Friday, 6 January 2017


(I started writing this two days ago but got myself heavily side-tracked sourcing pass passes and special chairs. See Brighton Lions' Facebook page for more details on that.)

I have continued to muse on the evolution of language and how words fall into disuse, words such as prithee, gadzooks and goodwife - even maiden, except for use as an adjective with over, speech and voyage - but thinking rather of letter writing. That is, my musing was on letter writing rather than words that have fallen by the wayside.

Back in the day, when I started work as a lowly junior in a bank, letters - not envelopes - would contain only one of two salutations (other than strictly personal communications). They would start either, 'Dear Sir' or 'Dear Mr Jones'. If they former salutation was used, the writer would sign off, 'Yours faithfully'; if the latter, formality could slip to, 'Yours sincerely'. Addressing the envelope was a different kettle of fish. Never 'Mr Jones', always 'S Jones Esq', although 'Stuart Jones Esq' was considered acceptable. Addressing an envelope to a lady required the writer to know whether or not she was married since a married lady could be addressed as 'Mrs' whereas an unmarried lady was always 'Miss'. The ghastly 'Ms' - and even more abominable 'Mx' had not then been coined. A married lady's initial was also a slight cause for concern. In very formal communications she would be addressed as 'Mrs S(tuart) Jones, whereas 'Mrs B(ertha) Jones' would be quite correct in less formal situations. Correspondence for a husband and wife could be address to 'Mr and Mrs S Jones', but only if one was certain that they were husband and wife. Otherwise it would be 'S Jones Esq and Mrs B Jones' or something similar.

One of my jobs as a lowly junior was the preparation and despatch of statements to customers of our bank branch. this was all done in-branch, even the typing of the statements. I would have to see that all the paid cheques listed on the statement were there and in the correct order together with any other papers such as dividend warrants. That done, I addressed the envelope by hand - yes, in handwriting, not typing. It was in doing this that, one day, I made an embarrassing mistake. Not that i knew about it for several days until, one morning, I was summoned to the manager's office.

In those days, the bank manager was GOD. In fact, I didn't even meet my manager for three weeks after I started work. One day he passed me on the stairs as he was going to his Private Loo, whereupon he barked, "Who are you?"

With the manager were two people, a man and a lady, the lady in a state of distress.

"Is this your writing?" demanded the manager, handing me an envelope that had contained a statement.

I agreed that it was; I could hardly do otherwise since it most clearly was my handwriting.

"And can you explain," continued GOD, "why you addressed it like that?"

I looked more closely and saw that I had written, 'Mr S Jones and Mrs B Smith'. That would have been bad enough - this was nearly 60 years ago - but the postman had, whether by mistake or design, delivered the statement to the house next door. Mrs Jones, for it was she, was mortified.

Oh well, more tomorrow - or whenever.

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