Tim Key: 'He asked me how the weather was... then we got down to the nitty gritty of clearing security'

My friend was morphing into Noel Edmonds and I didn't like it
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The Independent Online

'You have to get it right this time. Think very carefully." These were the words of the Indian man I was talking to on Wednesday. It was the most pressurised situation of my week; a chill gropes my spine when I recall it.

The problems began on Monday morning. I rode a train to work and in the excitement of it all I lost my Barclays debit card. My own fault. It was loose in my pocket and it must have just slithered out, or else a hand had slithered in. Either way, when I went to pay for my ham, cheese and tomato croissants at a Sydenham Pret, my anorak pocket was cardless. I put a couple of the croissants back, paid for the rest with coins, and walked to a quiet space to cancel my card ending in 5252 and reorder my new one, ending in God knows what. I tried to get excited.

I squatted by a bollard and phoned the number people like me have to phone about once every three or four months, when our cards slither away. I did various automated things involving numbers and stars and eventually found myself talking to such a nice Indian man that nothing seemed half as bad any more. He asked me how the weather was in London; I said it was grey, and then we got down to the nitty gritty of clearing security. He would ask me a few questions, I'd answer them correctly because they would be about me, and then we'd press on with cancelling, reordering, and generally having a nice time.

"What is your mother's maiden name?" Easy. Black. Same as her hair used to be.

"And tell me a direct debit that leaves your account every month?" Easy. I've just done my taxes, I know how much O2 are stinging me for.

"Good, and last question. Tell me a credit you've had in the last month."

Nope. I don't know that kind of information for two reasons. First, after a bleak decade of being stony-broke, I have a habit of not opening bank statements for fear that the contents will make me throw up. Second, my incomings are unpredictable. Things trickle in, is the truth of it. I don't know when or in what quantities...

"I'm going to need an answer."

"I don't know."

"I'm going to have to press you." Increasingly my friend was morphing into Noel Edmonds and I didn't like it. I felt tense, sat underneath a metaphorical tank of gunge, terrified of getting it wrong.

"£1,200?" There was a pause. The chap was milking it. Then, "I'm afraid you failed to get past security. You have to go into your local branch." The gunge.

I think we stopped being friends at this point. Certainly, I've never asked to speak to a friend's supervisor. I asked him for another question; he was adamant that I had to answer the one on his card. I explained how debit cards are crucial to the whole London way of life; he explained that he could still block my old card but couldn't send out a new one. I covered the phone with my hand and yelled and eventually, like the good friend he was, he offered me an olive branch.

"I can give you one last question." I didn't imagine his erratic improvising could be Barclays policy.

"Great. Thank you."

"You have to get it right this time. Think very carefully."

"Just give it me, Tarrant."

"Where were you born?"

"Mill Road maternity hospital, Cambridge, September 1976. I was late – my mother had to carry me for two extra weeks in a heatwave."

He paused. The audience leaned forward, excitedly... "You've passed security. You'll have your card in two to five working days."

I hung up and threw my phone high into the air. I hugged some bystanders. Fantastic. I was back on the grid!

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