Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Letter from the Bank

I had a letter from my bank the other day and my immediate reaction was to ring up my bank manager and complain. Then I recalled I don’t have a bank manager and I hate phoning at the best of times. When I worked... No, I’ll rephrase that. When I was employed in a job as opposed to being a part-time house husband, part-time parent and part-time carer (of myself) I had to make telephone calls. I did not enjoy making telephone calls but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. They don’t allow any sort of assessment of the other person’s reaction, they reduce think before you speak (and put foot in it) time and are generally no substitute for a face to face conversation or a well thought-out memo.

Then, one day, I rose to those dizzy heights where I had a secretary, who very quickly became a P.A. and a close colleague, and, even more quickly, became indispensable. My life changed in a way which it hadn’t done since my last child was born! (And, like all good P.A.s she remains a friend to this day.)

Firstly, I had someone to screen my calls. I had never been one to shy away from taking calls from the public – unlike many of my colleagues – but there were plenty of officials I shied away from if possible. No longer could the telephone dictate my life. Have you ever tried getting past a secretary who wants her boss to have five minutes peace or an uninterrupted conversation with a member of staff. I can guarantee if the secretary or P.A. is any good it’s impossible.

Secondly, I had someone to take all those routine calls off my back. No longer did I have to ring a colleague to agree a meeting time and place, or answer a minor query – I had a P.A. to talk to their P.A. And, (yes, I know it was naughty) this even extended into the big outside world so if I was going to be five minutes late picking Richard up from school or needed the car booking into a garage, I had someone to do it for me.

Imagine how I crashed down to earth when I left work. Suddenly I had to make some of these calls myself. Jo made some of them for me but there were some she couldn’t for the simple reason that she was out at work. Incoming calls were no problem – everyone spoke to an answerphone; as they do to this day.

Despite my dislike of the phone I carried on making calls for a while until one day it all became too much. My stress and heart problems had already exacerbated a short fuse which tended to get lit whenever I came across blatant inefficiency and bureaucracy. Then, I came across people who called me a liar. Take, for example, the call centre person in India who told me that I couldn’t have been expecting an engineer to install an extra Sky box for the kitchen because it wasn’t on the computer. The last call shown on the computer was twelve months earlier. The fact that I had the Sky box, delivered efficiently by Royal Mail, in my hand and a piece of paper which said when the engineer was due, was irrelevant. I was wrong. I hadn’t called in the last twelve months. The phone got slammed down and has hardly ever been picked up since.

By agreeing passwords one can arrange for one’s partner to speak to certain organisations on one’s behalf. However, as a security measure they demand to speak to me first so I can give them the password. If I were in a civil partnership and not a marriage I wouldn’t have to speak at all but unfortunately Jo cannot imitate a male. What, I ask myself is the purpose of this ridiculous rule which simply ensures that 50% of the population cannot make a call on your behalf by pretending to be you but the other 50% can!

Then there are banks which demand a male voice for the whole phone call. They, of course, are in a different time zone (it’s 3 a.m. and they are bored and tired and it’s the monsoon season and they’ve a long way to cycle home) and couldn’t care less about your £120 problem since that is more than their annual take home pay! And, it was the bank’s latest missive that sent me down this whole road but I sidetracked myself so much the original story will have to wait for another day.....

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