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Keith Austin: When the world is your lobster Stories from a former Travel Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.


AUSTRALIA | Thursday, 15 January 2009 | Views [690] | Comments [3]

I will need a holiday after this. Ever since my other half, the fragrant Popsi Bubblehead, was awarded an Arts Council writing grant which included a studio apartment in the centre of Paris for six months (I know, poor me), everything has been leading to these few moments. It's one thing to chuck a few things into a suitcase and head off but it's quite another to chuck an entire 3-bedroom house into storage for 8 months.

And when I say 'everything has been leading to these moments', it's not an understatement. The stars truly did align; just after La Bubblehead got news of her literary residency, they announced voluntary redundancies at Fairfax Media, where I had worked as a journalist for 13 years. Luvvly jubbly, as they say. Then our landlords gave us notice to quit the Bondi house where we have lived for 9 years - and the termination date is just two days before we are due to leave.

Cue much excitement, and the dim realisation of just how much extraneous material we have accumulated. Indeed, I am expecting the local branch of St. Vinnies to start slamming the front door shut whenever they see me; bog off, Austin, we're FULL!

So here I am, sitting in a bomb site, wondering what to take and what to leave behind, surrounded by orange Kennards storage boxes all emblazoned with the word "Box", just in case I didn't know what they were. I dream of boxes while Popsi Bubblehead woke up the other morning from a nightmare that involved clambering over an increasing pile of teetering books (this after a day in which we filled our 35th book box).

Anyway, that's all by way of background. The REAL story happened at the bank. The last time I partook of any sort of extended travelling I was an impecunious backpacker (hmm, is that tautology?) and my world fitted on my back. Do that now and I'd put my back out. So what to take, moneywise?

The bank assures me that my bank card (and its little Visa logo) will work overseas. There are charges, though, so I decide to cover all bases. We will be away for 8 months all up so $10,000 in Euros and $10,000 in Australian dollar traveller's cheques should see me right.

A few days later I get the call from Kate the Teller; your items are ready for collection, Mr Austin.

I go to the bank, queue up with my number and finally head to window 4.

I'm here to pick up my Euros and traveller's cheques.

How much do you want to order of each?

No, I'm here to PICK UP. Kate rang me to say they were ready.

I'm afraid Kate's not here at the moment.

And if Kate's not here you can't give me my order? So where's Kate? I mean, she rang me this morning.

She's at lunch.

And she's got $20,000 worth of Euros and traveller's cheques in her purse?

No, but you see I've got my money and she's got her money and I can't access her money.

(Keith, thinks: I am in a bank, am I not?)

I can give you the traveller's cheques because I have enough of those but you'll have to wait until Kate returns to get your Euros.

I would have thought that just leaving them in an envelope with my name on it in the safe would have sufficed but it's nice to know that new technology keeps my dosh safe and sound and inaccessible to thieves and myself alike.

An hour later I return to the bank to find Kate ensconced again in her window. She apologises for the delay and goes to get my stuff. When she returns she takes my 5,000 or so Euros out of ... wait for it ... a tatty, much-sellotaped cardboard box. Ah, the wonders of the modern banking system.

The charge for changing my dollars into Euros is $109. Seeing as I recently transferred money to an account in Germany for a mere $30 this seems excessive. Kate agrees; why they charge so much is beyond her. It's beyond me, too. Seems the charge is a sliding scale - the more money you change the higher the charge even though the actual transaction, the number of keystrokes, is more or less the same.

The charge for transforming my dollars into traveller's cheques is also, you guessed it, $109. Still, I did get a massive 1.60c in interest last financial year, and I suppose they have to get all that sub-prime cockup money back somehow.

After this, negotiating anything in French will be a walk in the parc.

Tags: banks, euros, packing, popsi bubblehead, travellers cheques




stop chattin AIR lol

  bob Jan 15, 2009 1:37 PM


Ah Keef, expecting to get good service in a bank is where it all unravels. I ventured into one for the first time in 3 years recently (thanks to this tinterweb invention). Horrid. Shan't do it again in a hurry.
Hope the rest of the box packing goes well.

  crustyadventures Jan 16, 2009 10:00 AM


Viva Popsi! She's Back!!!!!

PS - last time I went into an Australian bank to get some foreign cash I came out empty-handed. The teller didn't know what the word "currency" meant. Noice ...

  Big Bob Jan 16, 2009 10:21 AM

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