A Child Could Do It

But I can’t.

Not just computer repairs…..supposedly simple things like downloading Whatsapp and making it work, or anything, really when the instructions seem to bear no relation to the reality before me.

I am convinced that to conquer these new worlds you need to have the mind of a child….together with its limited vocabulary and lack of experience of the life in general.

And now I discover that you have to have the physique of a child!

To be fair, this was an ATM, not a computer, but it is all part of the system of infantilism.

Drawing money from an ATM in Costa Rica can be an experience in itself. Mastercard or Visa may declare on their location sites that you can withdraw funds from your foreign accounts on nomatter what machine….can you hell…..

Some Costa Rican banks’ ATMs will take the cards…some will not. Some have rediculously small limits on withdrawals and disproportionatly large commision fees…others claim to have the sky as the limit…but their pie never reaches the sky in your lifetime.

Normally, they just run out of money. Especially on a Friday when the paterfamilias, having had his salary paid into his account, brings the family in from the backwoods to do the shopping for the week. Enters card and all the details..no money. Then ensues a scramble round all the ATMs to find one which will

A accept his card and

B has not already been emptied by other paterfamiliae.

But no need to despair! If all else fails local stores will take his card and cough up money over and above the price of his purchases…as long as his card comes from a Costa Rican state bank, of which there are three. Otherwise, you can sling your hook. After a spectacular private bank failure in the last century businesses will have nothing to do with non state banks…and that includes your foreign abomination.

We have private and business accounts with one of the state three…having changed from another of the state three when our local branch tried to stuff us on currency exchange. We kicked up at their head office and the exasperated lady who dealt with our problem said ‘always the same with these indians… think they can get away with anything’. Not very PC, but Costa Rica in that era was anything but PC and we were out in the sticks with a branch which recruited indigenous staff. Xenophobia is strong in Costa Rica to this day and indigenous bank staff – aka ‘indians’ – are well in the vanguard when it comes to reverse discrimination.

We had found an ATM locally which would cough up which was fine as we could rely on withdrawing money when we did the weekly shop….until it was decided to move it to another area of the supermarket…at which point it was out of action for over a week.

Finally it was installed…but it was not the same style of machine. It lacked all the usual buttons to press….and under the screen there was a handwritten note which said ‘read the instructions’

The note itself was at waist height and the instructions were below, so I had to crouch down to read them. Well, as it turned out, reading was not what was required……..they were all in pictogram form, but even my young days haunting the British Museum did not allow me to work out what they meant.

Could Danilo make head or tail of them?

No, he could not.

We sent for the manager who, equally puzzled, sent for one of the checkout packers, aged about sixteen.

The young man took the card, fiddled about a bit and we had our money.

Was the machine causing problems generally, I asked the manager.

Well, yes…thus the notice, but it is mostly older people who have problems…you see a lot of them can’t bend and all of them expect instructions to be in writing.

So why would the bank design an ATM like this one?

A shrug…..probably dreamed up by one of their young IT people…they’re all illiterate. Still, if you have problems again, don’t hesitate, call one of the packers. Most of them don’t seem to be able to read…but they can work the machine all right.

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The Wanderer`s Return

Princes

I don`t know if you grew up with those illustrated books featuring Victorian images of historical events – you know the sort of thing, the  two princes looking angelic in black velvet before being bumped off in the Tower, Richard Coeur de Lion languishing in his prison while Blondel sings beyond the walls, Boadicea and her daughters being whipped by a Roman tax collector – but if you did then you might be able to help me.

What was the name of the man who walked through London stark naked with a dish of flaming coals on his head and was he foretelling the Great Plague or the Great Fire? Or could it have been the Popish Plot?

The illustration is as clear to me now as when I first turned the page as a child…..but my memory has failed to dredge up either his name or the event he was foretelling, which  is infuriating for one who has always rejoiced in having the memory of an elephant when it comes to trivia while admitting to haziness on more immediately relevent phenomena.

I would like to be reminded because I was thinking of following  his example when visiting my bank in London…apart from the naked bit.

There are limits.

The bank, it appears, wishes to know its customers, or so it says.

Having been a customer of said bank for twenty seven years I feel that if it doesn`t know me by now then it has missed the boat.

It knows that it gets regular payments; it knows I don`t take up its offers of loans to go on holiday, to buy a car or to undertake plastic surgery, let alone buy a house; it knows it is a waste of time to try to sell me insurance; it knows that it has never had the pleasure of charging me for an overdraft and it knows that I am displeased when it makes a mess of a simple transaction because its systems are designed by overpaid cretins who probably do borrow money for holidays, cars and plastic surgery and pay for everything on a credit card so do not understand that I would like to make a transfer without having to find and turn on a mobile `phone in order to receive a code which will be outdated by the time that I have found the right glasses to read it, pressed the wrong button which promptly effaces it, try it again and finally change glasses to read the computer screen.

