In the summer of 1975, I was a football-loving, music-loving, teenager, staying at home with my parents in Westerton spending my weekends either playing football, following Partick Thistle or browsing through the album sleeves in Glasgow city centre record shops.
Armed with the wages I had garnered from my post-school job in banking I’d habitually visit Listen, Bruces or 23rd Precinct, searching for the missing link in my burgeoning record collection…. the Holy Grail like recording of Eric Clapton on Tour with Delaney, Bonnie and friends.
Fast forward 12 months and I am a 20 year old married man living in Edinburgh with a wife, a house, a mortgage, a washing machine, a tumble dryer and a baby on the way.
My weekends were no longer spent kicking a ball, watching an under-achieving football team doing the same nor spending hours in darkened record stores looking for an album that no-one seemed to have heard of. This was the quantum leap to beat them all as my weekend routine now revolved around trips to the supermarket, the untold joys of assembling MFI flat-pack furniture and exciting new experiences such as paying electricity bills, wiring plugs to electrical appliances and arguing with neighbours as to whose turn it was to clean the common stair that week.
‘How did this happen?’ I hear you ask. A question I’ve asked myself many times over the past 46 years.
As Bob Dylan once described in song, major life changes can often occur due to a simple twist of fate. My twist of fate happened during a lunchtime respite from the humdrum life of a bank clerk. One of my colleagues had noticed in the daily circulars that the company was offering an ‘exciting opportunity’ to work at a newly formed department in Edinburgh. It was a temporary post…… twelve months in the unknown waters of the capital then back to civilisation which began at the Baillieston lights. “It’ll be great” he said, “we’ll get a flat” he said, “get pissed every night and pull loads of birds“, he said. This rather fanciful notion of Utopia tipped the scales for me and we both duly applied for the advertised role, got accepted and began to prepare for life in the far east…. well, the east, any rate.
A few days before we were due to head along the M8 however, he phoned to tell me he was pulling out (oo-er matron). He’d met a girl. He was crazy about her and didn’t want to risk the relationship by moving 50 miles away. Fair enough, I thought, but by this time I was hell bent on this new adventure even if it did mean flying solo.
Initially my time in Edinburgh was a life of grubby bedsits, takeaway meals and the odd snog-and-grope short term relationship, a million miles from the Utopian dream which I had bought into…then came the ‘Thunderbolt’.
Im sure most readers of this blog will have seen The Godfather and be aware of the effect the Thunderbolt had on Michael Corleone when he first met his wife -to-be, Apollonia whilst hiding from American justice in Sicily. In Sicilian folklore, the Thunderbolt is described as ‘a powerful, almost dangerous longing in a man for a particular woman’. I was hit by the Thunderbolt on my first day in Edinburgh when I saw Pamela walk across the office floor. For the next nine months I was tormented by a desire to ask her out but a lack of confidence held me back.
When I did eventually mumble an invitation to suggest meeting for a drink outside work, she responded… ‘I thought you’d never ask!‘ Three short months later we were married and fortunately Pamela didn’t suffer the same fate as Apollonia who died shortly after her wedding to Michael in an exploding car following a revenge attack by enemies of the Corleone family.
We had been together for over 30 years when she sadly passed away, with a son, daughter and two lovely grand-daughters left behind.
Me? As a result of that simple twist of fate, Im still in Edinburgh. I did eventually kick-start my footballing career (see what I did there?) and played until I was 61. I still occasionally find my way to Firhill like a homing pigeon. I still listen to the same music I listened to in the mid-70s but…I still haven’t managed to get a copy of Eric Clapton on Tour with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends.
No matter what you achieve in life, there’s always something else to aim for. Can anyone sell me a copy?
It was July 1976 and as a brown envelope dropped through the letterbox, in the far reaches of outer space, the last of the planets aligned.
As I stooped to pick up the envelope, a deep, resounding voice boomed in my head:
“Young Jackson! Your grandfather was a Banker. Your father is a Banker. Your destiny has been ordained – so too shall you become a Banker!”
I had remained in school for Sixth Year, principally for another attempt to pass both Higher Maths and Physics, and somehow fluke the entry qualifications for University. However, the contents of that brown envelope metaphorically sprung forth, stuck two fingers up at me and laughed in my face.
