“No regrets, they don’t work” – Robbie Williams
Ok so the story goes, in 2001, I started working for the Halifax, which was then a Building Society and later became a bank as part of the Halifax Bank of Scotland. It’s well known in the UK – the Halifax Bank. If you read a story recently about how me and my mate nicked an exam paper at school, this story tops it and bottoms it all in one, and there will be a few more to come…as I gear myself up for writing a book, backpacking into my 100th country and taking 2-3 months to chill out (it will happen).
“Death sanitised through credit” – Manic Street Preachers
So back to late 2001, I worked initially in Dundonald (Belfast, Northern Ireland) and that was mostly for training, but then we got moved to the main Gasworks call centre at the Ormeau Road in the centre of Belfast. It was a cool location and a decent enough wage. I wasn’t looking for anything major at the time though, just another job really and definitely not one I saw myself staying in…just as well as life was going to take me on another path…
“I won’t cry for yesterday, there’s an ordinary world somehow I have to find” – Duran Duran
The hours I used to work were from 8 am to 4.30 pm, Monday to Friday with the odd half day Saturday, which was fairly decent as I lived in Bangor (my Northern Irish hometown) at the time, and this avoided me rush hour traffic in the morning and also the afternoon. However “rush hour traffic” in Belfast and Bangor is nothing now, when I consider the amounts of travelling I have done since to proper busy cities like Jakarta, Chongqing, Sao Paulo and Tehran.
My job itself was a “Savings Sales Advisor”, which largely meant being on the phone and taking incoming calls on savings accounts, advising customers on accounts, giving out advice, interest rates and also booking appointments etc. I can’t remember everything about the job, it was all rather a flurry of a non-event. While working there I had also noticed Richard Henry worked a few floors below. I knew Richard well from supporting Northern Ireland and selling ‘Here We Go…Again’ fanzine. Chats away from the desk were few and far between. There was no unique atmosphere and no real satisfaction, other than your pay cheque once a month. It was easily the most repetitive mundane day job I have ever had (and when you consider my work history – that’s saying something). As I scratched my head each morning staring out at Belfast city (we were on the third/fourth floor with a view, I was dreaming on something bigger and better ahead. But you’d always have that bleep in your ear – a phone call came. And another one and I was busy talking nonsense about banking to people I had never, or would never meet. Phone calls were constant, all day long. What’s more is I hate phones! And I especially hate talking on phones. If I don’t see someone, I prefer to text them. To speak to them I prefer in person, or at worst, Skype.
“Bored of being bored” – Nicky Wire
Though I did have a few friends at work and I did bond well with my team, which included the easily fanciable Lisa Rodgers (a Carrickfergus lass) and Chris Kruger (a South African). I became good friends with Chris. We were top mates – hanging out away from work, drinking down the pub, watching sport on TV, being typical lads – houses parties, karaoke, over indulgence. Good times and at one point I was going to move in with Chris in East Belfast and then something happened one day… the normal sort of thing I do as comedy became slightly more tragic. It’s only funny looking back! At the time, it was like something had ended. Actually I love the story now and why not? It was years ago and influenced my route on this planet. I still love Belfast, but only ever pass through it now on trips back to see family.
Onto the interesting interest rates story…In each group at work there was someone assigned to update the interest rates on ISAs and Guaranteed Reserve Accounts each week. They were updated on a chart in the office, on the computer system and on the website. It changed every week, there was a system and it was an extra responsibility of the people in that team to look after it. One week it was my turn and I told Chris I would play a joke. It was April Fool’s day and as an April Fool’s Day joke, I decided it would be an easy wind up to put up the interest rates (bearing in mind Northern Irish people are VERY aware of April Fools jokes and VERY unlikely to fall for them, especially since I was a bit of a joker. So I sent round a group e-mail (as a total joke) to say that what the new rates were. I made them up myself! I made up some FAKE interest rates over the range of Halifax Accounts (Liquid Gold, Current Account, ISAs etc.) I made them higher than they should have been for a bit of banter! Such comedy I thought. And anyone who knows me wouldn’t exactly take it seriously. Nobody would believe it – it was April 1st, and by 12 noon I’d take the interest rates down, tell the team it was a joke and they would all find it funny. Work was busy though, and I recall that particular day we didn’t have a second’s rest from phone calls. Because of this, everybody was work focused and in serious mode, and presumably had forgotten about April Fool’s Day. Or more than likely, they actually thought that nobody would make an April Fool’s Joke about interest rates. But I did. It was probably the most exciting thing in my time working there. The job was lacklustre and mundane at the best of times! We were even banned from looking up websites on our computers!
