Alice-Azania Jarvis: 'The ATM ate my card, so it's back to the old counter culture'

In The Red

Organisation and self-discipline are two things I lack, pretty much in equal measure. Because of the lack of the former, I have managed to lose my bank card – a development which, rather miraculously, seems to have helped with the latter.

Last week, the cash machine swallowed my debit card. Initially, of course, I assumed that it was all someone else's fault – that some criminal gang had managed to hack into my account and taken what money I had (not much, admittedly: this would have been the least ambitious gang of all time). The bank must have closed my account in response to its sudden emptying and neglected to tell me about it. Or perhaps the bank suspected some illegal act on my part, and was clamping down in case I fled to assume an alternative life as a bartender in Morocco.

Needless to say, this wasn't the case. In fact, the card-swallowing incident was but the final leg of a much farther-reaching chain of disorganisation on my part. On heading off to university six years ago, I had left my parents' address as mine, collecting my bank statements at the end of each term and shoving them (often unopened) into a bulging folder marked "misc". This continued after I graduated, for the year that I lived with my folks in north London. Then, finally – and this is where it all starts to go really wrong – I moved out of home, but forgot to register this with the bank.

So the statements kept arriving at my parents' house, and they started forwarding them on to me. The first few arrived, and then they slowly trickled off until I barely received any post at all, ever. Not that I noticed.

It turns out that my postman had got fed up with decoding my mum's scrawl and had started simply returning the statements to the bank's headquarters. Four months later, they assumed I'd moved, or died, or something, and confiscated my card. Not an illogical move, but one that – stranded as I was, with empty Oyster card, in Canary Wharf Tube station – did little to soothe my temper.

We figured something out – the HSBC call-centre and me – and arranged for a new card to be posted to my new address. Meanwhile, I've survived on a limited fund of cash withdrawn the old-fashioned way – at a counter, showing my passport – on the odd afternoon that I can make it to a branch before closing time.

And you know what? It's done wonders for my spending. I used to wander the supermarket, picking up any old thing, but with only £20 in my wallet I knew I couldn't do that. So I just bought less, spent less and – who knows? – possibly lost a few pounds along the way.

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