A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Friday, 19 May 2017

Hooptedoodle #260 - The Vaults of Yesteryear

Very pleasant day yesterday - I had to go into Edinburgh to collect some re-glazed spectacles, and my wife agreed to make the trip with me. We had a very quiet, relaxed journey in on the 11:23 train.




The visit to the optician took about 20 minutes, so we decided to get some lunch in town before we made our way back to The Sticks. We went to the All Bar One which stands on the corner of George Street and Hanover Street - one of several places of this name in the city. I'm always a bit wary of big chains/franchises, but in fact we had a terrific lunch, with very acceptable service in very pleasant surroundings. Never been in there before, but one slightly weird aspect of my visit was that this place used to be my bank, once upon a time.

When I first came to Edinburgh as a student, back in the Late Iron Age, I opened an account with the National Commercial Bank of Scotland, entirely because they were the Scottish agents for the old Midland Bank, which was where my family kept their fourteen shillings and elevenpence savings.

The National Commercial didn't last long - they were swallowed by Royal Bank of Scotland around 1969. To prove they once existed, here's one of their old notes:
My account moved (by default) to RBS, but I was not particularly happy with my new bankers - primarily since the word STUDENT appeared in my employment details on their files - in fact it said STUDENT ACTUARY - and thus they refused to allow me an overdraft facility (and quite right too). Thus I moved to the Clydesdale Bank, at the big branch which was conveniently close to my workplace - the building where I had lunch yesterday.

I don't suppose I have been unusually unlucky with banks over the years, but there are certain themes which have followed me in my dealings with them. I left the Clydesdale in a state of high animation around 1978 - I had returned from a fortnight's holiday (in Scarborough, in fact) to receive a registered letter from a firm of solicitors, acting on behalf of John Lewis and Partners, the noted department store. I had, you see, purchased new kitchen furniture for my new house and - as was the way in those days - had signed up to repay the bill over 18 months. A standing order was set up, the paperwork was completed, and money was sent each month to JLP. Alas, the Clydesdale made an honest-but-inconvenient mistake when they cancelled my payment after 6 months instead of 18. Everything was correct apart from the year. The first I knew about it was some 3 months later when I was notified that Lewis's were proposing to take me to court to recover the debt. We sorted it out without too much trouble, and a new series of payments was set up from a brand new bank account at Barclays. Sadly, Barclays were very little use either, but eventually I took my business elsewhere simply because I was generally fed up with them, rather than as a result of some melodrama. In a small way, I guess this was progress.


Anyway, that was all long ago, and is only faintly relevant because yesterday I had a very pleasant steak sandwich and a glass of Guinness in the Clydesdale's old Ledger Hall. Slightly odd, unreal overtones - does this sort of thing lay old ghosts to rest? - not sure.

So, if you're in George Street, Edinburgh, around lunchtime, All Bar One is a very fair choice for a bite to eat. It used to be a bank once, but that is of passing interest only to older residents.

17 comments:

  1. Another good story, Tony. If I am ever in Edinburgh at lunchtime, I will pay a visit to your old bank. If I do make it across the pond to Edinburgh,Scotland, I expect you to join me for lunch!

    "Student Actuary"... were your university days spent studying actuary science? If so, then coincidentally, my undergraduate degree was in actuarial science too.

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    1. That's a date.

      No - I studied Pure Maths at Edinburgh - I think the Actuarial courses were just starting at Heriot Watt, but that was all a bit nouveau. I went into professional training at an insurance company when I completed my degree. I did complete my fellowship, but I was always a misfit for the profession - too much imagination, for one thing. I still pay my annual professional sub like a good 'un, but I am delighted to say that I moved into the computing side of the company and had no regrets at all!

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  2. Mr Wetherspoon/Martin surely does like old banks... is there a Hooptedoodle on the number of old bank buildings that are available I wonder... where are all the banks going? :o) F.w.i.w - we will definitely try on our next visit - we usually eat in the "Standing Orders" just up the road - another old bank... Maybe it's Scottish Banks that are suffering....

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    1. There used to be more banks in Scottish towns than you would believe - we certainly needed to lose some. The banks are all going online, I guess. I don't recall the old, physical bank branches with any great affection - customer service concepts stopped just short of thrashing the customers with birch twigs - certainly an abusive and harrowing experience for younger and more impecunious customers in those days. As I recall, they would only lend you money if you could demonstrate that you didn't need it, and sanctimony never achieved greater heights.

      This note has reminded me that my fave eating place in Edinburgh used to be the Cafe St Honoré In Thistle Street North West Lane (some name for a mere street, eh?), which is just a couple of hundred yards west of Hanover St. I must go there again - I have fond but blurred memories of Saturday shopping trips which fizzled out into an extended, rather inebriated lunch, with the sun shining in through the windows - taxi home, of course! I know what's going to happen - I'll go there, probably after singing its praises, and it will be disappointing.

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    2. Very nice - will have to add that to the list - and only 4 minutes from the Oxford Bar as well....

      PS. I bet they are absolutely delighted at the Google Street view of the restaurant... :o))

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    3. Doesn't look too bad - it's OK - this is the centre of a working city (thus far...) - you're within yards of George Street, Frederick Street, Queen Street - the (Georgian) New Town of Edinburgh is only elegant because all the service accesses are down dirty little lanes like this one. Warm pigeon breast salad, and country grub like sausages and Flemish stews - elderflower flavoured creme brulee - all good. Mind you, I haven't been back yet...

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    4. Oxford Bar? - in Young Street? - Rebus etc? Good pub - there was a time, maybe 30 years ago, when visitors with English accents stood a chance of not getting served in the Ox, but times have mellowed. As a Scouser, I seem to have been excused.

