The scenario will be like this. I am buying some vital summertime household item in a reputable store, such as a hammock or a man-size cactus plant, and after a bit of haggling I agree to pay the full price. I hand over my credit card. The assistant makes me sign all the forms, and then goes behind the scenes, saying: "Just a moment, please."
Now, if this were happening in a restaurant, I'd know what was going on. The waiter would be retiring to a safe corner to make a note of my credit card number, my signature and my details so that he could later make lots of purchases in my name. Maybe he even has a machine in the kitchen that reproduces credit cards on the spot. I don't know. Fair enough, though.
But the scenario in the big department store where I buy my cactus and hammocks is different. I know that behind the scenes the assistant is talking to a Mr Robinson and saying, "I think there's something funny about this payment ..."
And the reason she is saying this is that my signature on the form doesn't look much like the signature on the credit card.
And the reason she is saying this is that I have just received a new credit card. And when I came to obey the instructions ("Cut your old credit card in 10,000 tiny pieces and burn each one in a separate bonfire, then sign your new card AND NEVER EVER LOSE SIGHT OF IT except of course in a restaurant when letting a waiter have it to take to his little machine in the kitchen to make thousands more like it ") I tried to sign the new card, and found that there wasn't enough room on the little strip for my normal signature so I made a mess of it, and now the signature on my credit card looks as if it belongs to Mike Kim.
Am I the only one who thinks that the signature space on modern credit cards does not correspond to the size of modern signatures? Over the years I have worked out a fairly consistent signature which, if my mind is elsewhere, I can always reproduce accurately. (If I am trying to concentrate, I make a mess of it. Signing your name is one of those things that have to be done without thinking about them, like reversing a car into a small space, carrying a very full glass of water, or dancing the waltz.) But when I try to get this familiar signature on to a credit card, my pen slides off the strip at top and bottom and while I am trying to force it back on again, my signature goes all agley, like a car rolling from side to side of the road after hitting the kerb.
So I end up called Mike Kim on my credit card.
But I sign my credit card slip from Miles Kington. And the lady in the department store hurries away to consult Mr Robinson before sending for the police.
Which brings us fleetingly to Princess Diana.
Princess Diana has recently won pounds 15m in the Royal National Lottery, but lost her right to be called Her Royal Highness. A few people felt sorry for her and a lot of people felt that she was a lot more overpaid than any MP will ever be, but my immediate reaction was to think: Clever girl, she now has more of a chance of getting her name on to her credit card than she had before. Previously, she had to sign herself as "HRH Princess of Wales" or some such, but now she can get away with something a lot shorter. Whatever she's called now. (You can tell that I am not sure how these titles work. I myself was once divorced, and my ex-wife decided to keep the title she had gained through marriage, but as the title was only Mrs Kington, it never made the front page of the News of the World.)
The trouble with credit cards is that you don't get a second chance to do your signature. Whatever you write in that little strip is there for years and years. My only chance now is to painstakingly change my everyday signature to make it look more like the one signed by "Mike Kim" on my credit card, or even change my name by deed poll to Mike Kim. Or perhaps I could get it done by machine. These days, whenever you are trying to write a cheque out in a department store, the assistant always tries to stop you by saying, "No, we print the cheque for you," or more commonly, when you ask who it should be made payable to, "It's all right, we've got a stamp." Then they hand the cheque to you, together with a pen, for signature. At which point, I will reject the pen and say, "It's all right, I've got a stamp" and produce a printing stamp that has an exact reproduction of Mike Kim's signature on it.
It's a bit dodgy. But it's better than being arrested for credit card fraud.