When Harry Secombe attacks

Living in the future is amazing until you have to visit the past. In the past, people had to arrange to meet in advance. Only buildings had telephones, even though nobody wanted to talk to a house or an office. News was disseminated either by dead tree or by Kenneth Kendall at 9 o’clock. Everybody dressed oddly. The music was, though, much better. Songs had words, now it’s just noise, etc.

Walking into a bank brings back that Eighties feeling – just whitewashed with nicer hair, shrubbery and Helvetica Neue. Worse, there’s still a sense that the back office is ruled by a fat man with mutton chops, perhaps played by Harry Secombe, inscribing all transactions using the world’s featheriest quill in a ledger bound with the skin of an entire parish of cows. “Mr Hardworthy? I should be obliged were you to release funds to the value of 3/- to allow Mrs Blenkinsop, a fine and upstanding gentle-lady the size of Wigan, to purchase an ugly hat.”

Mrs Blenkinsop was ahead of me in a bank queue a few weeks ago. The bustle gave it away. She was using it as a parcel shelf.

I’d ventured into the past to close an account that was earning a massive 0% interest and move the money into a new account that would earn me a much better rate, like 0.5%. A simple job, you might think. You might reasonably expect some kind of precedent for this task, perhaps even a well-tested procedure.

And you’d be right. I was attended to courteously and efficiently by a gentleman evidently of a similar nature to myself, deft with the mouse and familiar with the hellhole of cascading popups that seems to constitute banking systems. Account closed, money transferred. Now please sign this piece of paper.

Head office, it appeared, needed some physical authorisation: my presence in a branch, one might even say my biometrics, apparently being insufficiently physical. Two-factor authentication – my card and its PIN in my head – ignored in favour of the single-factor analogue scribble of my signature.

The Time Warp, from Rocky Horror, started playing in my head. It seems Harry Secombe worked at head office instead.

Ah well. Processes, eh? Pfft, tch, etc.

And then a few days later a letter arrived from the bank. “Some important news about your recent letter to us,” it began patronisingly. My signature, I was told, didn’t match their records. I hadn’t sent any letter to them: everything was done in-branch. The scrawl on the form apparently didn’t match the pristine, young person’s signature I’d invented on the spot when opening my first bank account with them aged 16. Not altogether surprising. I was annoyed, though: I’d been in the branch, authenticated by card, pin and gay. Was that not enough?

I returned to the same branch a few days later, The Time Warp now on brain-repeat. I waved the letter in front of a man, who apologised and scurried about making copies of things. It’s just a jump to the left. And then a step to the right. All done, he said. OK: that was easy.

A couple of weeks later a short conversation with a cash machine led me to believe all was not as it appeared. The account I’d supposedly closed used to regularly suck money from my current account into a savings account; the new one didn’t. But it was obvious from my balance that money had been recently sucked.

My first thought: it’s gone into a black hole. They’ve closed the account but not the suckage. If not that, then they haven’t closed the account at all.

I went to the branch again. Helpfully I spoke to the advisor who’d tried to close the account originally. He remembered me. With your hand on your hips. You bring your knees in tight. We went through the account closure process again – the sucked money wasn’t in a black hole, thankfully. I signed the form again. We tsked and pffted about processes and head offices again. It was Groundhog Gay.

And then a few days ago, I received a letter from the bank. “Some important news about your recent letter to us.” I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that – you’ll never guess – my signature didn’t match their records.

Three attempts so far to close an account. Several weeks doing lengths in the custard pool, unable to overcome the drag of Harry Secombe’s sideburns.

Later today I’ll make another trip into the past, to queue with Mrs Blenkinsop, her bustle and her new ugly hat, to discover what excuse they’ll offer this time. I could threaten to withdraw all my money and go elsewhere, but I’d only get another letter failing to recognise my signature. This time I have a secret weapon: this time they get the pelvic thrusts.

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