I was always rather sceptical of those who complained about putting their card into an ATM and getting nothing out. Until it happened to me. The card went in; the machine asked for the pin, produced the menu and returned the card. So far, so normal. But after clicking and whirring, it printed out a receipt, thanking me for withdrawing £100 – although I had done nothing of the kind. Not a note in sight. There followed a message saying "Do not re-enter your pin" – well, no, I wasn't going to risk a repeat performance – and the machine took itself "temporarily out of service". How temporarily, I wondered.
The next morning I returned to the branch concerned to complain about their ATM. I was reasonably confident the problem was with the ATM, not the card, as another machine at another bank had yielded cash 20 minutes later without a hitch.
I hadn't really expected the branch to refund my £100 just like that. After all, you can't have just anyone walking into a bank and saying the ATM cheated them at dead of night, and here's the rogue receipt, thank you very much. But you might have thought – or rather I foolishly thought – that a bank branch might be a bit concerned, or even mildly interested – about the possible malfunctioning of its ATM, especially if the complainer was brandishing a valid card and two remittance slips, one for a supposedly successful but actually failed transaction at their machine, and one successfully completed at someone else's.
But, no. The clerk seemed profoundly indifferent, and said that it was a matter for the "card issuer", which – of course – wasn't them. Forms had to be received and sent back, and then, in most cases, I was told, the money was refunded. It would take two to three weeks. I couldn't resist responding that this would be quite a long time if your balance was hovering around zero.
By now, I was feeling that their insouciance about a malfunctioning machine wasn't quite right and asked for the manager – forgetting that there isn't one bank manager any more, but several. Anyway, a very reasonable female manager explained it all again, with one improvement. Unless you have to "go into dispute", she said, a refund will be arranged over the phone.
In passing, though, she said they had had problems with this ATM, that it had been "completely rebuilt" not a week before, since when there had been fewer problems. Fewer? Well, it turns out that this central London ATM is used several thousand times a day and that only 1 per cent of these transactions goes awry. If you think, though, 1 per cent of, say, 6,000 is 60, that seems quite a large number of people to be inconvenienced by one machine every day. Is it not complacent, to say the least, that this – and the sums that must be refunded – is seen as an acceptable rate of failure?
Ring, ring, who's not there?
All the phones were down in Ambridge last week, after the village fell victim to the crime de nos jours – the theft of copper wire. With the near desperation that ensued, however, you would have thought that the invention of the mobile phone had quite passed the Archers by.
My own view, which crystallised last week when I suddenly realised how redundant the phone on my desk had become, is that the landline has five years, no more, before it goes the way of the telegram. Think of the savings: no handsets, no maintenance, no switchboard. Perhaps even, in time, no infuriating call centres.
My desk phone is set to a very low volume so – apologies to anyone who might have tried in vain to raise me – it doesn't get answered that often. But then, judging by the small number of messages left, not that many calls come in. I would guess that email and mobile phone account for more than 95 per cent of my office communications. And the only real justification for keeping a landline at home is that it supplies the wireless hub for internet access. If, as it promises, Westminster starts to offer wi-fi coverage across the borough, the rationale for keeping the landline will be zero.