Reading the last dozen or so posts of mine you might get the idea that I am always lightly amusing, sometimes wittily philosophical and with a memory bank full of happy memories that I enjoy writing down for the pleasure of others. I have to tell you that this is not always the case and sometimes I have to go “darker” in an effort to expunge bad memories and feelings so that I may become what I consider to be a nicer person! That is what this is about.
As many of you reading this will have remembered from earlier posts, I write these articles in pen or pencil, often on the ludicrously long bus ride into Peterborough for my volunteer “work” at the library.
And I discovered on travelling in a few weeks ago that I was without either notebook or pen – a situation that obviously needed redressing as a matter of urgency! I mean, what if I thought of something utterly brilliant on the bus but couldn’t write it down?
So a quick detour to Wilkinson’s (for non-UK residents that’s an all-purpose cheap store partly filling the gap left by the demise of Woolworths in the UK) on the walk from the bus station to the Library was called for and I quickly found a couple of suitable A5 size notebooks before moving on to the pen shelf. Usually in this situation I just pick up a pack of cheap blue or black biros but this time I looked at the other options available and thought “Why not?”
Which explains why (although there is no way you can tell once they’re published) the draft of everything I’ve written so far in 2017 was done in…….. GREEN INK!
And what, I hear some of my readers asking, is special about THAT?
Well those of you who worked for Barclays in the past and particularly those of you whose time with Barclays Bank Trust Company preceded the dreadful Peterborough Tax Centre will undoubtedly remember that no workers on those files were allowed EVER to use green ink because that was the prerogative of the dreaded Inspection Teams.
For the uninitiated I shall explain!
Every 3 years or so each of the 33 local offices received a supposedly unexpected and definitely unwelcome visit from the Spanish Inquisition a.k.a. the Trust Company’s Inspection Team.
This comprised “The Inspector”, usually a “rising star” Manager high in the favour of the Board of Directors, and a number of career minded junior managers from each of the three disciplines – Tax, Investment and Executorship & Trustee. They would be accompanied, usually, by some young “fast-track” smart-arse with no knowledge of any of the relevant subjects and who was there to keep their paperwork in order and aid the preparation of the final report.
I said earlier that the visits were “supposedly” unexpected but everyone had a bit of an idea! While there was, at that time, no such thing as email or social media we all knew people in other offices from sporting events or training courses and the word would quickly go round that “the Narks have gone into…..” some office or other and all of the staff in places that hadn’t been visited in over 2 years would breathe easily for another 4 weeks or so!
I feel your confusion!
Surely, you are thinking, such an examination of work would comprise, in equal measure, praise for things done well and carefully worded constructive criticism for everything else. Because, after all, the Inspectors didn’t bring in any fees themselves and you don’t go upsetting the people who are effectively paying your salary.
It was entirely destructive (of morale, at least) with efforts being made to find the tiniest fault if no large errors were apparent.
They went through 10% of each person’s case load and would produce one or more sheets of A4 paper with hand written comments on for every file looked at. This sheet would be divided down the middle with the comments, questions etc. written in green ink down the left hand side and the poor, overworked clerk’s responses (in blue or black ink) on the right.
If they couldn’t find anything amiss with a file there was no praise – you simply weren’t aware that they had looked at it except for green initials on the record sheet!
As the weeks of an inspection went on you would find a growing pile of files on your desk with the sheets of “greenery” tucked in the flap, requiring your urgent attention in addition to your normal workload – which was not allowed to slacken off. This was always a right pain for me as most of my Inspections took place in offices that I had just been transferred into which meant I was always having to respond to stuff my predecessor had done! I suppose, though, that those situations were made up for by a couple of instances where the “Narks” turned up at the old office just after I left!
As the years went by I started to fight back! From responding to everything on a “the Inspector is always right” basis I began to look closely and carefully at the comments and if they were inaccurate or incorrect I would say so in my response with detailed reasons. As the paperwork could not be destroyed by them any more than it could be by “us” anything that showed a particular Inspector to be a technically inept arse (and I did meet a few of those) still had to be kept!
I loved that; they didn’t!
I also utilised what I called the “inverse response technique” where a rambling, whole page green diatribe about things wrong (in their opinion) with a particular case would be met with a concise response of “Noted”.
Conversely, a short question along the lines of “Do you think that……?” which obviously needed nothing more than a “Yes” or “No” answer would be treated like one of those exam questions that end with the word “Discuss”.
Sometimes I needed more paper!
The whole process was done in an adversarial and heavy-handed fashion and for very little real result. I am sure we all had cases that we would, for any number of reasons not involving technical errors, have preferred the nit-pickers not to look at but it was best simply to hope that those ones would not get selected in the one in ten chosen (supposedly randomly) for examination.
Anything that drew attention to things you didn’t want them to see was unwise as was discovered by one office in the late 1970s. Just before their Inspection was due they closed all of the awkward, dubious or neglected cases that they did not want to have examined with a view to re-opening them afterwards. This must have had some managerial connivance as all closures had to be authorised and when the deception was somehow spotted all hell broke loose!
I don’t remember if there were dismissals but I cannot recall ever meeting anyone from that particular office so I imagine that something of a purge took place as well as an extended inspection of 100% of their cases including the closed ones! A special team was formed from senior clerical staff and managers from offices all around the country to go into the problem site, review all their work and bring the cases and records completely up to date.
This had repercussions for the rest of us around the UK – not only did we have to keep the work of our “loaned out” colleagues up to date but ordinary Inspections were now extended to include closed cases and the vindictive bastards took to querying minor typos in letters and other really petty ways of getting their revenge for that one office that had fouled up!
I don’t know exactly how they chose members of the Inspection Team but you had to have completed your Institute of Bankers exams (which did not automatically give you any technical know-how in the subject you were pulling people apart over) and not mind that the rest of your Tax Department colleagues would hate your guts for the rest of your career!
It is probably true to say that in my 24 years with Barclays I never met a member of the Inspection Team that I would have wanted to socialise with after work but met plenty that I would have cheerfully put in a weighted sack and dropped in the river!
There were ways of doing that job that would have achieved the desired end in a friendly and constructive fashion but somehow they always picked vicious little power-seekers who wanted it done the nasty way!
It is my earnest hope that writing down these memories will help me to purge myself of the lingering venom and let me move on to happier subjects written about in whatever colour ink I bloody well choose!
You will pleased to know that having lanced that particular psychic abscess I will now be my usual jolly, sunny self again – until something else that seriously rattles my bars comes to the front of my mind anyway.