Sunday, 24 April 2011

More dash than cash in the City of London - Part IV

(Above photo - old Roman walls in the City. As taken out of the window of the City of London Museum at the Barbican.)

I've previously written about my life in the City of London:
Part I
Part II
Part III

(also on the sidebar under "Tales of the Unexpected". You may like to catch up with those before reading on.)

I had hoped to write up each "tranche" (a special banking word for parts/sections of lending facilities) with all the different characters and flesh them out. Sadly I ain't got the time! As usual I am trying to do one billion things and I must press on. I'd also promised "The Other Side of Paris" that I would finish my City of London accounts...I like to try and keep my promises! where was I? I think I'd left the story when I was undertaking my first 6 month stint in branch banking in Cheapside branch in domestic banking (with varying results). I managed to get through that experience then I was transferred over the road to the lending section for another six months.

This is going to be a whirlwind tour of the City so to speed things up....

In that lending stint/initiation two episodes stand out...
1. I was "interrogated" by the bank's internal police/audit section. "It wasn't me guv!" I almost exclaimed. (It's amazing when you get hauled in front of end up feeling guilty for something which you invariably didn't do.) Someone had stolen some money from the bank. From the inside. I'll talk about it generally so as to protect identities etc. They'd taken advantage of some flaws in the system to pay themselves a lot of money. This had been picked up by the bank's anti fraud systems. (Thinking about it...we were all obliged to take at least two consecutive weeks' holiday per annum as an anti-fraud measure.) The heavy sqaud moved in and took over the branch. Hence the interrogation. Obviously I came away with a clean bill of health. "They" - the guilty party - got banged a custodial sentence. Ah well.........
2. We were also being taught to look at certain types of lending (for a variety of reasons). I was "on duty" on a lunch hour and less people were around to advise on me what to do. A certain gentleman came to the branch and wanted to withdraw some money. I asked the staff to send him over so I could ask a few questions of him. And I learned a valuable lesson that day...the importance of good manners. That gentleman was patient, answered all my questions and was extremely courteous. I had probably messed up his lunchtime but he showed no signs of wanting to throw his weight around. He realised I was a rookie and helped me with my learning task. It turned out (very quickly) that he owned half of Westminster! No credit issues after all. It turns out.

Right...I'll whisk you from Cheapside to the West End. Much bigger branch. Very busy...good mix of staff. Lots of shops to pop into. Also a risk of bombs as the IRA were still operating. Luckily none blew up near me. Not a great deal to tell you except we used to peer over the balcony at various "celebs" coming into the bank. One American with a very distinctive accent (TV personality) banked there. We gawped.

Next port of call: Great Tower St. in the City again. I started a six month stint in international banking...learning all about how to do business with other banks...I went to visit the Trade Finance Dept. (facilitating trade all over the world), Syndicated Finance (where huge chunks of money are lent out to big corporates and institutions), sterling clearing (the bank offered sterling clearing accounts to other banks - it has a branch of its own), international clearing (e.g. we go and spend travellers' cheques abroad...they have to come back and be processed and the funds credited to the bank abroad) and so on. I even managed to locate some extra debt (which the bank had overlooked) for an extremely indebted third world country. At the time I felt terribly proud of myself but looking back on it...I should have overlooked the dockets myself and saved some misery for the inhabitants of that country. Hopefully it all got written off in the end.

Where to next? Six months in the marketing dept. in another part of the City. The marketing bunch were very trendy. They analysed various things about the financial and institutional section of the bank. They were very funny and I enjoyed working with them. Their working hours were a bit mad though. Many was the time that I'd get back home at some ridiculous hour. Their jokes made up for it. Thankfully.

Where to next? I went back into the international banking section as I liked using my languages (Spanish, Italian and French). I was intrigued about all these banks abroad (which all had branches in the City of London). I was captivated by them. Soon I had my first real proper job where I was assigned to work alongside a Glaswegian manager who couldn't abide me. That feeling was mutual. The reason for this - is that I was about 30 years younger than him and he'd got used to working with a much older lady. Och! The stories I could tell. He used to drive me round the bend. He deserves a blog post all of his own. We used to cover Benelux, Southern Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Ireland (!), Greece, Portugal) and we used to travel to visit other banks abroad quite often.

I have to say that we travelled in relative luxury and stayed in some fantastic places. The Hotel Amigo in Brussels still sticks in my mind as does the Son Vida Hotel (v.good for golf) in Mallorca. The staff at other banks - our counterparts - was/were charming. We were showered with gifts, ate fabulous meals and saw some fabulous sights. Being taken to see the whole of Siena from the top of the reputedly oldest bank in the world of Monte Paschi di Siena was a particular highlight.

