Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ashley Sterne Aunt Louisa Cashes a Check

From the Huon Times  (Franklin, Tasmania)  December 16, 1921

One of the first things Aunt Louisa does when she comes to town is to cash a cheque.

But this is not the simple matter to her that it is to you or me. It combines many of the picturesque features of King John signing Magna Charta, Mrs. Lloyd George opening a bazaar, and trooping the colors on the King's birthday. The process it resembles least is cashing a cheque.

On the morning after her arrival Aunt Louisa, after complaining bitterly that her bed had proved to be about as dry as an oyster bed, and that she had been kept awake half the night by a mouse in the wainscot, announced her intention of drawing and cashing a cheque. I brought her pens, ink, and blotting-paper, and the first part of the enthralling performance began.

After she had ruined my three best nibs, and completely spoilt two nice clean pink cheques, she discovered that she had got her wrong glasses. So while she went in search of a suitable pair I mobilised six more pens and another half-pint of ink.

Aunt Louisa has numerous pairs of spectacles, each of which is designed to fulfil some special purpose. For instance, she has a long-distance pair for admiring the scenery, looking at fire works and so forth. Another pair sighted up to only half a yard, she uses exclusively for reading, writing, and arithmetic. A third pair of medium range she wears at the theatre.

"There, that's done!" cried Aunt Louisa, triumphantly, when she had decided how much money she required — an abstruse and complicated calculation compared with which the preparation of the Budget must be as easy as keeping silkworms. "And now we will go to the bank, Reginald."

I must explain that although Aunt Louisa lives in a prosperous, enterprising country town, with several competent policemen of its very own, a fire brigade, and a jubilee cattle-trough, she has never entrusted her money to the custody of the local branch of the County and Country Bank, but has always kept her account at the head office in London. She fosters the curious delusion that the money in all London banks is guarded day and night by Beefeaters with drawn halberds.

I went out and secured a taxi (and what with taxis for Aunt Louisa and taxes for the Government I shall soon be reduced to selling grand pianos in the streets), bundled her into it with the help of a policeman, and directed the driver to the West End office of the County and Country Bank. Since Aunt Louisa's visit they have installed one of those revolving glass doors at the entrance, and as I have mentioned previously that she is somewhat bulky, the reader can imagine that she made a pretty tight fit when, after an exhausting struggle, I got her into one of the partitions.

We went round thirty-seven times in all (power supplied by hasty customers going and coming) before Aunt Louisa providentially fled out. Thereafter the cheque-cashing ceremony followed the same lines as on previous occasions, which I will describe briefly.

Aunt Louisa advances to the cashier's desk. Ignoring the other customers patiently waiting their proper turn, she cleaves a path to the front, and forthwith embarks on a long discussion with the cashier as to whether she will take he money all in notes, or half in notes and half in threepenny-bits. When she has changed her mind for the fourteenth time the man immediately behind her in the queue asks me to keep his place for him while he goes and has a Turkish bath. The rest of the crowd settle down to playing naughts and crosses, cat's-cradle, and other innocent, healthy pastimes.

After three-quarters of an hour Aunt Louisa's cashier goes mad. Panic breaks out in the queue, where a rumor gets about that Aunt Louisa has drawn out all the cash the bank has had in stock, and that everyone else will have to be paid in stamps, pins and cowrie shells. When a fresh cashier has been procured I think it is time to intervene.

"Why not take it all in fivers, Aunt Louisa?" I suggest. "You can always get change at a pub — I mean elsewhere."

But Aunt Louisa is adamant. She has decided she wants four — no, five — one-pound notes, seven — or is it nine? — no, it's eight — eight ten-shilling notes, seventeen-and-sixpence in half crowns, a shillingsworth of coppers, and the remainder in small silver; and no combination of the national currency will satisfy her.

Meanwhile, three people in the queue commit suicide by drinking the bank's ink, two more cashiers chuck up their jobs and emigrate to banana-ranches in Honolulu, and I am approached by a deputation of the directors to remove Aunt Louisa under the Prevention of Nuisances Act.

The only placid and unmoved person is Aunt Louisa, who by this time has received her money and is busy counting it for the fifth time, having made the amount differ on each previous occasion.

But enough. My account may be slightly exaggerated in detail, but it is certainly what it seems like when Aunt Louisa cashes a cheque.

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