Living Between the Lines

“A HANDbag?”

A handbag?

I am calm now. I am much calmer now than I was yesterday and twice as calm as I was the day before but it has taken me a while to reach this state of calmness. Even as I write I can feel the rage begin to bubble up again. Whew! Well, maybe I should explain…

A year ago, some ‘chancer’ stole my identity. She opened accounts at various stores miles from where I live or shop, in my name and using my address. She got away with hundreds of pounds worth of goods for which I was then invoiced. I of course disputed the charges and the stores involved were very helpful. For one thing she had been buying from ‘Evans’, a store that specialises in outsized clothes. I am a petite UK size 10.

I was told that this person had used a forged driving license as proof of ID, the digits of which were only slightly different to my own. After a long, drawn out ordeal of providing ID and passwords so that in future, if I applied for credit, I would not be blacklisted, I thought all was well. I supplied a photocopy of my driving license and everything went on record. However, the stores had informed my bank. My bank was Abbey National PLC (recently taken over by Santander (pronounced Santandare) AKA Santan-don’t).

A couple of weeks later, Abbey/Santander informed me that they had blocked my card though the first I knew of this was when I tried to use it. No worries, they said. They could unblock the card if I popped into the bank with some ID. I did this. I did this several times over the next few months. They blocked our joint accounts too. At one point both Dave and I were having to go into the bank daily to have the cards unblocked and wait an hour or more while phone calls were made and passwords authorised.

In the end, they told me the only way to stop the cards being blocked every time we tried to use them, was for us to open up completely new accounts. Naturally, we elected to do this.

Abbey/Santander duly sent me a new card and cheque book for my new personal account. Completely fed up with Santander by now, Dave and I opened new accounts with a much nicer, more  kindly and more friendly bank – Nat West. We transferred all our money across. Could we close the old accounts? Er no, apparently not. Why not? Search me! However, we had no intention of using any of them again.

That is the background of the saga.

I really thought we had heard the last of Santander. How wrong could I be?

On Monday my daughter transferred some money she owed me into, yes, you guessed it, the Santander account.  She had those details on file still. They accepted it. My blood ran cold when I realised that I might have to go into the bank to withdraw it.

It couldn’t be so bad could it? Could it???!? Let me take you there.

Well, here I am, standing in the queue with my new bank card at the ready. I want to withdraw £140. It should take me a couple of minutes. I have stood in the queue for 10 minutes.

I glance at the clock, 2.55pm

“Anyone paying in cheques or cash only?” asks a chap from the front desk, eyes roaming the queue eagerly. The woman in front of me is persuaded to go with him and pay cash into the machine with his help. I move up a place.

Presently, I turn round to see the woman is back in the queue a few people behind me.

“I am back in the queue -it didn’t work,” she grins.

“Please, come in front, you lost your place…” I offer, stepping aside. The woman shakes her head. She is happy to stay where she is.

Five minutes later the man who has been waiting at the cashier’s desk all this time, gets moody and leaves empty handed. A few customers look at him.

“Why is he so moody? Some people have no patience…” their eyes say.

I know better. He was frustrated and could not get past the apologetic shrug of the shoulders of the cashier he’d been speaking to. I am full of sympathy for him.

There are four booths. There are only two cashiers. For some reason, most transactions require the attention of both of them so progress is slow. At one point one of them disappears for minutes at a time and the other is sorting out paperwork. We seem to have reached stalemate.

The queue controller is still trying to wheedle people out of it to go and try his magic machine which does not actually seem to be working very well.

Finally, the queue starts moving forward again. To my right, a young couple are shifting from foot to foot and eyeing the clock testily. A few words are exchanged. Another few minutes go by and I am finally approaching the cashier.

“Thank you for waiting,” she chimes brightly.

“That’s ok,” I say when really, I am thinking that it isn’t ok, this is all too familiar, the long wait, the disgruntled customers…I hope I will get out of here quickly.

“I’d like to take £140.00 out from this account please.”

“No problem, one moment please…”

(All going well so far!)

“Oh, there seems to be a block on this account – do you know why?” she asks, staring at her screen. I take a deep breath.

(Keep calm now.)

“Well, it should be a new account and there should not be a block on it. It was set up to replace one that I did have problems with,” I explain. I say a little more but you get the gist.

