My first bank account was with NatWest. They offered me £30 to open it, in 1996. The branch was in Bridge Street, one of the shopping streets in Pinner, Middlesex, and I lived more than half a mile away – which, for a lazy teenager, was an epic trek.
My grandparents had given me a cheque for my birthday, which was also £30, and I wanted to cash it so I could buy something nice at the weekend. It would take four days to clear. So that Monday at 4pm I strolled down to the bank, which closed at 4.30pm. By the time I got there, it was 4.15pm – comfortably before closing time.
But no! Alas, the bank was closed. There was no notice outside – the plaque on the wall still said its opening hours were 9.30 to 4.30pm on weekdays – but the door was firmly shut and wouldn’t budge, no matter how hard I tried to get in.
I sighed. If the bank was shut, that meant I wouldn’t be able to cash my cheque in time for the weekend. Then – aha! – I heard the lock turn, and spied movement. Someone was being let out of the bank. ‘Excuse me,’ I said to the bank official doing the letting out, whose badge said Bank Manager, ‘it’s only 4.15pm and I’d like to cash a cheque please.’
‘We’re closed,’ he said, looking surly, and slammed the door in my face, locking it again.
Well!, I thought. That was just not on. The bank had an obligation to its customers – it couldn’t close early unless it had a very good reason, and the man hadn’t provided one. [My mum had been doing a law degree throughout my childhood, which may explain my slightly argumentative nature back then.]
So when the door next opened to let someone out, I slipped past them and into the bank. Hurray! Now I could cash my cheque.
‘Get out!’ snarled the bank manager. He was an Asian man, but clearly felt no solidarity for his fellow Asian. He was also quite a bit taller than my unimpressive height of 5’2″, but he didn’t scare me.
‘I’ll get out as soon as you cash my cheque,’ I said. ‘I’m a NatWest customer and you have a duty to cash it.’
‘We’re not going to cash your cheque, so you can get out now,’ the bank manager snapped, though I could see the bank tills were still open and the cashiers were working.
‘Shan’t!’ I said truculently, and slid down to the floor. I still remember exactly where in the bank I sat down – near the entrance, diagonally opposite the customer service desk. ‘I’m not leaving until you cash my cheque. You have opening hours and they’re not over yet.’
The bank manager was fuming, but clearly didn’t want to forcibly manhandle me out of the branch like Mark Field. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Get out, or I’m calling the police.’
‘Call them!’ I said, still staging my one-girl sit-in protest. ‘See if I care. I’m going to report you to head office and close my account!’ (This wasn’t much of a threat, as back then my account contained about 50p, but it was all I could think of.)
To my surprise, the bank manager actually called the police. He dialled the number as I sat grumpily on the bank floor, and he muttered something into the phone. I shrugged and hugged my knees to my chest, bored and cross.
The police station was at the top of Bridge Street in those days, so it took less than one minute for the sirens to blaze and the police car to screech down to the bank. Two uniformed policemen burst in, then looked around the bank, puzzled.
‘We’ve come here because of reports of a disturbance!’ one of them announced.
The bank manager pointed at me.
‘Is this the disturbance?’ the policeman asked, gawping at my seven-and-a-half-stone frame, amazed.
‘She’s trespassing and refusing to leave the bank,’ the bank manager announced. I glared at him.
‘We’ve come here on blues and twos!’ the policeman ranted, staring at me. ‘We thought the bank was being robbed!’
‘Don’t blame me! I didn’t call you,’ I said. ‘I just wanted to cash my cheque.’
The policeman calmed down. ‘Well, if the bank manager tells you to leave the bank, you should leave the bank,’ he said.
I glared, defeated, and got to my feet. ‘He shouldn’t have called you though,’ I said. ‘I’m not very scary.’
‘Quite the opposite, Madam,’ replied the policeman mildly, who clearly thought the bank manager was a bit of a dick.
I never did report the bank manager to head office or close my account – I think I realised I was being a bit of a horror and they wouldn’t take my side – but I did eventually get to cash my cheque.
I still hold an account with NatWest to this day, though the best thing I ever got out of that bank was this anecdote.
[Me as a teenager. I was wearing a boob tube, though you can’t see it.]
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