Monday, 1 March 2010
"Oranges and Lemons" - Part II of my graduate banking story
Oranges and Lemons Poem
"Oranges and lemons" say the Bells of St. Clement's
"You owe me five farthings" say the Bells of St. Martin's
"When will you pay me?" say the Bells of Old Bailey
"When I grow rich" say the Bells of Shoreditch
"When will that be?" say the Bells of Stepney
"I do not know" say the Great Bells of Bow
"Here comes a Candle to light you to Bed
Here comes a Chopper to Chop off your Head
Chip chop chip chop - the Last Man's Dead."*
So there I was tapping away at the great wooden door (with one hand) of the Scottish Bank, Cheapside Branch, which resembled the enormous portals of Newgate prison or so it felt at the time. "What had I let myself in for?" I wondered somewhat nervously. I was certain that Dick Whittington hadn't suffered from these qualms.
One of the junior members of staff muttered something and let me in. I can't quite remember if we needed passwords or not. ("Pieces of eight, pieces of eight" I imagined a parrot squawking at me. I couldn't get the words out of my head. I must be imaging things. Either that or I was going mad.)
Over the first few weeks I was soon able to piece together what was going on. Almost.
On that first momentous day I was shown around the branch by Ted - the Branch Banking jacketless manager. The "branch" part of it was housed in a building owned ultimately by The Bank of England. There we were in a little recessed half square (which I'm not sure exists now) off the main street of the City of London. The Scottish bank was on the left hand side in the corner and a NatWest Branch nustled beside us immediately on the right hand side. (I can vaguely recall a Boots Chemist Branch being close-by: headache tablets became my best friends.)
They say that in Roman Times Christians were thrown to the Lions. At that time I felt myself to be one of those tortured denizens.
The branch was divided up into two sections: the bog standard branch banking bit was in the Bank of England building which took up the area between New Change and Bread St. (In the artist's impression it is on the right hand side - all shiny and new where the old branch used to be.) The second "posher" part of the branch was over in Foster Lane (in the image on the left hand side of Cheapside where a third tree is nearly tucked in between two buildings) - where all the lending went on. I was soon to discover that I would spend the first six months of the graduate banking scheme in the branch banking side and if I passed the first six months of induction with flying colours I would then by kept on by the bank. The second six months would then be spent with the lending teams over at Foster Lane and I was to be inducted into the fine art of giving monied people even more dosh.
I'd turned up at the bank with my right hand in plaster largely because I'd been holidaying in Spain with some old friends. Ah ha! I hear you say..."Had I been involved in riotous partying Ibiza style"? "Oh no, far from it" would be my honest response . A week prior to starting at the bank I'd been out with my Spanish friends in a suburban area of Malaga called El Palo one afternoon. We stopped to have a coffee (OK beer) at a pavement cafe. We were sitting outside drinking and chatting when I pushed my seat back for some reason. Before I knew it my chair was falling sideways and I instinctively put out my right hand to stop me from pranging myself on my face. Splat! I went over! ...leaving my hand and arm a tad numb. The owners rushed out to see if I was all right. I grinned back to say I was fine although I admit I felt more than a little foolish. (There'd been holes left in the pavement where the council had been planning to plant trees.) All the other customers instantly fled the scene in order to muffle their howls of laughter. My friend's brother, Javier, tried to look sympathetic even though his shoulders were heaving with silent mirth. Hence my right hand finished up encased in plaster a few days later via Kingston hospital. I'd broken a small bone. Ouch! (Ole!)
Ted introduced me to "The Scottish Bank Manager" (who, to be fair, always did seem jolly, avuncular and missing in golf action) who was much amused at the slight of his latest graduate recruit. I was shown into his office which had all the hallmarks of a Roman Emperor's lair. I was much relieved that he did have a sense of humour. We'll call him Rab McColtrane.
Having negotiated and survived that tummy rumbling encounter I was now to be introduced to the main branch across the road.
The North London fellow, Ted, in charge of Branch Banking, who in comparison with his boss, looked dishevelled and dejected. His tie was always awry and he was often to be observed sauntering around aimlessly. He was well aware that he was at the helm of a raggedy bunch: Two Central Line ladies, Beryl and Brenda, in their early forties ruled the roost. They presided over all of us with digits firmly attached to their ubiquitous bags of sweets. They doted upon East End Jack the Lad [Jack] who was always full of bonhomie and one liners. There was the skinny girl [Eliza] who, thankfully, effectively and efficiently ensured that the branch operated full stop. She was the one who knew the arcane mysteries of daily cheque clearing and "waste" accounts. She was the one who knew how to change one currency into another. She was the one who made sure that the tills tallied at the end of each day. At her side was the pretty new 18 year old girl [Amy] who would be soon flirting with Jack the Lad on a daily basis. A wee strip of a boy [Ollie] darted around who had the job of runner. He sallied forth with brilliant jokes and had a marvellous slant on life...he was my favourite. There was the slicked back ginger haired raffish youth [Reg], in the corner, with each of his fingers adorned with a gold knuckle duster ring, he was another who had the full support of the Central Liners. Nevertheless I didn't trust him as far as I could have thrown him and, last but not least, over there beside her mates ("as thick as thieves") was another Central Liner part-timer [Lil]. "Lil was jus' back from maternity leave" I was reliably informed.
Thus the scene was set for my first dust-ups with cheques, direct debits, pink debit slips, white credit slips, standing orders, foreign currencies, setting up accounts, closing down accounts, internal post bags, computer systems and the like.......indeed I couldn't wait to get stuck in....(!)
* The Branch was a stone's throw from the Church of St. Mary le Bow. Legend has it that to be a true Cockney you must be born within earshot of the bells of St. Mary's. Dick Whittington heard them and turned back to be Mayor of London. The children's song "Oranges and Lemons" (as above) also makes reference to them. (The church can be seen in the distance in the image above.)