A Moving Experience
by Harry Calver
The powers that be recently decreed that I should leave the branch at which I had happily spent many of the last seven years and move to a new location of very different calibre indeed.
If one is to be honest, such a change engenders mixed feelings. The difference between the familiar and the unfamiliar poses rather more problems than appear on the surface. Whereas the whereabouts of every form, or book, or signature was as well known as the route to the branch itself, one anticipates with some trepidation the constant enquiries at one's new abode - "Where can I find this?" or "Where do we keep that?", and I suspect that one's staff becomes as weary of answering such questions as one does of asking them. There is the terrible temptation to head letters, forms or returns with the name of one's former branch. And, oddly enough, this aberration is not over popular with the recipients. The familiar pattern of daily work, largely of one's own making and based on learning in a hard school, is destroyed overnight, and a new pattern has to be assembled by trial and error once again. As a colleague said to me many years ago - "Any fool can find out what to do in a very short time: it takes rather longer to learn when to do it."
After working with people over a number of years, it is apparent where lie their strengths and weaknesses. It takes time to evaluate one's new staff. (The same applies in reverse, I suppose: they in turn, are busy putting their new manager under the microscope - a sobering thought).
But of course the major change may well be (in my case it certainly is) in the type of customer and their needs.
Sir Thomas More would have made an excellent bank manager, I suspect - "all things to all men". But for an ordinary mortal the goal may well be out of reach. At my previous branch a knowledge of the arts, at least one (and preferably two) European languages, and the names and performances of the current members of the county cricket side saw me over many a difficult hurdle. A modest acquaintance with roses, dahlias, and other floral delights, plus a smattering of medical jargon was also desirable. And an almost certain passport to success on many occasions was the wearing of a particular tie, and the knowledge of the current trends in the stock market. But now comes the other side of the coin, and I have to perform a character volte face which would receive applause - albeit grudging - in a politician.
I can forget the arts at once. I very much doubt if my new customers know a Rembrandt from a Raphael - or, if it comes to that, want to know. And the cricket knowledge I have laboriously acquired over the years has become a definite non-starter. I am in the noisier world of the terraces, Spion Kop (the popular name for a part of St. Andrews (Birmingham City) football ground), indifferent referees and whether Bobby Charlton will go to Mexico. And I have to be careful to conceal my personal preferences until I am certain where lie my customers' loyalties. My European languages are complete nonsense: the dialects of South India or North Bengal would be of infinitely more value. But here as well I am doomed to failure: a few of the phrases handed down to my generation of wartime soldier I can vaguely remember, but I doubt both my pronunciation and their relevance. Conversations about gardening are limited to the size of the window boxes which appear infrequently in the neighbourhood, and it is the prices at the supermarket which matter most, and my tie matters least.
But old or new, highbrow or low, public school or junior mixed, they are all a part of me as I a part of them. They will have an equal need of such understanding and such poor skills as I can give them. I hope they will not be disappointed. But a candle to Sir Thomas More just in case.