odd enough to think of “pedal to the moon” and “levers are for Pushkin”. Mrs Torc said “What do you think? They are not odd. You are one of them.”

Each machine had a life of its own; without paint and without a motto the bare machine was just a construction of aluminium, steel, wood and plastic; but as soon as it was decorated and delivered it became part of the family. They are never sold, they pass from generation to generation.

We never advertised, the news of our machines passed by word of mouth. After three years we introduced another model, the Extended Expansion machine. This sold even better than the Joggle, though we still make the Joggle to special order, three or four a year.

The third model was our triumph, the Double Extended Expansion machine for two people. We called it the Torkle-DEE-model, our customers the Dream-Machine. It was and is frightfully expensive, though the first ten Joggle machines are worth millions, just to be looked at, which is right, they were unfortunately not very reliable.

We built a prototype TEE for three people, but we decided to keep it in the torture room and never show it to anybody. The originals in the torture room were nowhere near as good as our production machines, but we couldn't bring some new machines into the torture room, we didn't want to upset the originals and besides, the torture room would not allow it.

No, the torture room was very strict, certainly no torture was allowed. I remember the time the chimney sweep got lost in the house and tried to enter the torture room. It had a tantrum and disappeared for a week, even the maintenance mode switch didn't work. The torture room was very upset, Mrs Torc was very upset, and I had to hold Mrs Torc tight for the whole week.

“You are one of us. I have known for some time. You must know it yourself. You must be happy.” Mrs Torc told me one day.

We noticed that we were paying the three guys at the engineering company too much and decided to double the prices and pay them more. They built machines for their own use. The youngest one designed a coupler; this joined two DEE-models together to make a machine for four people at a time. It was a good design; anyone who bought two DEE-models got a coupler for free. The young man is allowed to hug Mrs Torc once a year.

I was thinking to myself, everything is going well, Mrs Torc is happy, I'm happy, I just want to be reasonably crazy. Mrs Torc came in the room and said “Yes, it's good to have an aim in life.”