That summer, just like the one prior, I had worked as a student in Bank of Scotland’s Foreign Department, as it was then. A full time job was guaranteed, if I wanted it.
I wouldn’t say I particularly ‘wanted’ it, but I definitely needed it. And so, on 16th August 1976, I rocked up, as directed by Head Office, to my local Branch at Bearsden Cross.
This was the branch I used when still at school. I had always hated queueing up to lodge my paper-round / pocket / birthday money feeling the staff displayed a rather aloof and disinterested attitude to youngsters.
But I was now a man. (Eighteen years and eleven days old counts, right?) I wouldn’t become ‘one of them.’ I’d be me. They could like it or lump it. Dressed in my navy blue, double breasted jacket, silk backed waistcoat, baggy trousers with turn-ups and two-inch platform shoes, I was going to revolutionise branch banking. It was going to be relaxed; it was going to be fun; it was going to be filled with happy, smiling faces.
The Manager presumably had many much more important things to do first thing in the morning than greet some cocky little new-start, so after a brief introduction to the Assistant Manager, I was given a seat in a quiet part of the office, facing a blank wall.
“Hmmmn. This might take longer than expected” I mused.
I was then presented with a huge pile of cheques that had been debited against the customers’ accounts. These had to be sorted into eight-digit account number order, and then further sorted into six digit cheque number order. They would then be passed to the Statement Clerks who would file them in large metal cabinets, ready to be inserted in the customers’ Bank Statements.
And that was it. That was my first day. All of it. Nine o’ clock in the morning till four o’clock in the afternoon. Sorting and filing. Oh, and going to the local shops at tea-break and lunchtime to pick up sandwiches, crisps, cakes, fags, matches, newspapers, etc for most of the twenty or so staff.
Oh, I was showing them all right!
I toed the line for a few months, keeping my head down and already counting the days to retiral. But the rebellious streak was never far away. When I was one day told to collect a copy of Penthouse or Mayfair from the newsagent (‘top shelf’ magazines in those days) for the Insurance Clerk, I told him to get lost.
For a start, I’d have to ask someone to reach the top bloody shelf on my behalf. A bit of a row kicked off, but I reasoned he wouldn’t grass me up to The Manager for insubordination, given the nature of the magazine he wanted.
A few months later, I received my first ‘promotion’ – if only because another Office Junior was appointed, a lovely girl called Esmé. This slight rise in my personal status didn’t really amount to much. It simply meant Esmé took over cheque duties, while I manned the rather cumbersome and complicated Branch switchboard.
Once mastered, the job was as tedious as that I’d just graduated from. So to lighten my day, I’d imagine myself operating the Transporter Room Console of the Starship Enterprise, seeking out new life and new civilisations while boldly going where no man had gone before.
Hey – I was eighteen. Cut me some slack.
I did actually go one place that no man had been before, as it happens. Though I can’t claim to having used the word, ‘boldly.’
Above the Branch entrance there was a large clock. Three months or so into my career, the new ‘Accountant’ (effectively third in charge of the office) decided we could save money by maintaining the clock ourselves, rather than paying some specialists.
(In those days, Branches were completely distinct cost centres, so effectively the budget on say, toilet rolls, was as important as the lending rates. Anything that could be done to maximise Branch profits, was.)
This new Accountant would become well known in later years for his eccentric behaviour. In some cases, I’m sure he’d now be classed as a ‘bully.’ I worked with him again later in my career, and actually liked him. He was a real loose cannon though, prone to Basil Fawlty type tantrums.
“Go on then, get out there” he told me as he pulled up the sash window that overlooked the bustling Roman Road about twenty feet below.
It was a sunny Friday, towards the end of October, three months into my career. British Summer Time would end that weekend and the clocks would go back.
“Here,” he said, “use this,” and handed me a long window pole. “Just push the small hand back one hour.”
“Are you mental?” I asked earnestly.
“I’ll be holding your jacket vent. You’ll be fine. Now just get out there.”
“Have you seen my shoes?” I drew his attention to my platforms.
“Stop being a *****. They’ll give you more reach. Now move!” he said as he started to prod me with another window pole.
