The day I robbed a bank, aged 17

My first bank account was with NatWest. They offered me £30 to open it, in 1996. The branch was in Bridge Street, one of the shopping streets in Pinner, Middlesex, and I lived more than half a mile away – which, for a lazy teenager, was an epic trek.

My grandparents had given me a cheque for my birthday, which was also £30, and I wanted to cash it so I could buy something nice at the weekend. It would take four days to clear. So that Monday at 4pm I strolled down to the bank, which closed at 4.30pm. By the time I got there, it was 4.15pm – comfortably before closing time.

But no! Alas, the bank was closed. There was no notice outside – the plaque on the wall still said its opening hours were 9.30 to 4.30pm on weekdays – but the door was firmly shut and wouldn’t budge, no matter how hard I tried to get in.

I sighed. If the bank was shut, that meant I wouldn’t be able to cash my cheque in time for the weekend. Then – aha! – I heard the lock turn, and spied movement. Someone was being let out of the bank. ‘Excuse me,’ I said to the bank official doing the letting out, whose badge said Bank Manager, ‘it’s only 4.15pm and I’d like to cash a cheque please.’

‘We’re closed,’ he said, looking surly, and slammed the door in my face, locking it again.

Well!, I thought. That was just not on. The bank had an obligation to its customers – it couldn’t close early unless it had a very good reason, and the man hadn’t provided one. [My mum had been doing a law degree throughout my childhood, which may explain my slightly argumentative nature back then.]

So when the door next opened to let someone out, I slipped past them and into the bank. Hurray! Now I could cash my cheque.

‘Get out!’ snarled the bank manager. He was an Asian man, but clearly felt no solidarity for this fellow Asian. He was also quite a bit taller than my unimpressive height of 5’2″, but he didn’t scare me.

‘I’ll get out as soon as you cash my cheque,’ I said. ‘I’m a NatWest customer and you have a duty to cash it.’

‘We’re not going to cash your cheque, so you can get out now,’ the bank manager snapped, though I could see the bank tills were still open and the cashiers were working.

‘Shan’t!’ I said truculently, and slid down to the floor. I still remember exactly where in the bank I sat down – near the entrance, diagonally opposite the customer service desk. ‘I’m not leaving until you cash my cheque. You have opening hours and they’re not over yet.’

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The bank manager was fuming, but clearly didn’t want to forcibly manhandle me out of the branch like Mark Field. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Get out, or I’m calling the police.’

‘Call them!’ I said, still staging my one-girl sit-in protest. ‘See if I care. I’m going to report you to head office and close my account!’ (This wasn’t much of a threat, as back then my account contained about 50p, but it was all I could think of.)

To my surprise, the bank manager actually called the police. He dialled the number as I sat grumpily on the bank floor, and he muttered something into the phone. I shrugged and hugged my knees to my chest, bored and cross.

The police station was at the top of Bridge Street in those days, so it took less than one minute for the sirens to blaze and the police car to screech down to the bank. Two uniformed policemen burst in, then looked around the bank, puzzled.

‘We’ve come here because of reports of a disturbance!’ one of them announced.

The bank manager pointed at me.

‘Is this the disturbance?’ the policeman asked, gawping at my seven-and-a-half-stone frame, amazed.

‘She’s trespassing and refusing to leave the bank,’ the bank manager announced. I glared at him.

‘We’ve come here on blues and twos!’ the policeman ranted, staring at me. ‘We thought the bank was being robbed!’

‘Don’t blame me! I didn’t call you,’ I said. ‘I just wanted to cash my cheque.’

The policeman calmed down. ‘Well, if the bank manager tells you to leave the bank, you should leave the bank,’ he said.

I glared, defeated, and got to my feet. ‘He shouldn’t have called you though,’ I said. ‘I’m not very scary.’

‘Quite the opposite, Madam,’ replied the policeman mildly, who clearly thought the bank manager was a bit of a dick.

I never did report the bank manager to head office or close my account – I think I realised I was being a bit of a horror and they wouldn’t take my side – but I did eventually get to cash my cheque.

I still hold an account with NatWest to this day, though the best thing I ever got out of that bank was this anecdote.

2017_12_29_16_28_15[Me as a teenager. I was wearing a boob tube, though you can’t see it.]

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 1

Me: 12st 12.8lbs (total loss: 1.4lbs). Here’s a picture of my feet on the scales so I can’t cheat (apologies for my hairy legs and feet. I am basically a gorilla in human form!)

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John: 14st 6lbs (total loss: 1.5lbs)

John is winning (just)! I need to up my game.

