“Check and sign, please.” Thus goes the debit card mantra. I pass the shop assistant a copy of Bill Brysons’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. He scans the barcodes, and tippety-taps something on the cash register.
“That’ll be twelve pounds, please,” he says. I hand over my Switch card. He swipes it, and twirls it idly in his fingers while he waits for the network authorisation. The cash register spews out an itemised receipt, and a voucher for me to…
“Check and sign, please.”
Where’s the dotted line? There it is. I scrawl and scribble something that looks like india ink seeping into a cracked windscreen. I hand him back the pen and the signed slip. He compares it with the stylised and miniaturised version on the back of my card, and decides not to call his supervisor for a second opinion.
He pulls a plastic back from a pile under the counter, flaps it open, and slides the book inside. “Shall I just put the receipt in the bag?.”
“Nah,” I say, “I’ll get it in my wallet.” Along with dozens of other pink, green, blue and white slips recording my spending habits over the last couple of weeks.
“Cheers,” I say. “Thanks very much.” And the transaction is complete.
…or is it?
A couple of days later I was emptying out my wallet and bringing our accounts spreadsheet up to date. £31.45 at Safeway, £12.71 at ScotMid, £33 to renew my bus pass, and… hang on…. £120 for the Bill Bryson book?
When they say “Check and sign, please,” they mean that you should check the amount, and then sign the slip. Not just check to see where you have to put your autograph. I thought that barcode scanning took care of all these pricing issues, but apparently there’s still plenty of scope for human error.
The folk at Waterstones were very good about giving me a refund for the excess £108, and they all had a good giggle about it. So did I, once I had the money back.