Saturday, 22 December 2012

Banking boring?

Many people, perhaps even most people, would think that working in a bank must be one of the world's most boring jobs.  Granted, for much of the time - even most of it - there's nothing very exciting happening.  I should know, I spent 25 years working in various branches of a high street bank before I saw the error of my ways.   But there were moments.

One of the customers at a small, country branch was most decidedly a sandwich short of a picnic.  She caused no trouble as a rule and was quite capable of walking the High Street on her own.  She would sometimes push open the door of the bank, put her head round and poke her tongue or pull a face at the cashiers.  But one day she came in, lifted an inkpot off the counter and placed it on the floor.  She lifted her skirt and pulled down her drawers...  And I had to clear up afterwards.

Some of the stories one heard were probably apocryphal.  There was the little old lady (they are always little old ladies) who asked the cashier for her balance and then wrote a cheque for that exact amount which she proceeded to cash.  She took the cash to a table in the banking hall, counted it carefully, and then took it back to the cashier, saying, "That's right, it's all there.  You can put it back again now."  And then there was lady who very carefully examined every note she was given when she cashed a cheque.  "But none of these is one that I gave you last week," she said.  "They all have the wrong numbers."

Not all the eccentrics were on the customers' side of the counter.  One head cashier, on being asked a question by a customer, often replied that he would have to go downstairs to find out.  He slowly sank below the level of the counter and remained crouched there for a couple of minutes after which he slowly rose and answered the question.riends

Another chief clerk (the second in command of a branch) was a part-time smallholder.  He worked at a branch in a town where there was a weekly cattle market and one morning he bought a calf.  Unable to leave the branch for the rest of the working day, he put the calf in the strong room where the grill was kept locked.

I spent some time at a branch where many of our customers came from the poorer part of town and were prone to running into the red, after which we often had considerable difficulty in obtaining repayment.  Two of us would spend one afternoon each week driving around, knocking on doors and asking for our (well, the bank's) money.  This was a most frustrating exercise as customers, if we found them at home, usually tried to fob us off with vague promises of funds at some indeterminate point in the future.  One "lady" opened the door in a dressing gown which she allowed to fall open as she hinted strongly that we could take repayment in kind.  Both of us.  I got repayment in kind at another house.  We were - for once - invited in, an invitation we should have declined.  As we explained the reason for our visit, a young son of the house was asking for a clip round the ear as he kicked my shin monotonously.  I was scatching we we drove away and went home as soon as I could, hung my suit outside and took a shower in the hope of ridding myself of fleas.

But the palm d'or must go to Big George.  He was - maybe still is - a Greek Cypriot who emigrated to Glasgow at some time after the war.  (Try to imagine somebody speaking English with a Greek accent overlaid with a Glaswegian accent!)  He got involved in the gang scene and ended up with a razor scar down one cheek.  This did nothing to improve his looks.  I should mention that he was built like the proverbial brick shit house, stood over six feet tall and nearly as broad.  His party trick was to take a one penny coin, wrap it in a thick serviette, place it in the palm of his hand and squeeze.  The coin came out bent in a right angle.  A penny coin has a diameter of 20.3 millimetres, approximately 0.8 of an inch, which gives an idea of the strength this feat needed.

Big George and his fellow Cypriot Vic - who was about 5' 6" tall - ran competing coffee houses but were the best of friends.  They often came into the bank together.  Vic was happy to be served by any cashier, but Big George had his favourite young lady, Claire.  No matter that she had a queue and other cashiers were free, he had to wait for her.  One day, Vic had been served and was waiting patiently while George queued.  At one point, George took exception to something the customer in front of hime said to Claire.  He tapped the other man on the shoulder.  The other man to find a knife in his face.

"George," called Vic.  "Behave yourself," whereupon George put away his knife and we all breathed again.

Banking boring?  Well, yes and no.  Sometimes.


St Mary's farm is situated deep in a valley of the Downs about three quarters of a mile north of Falmer and I took this picture last Monday.


Uncle Skip, said...

"... imagine somebody speaking English with a Greek accent overlaid with a Glaswegian accent..."

Probably sounds something akin to those Tuvan throat singers.

Buck Pennington said...

Heh. What Skip said, coz that was the part of the story that caught my fancy, as well. I can't even begin to comprehend what that accent would sound like.