Saturday, 17 September 2011

A howl of rage into the void

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Warning for length. But this is a story that must be told in its full, gory glory.


I am shaking with rage. I can feel it roiling in my stomach, shuddering down my arms, making my fingers judder on the keyboard.

I have just been told I do not exist.

It all started off quite normally. I drove down to the village to do some errands. I went to the chemist to get things for my cold, had a lovely chat with the pharmacist (I love pharmacists; I love their knowledge and certainty), made some jokes with the charming blonde girl on the till and the young, immaculately dressed young man who has just come to work there.

Then, my card did not work. No matter; I had some cash. I thought it was a computer glitch. Even my tiny chemist in my small village has vast, humming, black computer tills, which often misbehave. We have laughed about it in the past.

When I get home I think that I will just quickly call the bank to check, before I settle down to my work.

It takes some time to get through to a human. In the process, an electronic voice tells me the balance in my account is NIL. I have a momentary panic. There is, for once, some cash in my account, because the heavenly Russians bought the book, so that I am flush with roubles.

Never mind, I think. More glitchiness. Soon I shall speak to a person and all manner of things shall be well.

I finally get an operative. She asks me security questions, as she should. I breeze through them, quickly, efficiently, wanting to get the thing done and everything explained and fixed.

‘You have failed the security check,’ says the operative.

‘What?’ I say.

‘You will have to go into your local branch with photographic identification,’ she says.

‘No, no,’ I say. ‘It is a Saturday. I live in the middle of nowhere. I have a lot of work to do. I cannot be driving about the country with my identification. I know who I am.’

‘You have failed the security check,’ she repeats, reprovingly.

‘All right,’ I say. ‘Which question did I get wrong?’

‘I cannot tell you that.’

‘Well,’ I say. ‘I know that I am myself; I know that I gave you correct information. Let’s just run through them again to make sure.’

‘That is not protocol,’ says the operative.

‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Well, how about you ask me another question? I have been banking with you for twenty-three years. I know I exist. Let’s try again.’

‘That is not protocol,’ says the operative.

‘I see,’ I say, although I do not see at all. ‘Well, do you think I could talk to your supervisor?’

I am put on hold. A Mozart trumpet sonata plays at me, jaunty, mocking, slightly distorted. I wait. And wait.

Eventually, the operative returns.

‘The supervisor is not available,’ she says. Is there a tiny note of triumph in her voice, so high that really it can only be heard by dogs?

‘Well,’ I say. ‘There must be a solution to this. I am all about solutions. I know I have not been kidnapped by space aliens and replaced with a pod. This cannot be beyond the wit of woman.’

‘The supervisor says that specially trained personnel can ask you further security questions,’ says the operative, slightly unwilling.

‘Brilliant,’ I say, firmly. ‘Put me onto them.’

‘They can call you back in two hours,’ says the operative.

‘No,’ I say. ‘Let’s get this sorted out now. We are not doing neurosurgery. We are not building the Large Hadron Collider from scratch. Perhaps you could ask me the further questions?’

‘I am not trained for that.’

‘What is this?’ I say. ‘Do you have to be instructed by NASA? We are not doing espionage. Have your personnel been trained by the CIA? Are they in a specially reinforced bunker?’

‘They can call you in two hours,’ says the operative.

‘Listen,’ I say. ‘I don’t want to get cross with you. I know this is not your fault. I understand that you are trapped in a bureaucratic maze not of your own making. But really, this is absurd.’

‘Two hours,’ she repeats.

At which point, I’m afraid I lose it. I do not shout, but a stream of clichés pours out of me like sewage. I actually use the expressions ‘Kafkaesque nightmare’, and ‘Sartrean circle of hell’, and ‘existential meltdown’, and ‘ontological freefall’.

‘I know that I am who I say I am,’ I explain, again. ‘There is clearly some mistake at your end. We must be able to solve it.’

‘It is not protocol,’ she says, again. She is good at this. If I were not so despairingly furious, I would be impressed.