Rather stupidly I let the Glaswegian Manager get to me. Within a year or two I put in for a transfer back to my beloved marketing department. Within that time period the whole of the Corporate and Institutional Banking Division (CIBD) had been moved to some flash open plan office space in Holborn. We had moved to London's legal area. Aah! Dickens' country! I was in my element.

I worked in CIBD Marketing for a year analysing the CIBD sector. I travelled the UK interviewing corporate relationship managers (at least for a little while) before feeding their info back into an enormous top secret database. That was interesting.

I decided that I missed international banking (Correspondent Banking) so I moved to a French Bank, Credit Lyonnais, in London beside Liverpool St. Station. There were great personnel there. I travelled seeing banks again (selling sterling clearing accounts which was a bit bizarre as the bank was not flush in cash at all) in third class style (so be it) and I made a point of visiting nearly every foreign based bank in the City of London (and there were hundreds). I had to. I was dying of boredom. Getting out of the office was my salvation...I enjoyed walking around the City and learning more about its history...just by looking. Admittedly that three year posting was when I should have written my best selling novel...but my boss...did sit a metre or so away from me thus there was no hiding place.

After my three years were up I moved back to an offshoot of the Scottish bank. I decided that I had missed them. I now became a relationship manager (again), but this time, for sterling custody products to be sold to other banks. Custody products are all based on stocks and shares. London (as with most things financial) was expert (hmmm!) in settling stocks and shares. At that time it still had a Dickensian theme to it all...bits of paper flying around. It slowly became computerised. Sometimes there would be disputes about who owned which stocks and at what time. It ironed itself out. Ultimately.

That job was based in the heart of the City in Lombard Street in the bank's "old" head office building. I liked being there. I did not like my major client who was an overseas bank which had a huge office in London. My contact there was someone who liked to get things done by sending me e-mails every minute of the day IN CAPITAL LETTERS WHICH FELT LIKE HE WAS SHOUTING AT ME ALL THE TIME!!!! (In the end I learned to ignore him................) After six months with this offshoot (the Scottish bank one) it merged with an American Bank. We were merged with our counterparts (sotospeak) on the floor below the top one in Canary Wharf tower. Despite doing some further foreign travelling, for me the UK side of things represented polished floors, steel, expensive sandwich bars, copious wine bars and the like (at least 49 floors down below). It, very definitely,was not me. I missed being in the heart of the City (where all the history was...I adored wandering around the small squares, churches, Roman Walls et cetera) and I'd never meant to stay in banking longer than a couple of years. (My big plan had been to teach English in Spain.)  Luckily I did not stay long enough to admire the views or the fire drill (apparently it took a couple of hours to walk down from the top)....I left the American bank in the Autumn of 2000 a full ten years after I had originally started my banking odyssey.

In those ten years I gained a wealth of experiences if not a wealth of money. I'd also gained an extra degree in Financial Services.

The Year 2000. A new millennium. I thought about it. I did not dither. I decided. Time for a new life in scuba diving in Egypt now beckoned!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Nominations Please!

I've said before that I like detective stories, mysteries...well written stories full stop.

I haven't seen the above film for ages but I'd love to see it again. I've read the book and the film does justice to it.  In my previous post some of my regular blog correspondents mention the subject of good/bad/indifferent book to film treatments.

I had a think and I can come up with my own nominations (so far) on good book to film treatments:

(In no particular order - original films e.g. 1963 - Lord of the Flies etc.):

Howards' End
Room with a View
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Lord of the Flies how about it? I've got the ball rolling.....What are your nominations please?

I'd love to hear your views/likes/dislikes and come on then! Procedite! Proceed!

P.S.: Some programmes to look out for:
Gladiator - The True Story (Channel 5) - already broadcast but on C5's version of i-player
Neil Oliver - Celtic Britain - programme 3 (BBC2) on i-player:
"3/4. Neil Oliver reaches the moment when Celtic Britain was ripped apart by the Roman army."

Neil Oliver - Celtic Britain  4/4 to be broadcast on:

Tuesday, April 26th April 21:00 on BBC Two

4/4. Neil Oliver completes his epic journey with the modern marvels of Rome. He also takes a look at the Vindolanda wooden writing tablets. That is according to Alison Graham in the current edition of The Radio Times...

P.P.S.: ITV have made a version of  a superb novel "The Suspicions of Mr. Whicherer" airs 9pm tomorrow evening (Easter Monday) . It's based on a real story. It's a fantastic book, superbly researched...fingers crossed they've made a good job of it!

Monday, 11 April 2011

My first week digging at Vindolanda, The Eagle Film and more...

(I'd like to dedicate this post to my 95 year old grandfather who is, just a tad unwell, in Hexham hospital at the moment. Wishing him a very speedy recovery!)

Photos above: A group of us diggers at Vindolanda on the first week. Some new hands including myself (my royal blue fleece is covered by my navy jacket) plus some experienced hands/archaeologists who showed us the ropes. The weather was awful to start off with but gradually got better as the week went fact it became almost tropical! Hurrah!

