Dinner in Hanoi, petrol in Brum

The Jewish Chronicle Online, 29/10/2010

In which my mother’s cheesecake, Barclays fraud, and dying of worry are all part of a typical Saturday

Last Saturday I dropped in on my parents’ weekly coffee morning, ‘Sally’s salon.’ My mother opened the door. “Have some cheesecake,” she said.

“No thanks, Mum. I’m trying to lose weight.”

As I walked into the kitchen, the landline rang. “This is the Barclays Fraud Prevention Unit calling.”

“Good morning! How can I help you?” I asked.

“Please don’t hang up,” the woman said.

“ Relax. Why would I hang up? I’ve only just answered,” I said.

“Please listen carefully,” she said. “All right. I promise. I’m listening carefully. How can I help you?”

“If you made a purchase in the Highway restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam last night, please press 1. If you then bought petrol at an Esso motorway station in Birmingham, please press 2.”

“ Who do you think you’re calling? Superman? I’m Peter Rosengard, not Clark Kent!”

“ If you are Mrs Rose, and do not confirm these transactions, we might have to put a stop on your Barclays debit card.”

“ Do I sound like a woman to you?” I asked.

But nothing was going to stop this woman.

“Did you make a purchase at Harry Winston’s jewellers store on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, this morning?”

The penny finally dropped. I was having a conversation with a machine.

I hung up.

Ten seconds later, I picked up again. The woman was still talking. “Did you make a large purchase in a cheese shop off the Place Vendome in Paris at 10.42 this morning?”

I hung up again.

My mother came in. “Who was on the phone? And why did you hang up on them?”

“Mum, it doesn’t matter.”

“Look, if my phone rings I like to know who rang. Is that such a terrible thing?”

“It wasn’t for you. Look, I’m only trying to protect you from worrying about things that really have absolutely nothing to do with you.”

“I’ll decide what things I’ll worry about. Not you, thank you.”

“ Mum, please don’t try and tell me how to run your life.”

“Have some cheesecake.”

“I don’t want any cheesecake!”

“Who was on the phone?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

My sister lives in Bali. Whoever had cloned her card was certainly getting around. She must have given her bank my parents’ number. I called her.

“Hi. So how was your dinner in Vietnam last night?”


“After dinner, did you stop for petrol in Birmingham on your way back to the beach? Not to mention flying over to New York to buy a little jewellery in New York today?”

“Are you crazy?” she said.

I explained what had happened. “Call your bank right away, because if they keep calling here, Mum’s going to worry herself silly.”

(I’d once suggested she write her autobiography: 1001 ways to worry yourself to death.)

The phone rang again. I lunged towards it but my 88-year-old mother was too quick for me. She grabbed the receiver.

“Hello!” she said.

“Mum it’s a machine!”

“Sssh ! I’m on the phone.

“Hang up the phone! Please, Mum. You don’t need to know about this!”

“Please don’t tell me I don’t need to know anything about something that’s nothing to do with me,” she said.

I reached for the cheesecake.