It's an act of faith placing your bank card into a cashpoint machine. You might scrutinise the machine's metal front for evidence of potential tampering, just for a split second, but generally there's no reason why your card shouldn't be completely entrusted to the mechanised interior. You push your small plastic rectangle into the little slot, watch it disappear, do your business and then expect your card to come back. I've been using cashpoints for twenty years (because they're bloody convenient and they save queueing inside the bank for hours) and nothing's gone wrong yet. Until yesterday, that is.
There's a pair of cashpoints on the landing halfway down the escalators at Cutty Sark DLR station. It's always struck me as a strange place for a financial facility, suspended in some artificial transport netherworld, but at least it's usually quiet. It was very quiet yesterday afternoon so I decided to stop off and withdraw some money. I didn't really need some, I could have survived a few more days on the cash content of my wallet, but the convenience of the opportunity attracted me. Drat. And I could have chosen the cashpoint on the right rather than the cashpoint on the left because they were both available, but I didn't. Double drat.
I didn't mean to ask for a balance enquiry on my account, I just pressed the wrong button. Never mind, I thought, I'll just go through the motions, wait a bit and then request a withdrawal. Alas no. It was at this point that the cashpoint's internal computer rebooted. I was no longer being presented with procedural options, just a screenful of technical processing commands - rather like watching a late 20th century PC spluttering back into life after some random internal glitch. The rebooting continued, very very slowly, with more techie gibberish followed by complete and utter blankness. Damn. I stood helplessly watching the empty slot from which it was becoming increasingly evident my card was never going to return. A succession of other travellers used the cashpoint to my right, successfully each time, probably wondering why on earth I was hanging around quite so suspiciously by their side. And finally the stark green words Temporarily Out Of Service flashed up on my screen, and my monetary bereavement was complete.
This is presumably where you expect me to tell you of my continued tale of woe. How I checked my online bank statement and discovered several mammoth withdrawals from a high street I've never visited. How I rang my bank's service centre and spent fifteen munutes struggling to explain to an illiterate foreigner that my card had mysteriously vanished. Or how I'm going to be left destitute for weeks before my replacement card arrives. But no. A human being with a friendly Scottish accent answered my call a split-second after I pressed the button for 'stolen or lost cards'. My replacement card and PIN number should be arriving separately in the post within the week. And if I need any money in the meantime all I have to do is pop into any Abbey branch with photo ID and a bank statement and they'll pay up. Not all UK customer service is yet crap. Hurrah! Although I do have this nagging doubt that as many as three important letters have disappeared on their way to my letterbox over the past few weeks, so I'll not start feeling too optimistic until my new card arrives. And damn, I used to know my 16-digit card number off by heart - now I'll need to learn a new one...