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A scene from modern life (Number 26)

It naturally comes with the territory that we oldies have to contend with occasional but increasing ‘senior moments’ – e.g. failing to find things where you thought you left them; doing one thing and then getting interrupted by something else and not being able to remember what the first thing was; leaving home without your house keys; becoming clumsy in the kitchen as in picking up something and then knocking something else over with it as you move away because your physical movements no longer match your brain’s messages as to what to do next; and nagging aches and pains that inexplicably come and go in places on your body that previously you didn’t know existed.

One accepts all those because one has to, but one of the most deeply frustrating aspect of the 21st Century is that ‘life as you knew and had come to terms with it in order to get by’ keeps being changed by technological developments and/or by the generations coming behind and de facto makes the world as you had accepted it infinitely more difficult to operate in than it ever was before.

Yesterday was a case in point for me.

It was only last month that I acquired a senior railcard and then made my first-ever booking on Trainline, the website that facilitates online booking of train tickets.

The relevant trip was a day return to Yorkshire and in advance of making it I rang the Trainline customer line in order to find out exactly how one ‘went through the technicalities’ of establishing that my smartphone (on which I had downloaded the app) was ‘kosher’ when I arrived at the London terminal from which my journey was to begin.

I had my concerns about these because – although my smartphone seemed to contain all elements of my ticket (including my train schedules for both journeys) – I wasn’t sure what to do and/or how to register that I had a valid ticket when I arrived at the ticket barrier to join the train I was to be travelling on. I’d even seen customer chat-lines detailing horrendous experiences that people had endured.

The lady at the other end of my phone began by checking my bona fides and then proceeding – at a snails’ pace and with the air of a nursery school teacher explaining something to a new toddler pupil – to take me through every aspect of the details of my journey, including the stations I’d be passing through.

That is, until I interrupted her to state that she was wasting her and, more importantly, my time because I had already every one of those neatly laid out for me in my Trainline app and would she please answer the sole question (“Can you please explain to me exactly happens when I get to the station and try to board my train?”) to which I required an answer.

It didn’t happen. Instead, as if reading from a script, she just carried on. As a result, a call that needed have taken about two minutes continued for roughly fifteen. And, when I reached my ‘outward’ terminal, very little she’d described came to pass and I had to go to an information counter to establish what I needed to do.

On top of which – and I add this sensitively – she spoke in a pronounced accent originating from somewhere on the sub-Continent that was extremely difficult to understand.

Fast-forward to yesterday, when I repeated the above Trainline experience in booking my day-return tickets to the North-West for a trip a week or so away.

Once I’d completed the transaction, I went to my smartphone app and discovered that only my outward bound ticket (and schedule) resided there, so my purpose in calling the Trainline customer line was to find out why the other – return – equivalents were not there.

Cue a near-carbon copy of my previous experience of ringing said unit (above).

However, that did not constitute the entirely of my brush with the 20st Century yesterday.

We have all read about how the UK’s high street banks are deliberately closing as many local branches as they can find in a desperate drive to cut costs and staff and generally become more economically efficient, if not more profitable.

The local branch of my own bank has somehow so far avoided being shut down. I go to it frequently largely because I always have and also because – despite the bank’s constant urgings –  from a security point of view I don’t trust online banking, plus anyway I rather enjoy the experience of going in and chatting to the bank staff, most of whom I know (and, as important, they know me), as I do my business. It’s nice to be able to get out and talk to a real human being now and again.

Over the past six months my local branch has instigated a number of changes.

Its traditional ‘behind screen’ array of four or five bank counters – together with some staff – have gone, to be replaced by two ‘stations’ at which both staff and customers stand whilst they do their stuff.

A huge queue develops simply because – even as the number of staff declines – the number of customers who go to the branch has remained unchanged and this necessarily means that one’s wait to get served has increased exponentially.

Especially when (as happens to me every time I attend) some quaint, absent-minded and absent-minded-looking, dotty old bag lady is one ahead of me in the line and – in the course of cashing her 5 shilling postal order – cannot find anything she needs to produce in her handbag and then, after conducting her business, then stays on to tell the staffer her entire life story up to and including what her pet cat had for breakfast that morning.

Worse, a couple of weeks ago they instigated a new system where the two remaining ‘stations’ now only deal exclusively in providing cash to customers. If you want to do anything else at all, you have to queue to see a single member of staff, set up at another ‘station’ close to the entrance. As night follows day – since 85% of visiting customers want ‘to achieve something else’ – there now exists an horrendously long queue of people leading to this single station.

Yesterday my quest was to ‘direct transfer’ a smallish some of money to a pal.

This took me two expeditions into town – the first involving three separate (failed) visits to my bank branch in order to join the queue to the ‘anything but cash’ station, on the first two of which, having made no progress in the queue because the staff member manning the station wasn’t there – they’d gone off to get or do something – I then opted instead to leave and do some other shopping with a view to returning later to make my transfer.

Those two experiences over, when I returned (after completing all my shopping) the third time I joined a queue of one – a gentleman of similar age – with whom I eventually got into conversation. He told me the staffer at the station had been away from it for about ten minutes and frankly, he was pissed off and thinking of coming back after lunch. I agreed with his suggested plan and went home for mine.

At 4.00pm I ventured forth again to the bank in order this time to stay until I got served. When I arrived, I joined a queue of four – but at least the staffer was at his station!

After that it took me exactly forty-three minutes to get served – and precisely another three minutes to do my transfer.

And that was the whole of my day, really.

About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts