Saturday 26th November
On a recent visit to my friend who lives in Docklands, we were walking around Canary Wharf and I looked up at one of the huge overbearing shiny steel and glass buildings and saw ‘Bank of America’ and suddenly the words of a song came back to me, clear as a bell, which I was certain I had forgotten years ago. Let me take you back to 1972, and that little flat in Hackney, where I spent five miserable months with Adrian. He was an avid music fan, to the point that he almost worshipped some Artists and their music; he would want to buy everything they had ever recorded, and would sit hunched up close to the speaker with the LP sleeve on his lap, learning the words to every song, burning them into his consciousness. He would occasionally call me over to listen as he gently lifted the needle and put it back a few grooves (yes, I do know there is only one groove, but you know what I mean) and insisted I listen to a particular phrase. He asserted that this was poetry of the highest order, and though I was tempted to disagree with him, I usually just listened quietly and made my own mind up in silence. There was no point in arguing with him, and besides at times we were hardly talking so I wasn’t going to spoil these occasional moments with a disagreement, was I?
I can remember the words so clearly; they were by an American singer called John Stewart, who no-one has ever heard of I am sure, the words were – “Standing in line in the Bank of America, Nobody spoke, they were in the House of God.” And yes, they were very apposite, though hardly worthy of his accolade of great poetry. But this was 1972, when banks were not looked upon with such disdain as they are today, what with the scandals of sub-prime mortgages and Government bail-outs, and huge bankers’ bonuses. Back then they were respected and very respectable institutions, being a bank manager was almost as admired as if one were a Doctor or a Solicitor. Banks were considered as safe, as helpful places where your bank manager would often call you in for a chat, and would offer free financial advice, all as part of the service.
But then gradually the local branch managers were replaced, and all you ever saw were cashiers who had to refer everything up to area level, and you began to get the feeling that you were just a name and an amount of money on a ledger rather than a valued customer. And now we almost all despise at least, if not actually hate, the power which the banks have over our lives
And the large banks, especially in the City, or Canary Wharf are really modern day cathedrals, built for the worship of Money. And God-llke the banks have become, too big to be allowed to fail, and yet too powerful for any mere Governments to challenge in any meaningful way. And I am sure that none of us, poor taxpayers and citizens can understand in the slightest how it can be, that despite owning almost all of Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, (my own bank, for my sins) we simply cannot stop them from awarding themselves huge bonuses, while our very same Government is cut, cut, cutting real people’s livelihoods and throwing vast numbers of (mainly women) public workers on the scrap heap. It really is an obscenity – and all because they are scared of challenging the Houses of God.