by Harry Calver
One of the sobering thoughts in any occupation, I suppose, is the realisation that the years ahead are less in number than those that have gone before. Some people, I am sure, look upon retirement as a punishment: they just cannot imagine what life will be like without the beloved routine into which they have so neatly fitted for so many years. They cannot bear to leave their considerable rut, being unaware that there is a very small distance indeed between a rut and a grave. Others, in the majority, praise be! see retirement as the opportunity to escape from the tyranny of the clock, to broaden the mind and at last have the opportunity to see what is happening in the world outside Ė and, perhaps, to take part.
Health permitting Iíve still got a few years to go before 10am ceases to have much significance, but the remark of a friend of mine the other day, set me thinking. ďIíll bet you could write a book about some of your experiencesĒ, he said, which was, to say the least, flattering on two counts. Firstly, that I could write, and secondly, that any experience of mine would be worth re-telling. Have no fear, dear reader, I havenít the talent and I couldnít possibly afford it. But like anyone else in the profession, I have a store of recollections with which from time to time I bore the family. I see no reason whatsoever, since the Editor has been kind enough to give me a page or two, that I should not bore you also, and, at least I can vouch for their authenticity, if not their merit.
Some years ago, as a Cashier, I was confronted one lunch-time by a lengthy queue: I was fairly fast in those days, but alas! for my endeavours, every customer in turn presented a problem, forms to be completed, books to be made up, queries to be answered, the lot. The penultimate customer defied my efforts for a full five minutes before, at last my final client presented herself. I apologised for the delay. ďThatís all right,Ē she said brightly, ďI shanít keep you long Ė all I want is a half-crown Postal OrderĒ
Then there was the case of the young man who presented himself at my Till asking to open an account. As was the custom, I asked him to go through the door at the end of the counter where the Manager would be pleased to see him. I gave the inquiry no further thought until some ten minutes or so later, the Manager having come to my desk, I asked him how the new customer had fared. He looked blank. ďWhat new customer?Ē I explained. My chief averred that no one had entered his office that day. We assumed that the young man had changed his mind, but, chancing to look out of the window, we solved the problem. The prospective client had used the wrong door, left the premises and was battering forlornly at the door of the flat.
Then there was the case of the mother with a four-year old, who nearly caused a riot. The child raced continuously from end to end of the Branch, shrieking madly at the top of his voice, while the mother took not one scrap of notice. Even the Cashier, a lady of impeccable behaviour and restrained manner, reached a point of no return. Goaded beyond endurance she eventually leaned over the counter, held the miscreant with a steely eye and instructed him to sit on the seat provided, and remain silent on pain of the severest penalties. To this tirade the mother listened appreciatively and said to the Cashier concerned, ďThatís right Miss! You tell him: I canít do a thing with him myself!Ē
This one you wonít believe Ė but itís true. One Friday lunchtime, the Bank held but one customer, busily writing at the desk, while the staff and myself were engaged on our several duties. Suddenly, magnified by the acoustics a thousandfold, came a crash which caused us to react with varying degrees of panic. The customerís sleeve had caught a glass pen tray, sending it crashing to the stone floor and breaking it into pieces. ďArenít I a clumsy fellow?Ē grinned the culprit without much sign of contrition, while we assured him that the incident was of no consequence (though none of us could hold a pen steady for some seconds). On the following Friday, a customer entered while those of us behind the counter were again lost in silent concentration. Again an earsplitting crash, again a pen tray in disintegration, and Ė youíve guessed it Ė again the same customer. I donít ever remember seeing him after that, but I do know that by the end of the year the Bank had replaced the glass ink wells and pen trays by ball point pens fixed immovably to the desks!
Last, and perhaps, best of all, I arrived at my Branch some winters ago to discover that disaster had struck. A pipe had burst in the flat over the Bank the night before, the water had seeped through a hole in the ceiling where the lights were fixed, and the floor of the entire office was inches deep in water while a torrent cascaded from the ceiling on to one of the desks. My junior, who had arrived with me, groped his way to the light switch from which he recoiled with a shriek, leapt three feet in the air, and Ė in due course Ė announced that the switchboard was live. I took his word for it. It was a dark and dank December morning, we summoned help which arrived just as we were opening, and we conducted business by candlelight which flickered over the Dickensian scene while our feet were awash. One of our more popular customers entered, surveyed the scene, shook me warmly by the hand and said ďBob Cratchit, I presume?Ē
It is a usual part of human nature, I suppose, to remember the best and forget the grey, uneventful days, but there is always the chance that some incident will brighten the routine, and these are the ones we treasure. It would be a dull world, indeed, if there were not some laughs along the way, and they are the more welcome when they occur in a profession which seems to many to be rather more stereotyped than most.
Many people have tried to define a sense of humour, and the definition I like best is the one that says ďthe ability to smile at other people and laugh at oneselfĒ. Spare a thought for the fellow who canít do that simple thing: I wouldnít have his retirement for the world.
This article was first published in the Savings Banks Institute Journal of May 1969