This is a tale of two banks, as Charles Dickens would not have told it, given that he wouldn’t have been limited to telling it in 600 words. So, without wasting another word … Here is Bank One. In it sits one of the employees, a teller, Miss Pettigrew (not her real name but one Dickens may have favoured).
She has just returned to her seat following a meeting with her manager — the bespectacled, sharp-eyed man enclosed in the glass office just behind the row of tellers.
He may, to viewers outside the glass panes, appear to be doing nothing with his time apart from a bored round of twiddling first one thumb, then the other, but that would be misleading, for his eyes are constantly on the big prize — the hefty bonus to be had at the year end and he will do everything in his power not to let any wayward, distracted teller cause his year at the end to be described as ‘annus horribilis’.
Miss Pettigrew’s oversight was in delivering an unbalanced ledger at the end of the previous day. Apparently. She has now returned to her seat, chastened, and rubbing her knuckles as though they’ve been rapped (which they have been, symbolically)
Miss Pettigrew’s oversight was in delivering an unbalanced ledger at the end of the previous day. Apparently. She has now returned to her seat, chastened, and rubbing her knuckles as though they’ve been rapped (which they have been, symbolically).
It is at this point that her phone rings. The caller is an elderly spinster, Jane Robertson, now confined in a nursing home. She requests the bank to issue her a most recent statement of accounts because the government needs this for their records.
Miss Pettigrew tells her that she will, unfortunately, have to come in to the bank personally, owing to new strictures and policies with regard to security. ‘I cannot walk. I am confined to bed,’ says Jane. ‘Then there’s nothing we can do, ma’am, I’m sorry.
You have to find a way to present yourself in person,’ says Miss Pettigrew, still smarting from the words her boss hurled in her direction. Mrs Robertson’s son, David, tries to reason with Miss Pettigrew but his attempts fall short — timewise, that is.
Miss Pettigrew grants him no more than two sentences before reiterating that, ‘I’m sorry, Mr Robertson. Those are the rules. I don’t make them.’ David makes up his mind. ‘Look mum,’ he says, ‘let’s call another branch. See if they will help.’ So they call the bank in the neighbouring suburb. Bank Two.
‘Hello, this is Rodney Hell,’ says the voice, ‘How may I help you?’ David’s heart sinks. With a name like that he’s fearful for the outcome of his request. Still, he puts his mother on the phone and says, ‘Talk to him, tell him what you want.
Often, they want to speak to the account holder personally.’ So Jane connects with the manager whose name it turns out is Bell, not Hell — either an accident or telephone static got in the way of David’s hearing.
Bell tells her pretty much what Miss Pettigrew did a few minutes earlier. No can do, for security reasons. ‘You’ll have to come in personally, I’m afraid.’ Jane then tells him, too, that she’s in a nursing home, immobile and confined to bed. And everything changes.
‘In that case, if you have your identity card with you, ma’am, I will drive over personally this evening when I’m done with work and bring you your statement.’ True to his word, at 5.30 Rodney Bell presents himself at the door of the nursing home. In his hand is a gift bag.
Inside the bag, in a white envelope is the required statement of accounts. Also, in the bag is a box of Belgian chocolates and a card, personally handwritten, ‘Dear Jane, thank you for banking with us all these years.’ Signed by Bell himself!
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.