Computers never make mistakes (but humans do)
It was almost certainly the most astronomical phone bill in history.
An unemployed child minder in south-west France received a bill for £11,721,000,000,000,000 (that’s 11.7 million billion euros – more than 5,000 times the gross domestic product of France).
Solenne San Jose of Pessac, a Bordeaux suburb, had just lost her job and wanted to cancel her phone subscription, when the final bill arrived.
It took her days of wrangling with helpline staff at the phone company (Bouygues Telecom.) to stop it from being debited from her bank account. Initially she was told by shrugging staff that there was nothing they could do.
One said it’s calculated automatically.
Another told her she would be contacted about paying in instalments.
Several calls later an advisor admitted it was a mistake.
PASTEL SKETCH of Solenne San Jose on receiving her phone bill – by THOMAS MILNER
An excursion to the south- west coast of France during some summer in the early seventies.
… … After about a week we calculated that we had just enough funds for petrol, motorway tolls and tickets for the cheapest cross-channel ferry if we set off back immediately.
So we loaded up the back of my little red mini-van with two bicycles, two guitars, one violin, three back-packs with rolled tents and one crouching body and set off back up the long straight roads of France. We stopped at Poitiers (one of my favourite French cities) and crossed the Loire at Angers, with its massive and menacing castle, the nest of the Plantagenet counts of Anjou, who later became the English ruling dynasty for centuries.
MASSIVE KEEP AT ANGERS
(At the height of its hegemony, Henry II of England, through his marriage to Eleanor the only daughter and heiress of Duke William of Aquitaine, held sway over kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, baronies and lordships from Hadrian’s Wall down to the Mediterranean Sea – The Angevin Empire).
We picked up the auto-route du Nord, slept on the cross-channel ferry and flogged the flagging little van up the M1 behind one stinking truck after another, arriving in South Yorkshire feeling stiff, weary and crapulous.
At the end of that summer, being a little short of cash, I had to sell the car. I was really fond of that little red van, it never let me down.
It was my first car – and you never ever really forget the first one, do you?