‘My God,’ I say. ‘This is like something out of the Stepford Wives.’

I have a crackling vision of them all, in their windowless, neon-lit office, where they were probably programmed by Fred Goodwin himself, before his disgrace and fall. I can hear him cackling as he imagines the endless misery of the real people on the other end of the telephone.

‘This is like one of those films with Liam Neeson,’ I say. ‘Where he arrives in Berlin and says hello I’m Dr Johnson and the receptionist says Oh I’m sorry, Dr Johnson checked out three hours ago.’

There is a pause.

‘I understand,’ says the operative, gingerly, ‘that you are frustrated.’

‘No,’ I say. ‘I am not frustrated. I am filled with rage and impotence. I cannot tell you how extraordinary it is to be told that you do not exist.’

We go round for a bit more. The unstoppable force has met the immovable object. Eventually, she grinds me down.

‘All right,’ I say. ‘I give up. The Royal Bank of Scotland has won. Get your CIA-trained operative to ring me back.’

She takes the number. She repeats it back to me, incorrectly.

‘Oh,’ I say, bright again. ‘I see what has happened. You have that number wrong. Is there not a possibility that when I gave you the original answers, you misheard? That this is all human error? I am sure you are brilliant at your job, but it can happen to the best of us.’

She bridles.

‘I check all the information with the computer,’ she says.

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Of course you do. But what if you did not hear right, like you did just now with the telephone number? What if when I said B for my postcode, you heard P?’

‘I check it as I go along. I follow protocol.’

‘But,’ I say. ‘Just in case, you could ask the questions again.’

‘No, I cannot do that. That is not correct procedure.’

‘But why?’ I say.

This floors her.

‘Because it is not procedure,’ she says, eventually.

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘But why is the procedure like that? What is it designed for? Does it assume that in the gap between the first asking and the second asking I shall run down to the cellar, where I have the real Tania Kindersley tied up with gaffer tape, and force her to give me the correct postcode?’

Another pause.

‘I do not have that information,’ says the operative. Those were her exact words.

So the brick wall was hit. The Stepfords had won. I was no longer a real person, but a mere computer error, a technological imposter, an incorrect number.

I apologise to the operative for being cross. It really is not her fault. This is what happens now. The human may not rage against the machine, because the machine always wins.

Here is the really strange thing. This is not my original post. I sat down to write it a while ago, was just really cooking, had got to the bit about the CIA and the Kafkaesque nightmare, when my computer TURNED ITSELF OFF.

I had no control. Everything shut down: click, click, click. I watched, in horror. Goodbye, said the cheery blue screen, heartlessly.

Then it turned itself back on again. Bloody hell, I thought, good thing I am anal about auto-save.

There was no trace of the post. There was no auto-save, even though I have it turned up to ten at all times. A thousand words of outrage had been eaten by the ether. I searched everywhere: temp files, back-up files, anything you want files. I scrabbled and panted and looked and looked.

The Royal Bank has control of my computer, I think, by now at the edge of reason. Not only do I not exist, but they are erasing my very words.

At that moment, the specially-trained security operative rings. He has a business-like East Coast American accent, and by now I am so crazed that I think he almost certainly is CIA. He is obviously very senior. He is charming and efficient. I think that Langley training has really paid off.

The questions are, oddly, multiple choice. Of these five addresses, with which have you ever been associated? Then a list of Acacia Avenues. Do you have dealings with any of the following companies or none? And then, and this is the sinister bit – Do you know any of the following people? They are really, really strange names. I scrabble to write them down, for posterity, but the senior operative is clearly expecting this, and speaks much too quickly. I do manage one: it is Birse Hides. What kind of name is that?

There is not one single John Smith or Joanna Jones. They are names so odd that if Martin Amis wrote them in a novel you would be surprised. One of them, I swear to you, has the first name of Mohammed. I do not catch the surname.

I take a deep breath. ‘I know none of those people,’ I say.

