Thursday 16 February 2017

Hovering over the cash machine

Life can be difficult for older people. In particular, advancing years and technology can be a discomforting mix, as I recently discovered when trying to teach my 85-year-old father how to use a cash dispenser.

Throughout his life, my lovely dad has always drawn his money from the local post office and, if paying his bills by cash is not an option, he has always chosen to write a cheque. Credit and debit cards are alien to him. Alas, all the post offices in his locality have shut down so he is now compelled to rely on the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ cash machine to get his hands on his money. He asked if I would show him how to use it and I agreed to accompany him.

The first time, he watched as I carried out the procedure step by step, while providing a running commentary. On the second occasion – in an attempt to consolidate his learning – I suggested that he perform the whole operation himself, while I observed. We chose a quiet moment at the cashpoint located 200 metres from his home.

The process went something like this:

DAD: Am I holding my card the right way up?

ME: Yes, it’s the right way up.

DAD: Then why won’t it fit in the hole?

ME: Because you’re trying to shove it into the slot where the notes come out; you need to put it here, where it says ‘INSERT CARD HERE’.

Card inserted, the menu of options appears on the screen.

DAD: Do I put my 4-digit number in now?

ME: No, not yet. You first need to read the options and decide which one you want.

DAD: But I can’t read them – I need my specs. (Starts rummaging in his pockets in search of his reading glasses). OK – I can see it now. So do I want ‘CASH ONLY’ or ‘CASH WITH RECEIPT’?

ME: Well, do you want a receipt?

DAD: Oh yes – I always get a receipt. You can’t trust anybody these days; they’re all trying to rip you off. I need a receipt to …

ME: So press the ‘CASH WITH RECEIPT’ button then.

DAD: Where is it now … let’s see … (Finger hovering over the screen, as if carrying out a subtle piece of black magic)? Oh, what’s happened now?

ME: It’s timed you out. Take your card out and we’ll try again.

DAD: Just my luck to get an iffy machine!

Dad inserts card again.

DAD: Do I put my 4-digit number in now? It’s 672 …

ME: No, not yet. Push this button here to say you want cash with a receipt.

Dad pushes said button.

DAD: Can I put my 4-digit number in now?

ME: Wait a moment. What does it say on the screen?

DAD: It says … (moves his face closer to the screen) … ‘DO …YOU…WANT…TO…CHECK…YOUR…BALANCE…BEFORE…WITHDRAWING … YOUR…CASH?’

ME: Well, do you?

DAD: Why would I want to do that? I wouldn’t be withdrawing money if I didn’t have it in my bank account. Me and your mother don’t spend money we haven’t got – unlike this younger generation who … …

ME: Then press this ‘NO’ button dad.

DAD: Oh, the damn thing’s timed me out again

By this point, a queue had formed behind us. Their facial expressions suggested that, after witnessing this odd couple hovering over the cash dispenser, many of them suspected I was guilty of elderly abuse, trying to rip off the old fella.

We let those waiting go before us and, about 20 minutes (and three further attempts) later, my old dad was able to withdraw his £250. He then proceeded to count it out – note by note – in the midst of passing shoppers. I think I will need to accompany him a few more times before he gets the hang of it.

Photo courtesy of jk1991 at


  1. This brings back memories. I was able to teach my 79 year old mom to do email so she could get daily notes from me, when we moved out of town pn a temp assignment. She did very well - for awhile. I am still snickering at your dad learning new technology - he will get it, really! Have him write the steps down and make Step #1 "put on your glasses for reading!" Keep us posted as to his victories!!

    1. It will of course soon be our turn for dithering and confusion - I think I'm part-way there already!

    2. It IS possible we won't forget, you know. We've already used this technology and it MIGHT keep us sharper. Really!

  2. Oh dear! New technology is so tough on the elderly.
    It reminds me of my Dad when he had to place a call to his Phone company/retirement organisation/social security when you have this disembodied voice telling you to press 1 or 2 or 3, depending on your request. Not only had he trouble hearing but his fingers were too big to hit the correct button on time. He got timed out, sent back to the main menu or hung up on. I always ended up making these calls. I don't understand why there is not a special number, with a real person at the other end for the elderly. After all they represent a big percentage of society.

    1. Yes, my father also struggles with the idea of recorded messages and on a few occasions has persevered in having a conversation with them. I agree - a lot of this stuff is not great for the elderly.

  3. Oh, what a sweetheart.
    I'm a lot younger, but I'm like your dad, too.
    I usually have Mr. L. help me with those technical things.
    cause I'm a bit of a dork.
    hope you are well. x

  4. I'm not great at technology in general, but I thinks I've just about mastered the cash machine.
    I hope things are well in Minnesota.

  5. Dear God---I just know I sound exactly like your dad to my own kids......

  6. Reminds me of trying to teach my dad to 'compose and send' an email. I emailed him detailed instructions along with screenshots, feeling really smug and benevolent. Just one hitch - he didn't know how to access his 'email postbox' in the first place.