That is if the whole process hasn`t alerted some Dr. Strangelove security system at the bank which promptly freezes my account.

It is not alone in its lunacy, I know. Leo`s broker in South Africa refuses to deal with his bank as it claims that said bank is money laundering on the basis of regular payments of twenty to thirty quid to Better World Books UK.

What could be more suspect than buying books, after all?

Same broker rashly forwarded internal e mails about the problem which were written in Afrikaans. As Leo has an old fashioned form of Flemish he found the e mails totally clear – if unflattering – and expressed himself accordingly. In Flemish.

So, as Leo`s specialist decided that an op would not be necessary on his broken leg and as mother`s birthday was looming, I took a bolt to the metropolis to allow my bank to renew its acquaintance with me, leaving him in the charge of Danilo and Maria, a Nicaraguan lady we have known for years, to give twenty four hour cover in my absence.

Breaking the habits of a lifetime, I coughed up for a direct flight with British Airways which spared me the hassle of changing `planes in odd corners of the world and suffering the current whims of the bored people manning the security lines.

None of them seem to like the packets of coffee in my carry on bag. Madrid doesn`t like them because they are all regularly square….Toronto thinks that as coffee is organic matter, it could be used in a terrorist attempt….while Amsterdam wants to know why I don`t just buy my coffee in Holland.

All went swimmingly, as I had two empty seats next to me and could thus avoid the nuisance of the man in front of my original seat who, not content with reclining it to its fullest extent imediately after take off, jumped about in it excitedly while watching cartoons on the IFE. He did not even return the seat to its upright position in order to eat…had I been forced to suffer his antics for ten hours he might have received the contents of a container of chicken curry on his cranium. Hot.

Needless to say, an evening spent in the company of an old friend over several tissue restorers removed all wish to emulate he of the flaming coals…just as well, as London was suffering from a deluge which would have doused the fires of hell on the day I set out for the bank.

My regular bus had changed its route as the Mayor of London – whose name and portrait seem to appear all over the place like Big Brother – had decided that too many bus routes served Oxford Street and had had some of them shifted. Thus instead of a two minute stroll I had to leg it for some distance, arriving like the proverbial drowned rat.

It might not have improved my temper, but it is impossible to be angry with the recepionist who does the triage of clients, or with the girls of the counter staff.

They know their bank is not universally beloved of its customers thus it is unfair to ask them to keep smiling while you foam at the mouth and gnaw the carpets….so I asked what more the bank wanted to know about me.

It appeared that it wanted a photocopy of my current passport.

But I could have sent you a certified copy!

No, I could not. That would not do.

It used to do when I lived in France.

Probably trained to observe when a customer was about to brake frith and cracke heads I was directed to a supervisor in an office out of earshot.

Ah! They had noted that my old passport had expired.

And?

They needed my new one, for their records.

Why?

Because they had to know their customers.

It was then that I realised that knowing your customer had nothing whatsoever to do with my banking habits but everything to do with ticking a box. The system could not give two penn`orth of cold gin whether I was likely to run amok with a credit card and blow the entire assets of the bank on botox….it just needed a photocopy.

So why could I not send you a certified copy?

You could…from the U.K. They do it at the Post Office.

Why not from Costa Rica?

Oh, that`s regarded as a dodgy country…a lawyer could be pretending to be you and siphoning off your pension.

Thinking that the average Costa Rican lawyer would regard my state pension as not worth bothering to  pick up if dropped in the street I produced my passport. The photograph  of a wild eyed woman with her hair on end would be enough to convince any bank official that this was not a customer to be encouraged but the box ticker showed no reaction and made her photocopy.

That was it. The bank now, once again, knew its customer.

The rest of the trip passed peacefully: I took Mother to see the film  `Dunkirk` to celebrate her birthday. Made a change from cake and flowers, though her friends had organised that too.

The cinema boasted all round sound and it lived up to its promise. Mines exploded under your seat, bombs unleashed themselves at your head while waves lapped incessantly around you. Mother said that while all the actors were remarkably clean for men who had been retreating for days the film was accurate in reproducing the distinctive sounds of the different aircraft. She had been straffed by a Heinkel when walking home from the sanatorium in Belmont and she remembered it well.

Of course, I had news from the home front in the daily telephone call:

Maria has brought her daughter, Stephanie, with her. (Aged about seven) She has used up all your printing  paper for drawing. (Give her all those old envelopes you hoard…)

Stephanie is using at least one loo roll per day. Is this normal? What does she do with it? (No idea, but stand by to unblock the septic tank…)

She is playing on my computer. I`ve had to use yours. (Aargh!)

I was fed up with rice and beans so I asked Maria to cook me a spaghetti carbonara. (And?) She garnished it with red peppers and coriander…

I don`t need help any more. I`ve sacked Maria. (I know she called me and told me. What you don`t know is that she has arranged for Luzmilla (cleaning woman) to deputise…)

Luz is here and she refuses to go away! (Good luck with that!)

