I mentioned my old boat in this column and have been denounced by a reader for not being “a man of the people.” A few points. Firstly, have you seen the people lately? Would you really want to be a man of them?
Secondly, two minutes of research produces the following figures. Annual cost of sailing-club membership, boat fees and other charges: £412. Wolves season ticket: £493. A lot of people spend more on football than others spend on sailing. The difference is that every time we go sailing we learn something.
I have, of course, left out the cost of a boat. The last one I bought, a few months ago, was a 1970s Mirror dinghy, a floating symbol of old-fashioned socialism from the days when DIY kits sold to Daily Mirror readers turned sailing from an elite sport into a mass pastime. It cost me £100.
Talking of high finance, here's a cyber-tale to chill the blood. It concerns a bereaved man in Cambridgeshire who, in order to get his share of his father's estate, passed his own bank details to his solicitor. Unfortunately, he got the sorting-code number wrong by one digit. The money - £193,000 - was transferred to the account of somebody at another branch of the same bank with a similar name who not only refused to hand back the loot but began spending it. Incredibly, it cost the rightful owner £46,000 in legal fees to recover his money. The bank at first refused to pay him more than £25 as “a gesture.” It has now agreed to refund the full amount, after a national newspaper took up the case.
Worryingly for me, this story broke as I was half-way through an online transaction, moving some money out of Premium Bonds and into my current account (Christmas is coming and I have promised the polo ponies a new stable). It was the first time I'd moved money this way. National Savings & Investments (NS&I) gave me a customer number and a password and all seemed to go well. The process ended with an on-screen prompt to expect a phone call. Sure enough, the phone rang, an automatic message told me to enter the four-digit code which had just appeared on my screen and the process ended. But there was no receipt. And the next day my Premium Bond balance showed no sign of my withdrawal. Nor the next day. Nor the next.
So three days later, slightly panicky, I repeated the transfer process. It took less than five minutes. This time I got an instant NS&I receipt and the money landed in my bank account within 48 hours. But there was no automatic phone call and no on-screen code. In fact the process seemed quite different from the first time. I don't know what was going on but by now some of us are so scared of online theft that we suspect we are being scammed even when we're not. The greatest gift of the internet? Paranoia.