I don’t pray for parking spots. I know others do. And good luck to them. But me, I haven’t the stomach for it. Because, if I get a parking spot, someone else misses out, right? Someone who might have needed the parking spot more than me. Or worse, what if I did pray, earnestly, and a parking spot never materialised. What would that say about me? My faith? And God?
See, it’s complicated. I just don’t go there. Although, I have say, last week I was sorely tempted.
I say last week but, in truth, this story begins back in August when Mum moved from her independent living unit in Adelaide to a serviced apartment In Melbourne. She wasn’t going to wait for the sale of her unit to fund the move, she decided. She was going to sell a few shares and purchase her new home immediately. Would I help her sell the shares, please?
Now what I knew about shares could be wrapped in a pocket handkerchief. But, really? I thought. How hard could it be? Fill out a few forms. Make the odd phone call. I’m a capable educated person. And mum would have records.
I was wrong (about the records and my capabilities).
There were no records apart from two circa nineteen eighties purchase slips printed on some kind of non-digital machine that no longer exists. Mum didn’t know her tax file number. Nor had she kept any holdings statements. Apparently she’d had an accountant in Adelaide, who’d done everything. And, quite frankly, he’d done so much he’d washed his hands of the situation. He certainly wasn’t returning my calls. To compound the situation, mum would call me every few days and say:
‘Elizabeth. I think I might have Boral shares. Perhaps, some Asgard? Yes, that’s right. Asgard. I’m sure I bought some of those too.’
Now before we continue, I need to describe my working week. I spend two days a week in a library at an hourly rate and three days at home writing. We won’t talk about the money I make writing – because quite frankly there isn’t much. But, even so, I’m disciplined. I don’t go clothes shopping on writing days. I don’t take long lunch breaks. I don’t have my hair cut on those days. I don’t go to the movies or work in the garden. I write on those days – as if I were getting paid because, if I don’t write, I develop a crazed, fluttering caged bird feeling in my chest. The only cure for which is time alone at my desk.
In fact, looking back, August was the time I should have started praying. Because – I’m sure you can see this coming – banks, trading companies, accountants and lawyers are not available on weekends (at least not for the likes of me). And for some reason City of Boroondara libraries weren’t eager to subsidise the sorting out my mother’s finances. Which meant every phone call, every live online enquiry and every bank visit would have to occur in my writing time.
Writing takes time. And concentration. You need to imagine what a character is thinking, how their body is moving, what they might say next, how others are reacting. Then you have to experience it through their eyes which, in my current case is through the eyes of three people travelling in the steerage compartment of an 1841 emigrant vessel. I’ve never visited a medium but I suspect writing historical fiction is the non-spiritual equivalent of channelling someone long deceased. It certainly isn’t the kind of experience you can conjure up between phone calls.
But what could I do? There was no one else. Mum had done her best. And now she needed a bit of help. I mean, that’s why she’d moved to Melbourne in the first place. For support. And from who else, but her loving, caring, eldest daughter.
Imagine my phone calls.
‘Good morning, my name is Elizabeth Corbett. I’m ringing on behalf of my mother. She thinks she may have Boral shares.’
‘Is your mother with you at the moment, Elizabeth?’
‘Do you have an SRN number? Or a holding statement?’
‘No but please, I don’t need details. Just to know whether she has shares with you.’
Sigh. Cautious voice on the other end of the line.
‘What is your mother’s name?’
Glynda – Glynda Winifred Dobbs (don’t panic it’s a pseudonym).
Can you spell Glynda, please?
Well now, here’s the thing. Sometimes she spells it with a y and sometimes she spells it with an i.’
‘So, how do you think she might have spelled it this time, Elizabeth?’
After endless forms and phone calls , every one of which took place during my writing time (did I mention that small, important detail), I managed to obtain holding statements for mum’s shares and to determine roughly how much they were worth. We decided which ones to sell. Filled out a one-off trade form, gathered her hundred points of ID (with examples of inconsistent name spelling), made certified copies of her certificates and sent the whole bundle off to CommSec.
A week later, mum phoned me.
‘Elizabeth. The bank just called. They can’t sell the shares until we’ve filled out a change of address form.’
‘But why? We’re selling them all.’
‘I don’t know why, love. It’s just policy.’