My return trip was uneventful except for the ritual disembowelling of my suitcase at San Jose airport as, once again, I drew the elderly customs officer who regards it as his mission to preserve Costa Rica from outside influences.

Whats`s this?

Chorizo. Spanish.

But you came off the `plane from London.

They sell it in London. Look at the label.

Oh yes…it`s in Spanish. What are these?

Kippers.

Spanish?

No.

Could you open the bag?

On your own head be it.

Jesus Maria, close it up!

So home, to find the house sparkling clean, the dogs pleased to see me and Leo able to walk a short distance with a walking frame that Danilo had made him.

All is well…though I am still looking for either of my two rolling pins……

Where would you put a rolling pin….? Any ideas?

 

The man with live coals on his head….I remember now…he was called Solomon Eagle and it was the Plague.

solomon-eagle-or-eccles-1618-1683-a-quaker-a-pan-of-live-charcoal-D9CXRT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muggers’ Day

flowersThe even tenor of my morning was disturbed by an unwelcome piece of information.

The next day would be Mothers’ Day in the U.K. and, as I had been totally unaware of the hazard, I had not ordered flowers to be delivered to my aged parent.

Panic! Forget to order those blasted flowers and you might as well order a guillotine in kit form and make an end of yourself, otherwise you are in for a bloom by bloom description of the flowers delivered to her friends by their dutiful offspring spread over several ‘phone calls.

Mark you, given the incompetence and downright arrogance of firms these days the guillotine kit would probably arrive with the screws for the blade missing and an instruction to buy your own rope.

Only a few online flower suppliers were still offering delivery on the day so I thought it would be quick work to find something she would like….but we all know what thought did…

Most of what was said to be available proved to be no longer available…and the minutes were ticking down to the delivery deadline – Costa Rica being six hours behind the U.K.

Finally I found a bouquet which I thought would be to her taste. I went through the rigmarole of ordering….and just as I was to confirm found that the delivery date was for the day following Der Tag.

Much bad language followed as I tried to unravel the mysteries of a system which said it could deliver this bouquet on one date and then changed it for another date…but finally I discovered that it could indeed deliver on Mothers’ Day – if I was willing to pay ten quid more! Not so much Mothers’ Day as Muggers Day.

The blazes with that! I just had time to ring her local florist and appeal for mercy.

Mother is getting freesias tonight when the florist’s son gets back from football.

Online transactions are becoming part of our life: for my husband the perusal of Chinese mail order lists happily occupy him as witness the shower of  canine nail clippers, hair scissors, collars, leads, files, watches and mouse traps which have descended upon us in recent weeks.

I have to say that all have been top quality, have a no questions asked return policy – if you can read Chinese addresses – cost bugger all and are despatched post free.

By the look of the local Post Office half the town is similarly engaged in doing its bit to support the Chinese economy in its hour of need and so far the Costa Rican customs have not been holding items to ransom in their lair in the outskirts of San Jose.

Whether this will hold good for the tazer he seems to have ordered remains to be seen …and no, I don’t know how he managed to order it either…

Back up for the mouse traps perhaps…?

Or perhaps he was prescient.

We have been trying to rationalise our various bank accounts online….but banks have developed beyond the Chinese model of trying to please the customer.

The current bank model is, unless the customer is a drug trafficking human rights abuser introduced by Tony Blair (for a consideration), to treat said customer as a drug trafficking human rights abuser not introduced by Tony Blair.

You want to transfer some of your money?  Prove who you are! Prove that the bank to which you wish to to transfer the funds exists!

As proof of the latter seems to consist of producing said bank’s letterhead  the John Bull printing set must be making record sales in Nigeria…

Mark you, since one of the banks concerned is owned by Richard Branson, Britain’s prototype for Donald Trump,  perhaps they have grounds for concern…

Things are no better at the other end.

We’re sending back this money unless you can prove how you came by it! How they expect us to recall where the odd five grand came from is beyond me – it’s just sitting there, where it’s been sitting for the last few years…

So far a collection of old conveyances and actes de vente have provided sufficient cover but at some point some bright spark might notice that the same conveyance has covered a number of transactions…

Add to all this that reaction to mention of the Costa Rican currency – the colon – varies from crude remarks to blank incomprehension in banking circles and you can see that our rationalisation programme is on a hiding to nothing.

Still, the human touch still exists.

On Monday I shall be going in to my local bank branch to pick up my new bank card.

I had gone in to do this on Friday and waited for half an hour while increasingly frantic staff hunted for it high and low. Eventually, after consulting the computer and calls to Head Office, it was suggested that I go home and that they would call me  when they had a solution.

I had been home half an hour when the call came.

They had my card after all.

It had fallen down the back of the filing cabinet.