Saturday, 29 December 2007

My Banking Career (cont)

So there I was, working for the Westminster Bank in Knowle, Bristol. I was considered to be reliable if not brilliant. Most of all I liked being a cashier (teller).

Once I was left to interview a customer about a personal loan (usually a task for the Manager or Chief Clerk). I sat in the Manager’s office in all my glory. The customer was ushered in even as I had visions of promotions!

I needed to go out to the general office to retrieve some information. Like a fool, I knocked on the door of the Manager’s Office prior to my re-entry.

We dreaded “Bank Rate” changes. The Bank of England would announce such, and we knew that our work was cut out. As soon as business closed we would hie ourselves to the handwritten savings and loan ledgers. Then, in ink, we would “rule off” the decimals for the savings or loan (decimals were amount of loan/savings x the days since the account last moved). Then, using printed tables, we would calculate the interest paid or charged at the old Bank Rate, and be ready to extend decimals for the new rate.

It was all very primitive and labour intensive, and we could be at work until 11:00 p.m. No “overtime” of course, but the Bank gave us “Tea Money”, a per diem payment for our extra duty.

Changes were on the horizon. The Bank was computerising; Britain was introducing a decimalised monetary system - (no more Pounds, Shillings and Pence); and there was a third and totally unexpected change.

We merged with our arch rivals, the National Provincial Bank. Shame and embarrassment. Soon we would become the “National Westminster Bank“ . - (now owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland).

I was considered reliable. So I was transferred to the Chew Magna Branch of the Westminster Bank. Chew Magna is a pretty little village in north Somerset. There I was put to task in taking all the hand written date and preparing it for computer entry. Nothing exciting in that!

Then the U.K. Govt. plan for a decimal monetary system came into force. With another Clerk I was assigned to “explain the new currency” to the village yokels. This we did in the Parish Hall and in other meeting rooms. How smug we were!

I was still a cashier (teller), and three time a week would go in a taxi, with Percy (my guard) to our sub-offices in West Harptree and Blagdon.

In West Harptree we had a little Bank and I would be nice to the farmers for their once or twice weekly banking. In Blagdon I had a roll out desk in the Village Hall. Lloyds Bank also had a roll out desk there, and the Lloyds clerk and I would exchange glares, or drink coffee together. Business was slow on this weekly visit.

I was also assigned to the weekly sub-office at the Winford Cattle Market. There I would wade through acres of cow shit and sit in a cabin on stilts. The old farmers would plod themselves up the steps to deposit their cow-shit stained Pound Notes. And I was supposed to be an up and coming banker!

Well, something was up and coming, and I’ll tell you about this later.

In the meantime, do a “Google” image search for Chipping Sodbury or Chew Magna (wonderfully named towns in which I slaved for the Westminster Bank) - and see how lovely they are. At the time I did not appreciate small town/villages in Gloucestershire and Somerset

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(I had worked for the Westminster Bank in Chipping Sodbury before my [Evangelist] Eric Hutchins adventures).

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Friends

Not the T.V. show type, who seemed to live their “friendship” by sarcastic put downs and faux humour.

Nor the Face Book or My Space “friends” who do not have to sweat with us, argue with us, touch us, or have belly laughs with us.

No, the friends who laugh, weep, argue or agree with us. The friends to whom we can “pour it all out, chaff and grain together - keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away”.

Such are the Haulers for me.

I met them in 1976 in Fitchburg, MA. There I officiated (ten or so weeks into my ordained ministry) at Arthur Hauler’s funeral. He had grown up in Fitchburg, and long since moved away. I had never met him.

His widow Dorothy was at the funeral, together with his three sons and their families.

I was especially drawn to son Donald and his wife Barbara. And thus began a now 31 year friendship.

Captain Dr. Donald R Hauler MC, USN was stationed in D.C. at the Pentagon. The family lived in McLean VA. Barbara Hauler worked at home. They had three children, Mark, Wendy and Gary.

I visited them in McLean, so did my Mum on one of her sojourns in the States. Don and Barbara visited my folks in England.


Mark went away to College and eventually married Marci. They have two daughters, Lindsey and Lesley, and I was present for Lindsey’s Bat Mitzvah.

Wendy, (now Cdr. Wendy Pinkham, USN) also went to college, did her Masters at B.U. and married Charles Pinkham. I shared with their Rector in the marriage ceremony. They now have three sons, Chip, Chris and Nick. Wendy is stationed in Beaufort, S.C.

Gary, after College met his life partner Ed. They have been together for 20 years.

And this was the gang that gathered together for Christmas 2007 in Pensacola, FL where Barbara and Don have retired.

