- 09 Aug 04
The customer who came in from the cold.
Standing in the queue at the bank, waiting to lodge a cheque, and I hear the quiet murmur of what sound like Irish accents.
In the corner sit two young ladies, early twenties, filling out the necessary forms to open accounts. The harps are visible on the covers of their passports, while the talk is of jobs, their recently acquired flat and what the future holds. I can’t place the accents, which rules out quite a few counties – not enough of a lilt for Cork or Kerry, not flat enough for the midlands, neither posh nor skangerish enough for Dublin. Galway, maybe, or Clare. Might ask them later.
I don’t envy them. Almost five years ago to the day I was sitting in the exact same seat, sucking on a biro while filling out the same forms, wondering why I was being forced to jump through so many hoops in order to give my custom to a bank. After an initial interview that was more Gestapo than greeting, I produced the mandatory 42 different pieces of identification, along with references from the parish priest and every teacher and employer I’ve ever had. When, out of curiosity, I had the temerity to ask why all this palaver was necessary, I was informed that they couldn’t be too careful: “For all we know you could be laundering money,” a woman joked, before asking me how much I wanted to lodge in my new account.
“£50.00,” I replied. “And easy on the starch.”
Since then I’ve had some spectacular run-ins with that godforsaken institution, all with the same lady. She’s a middle-aged, bespectacled school-marmish old battleaxe with the patience of a saint and the thankless job of disarming angry customers who come bearing gripes and grievances, not to mention armed robbers who come bearing guns and grenades.
Take, for example, the time her employers started deducting six quid a month from my account without my permission so that I could avail of their “free” currency exchange service.
“I didn’t ask for this,” I harrumphed, slamming my statement down on her counter and pointing a meaty forefinger at the bits indignantly highlighted in luminous green ink.
“Well we thought you’d want it, for your trips home to Ireland,” she replied serenely. “Whereabouts in Ireland are you from by the way? My husband and I are thinking of spending our holidays there. Where should we go?”
“Go to Leitrim, it’s lovely,” I growled through gritted teeth. “Now, about these six quids?”
Then there was the occasion when imminent financial meltdown forced me to ask for some much-needed credit. “Can I have an overdraft, please,” I beseeched her.
“Not even a little one?”
“Okay then, what about a loan?”
Oh how she laughed.
And as for the passport. Good jayzus. With holidays looming I realised with horror that mine had expired and unless I could acquire a new one in a couple of days, I’d be going nowhere. Having acquired the necessary forms and mug-shots, I discovered the good people at the Irish embassy needed the ringing endorsements of a padre, a policeman, a doctor, a solicitor or a bank manager. Anyone from the noble professions, basically. Or failing that, a solicitor or bank manager.
Ms Employee of the Month was as courteous as ever: “I’m afraid that unless we know you personally, we can’t offer you a reference,” she smiled. “Do you know any of the staff here?”
“I know you, you fucking bitch. You’re single-handedly trying to ruin my life,” I thought to myself, before meekly mumbling that, “I only know them to see.”
Close, but no cigar.
But now it seems, I’m doing well. Having been jolted out of my reverie by the polyphonic bing-bong announcing that it was my turn to approach the counter, I found myself confronted by the wicked witch of the Nat West once again. With my best gimlet-eyed stare, I handed her the cheque to be lodged along with my card. She took them, pecked at length on her keyboard and peered into her computer monitor to ensure that she had typed out the sentence: “Please ensure that this money does not under any circumstances go into bearer’s account for at least four working days, even though it’s the 21st century and we have the technology to clear it immediately,” without any spelling mistakes.
Then, she spoke: “Mr Glendenning, I wonder if you’d be interested in taking out a loan?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’re a highly valued customer with an excellent credit rating. Would you be interested in taking out a loan?”
“I’m sorry, but I could have sworn you just said that I’m a highly valued customer with an excellent credit rating, would I be interested in taking out a loan?”
“Yes, that’s what I said Mr Glendenning.”
I awoke several minutes later, flat on my back with an oval cartoon lump protruding from the back of my head, having been skillfully resuscitated by two meaty-armed Irish nurses.
It turns out they’re from Sligo.