Thursday, 23 April - Take the day 'off'
I needed to get organised by registering with a doctor and collecting my bank card, so I didn't phone any agencies to get work for the day. I had a bit of a sleep in to recover from the exhaustion of being back in a classroom, and then I tottered off to the doctors rooms. They were closed. The only times anyone could register were two weekday mornings! Only my luck, I would now have to take another day off to get this sorted. My own fault really, I should've checked with them before I took the day off. Bother, bother, bother.
I hopped on a tube towards Harrow to collect my new debit card, very exciting. I walked in with my passport and the cheque book they had sent me, with the last of my traveller's cheques to deposit into the account. I showed the consultant all the information and asked for my new card. He went off to some back room to collect the delivery. On his return I gratefully took the envelope and opened it in the anticipation of using the card…I took out the paperwork… Huh?… I rechecked inside the envelope…Where's my personal identification number (PIN)? There's no PIN? I looked at the consultant who was distractedly waiting for me to move along whilst tapping the rhythm of "I have other things to do" with his foot.
"There's no PIN." I say, holding the card and papers in front of him.
"Oh, you would've entered your PIN when you applied for the account."
"I don't remember entering any numbers." I reply, in a tone signifying that I'm not an idiot.
"No, you definitely would have." He patronizingly insists. "Why don't you put the card into the machine and put in your PIN."
I look at him. Clearly he thinks I'm an incompetent, unintelligent individual; and when that happens, I've learnt its best to turn down the heat on your rising blood pressure and do as you are told. In my irritation I put my card into the machine exactly as the chief of all ATM banking has told me to do and voila, surprise, surprise we can't access the account. Shock, horror, there is no PIN.
"Where has your card come from?" He asks in an irritated manner, like it's my fault he has failed in his chiefdom.
"Holborn." Is my brief, now-who-is-unintelligent reply.
"Please wait here." He takes the card and disappears. I wait. He returns. "Your PIN is at the Holborn branch." I look at him. Is he serious? Who sends a card without the account access number? Breathe Shannan; you can't get cross with these guys…
"Well, how do I get the number then?"
"Would you like to fetch it, or would you like it to be sent here?" Did he really ask me that? Do I look like someone who would have her card sent to her nearest branch so she could have a very special trip to a faraway branch to get her PIN? Do I look like someone who wants to have a special debit card with no PIN so that I can't access my money? I can't believe this is happening! I can't believe this guy! Clearly it doesn't matter where you are in the world: You will be able to find incompetence!
"I would like it to be sent here please." I manage to bite out. "How long will I have to wait this time?" My patience is thinning very quickly on a razor sharp edge.
"Five working days ma'am." That's a week with a useless card and no access to my account via ATMs. Fabulous, just bloomingly, uselessly fabulous!
"Fine. Will you let me know when it is here?" At least they could do that after wasting my precious time.
"No ma'am, you can come back in a week, it will be here." Is what his voice says. "Because we are doing you a favour" is what his attitude says.
Really? Do I believe you or do I clobber you on the head?
Not worth my time, at all. I need to leave as I'm about to blow a blood pressure valve.
"Fine. Thank-you." I leave, still holding on to my traveller's cheques. What a bunch of morons! I want to scream, but decide it best to keep that impulse to myself. Idiots!
I took a long bus ride home to cool down. The bus wasn't very full, enough people to almost fill the seats, and one lady standing with her baby in a pram and loads of shopping bags hanging from the handles. She pushed the STOP button (Traveller's tip: if you don't push the STOP button, then the bus doesn't stop at your stop, unless someone on the roadside has hailed it to get on). The bus pulled up a fair way from the curb and the lady was battling to turn the pram and get off. No-one helped her; no-one. I got up from the back of the bus and helped her lift the precariously weighted pram with its full shopping bags and baby off the high bus and onto dry land. Eventually they were safely on the pavement and the lady looked up and stared at me. I will never forget that stare. She gave me a disbelieving "Thank-you."
"Sure," I said and smiled reassuringly, it really wasn't that big a deal. I turned and got back on the bus to catch a sea of faces quickly avert all of their staring eyes in order to avoid any eye contact with me, and to avoid any recognition of what they had just witnessed; blank expressions stared straight ahead and out the graffiti-marked windows. The bus took off and the lady's stare followed it.
What just happened here?
If someone is in a difficult place; you help them if you can; right? Did I do something wrong by helping her? Is there a reason no-one on the bus helped her; not even the fit and healthy guy seated next to where she was standing? I felt a sickening feeling and wanted to get off the bus. What if that was me? What if I was struggling and needed help? Would everyone have sat there and ignored me too? My thoughts made my stomach churn. I know I'm pretty much on my own in this foreign country, but aren't I supposed to be part of humanity? Aren't we all inseparable as human beings? Have people forgotten that we fundamentally need each other: Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself? I felt very isolated on that bus; separate from humanity; very alone. I wanted off, I wanted out, I needed fresh air, I needed to breathe again. I eventually pushed the STOP button for my stop, what a pity that button wouldn't work to STOP people being so afraid to help each other.