To those friends and acquaintances who have only come to know me in the last 20 years or so I am a (now retired) IT Support person with an ongoing mission to impart basic computer know-how to the huge group of people that I refer to, respectfully, as “The Incomputerate”!
Before that, however, I had another totally different career – I was a Tax Adviser.
And NOT – as one cloth-eared meathead at Peterborough Job Centre wrote down when I gave that as my answer to a question about previous experience – a Taxi Driver!
In my IT career I was very largely self-taught (having “blagged” my way into my first IT Support job by knowing very little but being prepared to work four 12 hour night shifts a week) but to acquire an extensive working knowledge of the effects and ramifications of UK Tax Law took TRAINING.
I have already told you (https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2011/11/) about the Inland Revenue part of that training – this piece is about the courses provided by Barclays Bank Trust Company (BBTC) following my “defection” to the private sector.
When I was taken on at BBTC in early February 1974 I was told by Eric Northam (my Manager and one of only two Barclays Managers I worked for who I do not categorise as either idiots or utter swine) that my four years in the Tax Office would secure me exemption from Stage 1, the “at the desk” phase of the training programme. I would, at the appropriate times, however, have to do the increasingly complex Stages 2, 3, 4 and Senior courses at the training centre in London.
Eric put me in for the first of these as soon as I started but they must have had a bit of a backlog because I wasn’t assigned a place until March 1975 – 13 months later.
So, on Monday 17th March 1975 I presented myself at the training centre in Gracechurch Street supposedly to spend two weeks (less one day – the final Friday was the start of Easter that year) improving my Tax knowledge.
Our accommodation was arranged at The Kenilworth Hotel in Great Russell Street (down the side of the Dominion Theatre at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road) and I was given a twin room along with a lad called Steve from the Liverpool office with whom, fortunately, I got on really well – coming home at the end of 2 weeks in London with a broad Scouse accent was not something I had expected!
There were about a dozen people (6 male 6 female) on the course but the only ones who stick in my memory are Steve, Mike (Kendal office) and Howard (Manchester) because we were like-minded individuals and could also usually outlast the rest of the course in the hotel bar which stayed open as long as there was anyone left to serve!
The four of us set ourselves a strange challenge.
For some reason, everyone going on that first course was told by colleagues in their office that there was a “cap” of £1.50 per night on the evening meal at the hotel. This could actually get you quite a decent meal in those days but it did restrict our choices on the restaurant menu quite considerably!
So, on the second day we asked the office staff at the training centre about this and they told us that this was a common misconception and that there was NO UPPER LIMIT!
Not too surprisingly, for the rest of the course the four of us set out to see just how high we could get the bill! I think that without actually resorting to bottles of Champagne, we managed on more than one occasion to exceed £45.00 in total. That’s not a lot today but was a colossal amount for 4 meals in 1975. I think that by the end of the course we were all getting rather fed up with fillet steak and grilled Trout along with fancy starters and desserts!
I didn’t actually get to see a lot of Steve when we weren’t in the bar or eating as, quite early on, he became (shall we say) “amorously attached” to one of the girls in our group. I remember returning to our room one night at somewhere around 2 a.m. – Steve wasn’t there and hadn’t been in the bar for some time but there were some strange noises coming through the wall from her room next door!
I was awoken at about 6 a.m. (only a little while before our alarm call) by the door squeaking open and Steve sneaking in. I pretended to be asleep, let him get into his bed and almost to sleep before yawning loudly and proclaiming that we had to be getting up for breakfast and our tube journey to Bank station.
I know I was often very tired and hung over when we got to our class – Steve got hardly any sleep at all!
The only bad thing about that course was the cigar smoking, arrogant GIT who ran it! This man, the namesake of a hell-raising actor, now deceased (the actor, that is – unfortunately), told us all that copying or helping others was not allowed. As I already knew most of the course content this resulted in me helping my neighbours surreptitiously when he wasn’t watching!
He then put on my post-course report that he was “disappointed that I had not used my obvious experience to the benefit of my classmates”! Bastard!
He eventually reappeared in my life as the Senior Manager of the centralised office in Peterborough where several of us wished earnestly to kill him before he gave us nervous breakdowns!
And THEN…. nearly 3 years later in January 1978 came the Stage 3 course – in the intervening years the training centre had moved to the top floor of BBTC Head Office at Juxon House overlooking St. Pauls Cathedral and we were no longer put up in commercial hotels.
To provide short-term accommodation to staff on courses or inner-city secondments, Barclays acquired a number of medium sized hotels now known as “Staff Residences”. Trust Company staff on courses were assigned rooms in The Parkway Hotel” in Inverness Terrace, Bayswater – a short walk from Queensway tube station.
Given the needs of office managers and differing speeds of personal development of the staff concerned it was not too surprising that this was (almost) a completely new set of people. Steve was there, however, and while I didn’t share a room with him this time I still came home from the course with a Liverpool accent!
The allowable expenses having been somewhat curtailed by this time we didn’t spend too much on drinking in the bar – preferring instead to put money into a “kitty” and popping out to buy supplies at a nearby late opening supermarket with it. After complaints about the noise we made in the lounge area from the free-loading daughter of the Bank’s Chairman who had a room on the first floor, we moved down into the basement which had rooms with spare armchairs and a couple of table tennis tables.
On this and all subsequent courses we were also given “homework” in the form of a nightly project, the results of which had to be presented first thing the next day. One of the girls on this course didn’t want to waste her two weeks in London on this sort of thing and went out with friends every night. Each morning when our tutor asked who was to present the results of our homework everyone pointed unerringly at our absentee! She, of course, had no idea of what she was reading out and I think the staff worked out very quickly why we seemed to be picking on her.
In December 1980 came the Stage 4 course – harder work, more evening work comprising one big project per week and different people again. No Steve this time (I understand that when he went on his Stage 4 he pointedly asked why I wasn’t there!) but no “slackers” either so we made a vow to work very hard and get the project done as soon as possible so that we could get a couple of nights “on the town”. I don’t remember the first week’s project but the second was to work on individual presentations, to be given on the final morning of the course, on Tax Cases or pieces of legislation which we had been handed on the Monday morning.
This was the course I mentioned here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2010/12/06 – when the sad death of John Lennon occurred and that is one of the very few things I remember about it – apart that is from our cultural evening at the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square where the entire course (to the horror of some of the ladies present) watched a double bill of “Scum” and “Quadraphenia”.
There followed a long gap before I got to go on the Senior Taxation Course in October 1987 – this comprised a much smaller group and the emphasis was more on developing communication and negotiation skills than any technical content (which we were assumed to have by now) and was rather more fun! Steve was back too – or, from his point of view, I was back!
I also knew most of the people on this course through working with them in other offices and while we were all terrified of the presentation “on a subject of our own choice” that we had to give at the end of the second week, this served to draw us all together into quite a tight little group. Regular readers will know that mine was an illustrated story of the Battle of Agincourt done in character as a sort of Churchillian version of King Henry V. Read about it here: https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2012/10/25
I haven’t seen most of the people I met on those courses for a long time now but one of the 1975 “Dining Club” and one of the 1980 class are still in the group of 8 who compete with me in the Barclays Inter-District Sea Angling match each year. Oh, and the person who actually led the Senior Course in 1987 will be driving me down to Somerset for this year’s match – it’s his turn!
So it wasn’t all wasted even if most of the technical tax stuff has faded now.