Friday, 1 April 2011
Back in the day, I took a morning off and went into my bank, Allied Irish Banks, to borrow some money.
I had a loan of £15,000 from Dublin Corporation to buy the inner city cottage I was living in, I told the executive.
He hadn't invited me into his office but was leaning an expensively-clad elbow on the mahogany counter and desultorily leafing through my account details and cancelled cheques, which he had brought out with him.
"Why do you want to borrow this money?" he asked coldly, emphasis on the 'borrow'.
"The Corporation want me to rebuild the kitchen and bathroom to meet their standards, so I need another £3,000," I told him.
"You should have saved the money up, in that case," he told me. "Your account shows you as quite unreliable."
I was indignant. I don't think I even had an overdraft; money went in and money went out, but the balance stayed steady.
Apparently the problem was that I tended to cash my cheques in pubs - as people did in those days. I wasn't a drinker; a glass of Guinness or a Coca-Cola was about my limit. But the bank hours of the time - 10am to 3pm with a generous lunch hour during which they closed to customers - made it impossible for those who worked all day.
"But... but..." I stuttered. I'd been led into that very bank - then the Munster & Leinster in Grafton Street - at the age of five to open my first account. My great-grandmother, grandmother and mother had all had accounts there before me, reliable women all.
He told me with a lifted lip that neither factor had any bearing on the bank's likelihood of lending me money.
Off I went back to the office where I toiled in misery at the time.
I had another account that I used for savings, in the TSB as it was then. I rang them up (conscientiously tearing up a stamp so my State employer would not bear the cost of my private call), and made an appointment to see the manager.
The TSB at the time was a tiny Dublin bank. Their ads, causing tearful scenes in cinemas and homes, showed an old lady tottering into her bank with an equally elderly golden labrador. Called into the manager's office, she attaches the dog's lead to the umbrella stand outside - and the manager opens his door and leads the dog inside.
But the TSB really was like that, then. "This looks grand - we'll see if we can get it past Head Office," the manager of the nearest branch told me. I got bridging finance, got the kitchen rebuilt, bought the house, and paid back the TSB loan, and the Corporation loan.
I borrowed again, this time to buy a roomier three-bed semi. The full loan was from the TSB.
A few years later I was working in the Irish Press Group when it collapsed. I spent three months as office manager for the chapel and journalists as we tried to find a new buyer, then the usual fortnight or so of blinded terror and grief that follows losing any work, then made an appointment to see the bank manager.
I was shown into the manager's office, clutching my mortgage documents and a list of direct debits, and so on. A new manager - I hadn't met this one.
After introductions, I gulped, and started: "Well, as you may know, I was working in the Irish Press."
"Now, pet," said the bank manager, "will you sit down and have a cup of tea and a biscuit, love?"
He looked calmly at the figures, and suggested that the bank give me a year's rest on the mortgage payment, until I'd get back on my feet.
I walked out of there on air - knowing that the year's respite would buy me time to find other work.
The very best thing was knowing that my bank was at my back, defending me against the trouble that had come against me.
A few years later the bank was sold to Irish Permanent. Another manager told me that the staff were getting a nice payoff, and that this was scarcely fair - the shareholders were us, the customers, and we were the ones who should have been paid. I didn't mind; it was good that such decent people were getting their reward.