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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Brass in Pocket

I've been thinking a lot recently about 1970.

Besides Mungo Jerry's " In the Summertime" and Free's "All Right Now" a number of other tracks have been dragging me back 40 years.

I haven't heard King Crimson's "In the Court of ...." since I don't know when, but I recently bought it. I think it's pretty damn good - if rather pretentious - but I've always gone for the flashy, arty, deep with meaning rock. And Buffy St Marie's "Universal Soldier", I heard that and a track from Jesus Christ Superstar in a flat in Richmond, just outside London that year. At the same time I was mesmerised by the Stone's "Let it Bleed" LP. I was into the concept and all that stuff - somehow I got it into my head that "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was sung by nuns. Well it sounds nunnish doesn't it.

Where have those 40 years gone? Let me tell you. Four jobs, two marriages, two houses, a flat and five cats.I've lived in Sutton, West Hampstead, Hampstead, Gospel Oak, Belsize Park, Hackney and Walthamstow. Those of you who know London will recognise the trejectory from stinking rich to modest middle class.

Except when I moved to Hampstead in 1971 I was one of a myriad of young incomers to London, having recently left uni and finding their place in the Big Smoke. In Belsize Park there was a hostel for young women who had recently joined the civil service, and all the people I knew were living in bed sitting rooms or sharing rented flats. No one, but no one had any thought of owning a property.

I remember my first credit card - I think the credit limit was £100 but it allowed me to pick up the tab at the local bistro and with the cash contribution from others for that meal, ensure that I had enough money until the next monthly pay cheque.

I still remember the embarrassment when I tried to cash a cheque in my local branch of my bank. It was common practice, how else would you get out money - I didn't have a cash card.

I presented my cheque "Pay Self.... Ten pounds" to the cashier. She looked at it, asked me to wait a while and went off. I sat down on a bench opposite and waited. In a few minutes she re-appeared. "The Deputy Manager would like  to see you" she whispered "If you would come this way?"

I found myself in a small room with glass at head height all around - lavatory glass so no one could look in. A youngish serious man sitting behind a large desk motioned me to sit in an ancient and decidedly uncomfortable chair across the desk from him. In front of him he had a pile of my en-cashed cheques. 

"I'm sorry Mr Coidan, but I can't honour this cheque - you just do not have the funds." He then began to itemise my spending over the past month. Ten pound here, ten pound there, twenty pounds for a shirt at Austin Reed, and on and on it went. "Mr Coidan, it appears to us - Midland Bank - that you are not very good at managing your money. It is less than two weeks into the month and you have less than ten pounds in your account. What are you going to do about it."

This wasn't unexpected. Although at the time I never kept a track of my spending I knew that I was spending rather too freely. It got to the stage that cashing a cheque became a real torture for me: fearing that this time they'll call me in. But it hadn't happened until then.

And I was at a complete loss. Even though I knew that something like this was bound to happen at sometime I had no excuse, no story to explain how I'd got into that position. I think I just said "I'm sorry" over and over again; interspursed with  "It won't happen again".

Well, I had a regular income. O.K. I might have been overdrawn more often than not but I looked pretty honest and more an innocent than a chancer. So I was told that exceptionally this time they would honour the cheque but I could only draw one cheque a week and it had to be at my own branch. Any hint that I was spending friviously would mean my account would be suspended.

I sheepishly returned to the same cashier who, I swear, made the withdrawal a major production number.

I left the bank and with solvency in  my pocket started to hum "All Right Now".


The Sagittarian said...

Good experience really tho' wasn't it...

Selina Kingston said...

I want to be outraged on your behalf but actually if banks did that more often, the levels of personal debt in this country wouldn't be so high. My daughter has just opened a new back account and ysterday had a letter from them asking her if she wanted to take out a loan with preferential rates !!

Barry Coidan said...

TS, I'm afraid I didn't learn. I'm amazed at the person I used to be. So incredibly self absorbed and disconnected from reality!

SL,I could tell you tales of personal debt that would melt your John Lewis store card and cause your bank statements to spontaneously combust.