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  3. It's not just Scottish banks - most of the old banks in Bath are also eateries (I know you like to visit Bath Steve!). Now I'm in rural Perthshire we don't appear to have any banks or eateries at all. Should help me lose weight and save money...

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    1. There are observable waves of fashion - I normally don't appreciate them until i look back and recognise certain features of certain periods. There was a time around 1980 when every shop that was struggling to stay viable would be sold off and would open as a branch of the Halifax Building Society. That was a time when I sort of hoped that the Building Societies would give the banks a lot of competition in a lot of areas they assumed were a god-given monopoly. Sadly, it didn't work out - the banks mostly bought out the BS's, and now all those shops sell mobile f***ing phones.

      The number of eateries in Edinburgh is getting silly - all the decent pubs - especially the ones that used to put on live music - have been relaunched as posh eating places. Hmmm. It's OK when the Festival's on, and all the tourists are in, but the rest of the time there is a limit to how much people want to spend on food. If things get a bit tough as Brexit starts to bite we may find a sudden flood of pubs up for sale. It's OK in London - if money gets scarce then those that still have some feel the need to wave it about more, so there are still expensive restaurants, designer clothes shops, plenty of flashy cars. We saw that in 2008. It's less viable in the Provinces. One looks on with interest.

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  4. I started my working life 40+ years ago working in the small local branches (remember those?) of a High Street Bank. A lot of these were more like branches of the social services, with elderly customers coming in every day for a chat. It's fascinating to see what these buildings have become now - not a few are drinking establishments - an honest trade at last. The branch I once worked at nearest to where I live now has become the Labour party constituency HQ, and the next nearest sells furniture.

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    1. My first wife worked for Bank of Scotland, and at one time I was astonished that they had, for example, four serious branches in the same street in Edinburgh city centre, they had their old Head Office at the top of the Mound, next to the Law Courts, then they had a major business branch in George IV Bridge, about 100 yards distant (now a restaurant, I think), then there was a hefty branch on the corner of Chambers St, near to the University, about another 100 yards (now a Starbucks), and then there was a students' branch in Forrest Road - again about another 100 yards - goodness knows what that is now - last time I was down there I couldn't even identify the site - most of the business premises in that area now seem to sell Turkish food.

      Why did they need all those buildings? Was it just property investment, eventually? Were these the remains of branches of other banks swallowed by BoS over the years? Interestingly, the plentiful supply of branches did not seem to do much for the time spent queuing or waiting to speak to someone. Maybe automation has changed the game beyond recognition.

      Remembering what current buildings used to be has always been an interest of mine; it's sobering when you find you are the only person left who remembers what they were before that...

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    2. Yes, it's usually a sign that the bank took over a smaller rival back in the mists of time and retained their branch network. That's when banks had a branch network, of course, rather than just isolated fortresses in the big cities.

      Interesting, that last fact. I work in Sheffield, where the tradition in giving directions is to direct you by what places used to be, i.e "turn left at the pawn shop that used to be British Home Stores and right where the Red Lion once stood." Any evident confusion is met with "but EVERYBODY knows where the Red Lion was."
      I have been directed via buildings that were destroyed in the Blitz.

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  5. It's odd when I think about it, but as someone still in harness with the military, I mostly visit my bank branch now when I am selling or buying a house. Otherwise, everything gets done online, and even the times I go to the threshold of the bank door to use the ATM grow less and less frequent. No wonder that the banks are shedding brick and mortar branches on this side of the pond as well. It doesn't help that here in Canada, there has been a lot of talk about how the banks try to lure in customers to sign up for unneeded services and fees, which hasn't helped their reputation any.

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    1. In the last couple of years I have made a conscious effort to shift all the family's money (such of it as there is) out of retail banks and into National Savings - advantages are numerous: no need to worry about solvency guarantees (since they are the government), no need to pretend you have opened a new account every six months to qualify for insulting non-zero (though minuscule) interest offers, and they do not try to sell you crap like pet or travel insurance when you go to complain about something else.

      I am very sorry for anyone who works for a retail bank and is worried about their job, but I would see most of the directors and senior managers of these places (and I used to know a few) in hell. Mostly it was them that wrecked the economy, let us not forget, by their own greed and their lack of control of unmanageable customer credit - and they were bailed out with public money, though we are not allowed to mention this now. And, of course, we must not jeopardise the managers' sacred bonuses in case they take their talent abroad. REALLY? What talent? Where would they go? Who would have them? Who is it that doesn't already know all about them?

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    2. Sorry to butt in, but I just wanted to say that, having worked in retail banking for 30 years before digging a successful escape tunnel, I couldn't agree more with your comments. You tell 'em!
      As an aside, you know when you complain to the bank and the staff member says "I can only apologise," that's true - because they don't have any control over what's happening to your account and have even less idea of what's going on than you have. Mushroom Principle writ large.

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  6. Hi Tony,

    I didn't know it was previously a bank but the All Bar One on George St is one of my favourite places in Edinburgh for a drink. Nice atmosphere and very friendly clientele. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Jay

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    1. Hi Jay - Yes, I was impressed - good place all round. I have a couple of further visits to the optician coming up in the next few weeks - having had the old gogs reglazed to new prescription, I also have to try on some posh new frames and then collect them once they, too, have had their lenses fitted. If I can tempt my wife to accompany me, I think we'll try the Cafe St Honoré for lunch next time, but the All Bar One is definitely now on the Approved List.

      If I'm on my own next time I'll probably do my usual and eat in Henderson's vegetarian restaurant in Frederick Street - a veggie meal somehow feels less self-indulgent when I'm on my own (I'm also rather fond of their vegetarian haggis and clapshot - double dice at short range...).

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