Now, here’s the thing about changing a shareholders address. You need their SRN number. This is typed on the top right hand corner of the holding statement. Which is all well and good if you have a holding statement (as any normal capable administrator would have). But not if you are doing the admin in your writing time and in your haste to get the whole thing over with you have sent the original holding statement off to CommSec without making a copy.
It took weeks to get the SRN back. It was like that repetition song: There’s a hole in my bucket dear Liza, dear Liza… Every time I contacted Boardroom, I got a different person. A person who had no record of my previous conversation. Each time, we got to the crux of the matter, they would say:
‘Sorry, I can ‘to help you without an SRN number.’
Then the whole silly song would start over again.
In the end, I let my caged birds loose. I rang CommSec with them fluttering and sobbing and cawing in the background.
The woman on the phone heard their cries and took pity on me. She called mum. Mum wasn’t wearing her hearing aids that day but she wrote down what she heard. It was wrong. There were too many digits for the little boxes on the change of address form. I rang Boardroom. Went through the whole there’s a whole in my bucket thing again. When it got to the part where I had to supply an SRN, I took a blind guess. Got it right, even though I didn’t pray (Eureka! Perhaps God knew it was my writing day). Now, all I had to do was fill out the change of address form and the sale would proceed.
It did. A week later, a cheque arrived in the post. I met mum for lunch (yes, on my writing day). From there we planned to go to the bank, deposit the cheque, amalgamate monies from sundry other low cost small old lady accounts and transfer the total into the solicitor’s bank account. Mum had rung the bank and been assured we could do everything through NAB.
Wrong again. I knew it the minute I saw the blank look on the NAB teller’s face.
‘Our teller machines issue money to People’s Choice Credit Union customers,’ he explained, ‘but we don’t take deposits. I’m sorry.’
‘You’ll have to go to a People’s Choice Credit Union branch. The nearest one is at Highpoint.’
Now I have to say, I had never been to Highpoint. And it wasn’t on my bucket list. For a start, it it’s affectionately known as Knifepoint. Secondly, I don’t know my way around that part of town and, thirdly, my mum can barely walk. That’s what this whole damn move was about, in the first place. She is incapacitated. Just getting her from the cafe to the Coburg NAB branch had been a logistical nightmare. Let alone, navigating acres of shopping mall.
But what could I do? I had to deposit the cheque somehow.
We drove to Knifepoint. The lady on Google maps was helpfulness personified. In the few instances, I elected to deviate from the proffered route she informed me politely. Mum gave clucks of concern. I explained my reasons for the diversion. Mum explained them back to the lady on Google maps. We got there without mishap. Then it happened. As as I drove into the specified car park entrance, the urge to pray came upon me. There were so many entrances and Google didn’t know mum couldn’t walk. Or that we needed to find a People’s Choice Credit Union. And it was almost the end of trading time.
I didn’t pray for all of the above reasons.
Instead, I started channeling Puddleglum the Marshwiggle.
‘Now mum, I’m going to sit you down here while I find a wheel chair. The information booth is probably at the other end of the shopping centre. And, I won’t lie to you, they might not have one available. But if they do, I’ll probably have to fill out a form, which will probably take hours. Then we’ll have to find the Credit Union which will probably be at the other end of the shopping centre. It’s getting late, and the shops are about to close, so I doubt we’ll make it. But we’re here now. We may as well give it a try.’
I left mum at the coffee shop and strode into the shopping centre. First up, I needed to find an information board. There should have been one right by the entrance. But…everything looked so unfamiliar. I stopped, scratching my head. Scanned the entrance, passing over optometrists, two banks, a credit union, Tattersalls, and a lone green grocer’s shop. I stopped. Hang on a sec? A credit union? I turned, blinked. Shook my head. Did a slow scan of the entrance and, sure enough, there it was – a credit union. And not just any credit union – a People’s Choice Credit Union, in all its tacky olive green and red capsicum glory.
I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I still can’t believe it. Mum walked the short twenty metres and banked her cheque. The whole transaction took about three minutes. It was a miracle. A genuine bonafide miracle. Or maybe just a happy coincidence? Whatever the case, I’d never have dared prayed for it. But, as mum and I walked back to the car, I fancied I heard a great big belly laugh from heaven