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Mar 30, 2019

Always check the cheques

A sideways look at the world of independent retailing

Some blokes in the pub were getting quite emotional about the government decision to phase out cheques and eventually scrap them altogether.

One chap said people had been writing cheques for nearly 400 years and it was part of our heritage, like complaining about the next door neighbour’s dog and trying to swindle the taxman.

Another said he was psychologically unable to remember a PIN number. Credit cards were for ever falling out of the hole in his trousers pocket but he never had that problem with a chequebook.

Personally I have never liked cheques. For me, cash has always been king but I’m not averse to the odd postal order, either.

Also, you’ve got to be quite bright and have at least an O-level in general science to carry out even a basic credit-card swindle, but any Tom, Dick or Harry can bounce a dud cheque.

At least they can in our shop when my assistant Norman’s behind the counter - as I learned to my cost when a certain Mr X did us over not so long ago.

I’d only gone out for a piece of bread pudding and returned in time to see Mr X leaving the shop under a mound of merchandise including a set of Manchester United shirts, three hockey-sticks, a cricket bat and the copy of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s autobiography with the teacup stain on the back.

“That looks like a good sale,” I said and indeed the till was showing a healthy £376.50. Then I saw that look on Norman’s face which always sets the alarm bells ringing.

“I hope you’re not going to tell me you gave him credit,” I said. I have always told Norman that it’s cashonly when dealing with middle-aged men with blazers, centre partings and sandals worn with white socks.

And from my brief glimpse of Mr X as he scurried away with my merchandise, it looked as though he had all three.

“Of course not,” Norman said.“What do you take me for?“I took a cheque. He did explain that his bank-card had been struck by lightning this very morning, but I didn’t see that as a problem.”

When Mr X’s cheque bounced a week later I told Norman that it was a problem, particularly for him, as he was now under suspended notice until the debt was repaid.

I heard nothing for six weeks. Then I had a phone call from someone who sounded as though he was speaking down a length of plastic hosepipe. “Sorry not to have been in touch, old chum,” Mr X said. “There seems to have been a misunderstanding at the bank, but it’s sorted now. I’ve moved to Sarawak, but I’m putting another cheque in the post.”

Sure enough, several weeks later a cheque arrived. It was adorned with birds of paradise and tropical fruit and was for £10. It cost me £3 to get it changed into sterling. Norman took one look at my face and obviously decided not to ask for reinstatement.

I’m a patient man, but as the months passed with no sign of any more pineapple-festooned cheques, it was obviously time for more dramatic action. I invented a chief accountant, who wrote a stern letter to Mr X to the address he had unwisely put on the back of his previous cheque.

When the chief accountant’s letters remained ignored, I invented a financial director, a chief executive and finally a nonexecutive chairman.

No reply. Now getting into the swing of things, I created the Crown Overseas Collection Service, the Foreign Office Financial Restraints Department, and the United Nations Small Business Collections Corps, East India Branch.

The House of Lords had also expressed an interest and any day now Black Rod could be on his way to Kuala Lumpur on an aeroplane of the Queen’s Flight or even on a gunboat.

The chief accountant now returned to say that interest on the loan was now increasing by £20 a day and that if Mr X didn’t want his house possessed and his belongings auctioned in the street he might consider paying up.

As the phone was now cut off, Mr X was presumably now spending his time playing cricket with my bat or organising football matches in my Manchester United shirts. He certainly wasn’t replying to letters.

That didn’t stop me writing them. One evening as I was finishing a letter to Mr X from Prince William, my wife said:“There’s that TV programme about the High Court bailiffs who seem to be able to get money out of anybody? Why don’t you let them have a go?”

“If a letter from the the Duchess of Sussex does no good then I might,“I replied. But I still live in hope that a pineapple-decorated cheque will arrive from Mr X any time now.

If it doesn’t, the Queen has promised to ask him for a postal order.

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