Saturday, 21 January 2012

Banks etc

I just signed the online petition to stop the execs at RBS from paying themselves 'bonuses'. During my lifetime, the reputation for reliability of every cornerstone of British life has crumbled: the police; members of Parliament; the City. I hope this is not just rose-tinted spectacles. The bank I knew as a child in Swanley, Kent was Martin's, which was swallowed up by Barclay's in 1969. The staff in Martin's were quiet, deferential, and polite - qualities now largely scorned. My father- in- law was a banker of that generation, who had joined as an office boy and rose through the ranks to be regional manager of Lloyd's in Salisbury. My father obtained a loan for his first housing development (two bungalows in Dartford) by walking into a branch of Lloyd's with some careful calculations on the back of an envelope. In those days, the manager of a branch was responsible for lending. It was the manager's job to know who his (yes, it was always a bloke)customers were, not in a bad way, but as a member of a community. That gave him latitude. There was a genuine relationship with customers. I have been nurturing a theory that Agatha Christie's phenomenal (60 years unbroken run at the same theatre this year) The Mousetrap foreshadowed the downfall of another of our national institutions - I can't be more explicit in case I spoil the shocking denouement: if you've seen it you will know why, and if you haven't then do go and see it.

Another example of how times have changed: a couple of years ago, my mother's GP - a woman - retired. My mother, already in her 90's, decided to send her some flowers, so asked at the surgery for the woman's home address, and it was explained that they could not divulge it because of data protection. The issue here is that thirty or forty years ago, my mother would have known where her GP lived; the GP might have had her consulting rooms in her house, and they would almost certainly have socialised. In this respect, rural Scotland has not changed as much as England.

Today was the day in 1952 that William Shawn took over from Harold Ross as editor of The New Yorker. One of the funniest books I have ever read is Brendan Gill's memoir Here At The New Yorker, including the foibles of Harold Ross, eccentric and irascible founder of the magazine who once scribbled on the margin of a review 'Was Moby Dick the man or the whale?'. The cartoons are legendary - one of the books I am most looking forward to retrieving from store in a month or so is a collection my brother gave me for Christmas one year. Shawn took the magazine into a more serious phase. William's son, Wallace wrote and starred in one of my favourite films My Dinner With Andre - a quintessential New York movie, just two men talking about the meaning of life in a restaurant.

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