by Jake Da Motta
“I’m afraid that Visa have requested authorization for this transaction Sir, I’ll have to call them and get a code” said the floor manager at the Co-op in Bakewell, Derbyshire.
“No problem” I smiled back at him, explaining “I live in Central Africa and every time I come back to the UK they think the card has been stolen and taken on holiday by someone”. The lightness in my tone did little to ward off the thousand-dagger looks the queue of pensioners behind were throwing my way, having already decided that I was a foreigner and a grifter to boot. After a few minutes the manager came back and entering some figures on the till cleared the transaction for my groceries. I say groceries, but for £50 you don’t really get many life sustaining vittles in the UK anymore and all I had in my basket was a half bottle of vodka, two croissants and enough strands of Old Holborn tobacco to build about three cigarettes (or kill all the children in the land, depending on which side of the PC fence you sit). Nevertheless since this would have been plenty to keep the scowling crowd of pensioners in hog-heaven for a month I scuttled away before they could get their bony, arthritic fingers on my swag.
Usually once the first “unusual” transaction with a credit or debit card has been flagged by the Big Brother computer at Visa HQ and dealt with by the Visa-drones, it’s plain sailing and since I was shopping in the same village as my billing address I was fairly confident that my card would now work seamlessly. In no time I would be be smiling with well travelled wryness at supermodel shop assistants, my salt and pepper hair glinting in the pale winter sun as my exquisitely tailored arm produced from my bespoke dolphin skin wallet my internationally adored credit card with a flourish of cosmopolitan savoir-faire and after the briefest pause to enter my PIN number all the riches due to me would be forthcoming. Just like in the TV adverts.
I spent the afternoon shopping aimlessly on Amazon (as is my wont) and purchased some low-brow literature, children’s toys, a hundred meters of parachute cord, a prosthetic hand and a small crossbow using the same Visa card without incident. I also used the card to buy some less frivolous work related items for my wife and the transaction was flawless…..as one would expect since this is a debit card and all I am doing is spending my wife’s money not the bank’s!
Later that evening though Big Brother struck again. I was in the House of Spice, Bakewell’s least salubrious curry house attempting to buy a take-away for the extended family. This in itself transpired to be a thankless task since the curry which we eventually obtained consisted mostly of lurid food colouring, biochemically fused with flour and almost completely obscuring the other unidentifiable and sparse ingredients which bore little resemblance to those the menu had fictitiously promised. When the bill came I shot my well manicured hand from my Savile Row cuff to reveal my glinting Visa card and deposited it on the silver tray. The kindly Gujarati major-domo swept this away returning as I was half way through my second pint of Cobra lager (did I mention the service was also a little slow at the House of Spice?) to say “I’m afraid that Visa have requested authorization for this transaction Sir”. “No problem” I smiled back at him, explaining “I live in Central…..etc etc” glancing out of the window, across the car park, to the Co-op; the scene of my earlier brush with international espionage and fraud, and waited.
There followed twenty minutes of wrangling between the maitre d’ and the Visa-drone before I demanded that he let me speak on the telephone.
The call centre was noisy with an authentic New Delhi ambience that the House of Spice might aspire to but would never achieve. For twenty further minutes I answered a plethora of questions relating to transactions that I had made on the card six months or more ago and on that day, and what and how much they had been for.
I was quizzed on my identity, my mother’s nationality, my grandmother’s middle name and my dog’s sexual preferences. I passed with flying colours and was handed on to the Fraud Switchboard. “Fine!” I said “At least now we can sort this out without all the ridiculous questions!” A mere ten minutes of the ‘Song of the Pearl Fisher’ on hold and I was put through to another gentleman whose proximity to a plate of authentic curry was again so very much closer than my own. My opening gambit was to intimate (with a measured sternness to my tone) that I would not be happy to answer the same questions again. “Yes sir, now if you wouldn’t mind……”. “Books, kid’s toys, string, a rubber fist and a small crossbow. My name: JULIET-APLHA-KILO-ECHO-DELTA-ALPHA-MIKE-OSCAR-TANGO-TANGO-ALPHA. She was BRITISH. Middle name Fellatia. DACHSHUNDS!” I bellowed, but he continued unfazed “…….a few more questions, Sir” “Forget it” I said in defeat “I’ll pay cash for my congealing, multi-coloured, cold curry”. Which I did.
Later that evening after dealing with the rainbow hued effluvia and toxic waste from the House of Tartrazine, drinking the vodka and smoking a calming cigarette I phoned Visa again to make a complaint. The West Indian lady was feistier than her earlier colleagues and several times threatened to terminate the call due to my imaginative language. She asked me all the same questions which I answered as meekly as a yellow lamb korma and when I asked why they hadn’t telephoned me to check on the card usage she said that they had. I asked her which number they’d used and she gave me the one from the student digs I lived at in 1987. I asked if there was someone I could speak to in order to update this. She said yes and put me on hold for three complete orchestral renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody. The gentleman who came on the line ran through the same questions and finally satisfied that I was myself, asked me what the new number for my records should be. I started to tell him but my cell phone ran out of credit. Patiently and with little or no profanity I launched into the maze of the O2 online top-up function……but of course my debit card was blocked.
I am so happy to be home, my pockets bulging with filthy CASH kwacha again and to have hung up my plastic for another year.