I'm settling down to read my next five chapters of The Dog Who Came In From the Cold, next to my cosy little fire, and right in front of my delectable alcove cupboards which are CLOSED and hiding the hideous telly. Things simply couldn't be much better .......except, of course, that as ever, a vile bluebottle has flown into the pale pink ointment of my life. This time, it's Barclays &*$£^! Bank.
I simply wanted to order some cheque books. Granted, I am probably the only person in the known universe still using these, and only because the girls' school continues to demand cheques for the most piffling sums (£3.50 for a Bollywood dance workshop! £7 for a trip to the British Museum! But doesn't it all sound bliss? And Child One is going on a visit to Cadbury World soon, I'm so jealous I may have to embarrass her terminally by stowing away on the coach and eating the place dry).
Ok, so there I am attempting to get a new cheque book, to keep up the steady stream of small payments to an educational establishment that clearly doesn't need them. First, I scrabble through the cheque book itself to see if there's a tear-off request stub, as in days of yore. Nope. Then I log in to my account online, no mean feat as Barclays requires a Krypton Factor-like row of hoops to be jumped through, including sticking your cashpoint card into a hand-held 'pinsentry' machine to get a unique code to key into the right bit on the computer screen ......yawn, the whole procedure seems to go on for days. And if you slip once on the keyboard, it's right back to the start with you.
I scan the whole of the online bank, and there's nowhere to order cheque books. Right, it's time to speak to a real person. I ring the telephone banking service. The automated voice asks for my 'five digit registration code.' What? Another code?? If I ever knew this code, it was in a different life. I'm a bit worried that I'll simply be cut off, as a substandard account holder, but I press on, and eventually get through to a genuine voice. But, as I have flunked the code test, I am treated like a naughty schoolchild who's produced inadequate homework, or possibly like a rather ineffectual bank robber. Two security questions are fired at me - my mother's maiden name and my full address. Well, finally, I think, I really can't go wrong now. I may be useless with codes, but I can certainly remember my own address and the maiden name which I had a lucky escape from.
'I'm sorry, madam, but you've answered one of those questions wrongly. No, I can't tell you which one. But you'll now have to present yourself at a branch. No, you can't ring in again, as you've failed the security test.'
Failed a test! Moi? The shame. I may never live it down. I shall have to slink into the branch in the Village and hope no-one sees me. I wonder what they'll do to me there? The dunce's cap? Standing in the corner for half an hour? Even, yikes, the naughty step?
So, yes, I am taking my mind off the ordeal in store by reading lovely Alexander McCall Smith's latest gem. Already, I've warmed to the MI6 agent, Angelica, as she went to my university, St Andrews, though of course I feel rather miffed that no-one, during my four year career there, ever once approached me to be a spy. Perhaps my well-known tendency to blab uncontrollably after half a glass of Leibfraumilch (these were the dark days before I discovered Chardonnay) worked against me, or perhaps it was simply that I wasn't studying Russian, like Angelica. But I manage to get over my chagrin at this snub by the mighty forces of Intelligence, and I read on.
I am loving the way that the cast of characters has already started to entwine a little, reminding me slightly of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music Of Time, though Dog does it with a sense of self-depracating humour and a slightly shuffling, snuffling, doggy gait, unlike Powell's stately, rather terrifying pavane. Possibly it's the reference to Poussin in chapter 5, A Nice Boy that's made me think of Powell. There is, as yet, no glimpse of a character as unique and truly memorable as Widmerpool or even of Pamela Flitton on the horizon, though it's early days.
Hmmm, Dog is proving a delicious distraction from care, just what we all need these days. Highly recommended. Do have a look online. And let's all keep our mind off bankers. Grrrr ....