Sunday, December 28, 2008

Horror of the Cheque Guarantee Card

"Flaming Nora!" Philip suddenly yelled, flinging his dinner plate across the bathroom and watching as it shattered in the washbasin.

"Is there a problem?" Samantha asked, perceptively. "Dinner too hot? Unusual choice of dining location causing distress? Sudden memory of past events causing alarming realisation? Existential angst of a non-specific nature?"

"The third one," Philip said, grimly. "And also the other three. Spaghetti was so hot it had melted into a bubbling pool of goo, sitting on the toilet to eat is uncomfortable and disturbing and the universe is cruel and overwhelming. But the main thing is what happened earlier this morning. Remember when I asked Cecil to return my library books while he was out in town?"

"No," said Samantha. "Did that happen?"

"I videoed it," Philip said, standing up and dragging Samantha by the hair into the living room. "I video everything now, because you never remember anything I've done. Watch this."

Philip put a tape into the VCR and pressed play. The screen showed Cecil sitting on the living room floor, cutting his toenails, and Samantha lying in bed reading a book. Philip then emerged from behind the camera. "Right, that's recording," he muttered. "Now if I have any reason to reference this conversation to you in future, Samantha, I'll have proof that it happened."

Samantha looked up from her book and said "I'll remember. I'm reading a book about how to have a good memory. It's by Ben Pridemore. Or Bridmore. Or something."

"Hmm," Philip said. "Anyway, Cecil, you're going into town today, aren't you? Good. Return my library books, would you? Here's my library card and here's fifty pounds to say thank you."

"Cheers," said Cecil, taking the card, the banknote and his leave, without even waiting to put his shoes on.

"You see!" Philip enthused. Not the Philip on the screen, who was pulling funny faces into the camera for his own amusement, we're talking about the Philip who just came out of the bathroom and played this tape for Samantha. He continued "Did you notice?"

"That Cecil didn't take your library books when he left the house?" Samantha said. "Yes, that was strange."

"No, I leave my library books on the front lawn," said Philip. "It was the card! That card I gave Cecil wasn't my library card! I took the wrong card out of my pocket! Cecil's got my cheque guarantee card!"

"He's got your what?" asked Samantha, scratching her head.

"You know, my cheque guarantee card," Philip repeated, unhelpfully. Samantha punched his face until he explained further. "It's the early nineteen-eighties, and the normal means of paying for goods and services is by means of a cheque, presented to the cashier accompanied by a plastic guarantee card. The cashier then copies the number of the card onto the back of the cheque and thus makes it legally binding or non-refundable or something."

"Oh," said Samantha. "I thought it was the year 2008."

"Ho ho," Philip laughed. "I think you've been reading too much science fiction set in the year 2008, Samantha. No, it's about 1983, I think. Give or take. Margaret Thatcher, Dexy's Midnight Runners, radios made of wood, all that kind of thing. Now we'd better chase after Cecil before he takes over the world!"

He made a packed lunch, a gesture for Samantha to follow him, his exit and his way to his car, while Samantha followed behind, querying "What? Takes over the world? I thought the card only enabled him to guarantee cheques in your name, with your signature, to a maximum value of fifty pounds. And also, did libraries use plastic cards in 1983?"

"Some did, I think," Philip mused, starting the car and driving off at top speed. "I mean, some do. We live in a major metropolis, let's say Nottingham, with a big library that is experimenting with a new computer database system and barcode reader. It's primitive, granted, but it's a major step up from the old paper-based records. Admittedly they probably don't need to scan the borrower's card if he's only returning books, but I forgot that in the heat of the moment."

"Right," said Samantha, fiddling with the car radio. "But what about the taking over the world thing? And if it's 1983, shouldn't this car have ashtrays in the doors?"

"What are you, a historian? Just shut up and wind down the passenger-side window using the time-period-accurate non-electric handle, will you? I think I see Cecil," commanded Philip.

"Noticed your mistake?" Cecil laughed, running alongside the car as it sped down the motorway at sixty miles an hour. "Too late! I've already taken over the world, Philip, and granted myself the ability to run at up to sixty-three miles an hour! And all thanks to your cheque guarantee card!"

"Only sixty-three?" Samantha gasped. "Then there's still a chance! Accelerate, Philip! If you can drive faster than Cecil can run, everything will be okay again!"

"There's no need to state the obvious, Samantha," chided Philip. "But we've got a problem. We're driving an Opel Kadett with numerous mechanical defects, similar to the one that George Pridmore drives around in right now in 1983, and I'm not sure it can get much faster than sixty-one mph!"

"Try pressing the accelerator!" Samantha urged. "And not the brake! Put it into the highest gear available, fourth I suppose! Sound the horn! Turn off the radio so that the slight vibrations caused by the jarring music of Culture Club don't slow the car down!"

"Good ideas," Philip said, doing all those things. The car sped up slightly, reaching a speed that, as best Philip could tell from the old-fashioned and inaccurate speedometer, was in the region of 62.9375mph. "No good!" he bellowed rather more loudly than was necessary, considering that Samantha was sitting right next to him and the radio was off. "We can't quite outrun Cecil and the car will explode if we keep pushing it so hard!"

"Then all is lost! Woe!" exclaimed Samantha, melodramatically. And indeed, all seemed to be lost, but just as the car was about to explode and shower the M1 Northbound with shreds of tacky orange metal debris, Cecil stumbled over a snail and fell flat on his face.

"Hooray!" Philip and Samantha chorused, bringing the car to a stop in front of him and getting out to see if Cecil was alright. Cars and lorries honked their horns and swerved to avoid them as they wandered cheerfully across the carriageway and helped Cecil to his feet.

"Ah well," Cecil mused philosophically. "Ruling the world was fun while it lasted. Here's your cheque guarantee card back. I returned your library books, but then the library closed down due to computer failure. That's 1983 for you!"

"Ha ha!" they all said.

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