Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Money, Money, Money, Must be Yummy... (Part III)
Even though I had been a mere stripling when that famous pop song* ("Money, money, money...") was written back in 1976 by Abba those innocuous words had stuck in my little filial firmament. My parents had done well in the rag trade in the North East and I was extremely lucky to be sent to a girls' private school in suburban Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne. About the time that song had been penned, hummed and sung by almost everyone, everywhere, I can remember my parents' pale blue Jaguar parked up on the main courtyard of the Junior School. They were inside having a meeting (they were on the Parent and Teachers Association). I, aged nine, was outside discussing the merits of Jaguar ownership with one of my classmates. Money, money, money. It does funny things to you even at the tender age of nine.
So fast forward a fair few years and here I was, aged twenty three and a bit, commuting into The City from Kew to the Scottish Bank in the first few months of my Graduate Banking Scheme. (To refresh your memories - you may like to read Parts I and II again: here and here.) I had kitted myself out with office clothes from Next and I'd bought my faux leather briefcase from goodness knows where. "Yes", I thought to myself, "I've made it!" I was now officially part of "The City" crowd. I was renting a flat in Kew with some students I'd known from my college days and I lined up on the District Line platform along with everyone else. We all shuffled into our places and I soon sussed that if I waited at the top of the platform I'd be guaranteed a seat all the way to Mansion House tube station. (Everyone got into the other end of the train at Richmond which was the starting point of the tube train.) Result!
At first it seemed like an absolute novelty. Of course I did the classic thing of buying The Financial Times until I realised that no-one in branch banking (in the actual bread and butter side) read The FT. You were viewed as a bit of a nutter if you did.
Those first few months of being amongst the people who actual ran the branch were an absolute torture. Perhaps it was inevitable. There I was a well paid graduate who did not seem to know her behind from her elbow when it came to doing all the daily tasks in the branch. Somehow or other Ted, Beryl, Brenda, Jack, Eliza, Amy, Ollie, Reg and Lil all knew what level of high flying salary I was getting even before I did. (They kind of ran their own ship. They were pretty much divorced from the lending section. In fact looking back on it all it was very strange that the two parts were so removed from one another. A quirk of history I think.) I barely knew what a bank account was. (Well, I had an inkling but I had not been inducted into the black arts of banking by then.) In any event they did treat me reasonably. Coming from the East End of London they treated me *gently* with boxing gloves - let's put it that way. I felt constantly terrified.
I had to come to terms with pink debit slips and white credit slips. Interbranch debits and credits. Cheques being encoded for the clearing system. What had to go into which bag and when. Who had to be debited there and who had to be credited there. Certain names kept cropping up with alarming alacrity. City based names of solicitors, lawyers, other banks, the worshipful company of this, that and t'other.
It was just as well that I had studied a language degree I reflected..they were all speaking a different, obtuse type of language here. I had slipped into a parallel universe. In the those first few weeks and months I felt like Alice in Wonderland falling down and down and down that profound rabbit-hole. Pink and white slips fell alongside her like confetti petals. Files, ledgers, waste bags, names, numbers, direct debit mandates, standing orders, foreign exchange dockets, cheque books, credit books, double entry systems, clearing, waste, computer systems, different screens, customer names, interview rooms, the lending section over the road (read that as "the Bogeyman"...which may as well have been in Zambia for all I knew or cared), six months for good behaviour, other graduates on the scheme, branch banking courses (held at regular intervals), banking exams, banking books, graduates at other branches scattered all over in London. Alice or I, Hadriana, would reach out occasionally pick things up and rapidly put them back again. Nothing really made much sense. Could I find a potion which would turn me into a bona fide banker?
Nevertheless I existed. I scrambled through my days...commuting, despairing, commuting, despairing but equally I gained mental sustenance through my lunch hours gazing at the history of the City: regarding walls, buildings, cemeteries, the names and facades of foreign banks, smatterings of pockets of green where medieval churches nestled.
I also bonded and made friends with that year's current crop of graduates. I marvelled at the talented numerate girl, Janice, who, after the day's lecture on debit and credit slips, nonchalantly threw them away in the bin whereas I bundled them all up together into my file to take them home, to revise them in a desperate bid to make something of this branch banking malarkey. (They were, in fact, destined to become beermats at a pub in Kew.) I did admire her nonchalance though. I had to try to stop taking all this stuff so seriously. My six months' probation was nearly up.
I learned to joke with Ted, Beryl, Brenda, Jack, Eliza, Amy, Ollie, Reg and Lil. (Just as well really after I had made them all stay working late one night after catastrophically messing up the processing of the direct debits and standing order mandates. My paperwork had all merged into one huge, tottering pile. Some of it insisted in falling off my desk quite often. Sigh.) I learned to look forward to my Wednesday half days over at Moorgate College where all us graduates would meet up to hear about the joys of Banking Law with Barry the wild, esoteric law lecturer.
To be continued....
This week's Hadriana award goes to the marvellous blog of Maggie May called "Nuts in May".