My guardian angel
Yesterday morning, Thursday 13 December 2007, I gave the necessary 28 days’ notice to BSM Driving School that I will retire as a Driving Instructor on 10 January 2008.
I had worked out the finances carefully in my head. In my head my finances are tidy, but in my house they are strewn across a thousand papers in random little piles. The incomings to my business bank account consist almost wholly of weekly credits from BSM, of an amount which varies wildly with the volume of my business: it can be £500 after a busy week and £50 after a quiet week. Once in a blue moon I receive a separate cheque from BSM under their “Pass Reward Scheme” if my pupils’ test results have been particularly good for a four‐month spell, but that is entirely unpredictable as it depends on a number of parameters that are outwith my control, such as the performance of other Instructors. The outgoings from my business bank account consist almost wholly of petrol (I fill up as necessary, and in any case at the end of BSM’s week late each Thursday evening) and regular monthly drawings to my private bank account. My business bank balance was low (around £215, I reckoned), and it has no overdraft facility, and my business is winding down; but I knew what lessons I was to teach over the final four weeks, and I reckoned that the account would remain in the black until 10 January when I would close it. My private bank account was quite low too, but I reckoned it held enough for the rest of the month, including my Christmas shopping, and it would be replenished by monthly drawings from the business at the end of December. I have an ISA (Individual Savings Account), and I would realise it on 11 January to fund my living expenses for the period to my 60th birthday in the following year when I will receive Civil Service superannuation benefits.
The first suggestion that I might have miscalculated came yesterday afternoon. I checked my business bank balance at a cash machine and it was £2.98. My head had told me £215. That’s when I remembered that last week’s entitlement from BSM, £212.50, had not been credited automatically to my account because of an error by BSM. Instead BSM had given me a cheque for £212.50, but I had not yet deposited it. So how was I to pay for petrol, £50 or so, upon filling up late yesterday evening (Thursday) as usual? Good news: the next weekly credit should become available for drawing at about 11 pm. Bad news: I had had a very quiet week and the weekly credit would be very small. Good news: I rummaged through recent papers and found it would be £57.75. Just enough for the petrol.
The next suggestions of a guardian angel came when I filled up at 11.30 pm. I knew I was very low on petrol: nevertheless I was confident that I had enough to last me until I filled up. I considered checking that the £57.75 credit had come through, but when I found I had exactly £55 cash on my person I didn’t bother. If necessary I could pay for the petrol by cash, and cash a cheque for an equal amount today. I filled up. I presented my debit card to the cashier and it bounced. I retrieved the £55 cash from my pocket. And I looked at the till and it said £55.16.
“Just take 16p from the penny pot,” suggested the cashier. I did. I blushed. I apologised.
The price of the petrol was 99.9p per litre. I must have put in 55.22 litres. My petrol tank is rated at 55 litres. I ought to have run out.
Having survived that scare, this morning I checked that the £57.75 credit had come through, I drew cash of £55.16 to be labelled in my accounts as petrol, I deposited the cheque for £212.50, and I returned 16p to the penny pot. Now I was safe. The cheque would clear in 4 days, in time for my next petrol purchase.
At lunchtime today, I was at home between pupils, doing a washing. Without warning, my washing machine expired. Permanently. It exploded. It was 20 years old, and I knew there was no way a repair man could look at it. Great. Where am I going to find £300 for a new washing machine? Right now, impossible. I should have to realise my ISA now. That could take up to three weeks, not even counting the time needed to rummage for the documentation among the aforesaid 1000 papers. And surviving for three weeks without a washing machine would be well nigh impossible. I could wash by hand: the devil is in the drying. The machine was a combined washer and tumble dryer, and I have no sensible alternative arrangements for drying. At this very moment I have a pair of underpants drying on a metal music stand in front of a gas fire.
This afternoon, between pupils, my mobile phone rang. “Eric? Leanne from BSM. Good news. I have a cheque for you. Pass Reward Scheme. Three hundred pounds.”
The facts in this story have not been embellished: not by one iota. I swear it by my guardian angel.
Eric P Smith
14 December 2007