“Ah, well, I will need to phone the ‘fraud department.’ Excuse me a moment,” she smiles, and disappears into the nether regions of the bank. I glance at the queue. It is very, very long.

I glance at the clock, 3.10pm.

“They are asking if you have a driving license with you for ID?” she smiles, returning after a couple of minutes.

I hand her my paper license, she waves away the photo card. I wait.

I glance at the clock, 3.20pm.

The queue is positively bristling.

“I’m sorry, they are asking for the photo license too,” she smiles, popping back for a nanosecond.

I wait again. The second cashier has picked up speed and is almost cracking through the queue now. The smiling woman who lost her place waves as she leaves.

I glance at the clock, 3.29pm.

“They say a completely different license was used to withdraw money from the account last time?” She waits for my response. I am speechless.


(Keep calm.)

(Deep breath.)

“This is my license. I don’t have another.”

“Well, they say they can’t accept this?”

It is unnerving the way she keeps asking me questions as though I have any answers.

“Do you have a utility bill on you?”

I sigh, I must sound exasperated. I shake my head, of course I don’t. Though now, with hindsight, I think I might have foreseen this and brought one but no, I thought my photo ID and driving license would be sufficient.

Silly me!

Behind me, the queue is straining though thankfully, not everyone in it knows how long I have stood here. Cashier number two has been doing a sterling job.

“Ok, so, can I speak to your manager please?” I ask, in level tones.

My cashier waves her hands apologetically and shrugs her shoulders.

“I can try and find one for you,” she says unconvincingly. I wait. She turns and heads off to hunt down a manager. I step away from the cashier’s desk and the queue and stand in the middle of the bank, waiting.

She returns shaking her head.

“Both the managers are in meetings. They won’t be out for some time. You’ll just have to wait,” she says.

The phrase, “Red rag to a bull!” springs to mind.

I am momentarily furious, so furious that I probably sound like Lady Bracknell from  Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of being Earnest” when she utters the immortal line,

“A handbag?”

Only I am saying,

“I’ll just have to wait?”

She is obviously surprised by my tone. I am surprised by my tone.

“It’s not my fault you see,” she begins. I forestall her. It is not her fault of course. She is merely the messenger.

“No, it is not your fault and I suppose I will just have to come back another time but it does remind me why I left this bank in the first place,” I say.

She apologises again and I leave. Yes, just like that. I dare not say anything else.

I glance at the clock, it is 3.45pm.

Tomorrow, a calmer, less volatile me will go into the bank again armed with a utility bill, driving license, passport and perhaps my mother(I jest but  if only she lived near enough!) surely one of those will vouch for my identity.

Will there be a queue? Will my patience be tested again? Will Lady Bracknell make a comeback?

“Is the Pope Catholic?”

But I am calm now. Oh yes, very calm…

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Patricia

    Oh I know this all too well and I am sorry you had to experience it – It is awful and infuriating.

    My brother married a woman with my same first name and middle initial…now the same last name. Through this marriage she got out of quite a bit of debt with the name change.

    In 4 years of marriage she ran up bills at the video store, most clothing shops, the veterinarian’s and then divorced my brother and changed her name. For years my children worried about the bill collections folks who came to our door with a warrant for my arrest and served me papers. There is still one store where I can not shop and most of the doctors and dentists have figured it out.

    A fellow in Dublin, Ireland figured out my credit card number and bought a car and plane tickets – his mistake was he did it all in one day – alerted the card company, and I did not have to pay, just get a new card

    Oh these people – what they put us through.

  • Katie Gates

    Oh, the lines! The lines! (As we call them here.) My condolences to you. This story reminded me of what I call my “grocery store karma.” Once, while standing in line with a shopping basket full of food, a shopper behind me uttered a question to no one in particular: “Why isn’t this line moving?” I wanted to turn around and say, “Because I’m in it!”

  • Deb

    If this were fiction, no one would believe it. However frustrating it was for you, the reading of the story is some of the best entertainment I’ve had in a while.

  • Andrea Carlisle

    Maybe we should all start taking utility bills and our mothers wherever we go. This sort of thing happens more and more often, but few have written about it quite this way.
    Congratulations on the BON. Wouldn’t have discovered you otherwise and am glad I did.

Leave a Reply