The Keys of the Kingdom

When did you last dial a number? No, I don’t mean stabbed one digit at a key pad, I mean physically poked a finger into a wee hole on a dial and forced the whole shebang to birl, clatter and click into operation.

It would be back in the days when the only significant numbers anyone had to remember were phone numbers. And phone calls were made via land lines, usually after 6p.m. or over the weekend. No-one needed PIN numbers to conduct transactions in the supermarket or the bank; or rather, the higgledy piggledy, family run, licensed grocer’s in the town centre, and the large, imposing, granite building nearby; to be found in every Royal Burgh, from Whithorn to Lerwick. As for passwords, these were the property of wee brothers, skulking around in their foosty, damp gang hut, in a far flung, neglected, corner of the garden.

In 1967, my Mother spent most of an afternoon in a Cambeltown bank and, no, she wasn’t casing the joint nor hostage of some group from the Free Argyll Faction. It was nothing more innocuous than attempting to cash a cheque! Even the fact she was a J.P. had no effect; her account was in a branch far, far away, not in a distant galaxy but in Galloway. Much interrogation and phoning ensued, before, eventually, the cheque was honoured. What a way to spend a sunny, summer afternoon! Especially for me, out on the pavement, with the family dog!

Now, we can stick bits of plastic into slots and, Abracadabra, cash is pushed into our little paws. Alternatively, we can shove the same card into a machine in a shop; pay for goods and receive notes as Cashback. Or that’s the theory. Because this magical dispensing of dosh depends, not on being a director of RBS, but on one’s ability to, at some stage in the proceedings, access a keypad. And there, unfortunately, lies the problem.

For a start, there is no standard design for these machines. Sometimes, the card is inserted at the top; sometimes, the bottom. Sometimes, the keys are separate and distinct; sometimes all squashed together. Sometimes, the keys beep and have to be pressed with a definite push; sometimes, keys modestly remain silent, their sole reaction a shy, barely evident tremor. Thankfully, there is usually a dent or dot on key 5. I won’t embarrass a local shop where a member of staff attempted to file this down; assuming it a defect. The exception to this, as one would expect, is in organisations overseen by the Government. If anyone out there has ever used the keypads in their local Post Office, they will have experienced a machine where, instead of a tactile blob on key 5, there is a faint, narrow line; obvious to the sighted, indistinct to those who actually need it. Is this part of the Machiavellian machinations of the Government? The more difficult it is for the public to use their Post Offices, the fewer folk will use them, and the easier it becomes to demand their closure! Thankfully, we still have a local Post Office, with helpful staff knowing their customers and when best to assist.

However, in certain supermarkets, when I’ve asked, politely, why the keypads are silent, thus making it more awkward for me, I’ve been told the staff find beeps annoying. When I further point out that losing customers to more accommodating concerns will result in a drop in their takings, which their accountants will also find annoying, I’m fobbed off with the spin that beeps are controlled from elsewhere. Is there a wee man somewhere, watching a screen which shows a database with Beep On/ Beep Off beside the location of every shop?

Bank puggies vary, not only between the different banks, but between different branches of the same bank. So, memorising the local one doesn’t ensure that a puggy in Carlisle or Colchester has an identical layout. And, no, contrary to a conversation overheard when I worked with Mr. Dog’s predecessor, a Guide Dog cannot nudge the keys with his nose. Apparently, banks in the Colonies have talking puggies. The freedom! The normality! Inserting the jack plug of a wee set of earphones and discovering how little dosh my account actually holds!

Ah well, at least a tourist who has run out of ready cash needn’t spend hours being interrogated by a bank manager, just to access their own cash. As for us Blinkies, I really should have realised by now, we Drains on Society aren’t meant to have any cash anyway. And as for going on holiday! Well!

© Charlotte Bennie 2010