3/5/17: The British Great Wall

Here’s a tiny taste of how an alien, completely alone in a flooded out cottage in England in the dead of winter, ran headlong into British Rules and Regulations. (I lived there for a year in 2009-2010 to take care of David, my late mother’s husband, who was gravely ill, and to restore his ruined home.) 

I tried, for example, to sort out telephone and gas bills. 

Alas, if one doesn’t possess a male (David’s) voice, a British accent, and a British passport, one is done. 

I rang the Calor Propane Gas Company. “Good morning, sir. My monthly bill indicates your company is direct-debiting 215 pounds (about $250.00) every month for our cottage’s propane gas, but as we have experienced a massive flood, no propane has been used for four months, because nothing functions. So this amount seems- incorrect. 

“May we discuss it?” 

“Certainly, madam.  May I have your account number?” 

I gave it. 

“Thank you. Are you Mrs. Firks?  No?  Mr. Firks is your deceased mother’s husband? We’re sorry to hear he is unwell, but we cannot discuss this matter with anyone but him.” 

I explained that he had permanently lost the power of speech. 

Didn’t matter. 

“Further, as you do not possess a British passport, and are not listed on this account, We (The Imperial ‘We’) cannot continue to discuss this matter.” 

I knew the Power of Attorney papers would be three months coming- if all went well; until then, these huge fees would continue to mount. I’d never recover the money. Bureaucracies vacuum money up, but NEVER relinquish it. 

Fat penalties would, of course, be attached, as well, for nonpayment. 

Eventually, Calor Gas Company Bill collectors would arrive at my door. 

Hmmm. 

I decided to open a bank account, using my savings wire-transferred from America, to pay the bills. 

What a fiasco!  The paperwork went well in the bank- until I could not produce a British passport.  Instantly, the clerk’s eyes hooded. His posture stiffened. He assumed a long distance look before moving smoothly into a nearly expressionless computer-mode voice.  “We are sorry, but it is not possible to accommodate your request.  You are not British. 

We are helpless.” 

“But,” I protested, “I merely want to open a checking account for the purpose of paying bills.” 

“We are sorry,” he lied, unrepentant, “but this is not possible.” 

Mr. Starched Undies Banker had been well trained: the little old lady before him could be a potential terrorist- and more. Patiently, I explained my situation at Bryn Garth Cottage, and how I wanted to transfer five thousand pounds into his bank, from America, simply to pay bills until the Insurance claim was settled. 

My explanation didn’t matter two pins. 

Rules Were Rules. “Aliens are not allowed to open a checking account,” he declared, primly, “or to transfer more than a certain tiny amount here —“money laundering, you know.” I protested I’d never laundered more than my underwear, but he wouldn’t budge. The British Bureaucracy and I— Elephant and flea-- bumped noses. 

No contest. 

Baffled, I retreated to a teashop to rethink things.  Problems have solutions. Maybe I hadn’t asked the right man. I needed a higher-up bureaucrat who might be willing to think out-of-the-box...Right! That sort is scarcer than a vampire who craves yogurt. 

So then, I went there again, and asked for the Banker In Charge. 

Didn’t help. All I got was a perfectly pressed Saville Row Suit set off by mirror-shiny shoes, and a mustached mouth that intoned the same implacable Rule. 

I left, barely suppressing an urgent need to wrinkle him. 

One day later I tried to go online at the cottage as usual, but was denied access because David’s monthly ‘TalkTalk’ bill (the Company’s name) hadn’t been paid in three months. I rang them to try to explain the situation, but never got past the preliminaries. The clerk announced that, alas, since David wasn’t born on his birthday, no further discussion of any of this was possible! The date I’d given disagreed with theirs, the creature declared. But he wouldn’t tell me the numbers he had: that would be revealing personal information. Furthermore, as my accent was alien and I was not male (David), discussion was not possible. 

I was speechless. 

Hearing only stunned silence, he wished me a pleasant day in a clipped voice. 

Click. 

Confused and angry, I rang again, hoping a different clerk  (pronounced ‘clark’) would be more reasonable. But number 2 also refused to confirm or deny the birthdate on file, or say which part of it was incorrect. Anyway, THAT wasn’t the point. 

I’d wanted to pay them money! 

Not allowed. 

But I would be fined for nonpayment. 

I threw up my hands and went to David’s lawyer, (retained by us for thirty years), who tried to resolve it by discussing my situation personally with The Bank, and proffering his considerable credentials. 

No luck. 

He, a savvy solicitor, encountered exactly the same Great Wall. Shaking his head, he arranged for his firm to cover all the bills until the insurance company finally settled. Without his assistance I don’t know how I would have coped. 

One bright spot: with my own personal computer I could still tap out weekly columns about my hard-knock life in the freezing British countryside, offline, and then- if I didn’t mind engaging in some skullduggery- send it to America, online

I drove six miles into the ancient town of Ross-on-Wye every Saturday evening, which was often challenging, due to fierce winter weather conditions. I then tapped into the internet connection from its biggest hotel by sneaking past the snow-covered shrubbery to its stone wall, where I logged on, then hurriedly sent my latest column off to my editor in America, before creeping away to tip a half-pint of ale at my favorite pub. 

This sort of thing is strictly forbidden, you know. Culprits incur fat fines. 

I didn’t care. For five minutes every Saturday for a year, this elderly alien gleefully thwarted a British Rule.

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