And so, there I was, precariously balanced and attracting the incredulous stares of the town’s shoppers as I edged along the narrow ledge to the clock and reset the time.
Shaking in equal parts fear and rage, I squared up to my office superior: “I am NOT doing that again!”
And I didn’t.
By spring 1977, it was quite apparent The Manager didn’t see me as a good fit for his office and I was transferred to the other office in Bearsden, Kessington Branch.
This was more like it! There was a much more relaxed and welcoming atmosphere to work in, and everyone from the delightful old ‘Mr Pastry’ lookalike Manager to the slightly younger, pretty and completely bonkers Office Junior was up for a laugh.
It was all very childish. We’d do things like teach naughty words to the ‘Mummy’s little darlings’ who were plonked on the counter before us while Mumsie gassed with friends and held up the queue. As Billy Connolly would say, sometimes the best pranks are those where you don’t actually see the end result.
We all so fervently hoped that when dear Mummy invited the local vicar round to discuss the forthcoming Bring-and-Buy sale, that Junior would suddenly remember the word, ‘jobbie.’
Now, this sounds like one of those ‘legend’ tales that is passed down through the generations in any office. But it most definitely did happen at Kessington Branch.
An elderly lady approached the teller with a withdrawal slip for fifty pounds – quite a sum back then. She had completed the form before coming to the Bank, but had done so in pencil. “I can’t take it like that, Mrs Smith,” the teller gently told her. “You’ll have to ink it over.”
Mrs Smith tutted but took the form over to the writing desk.
Five minutes later, she was still sat there.
“Mrs Smith? Are you all right? Is everything OK?” asked the concerned teller.
“Yes dear,” came the reply. “I’ve thought it over, and I’d still like the cash, please.”
Two years later, and I was on the move again – a proper promotion this time. To Jordanhill Branch, in the West End of Glasgow. Now, this was one crazy office!
For a start, it wasn’t uncommon for a few of us to leg it up to the Esquire House pub at Anniesland for a game of pool and a couple of pints at lunchtime! It wasn’t uncommon for the Manager to go on ‘business lunches’ and fall over chairs in the staff room, or fall asleep in his office during the afternoon.
It also wasn’t uncommon for Branch Officials to be independently on the fiddle!
While I was there, the staff had suspicions about the Assistant Manager. After I left for Stirling Branch in the early Eighties, his scam came to light in the most bizarre of circumstances.
The Manager who replaced the poor soul with the drinking habit, had started his own fraud! I was by then distant from the investigation, but understand that a routine Inspection raised some questions of one of them … leading to both packs of cards collapsing.
The Assistant Manager I worked with was given a jail sentence.
That was it for The Seventies, The Bank, and me.
So, what about the title to this piece?
Well, the four years that remained of the decade when I joined Bank of Scotland were terrific fun. We had plenty wild nights out, and I was lucky enough to represent the Bank at athletics, cross country, road racing as well as football. So lots of paid absence on ‘all expenses’ trips to London.
The Eighties in Stirling and Manchester and the bulk of the Nineties back in Glasgow were a riot, with great sets of people.
Then the Noughties. And The Halifax.
I had twenty-eight years’ experience; I had been subjected to threats with dirty needles; I’d had an eighteen inch machete brandished at me and a hand gun pointed at my face from about ten feet away. I’d safely evacuated a staff of thirty from a burning building, checking smoke filled corridors and toilets to ensure everyone was accounted for.
Oh yeah – and I was pretty damned good at my job, if my reports were anything to go by.
But I’ve never really been a ‘follower’ and always believed in my own choices. Dude, I was into Sweet when they were still The Sweet and everyone else was worshipping at the alter of Clapton or Yes.
And so it was, with that wee rebel light still burning bright, I refused to sell PPI in the manner which were all instructed. (Payment Protection Insurance – remember that?)
I had ‘disputes’ with Head Office staff over lending the tried, trusted and customer focused way.
But by 2004, rather than aligning, the planets were colliding. New against Old.
Being a ‘Banker’ counted for nothing. It was no longer even acceptable to be ‘me.’ Individuals and ‘characters’ were considered troublemakers and forced into ‘voluntary redundancy.’