Oh my GOD, I think. They not only do not believe I exist, they think I am in league with Al Qaeda.

The stupid thing is that I am in the middle of a work storm. I have miles and miles to go before I sleep. I have to finish a whole chapter. But I shall not be beaten. My original post may have been surgically removed, but I am so bloody-minded that I sit down to write it again. Even though it takes another precious hour out of my working day.

Ha, Royal Bank of Scotland, I think, as I type the final full stop. I EXIST. I AM A HUMAN BEING. You bloody well cannot shut me down so easily. I shall not, not, not be beaten.


And there is even photographic evidence of my actuality. Here it is:

I took the dogs for a walk. Up the beech avenue we went:

17 Sept 1-1

17 Sept 2

Older Niece’s dog, whom I am sitting whilst her humans are ON HONEYMOON:

17 Sept 20

With Pigeon:

17 Sept 21

We examined some thrilling logs. I am not being ironical, I really do find piles of wood thrilling:

17 Sept 2.ORF

The coos watched us from the horizon. See, see, I am a human entity; actual cows may observe me:

17 Sept 1

Then back down the avenue we went:

17 Sept 3

17 Sept 3-1

And looked south over the moody hills:

17 Sept 4.ORF

In the garden, flowers were flowering:

17 Sept 7

17 Sept 8

17 Sept 8-1

17 Sept 9

17 Sept 10

17 Sept 11

I sat on my old mossy chair, and looked to the west. This is what I could see with my real human eyes:

17 Sept 14

I was watched by real canines, who are not holographs:

17 Sept 18

17 Sept 19

One more of The Pigeon, for the beauty:

17 Sept 23

And there was the hill, actual as actual:

17  Sept 25


And now it may be time to lie down in a darkened room.


  1. Oh Tania.....brilliant post.....but oh, the sheer @#$€ing ridiculousness of the whole situation - you absolutely nailed it.

    How can you fail a security test....on YOURSELF??!!!!! The absurdity!!!!

    This did happen to me once - and yes, they wouldn't/couldn't tell me what I had failed on. I didn't deal with it with your brilliance of course - I think either a Supervisor solved it or they called me back. But it was the day before I was due to go travelling and I remember nearly combusting with sheer frustration & stress....arrgh!! You are talking to a wall which cannot be scaled.

    I snorted with laughter at the East Coast American - possibly from Langley, who really knows - calling you back!! you exist? Has the matter been concluded? 23 years with the same bank and yet this now happens.....ridiculous!!!!

    "There is no protocol" ......I think that must become my mantra for those somewhat challenging days.

    Thinking of you, the Pigeon and those fabulous views on this Saturday evening :)

  2. Simone - you are so lovely to wade through all that fury. The CIA operative did eventually pass me as extant. Obviously the fact that I did not know Birse Hides or Mohammed thing was the clincher. Still rather overcome by the madness, so it was particularly soothing to get yr kind comment. :)

  3. Quite superb. Not to mention depressing. I take it that you will be taking your business elsewhere? [If you do, I have had sixteen years of immaculate service from First Direct, who were the original bank to do the Telephone Stuff.]

    Be soothed by your beautiful greenery, and your ever wonderful Pigeon.

  4. That you can tell the sorry tale with such eloquence shows what a fine writer you are! I would be inarticulate with fury and yet with a writer's alchemy you transform the experience into words for your dear readers. Those poor protocol paralyzed functionaries do not have your beech avenue to recover in. Or Pigeon to look at you adoringly.

  5. Poor Tania! I believe it is a plot by the Royal Bank, for they are my bankers too. Periodically they deny me access to my account, claiming I have made errors and must retry. Retry I do, until the keyboard is bloody from head-bashing and the page tartly informs me I must phone to proceed. The pleasant voice at the call-centre wisely agrees this is a problem but resets my account in moments. When I finally regain control of my account, I see that they wish me first to acknowledge having read some notice, invariably for their benefit. This, I believe, is the purpose behind their awkwardness; it is a random periodic check-in, a deliberate interruption of service to remind us how dependent we have become on them. I share your pain, but so enjoyed reading your expressive rage!

