Be careful what you joke about because it may come back to bite you! In last week’s blog I made merry about the jovial mix-ups that occur when people confuse me with my better known namesake, Rab C Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison. (Ian with one ‘i’ but not thankfully in the middle of his head.)
And I offered commiserations to those poor scribes who share a similar moniker to more famous authors, which immediately led to me being followed on Twitter by writer Steven King – whose only flirtation with horror is, well, following me on Twitter.
But my jesting about identity obviously irked the gods of mirth who decided that it was time to teach me a lesson about what it’s really like when you can’t prove who you are. And so they set THE BANKERS on me!
Out of the blue (or given the size of my overdraft, red might be more appropriate) a letter arrived from my internet financial institution of choice to inform me that despite us sharing a deep and meaningful digital relationship for more than a decade, they’d decided they didn’t know who I was anymore. And if I couldn’t convince them pretty damn quick they’d assume that, despite my only attempt at money laundering being leaving a fiver in my jeans back pocket on an economy spin cycle, they’d have to assume I was a danger to society, hell-bent on moving around my ill-gotten international gains.
What? More of a threat to the global finance system than anyone in Canary Wharf?!?
The answer, the letter said, was simple. I could furnish them with copies of relevant documents to prove my legitimacy and address.
All I needed do was supply photocopies (Ah – the high level security of it all) of my passport, driving licence plus any one of numerous utility statements that featured my name prominently on them. This was fool-proof, the bank pointed out, because the leaders of international drug cartels don’t have access to Xerox machines or gas bills, and would certainly never consider doing anything as unsporting as getting a false passport or driving licence.
I’d have to take my hack-proof photocopies to be verified by one of a list of trustworthy, upstanding, righteous pillars of society who could vouch that they’d known me since I was in nappies. And that’s where my problems began.
I suddenly realised that I didn’t know a doctor. We’ve not long been with our GP and I doubt he’d recognise me if I poked him somewhere painful with a BUPA card. Neither did I know a policeman, a minister of the church, an airline pilot, an optician (can you see your way to signing these?), a Trade Union Official, a Salvation Army Officer (although the way my book sales are going I might meet one soon) a funeral director (likewise), or a person with honours (what, like Sir Fred “The shred” Goodwin?) I could, the letter suggested, maybe get a chief petty officer to sign the docs, but alas they all seemed to be away on the Russian convoys…
So this led me to option 2. The video call!
Fast, slick, hassle-free and ever so Digital Age. They’d call me on my computer and we’d rap about this and that and while we were interfacing I could hold up my passport and say: “And this is my passport” and hold up my driving licence saying: “And this is my driving licence” and hold up my international crime syndicate membership card and say… er… um…
I was dubious. The last time I’d attempted something like that was at Disneyworld 15 years ago when, in trying to book a table for the underwater themed restaurant, I’d had to operate a touch screen viewer and was startled beyond reason by a giant face wearing a cheesy grin and Mickey Mouse ears who suddenly appeared, bellowing: “And how are we today, folks?”
The months of counselling were very expensive…
So it took my wife holding a gun on me to make me dial the magic number. Needless to say, as with many other thousands of other unsuspecting crime lords, I was subjected to the usual “Please hold, you are in a stacking system. Your call is important to us – but not enough to employ sufficient operators.”
After 20 minutes I got through, to learn that over the decade that I hadn’t used it I’d forgotten my telephone banking password. My guess at “bail-out 2008” was wrong. It wasn’t “evil money-grabbers” either. So I had to renew all my security – then I was put ON HOLD!!!!
Another 20 minutes. You know, there’s only so much Vivaldi that a man can take.
Eventually, I was connected – to be told that all the video calls for the day had already been allocated. But hey, they could probably fit me in sometime during the next three days.
I pointed out that I was descended from a long line of serial killers, which seemed to impress the chap, who swiftly discovered that a slot had miraculously become free; in five minutes.
Which would it be, I enquired, Skype or Facetime? Neither, he replied and instructed me to download a communications program I’d never heard of.
Promptly, five minutes later, they rang me. While the bloody new program was crashing upon my iPad and I was demonstrating that half of my vocabulary would be readily understood by any passing Anglo-Saxon.
A frantic reload and the damn thing was working – but baffling. The young man on the phone fired instructions at me… hit that icon, press that button, ignore that message, post early for Christmas. Then magically he was there on my screen, in Technicolor, and thankfully not wearing giant mouse ears.
But if he thought this was going to be a doddle, he was in for a big disappointment. In a mixture of rage, fear and annoyance that he was expecting me to grasp the phone while holding down the shift key on the keyboard while also typing in letters and numbers, I pointed out that I didn’t have three hands…
He suggested sweetly that I could put the phone on to loudspeaker mode to free up my right hand.
I replied, less sweetly, that if I could do advanced, funky, techie things like that with a phone I’d have got a real job instead of being a writer.
The farce continued as I had to make the iPad camera switch to the back of the device and then hover it over my documents as if I was acting in a very bad 1960s spy movie. Quick, Ivan hide the microfilm! My young chum took photos at his end – don’t ask me how!
And eventually it was over. He rashly asked if I had any questions. I had a ten-minute rant about the absurdity of the whole exercise. He was miffed but polite. We parted company knowing that, unlike Steven King, he would never be following me on Twitter.
It was then that I noticed that I could have got my dentist of 25 years to sign photocopies and I needn’t have put myself through the face-to-face fiasco. A chilling thought remained, however. Did this mean like many other millions of other stiffs my identity could only be confirmed by my dental records!
Does this sound familiar? Have you had a similar experience? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment to share all the gory details.