Friday 21 June, 2013 by Uncle Spike
On 17th June 1991, I started working for what was then known as the Halifax Building Society in Dorset, on the south coast of England. It’s a national high street banking giant with it’s roots in domestic mortgage lending, formed back in 1853.
It was after my return from my extended overseas travels that it was deemed appropriate to curtail my somewhat misspent youth in favour of that rather boring term, ‘growing up’ – a wholly new concept for me at the time, even though I was 24 and a half 🙂
Anyway, I somehow managed to connive my way in to working there after replying to a local newspaper advert entitled simply, “Seen the world, now join the Halifax”. Great I thought, at last, an advert for which I am actually qualified. So off I went down to the main office for ‘clerical testing’. I have to admit, I did pretty well, having always enjoyed silly challenges like spatial reasoning, numeric tests etc. After a couple of days I got ‘the call’, from the Assistant Manager, informing me of my success (hoorah), but at the same time, I was forewarned about my appearance (boo), and should I wish to actually get an interview with the manager, what I would have to do. Hmm, all this was too much I thought; what’s wrong with my triple earring and shoulder length hair? Suffice it to say, I grudgingly obliged their whims on the premise that conforming in the interest of a pay packet (after 18m voluntary work) was a necessary compromise/evil.
I was gracious enough to attend said interview, smartly turned out in a black and slightly sparkly old suit that I bought for £5 ($8) from a charity shop (a shop selling old clothes & stuff, raising money for charity). The earrings were let at home, and the hair tied back (no way I was gonna chop it off unless I got the job).
The interview was ok, boring but predictable… for me. However for the boss there, I presented them with a rather unusual dilemma. I had no experience, no qualifications (stopped school at 16), no references, but a list of 25 jobs to date; but I had ‘aced’ their clerical testing (apparently). To cut a rather long story down to size, they agreed, rather reluctantly at first I’ll have to admit, to hire me, after I challenged them to take me on unpaid for a month so I could prove myself. Now that option just wasn’t cricket to them; it just wasn’t ‘something we can do’, but to their credit, they did offer me a temporary contract a week later, saying that was the best they could do, until there came a time, if there came a time, that they were satisfied I was worth a pension contribution.
Whilst the contract was renewed over and over; eventually I made a career home with the bank, ending up at a higher level than the ‘boss’ and working at the head office in the north of the country (ha ha). However, I digress….
In those heady early days at the branch office, the term ‘counter’ did not relate to how many beers one stacked up on the bar, but a long desk behind thick glass that one sat at and dealt with an endless queue of customers who wanted to pay in money, withdraw money, moan about life, talk about the weather, and generally make us ‘counter staff”s day a misery. Now, to get through any day of work, we all have certain tricks, as I’m sure you do. Some people sing, some doodle, some sleep, nowadays you Facebook, or read silly blogs. But for us, we had a few parlour games of our own that were, unbeknown to the management, slipped into our daily grind to put half-smiles on our underpaid faces.
One such game was memorable. Elegant in it’s simplicity, the task was to slip a ‘phrase of the day’ into one’s conversation. The cashier with the most ‘hits’ was the winner, and got to choose the next day’s adventure. When trying out certain phrases, it was fine, as mostly, only the customer directly in front of your till could hear you (although we made our comments sufficiently loud enough so that our colleagues could hear, and award us the points we were all seeking to amass). However, and this is where it got interesting some tasks involved phrases that necessitated more vocal commitment such as calling the ‘next’ customer form the bored-looking line of waiting bank customers In those days, we had no numbered tickets, no bells or buzzers to help us with this bit; we simply had to yell, and hoped they could hear us. Of course, sometimes one would see people in the queue frustratingly shoving some old person with a hearing deficiency who was happily ignoring our efforts in blissful ignorance.
The task of one particular day was the inclusion of the words ‘Cow Poo’.
Hmm, of course, that one was soooo easy, and the tally of ‘hits’ was impressive across the board. But, oh, what fun we had. Just imagine, a busy day in a large town centre bank, a queue out the door, and one after another, the cashiers all shouting towards the head of the queue “Cow Poo!”.
Most customers hadn’t a clue at how they inadvertently helped us with our tally. Some were not sure, enquiring, politely, “What did you say?”, or more simply, “Pardon?”, to which we respond in kind with an innocent “Can I help You?”. The funniest thing was to watch people father down the waiting queue, who were hearing an endless call every 60-90 seconds of “Cow Poo”. To this day, even though we saw a glimmer of a smile occasionally, nobody ever challenged us, and that included the management whose only concern were sales figures and queue length.
Little did they know 😀