We live in a world of instant communication. In the last twenty four hours I have received more emails than I have letters in my entire life, I have organised future events over Instant Messenger, had arguments with people on other continents over IRC, and played computer games against real people who I will never meet or speak to again. Within minutes of any major event, someone I know will know about it and probably pass on the information. This website, hub of everything I do on the net, is hit by some kind of program – on average – once every six seconds (Down somewhat majorly from last year, but I’m writing less) and it’s only a tiny personal website, a boil on the arse of the revolution.

Yet it takes my bank seven working days to clear a cheque.

This I absolutely fail to understand. Up until last month it was five working days, which was excessive. Seven days to validate a piece of paper – signed, dated, and individually numbered – is incredible. But this wasn’t the worst of it. I asked why it would take seven working days (and this was nine working days ago, so my memory is a little rusty) to validate this small piece of paper, almost identical to the one they validated this time last month, and if there was any way I could make it clear quicker. Posting it, for example, I posited sarcastically.

They could, they admitted, send it by first class post. This would cost me £20.

Bu…

I mean, I know the cost of stamps has risen slightly in the last couple of years, but £20 to upgrade to first class post for a cheque seemed a little beyond my ken. But worse than this, even, was what it actually means. It means that usually the cheques are posted by second class mail to some obscure destination (Probably Halifax H.Q.). From there they are probably posted to the original bank (The companies) for further validation. This would explain the five days thing, waiting for post is time consuming. But second class? The HBOS group recently posted its interim results for 2004, posting a Profit Before Tax up 21% to £2,161,000,000. That’s two billion one hundred and sixty one million pounds, surely they can afford a fucking stamp! Or fedex, even, if they send lots of them.

But yet, it gets worse. After seven working (ie, nine real) days the cheque clears into my bank account (this was Friday), and I can pay people. My Landlord has been complaining that my rent was late (Waiting for cheque to clear), my credit cards want paying, and I need a new mouse. At this point I realise that I haven’t seen my bank card in a few days, nor the rest of my wallet (Working from home + Train ticket not in wallet = wallet location irrelevant), report it as missing and pay a large lump to the card, leaving enough so I can pay for my new season ticket (monthly, £266) by cheque.

Since I don’t have my bank card, I can’t withdraw the money for the season ticket in cash (I can get small amounts by answering five correct questions from the game show host bank teller on such subjects as the history of egg sandwiches in World War 2 My mother’s maiden name and banking history (Mine, not hers) but they won’t give me enough for the season – or even a weekly – ticket. So I’m forced to pay by cheque, which I hate doing. I Don’t Like Cheques.

Nevertheless, I rise at Six AM Monday Morning (yawn), dance down to the station waving cheerily at the lolly-pop lady (We actually have one! I thought they were abolished at about the same time as free milk) as I cycle over one of her charges, park my bike at the station (Which I can do one day a week, any more than that and I need a pass) (Which, incidentally, are issued quarterly, and thus will be useless to me in exactly one months time), and stroll genteelly up to the ticketing counter.

Actually, what really happens is that the moment I commit to going by bike (Realistically, at the end of my road) the heavens open and I’m absolutely drenched. Hoping my laptop and phone are okey, I get to the station where I attempt to lock my bike to the rack, cursing my damp fingers and the annoying lock) then squelch up to the counter, dump my belongings in a deliquescing heap beside me and go though the transaction for a new season ticket, before finally presenting a damp, signed cheque for the full amount.

At which point, I’m told that they don’t accept cheques without a guarantee card. Most cheque guarantee cards in my existence have only guaranteed up to £100 on any cheque, falling far short of the required total, and my current bank card isn’t a guarantee card anyway. And besides – and more importantly – every bank card/guarantee card in this country is also either a Switch, MasterCard or Visa card too, and if I’d had it with me, I’d have put it on that, you stupid moronette.

Instead of presenting this logical answer to a drone who can do nothing about it, I swear under my breath and hand her the Visa card.

Which fails.

I go home.

It had, I observe, stopped raining the moment I entered the ticketing hall.

Bloody weather.

Next day we repeat the procedure, only without the rain or the cheques, but still with the Visa and the failing, and I’m told (By Barclay) that the reason it failed was that my balance transfer on Friday (this was Tuesday) takes three working days to clear. Try tomorrow (Friday/Monday/Tuesday, Will clear Wednesday)

This doesn’t make sense either. Where is the money? Halifax have taken it out of the account (instantly, it was gone when I hit “Submit” in the browser), and Barclaycard know about the transfer, but the money won’t clear for five days, and this isn’t a matter of physical bits of paper being shuffled, there is no practical reason why the payment shouldn’t be instant, or at least overnight.

I won the star prize at the Halifax Quiz show, and won enough money for a return ticket to Kings Cross. I went to work.

This morning the person at the train station was sarcastic at me, which I didn’t need. Same person as Monday, with a Brand New Computer System, which will Save So Much Time, and thus explains the queue for tickets that stretched out of the ticketing hall. Visa Failed.

Phone Barclaycard, am told “Probably tomorrow then”.

So I’m working from home today, because WAGN won’t sell me a season ticket, and it’s so far from cost-effective to buy daily tickets that I’m willing to let the company shout at me rather than go in.