I hope by the time this is published my new shed will be on the way to completion. It has been the subject of an interesting tussle with my bank (which shouldn't surprise me as I always seem to end up tussling with authority). Mr Shed Builder is a one-man operation who, like many of his tribe, is not the most administratively organised and probably has a number of financial challenges to contend with. Having had to spend quite a lot of money buying the materials (this should be a pretty large shed) he asked if I could pay him upfront – he had already deposited several bits of wood in the garden as a sign of his good faith – or to convince me that he would eventually get round to the job.
Although I was quite happy to do this, my bank wasn't – it flagged up a red message: 'we want to talk to you about this payment! Phone us now
or we will confiscate all your money' (well, something along those lines). When I tried, I got the usual message: 'We are experiencing a large volume of calls just now'. For someone not great with detail, I then had to key in all sorts of numbers from my bank account to my date of birth, none of which the bank robot liked.
Eventually, I got through to a woman who said they were concerned that Mr Shed Builder would take my money and abscond. Then she cut me off. Trying again, again getting all the reference numbers wrong, I got a chap who stayed on the line long enough to tell me there were a lot of crooked builders about trying to extort money from elderly ladies like me – he may have thought I was over 100 as I'd keyed in my date of birth wrong. Then he cut me off.
Belfast to the rescue
At this point, I decided I would wait until the next day and go to the bank in person to plead for Mr Shed Builder – who all this time was sending me anguished messages apologising for all the trouble he had caused. 'I seem to have had this problem before!' he admitted. Then I got a threatening text from the bank (anyone would think it was me
trying to extort money) so tried a third time – and got through to the most angelic, sweet, kind and helpful gent from Belfast – I know that's where he was as I asked him.
This chap was so wonderful at customer care that if he was anything near my age (which he won't be as he's still toiling away for the bank's fraud department) I would seriously consider him as a replacement for the late Mr B, as long as he would move to Scotland. He explained everything he was doing, he apologised for putting me on hold, and having decided Mr Shed Builder was (probably) administratively naïve rather than an international criminal, he agreed to let him have the money. 'Thank you, it's arrived,' said the builder shortly after. 'Well, now you have it you had better turn up and do the job,' I reminded him. He assured me he would be there, but if he isn't I will hold his dozen pieces of wood to ransom – even though they are worth significantly less than what I've paid him.
There is a dilemma here – the bank was trying to protect me from what could well have been fraud – the problem probably arose as the builder, being a one-person business, did not have a business bank account and this is not unusual: one helpful tradesman in my previous town used to like part payment in cash and I would guiltily visit all the cashpoints in the place on different days so I wouldn't be found out for abetting his desire to minimise his tax payments. But in this case I had met the builder, he had done work for my son, and the village Facebook page comments about his work were all highly complementary. No doubt there are
many crooked and exploitative people out there. How far is a bank allowed to stop me doing what I wish with my own money to protect me from myself?
Cat flap blues
On a roll now that the bank had allowed me to spend my money, I sought out a local joiner to do a few internal jobs like putting in a cat flap for Freddy le Chat's entrance and exit. The development where I now live has all sorts of rules that residents have to abide by to keep the place looking nice, and I struggled to find anyone else with a cat flap in their front door. Eventually, I spotted one, and asked the resident how he had managed it. He couldn't remember the tradesperson who had installed it, but no-one had complained that he was lowering the tone. 'Buy your cat flap first,' he suggested.
On the basis of this, I purchased a cat flap from a local garden centre and asked the joiner chap to advise on its installation. He looked at the front door and shook his head. 'Draughty… I could do it, but it wouldn't be easy…'. Presumably as a good craftsman he didn't care for the idea of chopping up a perfectly good door. Eventually, he decided it would be easier and less obtrusive to remove a small lower pane of glass from the French doors and replace it with a wooden panel. He said he would arrange to do the job. But when he left I looked again at the cat flap, and at Freddy, a cat with Maine Coon genes. He is not small – no way would he be able to squeeze though this proprietary flap.
Thankfully, in the nearest town is a big shop devoted to pet accessories and grooming, so there I went. Although the staff all seemed about 15 years old, they were incredibly helpful and found me an outsized cat flap for Freddy to climb through. They explained I could become a VIP customer, which would give me all sorts of financial benefits, and realising I was a techno-novice, one young man very kindly set the app up for me on my phone. I have never before achieved VIP status, although Freddy has always seen himself in that light, being a cat. After a sudden panic, thankfully I discovered the big flap will just fit into where the glass pane would come out. And the small flap has been put to good use, donated to Freddy's wee cousin Charlie down the road.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant