A couple of days ago I went up to London for a friend’s retirement party in Shell Centre. Ian seemed to have been hanging on for ages, managing to miss numerous opportunities to retire early, but finally calling it a day at the end of October, after 41 years service.
In the morning I’d got a phone call from my bank, Lloyds TSB, saying the branch manager had noticed the activity on my account and one of his advisors would like to speak with me about it. In the old days, this might have meant that I was going too much overdrawn and behaving in a financially irresponsible manner and therefore needed a talking to. Nowadays, the banks are not like that (“Overdrawn? Delighted, dear boy. And would you like this payment protection plan while we’re at it?”) and neither am I. What they had spotted was a largish sum in a savings account (and thus the potential to sell me more products). Would I like to make an appointment?
Normally, I would be disinclined to make an appointment, especially since it would cost me £15 in train and bus fares up to London, but since I was going into London already for the retirement do, and would pass right by my bank branch, I asked for a four o’clock slot and got it.
Since I now had more than one thing on, I decided to get out my suit to wear. I hadn’t worn a suit and tie since I don’t remember – oh, yes I do: last Friday at the Woking Liberal Democrats annual dinner. The time before that is the one I can’t remember.
Isabella called up the details of my accounts on her screen and asked if I had considered an “eSavings” account for the money, which would pay better interest than the savings account I was using. I used to have an eSavings account, but the bank unilaterally converted it to the present one a few months ago. I was quite happy with their action, since the eSavings introductory interest bonus had ceased and it paid me a better rate. I explained this to Isabella, but she assured me that I could open a new eSavings account and get the introductory rate again. So I did. That’s an extra 0.9%.
Isabella then went through the list of products I might like to consider. Tying up the money for a longer period wasn’t on because I need it liquid to pay for the new kitchen and extension at Treforest. (“That will be nice for your wife,” said Isabella, an unnecessarily gender-stereotyped remark, I thought. I mean, I like the new kitchen too; it makes emptying the dishwasher easier.)
I wasn’t interested in a credit card that gave me Air Miles, because I can’t be bothered to keep track of them and rarely fly anywhere these days. (I have air miles or flying points on BA, KLM and VLM left over from business trips and on Virgin from my holiday flight last year. I keep waiting for them to expire, since I don’t meet the criteria for retaining them, but every year the airlines change the criteria, so I’m still lumbered with them. Sorry – back to the bank.) I don’t need life insurance, I’ve paid off my mortgage, I am happy with my home and contents insurance, and I use up my ISA allowance elsewhere.
So at the end of the half-hour appointment I was happy at the extra 0.9% and I’ve no idea how Isabella and the bank felt about it.
It was still too early for Ian’s retirement do, so I called Kevin in my old department to see if I could come up and see him. He was aware that I was visiting Shell Centre so it wasn’t completely out of the blue. Fine, he said. I wandered round to the Tower entrance and made my way to reception. The receptionist found my name on a list on the computer. Was I here for the event, because that would mean using the other entrance? I was there for the event, I said, but first I wanted to see friends in the building, which meant using this entrance. The receptionist duly telephoned Kevin who came down to escort me through the building. (This is security, you understand, not recent memory loss.) As she gave me the visitor’s security pass, the receptionist explained that this pass would get me into the building, but was only valid for the Tower entrance. It would not get me out of the birdcage entrance (a name that persists in memory even though it no longer looks like a birdcage) after the party. No problem, we said, we will sort it all out.
The department looks much as it used to – the posters and diagrams I put on the wall by my desk are still there 19 months later – but emptier of people. Per, the boss, got a new job in Shell and moved out. David wangled a desk in the Tower, which means he won’t have to go to Canary Wharf. Lindsey also had moved on. Angus seemed to prefer a desk on the 8th floor in a project office, even though the project was long since over. Maral and Niall were out. That left Kevin himself, Ola and Alan, plus Arthur.
What had surprised me was the corridors. Most rooms were empty. The few people around lighted their way with mobile phone screens down dark corridors from one island of illumination to the next, like modern-day Indiana Joneses. The move to 40 Bank Street has started and my old department will be among the last to leave, on 25th November. Even Isabella had noticed fewer people going into the bank now. I was affected by a brief moment of nostalgia. But only a brief moment.
In contrast to the vast space they now occupy, Kevin and chums will have an allocated area, but not allocated desks. Personal space is abolished. They will have to pick a desk when they arrive in the morning and plug in their laptops and plug all the things like mouse, keyboard and headphones into their laptops. They are allowed two crates, maximum, in which to put their belongings for the move. I’m glad I’ve left.
At around five-thirty I made my farewells and headed for the party. The quick way was down the nearest lift, but I decided to go the long way round, out of the Tower, round the outside and in at the birdcage. I didn’t fancy trying to explain my way out at eight p.m. after several glasses of wine when my visitor’s pass failed to work on the automatic doors. Had it been raining, I would probably have risked it, but it wasn’t.
Ian’s party had what seemed like a quorum of the SOGs attending and quite a few other retired folks. There were some current workers as well, which was reassuring. That there still are current workers, I mean. The white wine was palatable, quite nice enough to drink several glasses of. I didn’t try the red, but I could see that others were not exactly turning down refills, so I guess it was okay too. There were various snacks, including a savage chicken-on-a-stick coated in invisible chili sauce that went straight for the back of the throat. After quite a long while, as these things go, it was time for the speeches. Hans (Ian’s not-Dutch erstwhile boss) said a few words and then delegated the reminiscences to Jeremy and Mike. With such skills he’ll go far. Ian then spoke, to rapturous applause.
Afterwards, I sought out the signature book and wrote a stunningly witty and not at all bitter comment about Spurs (Ian’s favoured football team) and their double-winning FA Cup victory over Leicester City in 1961. Don’t ask me to repeat it here. Don’t even ask me to remember it. I just know it was bitter and not at all witty. Take my word for it.
I caught the train home and didn’t have long to wait for my bus either. All in all, a most satisfactory way of spending £15 and an evening.