Although I was about to join the Bank of Bermuda, my journey there was full of adventures.
I had arrived in London in 1974 with no qualifications but a job offer at Barclays Colonial Office in 168 Fenchurch Street. The pay was £800 a year and it became obvious to me that additional sources of income would soon be needed to subsidize my rent and entertainment. One of the perks at the bank was that you could apply to open letters in the post room for an hour before the work day started. This gave you five extra hours as over-time, which worked out at about £15 a week.
The overseas branches and clients posted in cheques, instructions and documents, all delivered to the post-room in mail bags. I was working with a strange lot of keen stamp collectors, impoverished clerks and one fellow who had represented England in the Olympic pistol team. The envelopes had to be slit on three sides, placed flat and the contents stamped and logged. The first task was then checking the envelopes to ensure nothing was left in them and then tearing off the stamps to go to the head letter opener. He was also the pistol man and allocated bundles of letters to the openers.
My day job, returning to the 18th floor job was in documentary credits and that involved filing letters of credit from wonderful places like Uganda, Nigeria and the other outposts. Barclays even had a plane to ferry staff around the Caribbean, how I wished to be there. My colleagues, all old bankers smoked and whistled through inspecting the documentation. I was entranced by the detail and order and in day release classes started to learn the craft of banking.
By now I was living on the top floor of my godmother’s house in South Kensington but needed some more privacy and through an agency in Piccadilly found what my home for some years. This was 35 Sutherland Place and I was sharing the flat on the top floor. The middle flat was inhabited by John Heath-Stubbs. He was widely regarded as the poet who almost became Laureate winning the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. At the time I did not appreciate meeting him. He was blind and I made him tea occasionally and tried to clean up after him.
In order to be admitted to flat sharing I was interviewed by the two important people of the flat, Steven a lawyer at Shell, and Anthony, a trainee surveyor. Steven was a shareholder of the Tenterden Steam Railway and in order to reduce the rent I could work one Saturday a month on the station sweeping and working in the shop. Anthony will always be known as the ‘poor’ Anthony though ‘porn’ Anthony might have been more appropriate.
Anthony’s parents lived in Botswana and he had a huge unsatisfied desire for women, and kept a cache of pornography under his single bed. He had a graph on the wall of all his conquests; names along the bottom and activities up the vertical axis. These activities, mostly hopes of course, started with hand holding and progressed through touching over the bra to full sex. But usually that column was left blank. He tried to keep his furious sexual thoughts at bay by regular and very rigorous weekend cycle rides. The regime in the flat was strict. We had to put lines on individually bought milk bottles, strict telephone accounts, no shared food and the allocation of the gas and electricity bills.
One episode from those days stays with me. I was on a train coming back to London one Sunday evening having been with my grandparents and it was a dismal journey. In the carriage sitting opposite me was an older, to me anyway lady and her young daughter. I was just 18 and I flirted outrageously. She had a great deal of luggage and on arrival at Victoria I offered to carry her suitcases to the taxi rank and once there stayed till she had her cab. In the meantime I had asked to see her again and she tore off a label with her address and handed it to me. Heaven smiled, I had a name to write to, and so I did.
At last she responded and asked me for dinner on a Friday. I had thought that beads from Portobello Market and wine would be a suitable gift and so I arrived off Chester Street in Sloane Square.
The nanny had taken the daughter away and I was ushered into the kitchen for a scratch supper. It was certainly awkward. She was 35 and I fluffed my conversation, not knowing quite what to say and I recall that the whole episode made me very emotional. This could have been the wine of course. Her husband was out and was a top manager at Citibank and her house after my shared room in Sutherland Place was wonderful. We talked a great deal, and I think she was trying to understand why a shy young man was in her kitchen. I told her about my dreams, ambitions and came over as rather unsure.
The evening carried on and then she asked me in a matter of fact way if I would like to go to bed with her. This question did not require an answer; certainly as far as she was concerned and so she led me upstairs to a huge bedroom. In a flash she had undressed and was under the sheets. I stood as if frozen, and not sure what articles of my clothing should come off first.
Shoes would be a good idea. I fiddled with the laces and all the while she watched me. After much bending over, walking backwards and pulling curtains towards me, I managed to slip into the bed, hoping that she had not actually seen me naked. I was guided me through the whole process. This was new and the warmth of her body and smell of Channel 5 is the memory of that night. We made love several times and fell asleep together.
It was an experience that left me happy and yet confused. Perhaps this was love and I did see her again. At a Carol Service off Sloane Square, at a Church witness to my marriage, I saw her. She had two children with her. “Hello, Mimi,” I said. There was a blank and maybe frozen look; she had no idea who I was. She showed me how to behave in the bedroom and I want her to know how much that night meant to me. I was as exhilarated as I had just started.
Mimi was the first woman I slept with, and I will always remember her. She wrote to me, and I have always tried to live by her advice. Her letter is reproduced without any permissions!
The flat was always in a state of flux occupied by a variety of others who deserve some recognition. Along with them were the poor Anthony was the rich Anthony. Not much is known about Anthony Rogers the rich one except we had to cover for him. His father was the Chairman of the National Bus Company and the family lived in Wales. Anthony had told his father he was at UCL whereas in fact he was working at Fortnum and Masons, and going to the opera.
When his parents called we had to pretend he was at the library. This charade went on for a year and then he left suddenly. Others inhabitants were notable, including the fragrant Carol Tudor. She shared my room; a good girl from leafy Guildford is how she came over. We slept together and that seemed natural and fine to us both, and perhaps I had planned a future with her.
I had left Barclays and had joined Gerrard and National. This was a very traditional Discount House and with the offer of a salary of £2,100, luncheon vouchers and time off and paid for my Army Service this seemed a great opportunity. My job here was to count Treasury Bills into parcels of one million pounds of value and above. They were then taken around the City by indentured footmen who were actually messengers of the old style. They even ensured your shoes were clean to their ex-military standard. It all rather suited me.
One day a new chap arrived, and David came into my life. He was a very interesting East Ender who worked in the evenings in a drawing pin factory in Southend. This was to fund a sports car. But I liked him and I decided that his suits needed a tidy, well he did not really own a suit in fact. His shirts had pictures of people in a rowing boat and no concept about London except that he was remarkably bright, and good looking.
I was only cross with him once, when I was away for a weekend in Wales with the Regiment and he moved into my room and slept with Carol. The fact that she also slept with a Guardsman I had met in the Sudan rather finished the relationship.
My introduction to foreign exchange was about to start, I found a job at the Royal Bank of Canada. I was thrown into the deep end as a corporate trader on matters I knew little about. But it formed the basis that would see me in Bermuda.