  6. I am horrified at your ordeal. It reawakens the nightmare that befell me recently as I tried to pay a large amount of money in person with the requisite ID out of my account via people who said they were not authorised to handle these amounts. There was a deadline. It really mattered. Even after they said they had managed to bypass the computer (the Computer says 'No') and I believed the money had gone, I was later tracked down to the chiropodist's chair by an even higher authority who said I hadn't answered enough questions and fired a whole lot more at me while my feet were being chiselled away.

  7. Cassie - am seriously considering never darkening their door again. Thank goodness for soothing Pigeon. :)

    Jane - what a lovely comment. We must feel pity for the protocol operative and their lack of Pigeon, I quite agree.

    Gill - LOVE the picture of the bloody keyboard. I agree it is all a hideous plot and we must spread the word until it goes viral.

    Lucille - can't BELIEVE the computer said no and then chased you all the way to the feet-chiseller. They are all absolute bastards and must be stopped.

  8. This kinda makes the whole "sock of money under the mattress" thing sound almost sane, huh?

    Because what if they did just decide to eradicate all the digital evidence of money that's virtually yours in "the bank"? What could you really do about it?


    Small brushes with incompetence like this give you a brief glimpse into what life could be like if the people holding the power decided to do it on purpose.

  9. Putting the phone down and redialling, in the hope of finding someone based in this country who is allowed to use a modicum of common sense, sometimes works. I have accused a bank person of being a fraudster which quite offended her, but when someone phones (unsolicited), says she's from your bank, asks you to prove that you are the account holder and then wants your account details, why does it not occur to them that it sounds suspicious? They are indeed all bastards, how can we stop them? They use money laundering, data protection, protocol, procedure, as excuses, and then if you sound the least bit narked, they get huffy,

  10. Now I'm spooked. Just as I got to the bit where the man with the East Coast American accent called you, I had a message flash up on my monitor telling me: "Important Action Needed: Take immeidate action to help maintaint your computer's stability or security." And then it wanted me to install new software.

    GNEEP! Big Brother is out there!

  11. I'm quite impressed that you had the wherewithal under those circumstances to say things like 'Sartrean circle of hell' and 'ontological freefall." Do you think she even had any idea what you were saying?

    It must have been very creepy when the computer shut itself off just as you had gotten up to the bit about the Kafkaesque nightmare.

    My favorite line: "I think that Langley training has really paid off."

    I LOVE the beech avenue.

  12. The utter, utter frustration of it all - especially worse when you are on a deadline. You wrote the post we all feel.

  13. MARVELLOUS post; thank you so much for refusing to be beaten. We appreciate that lost hour, and the spirit behind it.

    What I always wonder in such circumstances (and I too was made to feel as though I did not exist by Orange recently, because I had no debts and therefore no history) is: where did the sense of humour go? Who has the right personality to do these jobs? Are they born not being able to see the absurdity or is it trained out in some sinister way? What are they like to live with? I was especially amused by my own (far less serious) lack-of-identity situation when the database used to check my existence turned out to be one I reviewed at its launch. The CEO of the company launching it was charming and we have kept in touch. I wanted to say to the lovely woman employed by Orange: please, phone the man in charge of this information, ask him if I exist …

    Thank you for the photos of Pigeon and your visiting dog. After all the nonsense we create for ourselves in this world, how lovely to see the absolute sense in those canine eyes.

  14. Marcheline - I KNOW. Terrifying thought.

    Z - we, the people, must rise up.

    Wrath of Dawn - ah, ah, beware of BB.

    Razinah - so glad you liked Langely and the beeches. :)

    Connie - lovely. Thank you.

    Helen - such a good point. WHERE did the humour go?

    Siobhan - that really might be the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me. Especially in the madness of this week. :)


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin