Memoirs of an Investment Banker or how to be in two places at once

Way, way back in the mid 1970’s I worked at the National Westminster Bank in Chipping Sodbury as ‘Safe Custody and Foreign Clerk’.  Basically that meant that if you wanted to lodge your valuables in the bank safe, buy or sell shares, invest or withdraw from your Building Society or buy or sell foreign currency, I was your man.  Of course times were tough then.  We were suffering the secondary banking crisis, there was recession, inflation was rife, interest rates were high and there was shortage of mortgage funds.  Hmm… sounds a bit familiar.

 Anyway customers would call at my little window to seek my advice and my method of suggesting their investment strategy was pretty sophisticated.  At that time, all the Building Societies had representatives who visited the banks to tell people like myself about their interest rates etc.  They were all pretty desperate for funds to lend and so were keen to get me onside.  As a result, their visit was often followed by an offer of lunch, the quality of which they hoped would swing my opinion in their favour!  I remember that, back then, if you wanted a mortgage, you very often had to save the equivalent of your monthly repayment for a year to prove that you could afford them.

 Foreign currency for holidays was also very restricted and you were only allowed to take £50 abroad each year.  I had to record the amount taken in customer’s passports and then note any that they brought back.

 Chipping Sodbury was not a large office, although at that time there were some 22 of us working there and the camaraderie was splendid.  There were some real characters; my pal Tony who never started work until he had read his Racing Post and laid his bets for the day.   Chris, the Manager’s Assistant (who was also a Baptist minister) who smoked some evil herbal concoction is his pipe and Les, the Administration Manager who restored antique clocks (the safe was full of them) and who played the electric organ in the The Oak public house on Saturday nights for charity. 

 There always seemed to be something slightly wacky going on but one day in particular sticks in my memory. It was about 11.30am on a glorious summer’s day.  We had summers then.  All was quiet in the bank, flies buzzed lazily in the window and the aforementioned Les emerged from the Manager’s office.  “Right” he said, “It is Mrs Peterson’s funeral at 12.00 and the Manager wants the bank to be represented.  He’s told me to go but I am going to the pub so he’s said that you can go instead.  Just make sure that reporter from the paper gets your name as a mourner.”

 Now at that time (even as a bank clerk) I was a dedicated follower of fashion and no one had wider lapels, flarier flares or livelier floral kipper ties than young Tim.  “Oh no Les!” said I, “I can’t go to a funeral dressed like this!”  However, none of my entreaties would dissuade him and so, with a heavy heart and my jacket buttoned, I trudged down to the C of E as instructed.  It all seemed suspiciously quiet and when 12.00 had come and gone with no sign of a funeral, being an alert young man, it occurred to me that all was not well and I decided it best to trot along to The Oak to find Les and report my apparent failure.  The news was not received well with Les expressing the opinion, in fairly florid language, that the manager would be less than pleased with us.  I seem to remember ‘guts’ and ‘garters’ being mentioned.  “What’s the matter Les?” enquired a chap at the bar and the story was told.  “Ah, that’s where you’ve gone wrong,” said he, “the funeral was at the Congregational, you’ve missed it.  But, as luck would have it, I was the reporter on duty, so all we have to do is to add Tim to the list of mourners and keep him out of the manager’s way for a couple of hours.”  So that was the plan.  Beer was poured into me until 2.00pm (it may have been later) and I was smuggled out of the back of the pub so that I could approach the bank (rather unsteadily) from the correct direction.

 My name duly appeared in the newspaper and when the manager asked me later if all had gone well, I was able to answer, with complete honesty, that it was the finest funeral I had ever attended!  That is how to be in two places at once.

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