Wednesday, 9 September 2009

ATMs and shattered dreams

ATMs or, as we quaintly like to call them on this side of the Atlantic, Cashpoint machines, never cease to amaze me.

Somewhere deep down inside me, I can’t get over the idea that they are somehow giving me money. My instincts haven’t grasped that they’re simply, parsimoniously, doling out to me money that I’ve already handed over to the bank.

Of course, I suppose even that is pretty remarkable: after all, for some months we’ve all of us grown used, as taxpayers, to handing over huge quantities of the stuff to the banks and watching it vanish practically without trace – we only hear of any of it again when some re-emerges in bumper bonus payments to the people who got us into our present mess in the first place.

Have you noticed that the process of getting money from these machines includes a glorious moment when there’s a sort of riffling sound from inside, as though some huge roll of banknotes is being flicked through?

I like it partly because it’s a confirmation that cash is actually going to emerge in response to my request, something I’m never completely confident of until it actually happens. But I particularly like it because it conjures up an image of someone in an eyeshade and a waistcoat over a capacious belly, with sleeve garters on both arms, peeling off notes to hand over my winnings.

Have you been struck by the length of time for which this lasts? Flick-flick-flick-flick: it sounds like a substantial payout.

And then my five miserable notes emerge from the slot.

It leaves me with a sense of betrayal each time. The machine has built up my hopes and then dashed them. I just want to shout, ‘where’s the rest of it then?’

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