Don, Barbara, Mark, Marcia, Lindsey, Lesley, Charles, Wendy, Chip, Chris and Nick, Gary and Ed. And me.

We ate well, but not too much. We got to be silly. We enjoyed the children. We exchanged gifts.

Gary and Ed made wonderful pirogues. Marcia cooked up a splendid mashed butternut squash. That all went down with the most moist and tender turkey on Christmas Eve.

Ed, Gary and I took a walk on a cold and windy beach. Afterwards, seeking good hot soup, we found ourselves in Foley, Alabama at Lambert’s Restaurant. No soup here, but there were “throwed rolls”. We decided that we’d had an ethnic experience.

See http://www.throwedrolls.com/fun_facts.html

Don, Barbara and I went to Church on Dec 23rd at their parish, The Church of the Advent in Lillian, Alabama. This is a small country Episcopal Church, and I (having been there in 2006) pinch hit in the Choir.

Most of the family returned there on Christmas Eve and I again joined the choir. Eight voices. A tenor and a soprano also play the recorder and the violin. A non singer is a good recorder player. The other bass also plays the recorder and guitar, and sang tenor, trusting my booming baritone. It reminded me of the Quire in a Thomas Hardy novel.

Rector Martha Kreamer preached a damn good and intelligent sermon. She thanked me for being the “Amen corner”.


We opened some gifts on Christmas Eve (after service) and others on Christmas Day, early enough for Gary and Ed to take their flights to D.C., and for my flight to Sarasota.

I got back on Christmas Day just in time to have dinner at a Sarasota Japanese Restaurant, with my friends Ben and Catherine, with Claudette and Trish down from Stephentown, N.Y.

I’ve known Claudette for not a few years (Stephentown is near Pittsfield, MA), and I was meeting Trish for the first time.

Real friends indeed. Nothing faux here!

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

A new appreciation for an old song

Back in the 1960’s when I was yet a member of the Plymouth Brethren, I used to hang around with two sisters, Yvonne and Marilyn Draper, and their mother Kitty. They were also “Peebs”, but Kitty rarely if ever attended the Peeb Assembly.

We’d all be together with other of my pals on Sunday nights, munching goodies, drinking soft drinks and goofing around.

My heart was with Kitty who had been abandoned by a feckless Peeb husband. But there was one thing I could never “get”. Every Christmas she would love to play an old recording of Nat King Cole singing “O Holy Night”. I heard it many times in Kitty’s home.

Snob that I was, I thought that the song was garish and a bit trashy. And Anglicans/Episcopalians evidently agreed with me, for I have only once heard it sung in the Episcopal Church. That was when we gave way to Shirley Bayley, a Barbadian woman in Cambridge. It was her favourite Christmas song, and we “did it” for her.

But in recent weeks my wise and good friend Tracy Wells has been quoting the song as a signature on her e-mails.

Especially she has been quoting the third (and rarely sung) stanza


Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!


“Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.


Those words intrigued me. So I did a bit of research and discovered that “O Holy Night” was written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau, one time Mayor of Roquemare, near Avignon, France. “Known more for his poetry than for his Church attendance” (quote from the Shepherd’s Care Ministries website), Clappeau was asked to write a poem for Midnight Mass. He did so, and then realised that it should be set to music.

He asked a Jewish friend, Adolphe Charles Adams to write a tune, and the rest, as they say is history.


Not quite. For when the French Catholic Church discovered that Adams was Jewish, and that Cappeau had become a Socialist, they denounced the song.

But in the 1850’s the song was “discovered” by an American abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight. He translated the song into English, and it became a favourite of Northern abolitionists -- especially for the lines:


“Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”


So I confess, the song I had scorned has taken on a new meaning for me, thanks to Tracy. A song of freedom!

And I love the Nat King Cole version. It’s splendid with his velvet voice and careful enunciation. And for that I thank Kitty.

You might want to hear verse one, as sung by Nat King Cole, via You Tube (see link below). The video is sentimental, but Nat’s voice should delight you!



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7P0By2Uv4M

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Old Fashioned Flying

I flew from Tampa and Pensacola and back for Christmas, using one of Continental Airlines affiliates Gulfstream Air International.

What fun. We were in a 19 seater, twin engined propeller Beechcraft 1900.

This is the kind of little plane where you walk across the tarmac and climb a narrow staircase to get on board.

There is a centre aisle with 16 bucket type seats, one each side of the aisle, and three seats at the back. No bathrooms. No "cabin service", just the pilot and the first officer.

The flight from Tampa to Pensacola took 1 hour, 24 minutes.

The flight back was just one hour.

It was fun to fly this way.