I'd been meaning to join the merry band of volunteer diggers at Vindolanda for a long time but, at long last, I got the chance to try my hand at some excavation last week. It was the very first week of digging there for the 2011 season. It has been massively oversubscribed (see Hexham Courant article for more details) so I was lucky that I got my application in on time. I'd already had a brief spell of excavation last year over at Arbeia, South Shields, fort (see sidebar for more details) and again - dug in blazing sun. It would be good that, each time, even if I didn't find a great deal...then at least I could bring along some good weather!!

It is truly addictive this digging malarkey and the camaraderie which soon existed amongst all 25-26 diggers reminded me of my scuba diving days at our old diving centre in the Red Sea. We diggers tried our hand at doing a bit of surveying (not easy in high winds), pot washing, trowelling, wheel barrowing and telling jokes....but believe you me - there was plenty of hard work involved as well...I can attest to that! So I'll definitely be back for some more at some point. My expectations were far from dashed...

Turning now to.....

... "The Eagle" film - What do I think of it?

Ahem. Hmm. I dashed over to see it at The Tyneside Cinema (newly renovated) a week yesterday. The special showing was organised by The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle (of which I am a member) and Lindsay Allason-Jones (Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies and Reader in Roman Material Culture) at Newcastle University was giving a talk after the showing of the film as she was its historical adviser.

I loved the book on which the film is based, The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. (If you click on the Rosemary link it takes you through to an authoritative blog by her nephew, Anthony Lawton). A good review of the film by Philip French of The Observer is here. I've just read a friend and fellow blogger, Sarah Cuthbertson's review of the book and film and agree with her summing up of the relationship between the two wholeheartedly. It's so good...I urge you to read Sarah's account!

Rosemary Sutcliff was inspired to write the book when a wingless bronze eagle from a Jupiter statue was found in Silchester. She linked this discovery to the rumours of the mysterious disappearance (?) of the Ninth Legion in Scotland...and wrote the book in 1954.

The film is very loosely based on the book. I definitely preferred the book. Having said that I think this new film is a reasonable "buddy" action film set in Roman Britain in AD140. It's a pretty good advert which will encourage tourists to come up to this neck of the woods...there is a short scene in which we see the two heroes passing through a dilapidated milecastle in Hadrian's Wall. (The Romans had built a further frontier up in Scotland by the time this film is set - the Antonine Wall - thus Hadrian's Wall may not have been in the best of nick.) Hadrian's Wall and the Wall Walk (still argued about in many quarters) is also well portrayed.

I warmed to Lindsay as she gave her talk. She said she could only advise on those questions posed to her by the research/production teams...not on those that were not! She declared that she could happily sit through the blood and gore but utterly cringed when she saw someone wearing a 4th century brooch!

I asked her "What really happened to the Ninth Legion?" Her theory is that they slowly disappeared via Nijmegen (Netherlands), North Africa and then Armenia in separate units across the Roman Empire having not covered themselves in glory during the Boudiccan rebellion in Southern England in AD60. (For a BBC British Roman timeline click here.)

There were many other questions from the audience and I, sadly, had to leave before the end of the talk. A few choice questions and replies were:

Q: "Why shortened title of The Eagle'? What happened to 'The Eagle of the Ninth'?"
A: "Market research in America showed that people might think it was a film about golf."

Q: "Why are they, the Roman soldiers, seen riding using stirrups?" (Romans had saddles but not stirrups.)
A: "The insurance companies insisted upon their use otherwise they would not insure the actors."

Q: "Why the incorrect use of thumbs up/down for the gladiator-slave scene?" (The accepted Roman tradition was: thumbs down - the sign for the person to live; thumbs up - the sign for the person to die.)
A: "The other way round is what every modern audience is used to in all Hollywood films."

Lindsay stated upfront that she disagreed with the opening title which goes along the lines of "The disappearance of the Ninth Legion in Scotland so angered Hadrian that he ordered the building of Hadrian's Wall".....

And so to finish...I would say that the battle scenes are very good. There is one particular scene where they show a tortoise formation (one of the accepted Roman battle formations) which is breathtaking. I'd recommend seeing the film for that alone!

So, therefore, turn a blind eye to the amazingly good standard of dentistry in those days and to the fact that Marcus Flavius Aquila, the Roman hero, is also able to travel for months on end without needing a shave....Hey! Those Romans were unbeatable weren't they????!

P.S.: I'm extremely honoured to have been invited to be a member of The Primary Latin Project Committee by Barbara Bell, Minimus' author, which meets twice a year.
P.P.S: I'm also tweeting "pipio" ("I tweet") as Minimus the Mouse @minimus_latin every once in a while.... :)