Some time after the merger, we relocated from the opulence of 67 Lombard Street (its awesome cupola already in the process of being trashed by the insertion of a mezzanine floor, the ripping out of the old marble counters in favour of more cost-effective plastic tops and security screens, and eventually the unforgivable demolition of the famous font – the outspring of an ancient artesian well, which had stood since the early nineteenth century in the middle of the grand old Banking Hall) to new premises in a slab of a sixties office block in Great Tower Street.
This was nothing but good news to us poor sods who had to work there. The offices in 67 were slotted in like misplaced Lego bricks, wherever they’d fit, around that Banking Hall and its dome, which probably took up sixty per cent of the volume of the building. This new office was open plan, adjustable by partitions, fully wired for power and phone (and even, later, computer – the floor could be lifted!). In 1973, it was working heaven.
My sense of spatial adjustment not being particularly good, I did a couple of lunchtime dry runs to make sure I could find my way to work on the first Monday. That was when I found out a lot more about the amazing diversity of the City of London. It was an eye-opener. You’d pootle down a bland Eastcheap, turn a few corners at random, and suddenly fetch up against a Wren church which would grab you by the neck and haul you in to worship; another corner and there’s the magnificently useless Monument to The Great Fire, insisting that you just get up there and do it again – Verticality is Power (says the Shard today). I found the Minories, Mincing Lane, Fish Street Hill, Seething Lane – all names Pepys would certainly have recognised, and Shakespeare might have. Botolph Alley. King’s Head Court. I looked for Gropec*nt Lane, but it must have got closed before I came on the scene.
Shortly after this relocation, I was moved to the Exchange Control counter. Exchange Control was a quaint idea of the post-war government that people, or organisations, should have to demonstrate due need before being allowed to ship their assets willy-nilly out of the country, and therefore had to get permission to do so. Some of you may remember having to have your passport stamped and initialled before being issued with your £50 for your trip to Jersey or Marbella. I dealt, though, with the bigger corporate stuff, which involved intricate knowledge of a seven volume manual of principles, rules, thresholds and delegations, which I devoured. Because I was behind a counter, I also had occasional direct proximity with the public, which provided some freshness. I remember most of an afternoon ensconced with Al Anderson, the lead guitarist with Bob Marley and the Wailers, sorting out how to get his cheque cashed; we both drew out the process and, as you can imagine, covered a lot of conversational ground. I briefly got to play his Strat.
The job also offered direct proximity to my boss’s secretary. Nothing actually happened, but it nearly did. (I’m still a bit sorry it didn’t, to be honest.) It must have been pretty obvious, because I was suddenly whisked off across town to an office in Chiswell Street, to participate in the shutting down of a failing merchant bank called Cripps Warburg. They’d lent too much unsecured money to some dodgy customers, so had to be bailed out … How could that happen? Unthinkable today of course. The operation was overseen, I’ve just remembered, by the future Leader of the House of Lords, getting some work experience before he took up his proper position. He was a super guy, actually.
Once the old staff had been fired and the loans were in more or less rotational roll-over mode, this non-job went on for about twelve months, each more boring than the last; until I was suddenly whisked off again, this time in the direction of computers.