A taste of Christmas porridge

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The Independent Online
Today, a special Christmas story for shoppers]

JOHN WILMINGTON was what the marketing people call a consumer. He was also what the criminal world call a punter, what the police call Sunshine, and his wife called Jumbo. A man of many parts, indeed. Undismayed by this versatility, he went about his everyday tasks as if he were an ordinary chap, which I'm afraid he was.

But one year John Wilmington decided on a most extraordinary course of action. He would try and get all his Christmas shopping done before Christmas. Reader, have you ever tried to get all your Christmas shopping done before the big day? Have you even tried to get your wrapping done before Christmas Day? If you cannot remember, it is probably because merciful amnesia has wiped away the memory.

To begin with, John Wilmington made good progress. He even had an idea for his wife's present. But then he encountered a difficulty. Having a joint account with his wife, it was hard for him to buy anything by cheque without her knowing. His credit card was near its limit, so there was no way he could buy the present undetected.

At this point he had a brilliant idea. He opened a separate banking account, and put pounds 100 into it. The idea was that he would use the account simply for buying his wife's present. It was a brilliantly simple scheme.

Or so he thought until one day, before he had spent any of the pounds 100, he received a phone call from the bank.

'Mr Mington?' (That was the pseudonym under which Mr Wilmington had opened the temporary account. It had seemed very clever at the time.)

'Yes?'

'We are ringing you about your bank account.'

'Yes? What seems to be the problem?'

'No problem at all, sir. But at its present very high level, we wondered if you wanted to keep so much in your current account, and if you would rather not take advantage of our investment advice.'

John Wilmington knew that these were bad times, even for banks, but he didn't think pounds 100 was excessively high. He said so.

'According to our records, Mr Mington, you are more than pounds 26,000 in credit. Please get in touch when you want to talk about reinvestment.'

This shook John Wilmington, as well it might. He called in at his bank that day and asked to be told the level of Mr Mington's current account. It was pounds 26,050. He did some rapid thinking. Then he did some slow thinking. Then he did the rapid thinking again. He found he had the following options.

1. He could spend the pounds 26,000 before they realised their

mistake.

2. He could transfer the pounds 26,000 to another new account, before they discovered their mistake.

3. He could point out their mistake and say goodbye to the pounds 26,000.

Being an honest man, he chose the latter. The bank found they had indeed paid somebody else's pounds 26,000 into his account by error. They apologised and removed it.

'That leaves your account pounds 20 in credit,' they told him.

'Hold on, hold on,' Mr Wilmington said. 'I put pounds 100 in. It should all still be there.'

'I'm afraid not, sir,' they told him. 'We had to make a charge for the original phone call, then for your appointment to complain about the account, then for the process of removing the pounds 26,000, then for this very interview, which is taking place at the moment - look] There it goes again] Down to pounds 18]'

Mr Wilmington left, before he lost any more money, and closed down the account. But there were more surprises. In mid-December, a man from the Inland Revenue called to ask him about the mysterious bank account he had opened and closed, and through which pounds 26,000 had so unaccountably passed. Failing to convince him with his answers, Mr Wilmington was taken away, and spent Christmas in prison on fraud charges. He was not to know it, but it was the best present Mrs Wilmington could have had, as she was preparing to leave John, whom she had come to hate, and run away with a work colleague.

This Christmas story has been brought to you courtesy of the central clearing banks. Remember - mess around with us and we'll mess around with you] Don't mess around with us, and we'll still mess around with you] Happy Christmas . . .

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