My manager had been off on his day off on April Fool’s Day (a dude called Eamon Somebody) and I headed out with Chris for after work drinks in Belfast (was a good night by all accounts). I stayed at his place in East Belfast as the day after was my scheduled day off that week. Chris and I were on the same team and we both loved the same music and beers. We were both off the next day.
Straight into work the next morning and after an hour or so I’m called into the office, I had forgotten about April Fool’s Day – it was now the 3rd April and the joke was over. Unfortunately the management never even thought the joke was funny, they believed it! Yes, that’s right over 95% of staff working in the Halifax in Belfast believed my fake interest rates, quoted them to customers etc. Even though it was April Fool’s Day none of them thought it could have just been an “April Fool”. I was so surprised people believed them, as I even increased the self confessed “shit account” Liquid Gold (Halifax themselves admitted the account was crap). The Liquid Gold had an interest rate of 0.5% or something and I put it up a bit – when it hadn’t moved in months. I thought that would be the one that people sussed it was a fake with. But they didn’t and so I was in deep deep trouble.
“Suddenly I’m in too deep, to ever get out. I gave you my heart and soul to keep, don’t give me your doubts” – Belinda Carlisle
The meeting started and ended within minutes, I didn’t deny anything. I admitted the whole thing as my name was on the group e-mail and I was “interest rates guy” that week. Yes – I got sacked for making up fake interest rates on April Fool’s Day 2002 in the Halifax in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Interest rates that the Halifax had to give to all customers in Belfast (and further afield actually) over the phone, who opened fixed rate accounts that day and who had maturing ISAs on that day only as long as they knew about the rates I quoted. At least until 12 noon, when I withdrew the joke, which was simply an April Fool!! It was only a joke, but it went too far.
People believed me and I was gone…soon I had closed all Halifax accounts and now hate the company. Don’t bank with them. They are the worst company I’ve ever worked for! I’ll never recommend them. Still it’s a real life story and not something I’ll hide behind a curtain. I’ll tell people about it.
I don’t do lazy and I didn’t linger on it before getting a new job. Within a week I was working for Grafton on a number of jobs such as sorting envelopes and within a month I was working in Steenson’s Butchery in Bangor, happily loving that job I must say. Things had turned out for the best for me, post “interest rates day”.
Oddly, sitting here on the east side of Hong Kong as I prepare my backpack for the big onslaught and passing of the 100 country mark, I don’t regret what I did at all. I’m not ashamed of it. I did it, it was funny at the time, worked out bad for a few months, but in the end sowed my seeds for leaving Northern Ireland behind.
I never wanted to keep the job, I guess I could have easily just resigned quietly, but that wouldn’t have made a story for Don’t Stop Living now, would it? Certainly not! This job, was my one and only banking job to date and I will never want a job in a bank again. It wasn’t for me – I’m a business backpacker now instead. Away from work, the way things happened with me, Chris and I kept touch for a few weeks (maybe months) then we just weren’t friends any more for some reason – I started plotting my path out of Northern Ireland, he was steady in a relationship and job focused. We drifted apart, however this week I’m back in touch with Chris!!
“Shed a tear cos I’m missing you, it’s alright to cry” – Guns n Roses
So similarly to the Paddy Campbell exam paper story (if you read it), this one has a more emphatic ending. I became a backpacker, Chris a family man with his son. And we’re hoping to meet up this year and laugh about all this.
“I tried so hard to get so far but in the end it doesn’t really matter” – Linkin Park
I’ve written about this 14 years on and for sure as hell closed the door on the story and on banking. If you ever get a job in a bank, take it seriously, unfortunately that’s what banks are all about.
My work mates – Chris Kruger, Leanne Cranston, Lindsay McCormick, Johnny McGreevy, Robert, Lisa Rodgers, Stephen, Justin Kilcullen.
Calls taken – Around 2,541.
Bored hours – All of them.
Months worked there – 6 months at a stretch… (November 2001 – April 3rd 2002)
Finest hour – the time on April Fool’s Day when I increased the interest rates and nobody found it funny.
Key Song – Can’t remember who sings it, but it went “In the end it doesn’t really matter, I tried so hard to get so far…” (edit – thanks to my readers I now know the song was Linkin Park)
Safe travels my friends, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…