In February 1974, when I left the little community of H.M. Inspector of Taxes, Ipswich 2nd District, I lost three things.
The first was the need, when asked what I did for a living, to shuffle an imaginary shoulder holster under my jacket and say in a secretive manner, “I work for the Government and I can’t talk about it”!
The second was my place among a group of people united in being heartily disliked by the general public. Mind you we didn’t make the Income Tax laws any more than Traffic Wardens decide where the “No Parking” zones are to be.
There were, I believe, two types of people in the Tax Office – alcohol and tobacco fuelled nutters and those with a grudge against humanity! The latter could be relied upon to enforce the rules with total impartiality and every sign of enjoyment at so doing, while the former just showed every sign of enjoyment but didn’t really give a stuff about the job!
You will note that I don’t say which of those groups I belonged to – those of you who know me personally won’t need telling while the rest of you can draw your own conclusions from what you’ve gleaned about me in these writings.
The third thing I lost was what might be called “amateur status”!
Basically, in the Tax Office when people came in and asked questions about their taxes we gave them information FREE OF CHARGE! And it will not surprise you to discover that they didn’t believe us, even though it was (usually) entirely correct!
What I GAINED when I left them was a new job with a BANK where I told my customers and casual callers exactly the same things I would have said previously but now they not only believed me but they PAID for the advice! I think that, in many cases, they believed me BECAUSE they paid for it!
I may have lost the imaginary shoulder holster but NOW I was entitled to have “Bank Official” (not Bank Clerk or Bank Cashier or any other slightly menial sounding title) on my passport. I could now imagine myself as being anything up to and including the head of the International Monetary Fund!
Now as a “Bank Official” working in a specialist area (Personal Taxation) I missed out on certain areas of banking history that someone in a “mainstream” Banking Branch probably picked up on their induction course and as a result of this I did something that didn’t bother me in the slightest at the time but which makes me think “what a prat!” when I look back at it.
I had a t-shirt printed.
Nothing wrong with that you’re saying – in the 1970s it was a new and very popular thing to do. Comedy t-shirts were all the rage and if they didn’t say what you were thinking you could have one done for you.
Mine said “Give Bank Holidays back to the Banks!” and my colleagues in the office and acquaintances at other Taxation branches (who I met socially at Five-a-side football and ten-pin bowling tournaments) thought it was very amusing.
The problem was that none of them had been given “elementary Banking history” either!
Because, Bank Holidays are, in fact, NOTHING AT ALL to do with Bank staff having a day off!
Much the opposite in fact.
Traditionally the Banks closed TO THE PUBLIC on certain days of the year (usually quarterly) to balance the accounts and to calculate and add interest to savings and loans.
From the Bank Staff side it must have been a nightmare – everything in handwritten ledgers and all to be sorted out in one twenty four hour period! They can only have been saved from physical and mental breakdown by the fact that only businesses and the reasonably wealthy HAD bank accounts.
From the Public side this apparently meant that no business could take place on those days although as nearly everything was done in cash until quite recently I don’t quite see why everything ground to a halt! Had they never heard of stuffing it under the mattress overnight?
I presume (and perhaps someone will be good enough to enlighten me if I’m wrong or inaccurate here) that if you had a job that involved daily banking as an essential factor or complicated financial transfers through the banking system you got a day off. Otherwise you worked as normal.
Whatever the system may have been for Bank Holidays THEN it is not what we have NOW. And the reason for that is…… Saint Lubbock! Never heard of him? Nor had I until I started looking this up.
It is the name that the British General Public gave to Sir John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, a man whose interests are listed in Wikipedia as “Finance, Biology, Archaeology, and Politics”. He was a Director of Coutts Bank (the one the Queen uses) as well as a Member of Parliament and a distinguished amateur biologist specialising in Ants, Bees and Wasps (so I could certainly have had meaningful conversations with HIM – see “Stung” below).
As far as we are concerned his greatest achievement was pushing through Parliament the Bank Holidays Act of 1871. This established as Public Holidays (in addition to Good Friday and Christmas Day which were already established religious public holidays) Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day.
Everyone (except presumably the Bankers who, we must hope, were given days off in lieu until computers made their attendance unnecessary) got those four days as paid holiday.
Certain changes were made one hundred years later to include May Day and New Years day and to shift Whit Monday and the August Bank holiday (in England anyway) to the last Mondays of May and August respectively.
So, there we are – I’ve learned a lot by looking briefly into this subject and I hope you have too!
And as we have just returned to work after one of those Bank Holidays let us all utter a brief “Thank you” to the 1st Baron Avebury, the man who established the principle that resulted in all of those statutory days off we now enjoy.
As a tribute I quote a verse published about him in “Punch” in 1882:
How doth the Banking Busy Bee
Improve his shining hours?
By studying on Bank Holidays
Strange insects and Wild Flowers!