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Ding-dongs and diet wrongs

Someone asked on Twitter, ‘Ever had a fight with a celebrity?’ To be honest, I’ve had a few, but the one which really stands out was my appearance on The Alan Titchmarsh Show on ITV1 in March 2010, just before my nervous breakdown. It was a debate about whether it was a shame that Britons are less aware of the Easter story these days – and it wasn’t a fair debate, either, because it was three Christians (Alan himself, Gloria Hunniford and some arse from Christian radio) against me. This was over nine years ago, so I’m trying to dredge up all the depressing details from the bit of my brain where I’ve repressed them – apologies in advance for any inaccuracies.

I will never forget that Alan, Gloria and The Arse were all horrible and made it very clear that they didn’t like atheists at all. They were making jokes and exchanging pointed glances at my expense, and I felt very isolated and upset. There was literally no one in my corner. If I had been cool-headed when the cameras were rolling, I would have made Barack Obama’s point that ‘We are no longer just a Christian nation, but also a nation of Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Sikhs and non-believers’ (I’m paraphrasing here). I would have asked Gloria, Alan and The Arse from Christian Radio whether they were aware of, say, Zoroastrian stories, or stories of all the other religions – and if not, why was it more of a shame that Britons of other faiths weren’t aware of the details of the Easter story than vice versa?

But prior to the debate, the producer had tried to polarise it and take all the nuance out of it, insisting I ‘go in really hard – it was great when you said on the phone that religion was stupid’. Worse, none of the other participants would talk to me when I tried to be friendly, and then Alan grimly deigned to tell me in a threatening way that the debate would be ‘VERY feisty, VERY feisty indeed.’ When I was introduced as an atheist, I got roundly booed by the blue rinse brigade audience, and Alan joked that the response ‘wasn’t very Christian’, but I could tell that he was loving it. I tried to laugh it off, but was rattled. Then I completely lost my thread during the debate, and said that the Easter story was effectively a snuff movie, but I wasn’t as articulate and cogent as I would have liked to be, as they were all ganging up on me. It was a pretty dreadful performance on my part.

Afterwards, off-camera, Gloria and The Arse laid into me, laughing smugly that I was ‘awful and scary’ and ‘showed atheists in a very poor light’, and I snapped at all three of them that they were ‘fucking arseholes!’ and walked away shaking. My brain was telling me that I was hated and that someone out there was going to kill me, and days later I became suicidal – and the suicidal ideation lasted for over a year. I also refused to appear on telly again for a ridiculous number of years (eight? I’m not sure). However, I’ve never blamed my nervous breakdown on my appearance on the show, because though it was probably a contributory factor, my mental health was already very poor and this was just the last straw.

I can see, though, that being ganged up on 3-1 (plus factoring in the 200-strong elderly Christian audience, who were clearly the last remaining churchgoers in the UK) was not right. Producers have a duty of care and I wasn’t taken care of at all – I guess they thought I could fend for myself, but they were totally wrong. So I can completely understand why there have been suicides after similarly combative shows such as Jeremy Kyle. Leaving a show with the idea that everyone hates you is horrendous, especially in the age of social media.

Alan was right when he said the show would be feisty, but he could also have applied the adjective to me – though very mentally ill and anxious, I am simultaneously quite hot-tempered. I come across as placid and easygoing, but if something riles me, I see red. So during and after filming, I was experiencing a very intense, confusing mixture of anger and fear. They say that all anger is really fear, and they’re probably right, though I was also harbouring fantasies of channelling Rocky. I didn’t kick Gloria in the fanny, Alan in the balls or The Arse in the arse though, even though I really wanted to, as I didn’t want my foot to smell.

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Anyhow, fast-forwarding nine years to yesterday, I had an awful heated row about money with my ex-husband. We both dredged up lots of bitterness and resentment from our marriage (though friends, we both hold serious grudges and keep score massively. Some therapy would really help right now if either of us could afford it). He apologised for ‘being a dong’, though not before I had a huge emotional binge on all the junk food in the kitchen. So I’m back up to 13 stone again today and feeling very ashamed, which is miserable – but not as miserable as appearing on The Alan Titchmarsh Show.

I swear he’s the subconscious reason I don’t like gardening and have decked my whole back yard.

MY DAILY STATS

Weight: 13st (goal weight: 7st 11lbs)

Waist: 36.5″ (goal: 25″)

Bust: 43″ (goal: 32″)

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Lucy Spencer, Mark White, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of amazing rewards in addition to this credit! Please support me on Patreon.