Why I miss my bank manager
It's a magical moment, when a child feels properly grown-up for the first time. For Masai warriors, it's when a teenage boy kills his first lion. For many girls, it's the first time they buy a glamorous 'prom' dress.
For me, it was when, aged 16, I was invited into the inner sanctum of the high-street bank my grandmother used and the manager explained the mysteries of the cheque book to me.
I remember his old-fashioned, avuncular politeness, and his pin-striped suit. As he showed me how to fill out the stub, I knew it was a milestone in my life.
But alas, over the years, my milestone has crumbled to dust. Not only is my beloved cheque book under threat, but the bank manager is extinct.
Recently, I had to make out a pretty big cheque. (Not big by Jonathan Ross's standards, but big for me.) Unfortunately, I made it out from the wrong account, so I rang the person I'd sent it to and he assured me he'd destroy it so that I could make out a new one.
A day or two later, out of the blue, came a phone call from someone who said she was Nancy from my bank. I'd never heard of her so I asked where she worked. She said in Northampton.
She didn't ask me any of the normal bank security questions; instead, she said: "Can you verify that you've made out a cheque?" I was alarmed. Was she one of the online fraudsters constantly trying to lure me into divulging my financial secrets?
Could the cheque I'd made out have fallen into the wrong hands? Was Nancy really a new version of Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde? She sounded a bit like her.
I tried to interrogate her: "Why are you asking these questions?" Nancy replied impatiently: "Can you please verify that you have made out the cheque?" But why did she need to know?
We argued back and forth, neither giving the other any additional information, until I said: "Can I speak to your line manager please?" and Nancy abruptly hung up.
Death of the bank manager
Where was my bank manager when I needed him? I don't have one – who does these days? Instead, I have what my bank calls a 'business-relationship manager'. Or I did. When I rang to speak to him about Nancy – was she real?
Did she wear a beret and carry a machine gun? – I was told he'd left and I should leave a message. So I did what people in my trade always do when desperate: I asked to speak to the press office.
The press officer was brilliant. He investigated, then rang back and told me that Nancy does exist, but she doesn't work for the bank but for a firm that it outsources its chores to.
It turns out that all she wanted to know (but didn't ask) was whether E. Wilcox is the same person as E. Rantzen.
If she'd asked me that, I could easily have told her that in 1977 E. Rantzen married D. Wilcox and has used both names interchangeably ever since.
If I'd had a bank manager he would have told Nancy so. But then a proper bank manager would never have left the bank without saying goodbye to his long-term customers, 54 years in my case, and without introducing his successor.
The other day I went to dinner in the House of Lords (if you'll excuse me place-dropping) and sat next to a very big cheese in the City, who is, he told me, about to start a new bank.
And guess what his gimmick will be? A bank manager, whose job will be to help the customers. I told him that's unbelievably wonderful news, like saying he'll bring back the telegram or the fishmonger.
There were some seriously rich people around the dinner table – and they all applauded. So it seems even they yearn for the days when they had a real, live person to deal with, who knew all the local traders and helped the gormless adolescent (me), as well as the worried widow (my grandmother).
And that, dear Dr Vince Cable, is the real banking crisis. Our banks are currently so busy buying up bundles of this and that, going online and paying out bonuses, that they've forgotten they're in the service industry and exist to serve us, their customers.
So I told the big cheese that the day one of his new bank managers opens their doors on my high street, there will be a queue around the block. And I'll be the first in that queue.
Provided someone explains to me how to close my 54-year-old account and change banks. But for that, I suppose, I need an old-fashioned, avuncular, pin-striped bank manager.