Marm and the bank manager

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OF A Sunday evening I like to hang out with a crowd of retired bank managers down the local pub. Sooner or later, as you can imagine with retired bank managers, the talk turns excitingly to the conversations they have picked up on their powerful recording equipment.

Last night, for instance, one produced a conversation he had taped on Sunday morning. It seemed to have taken place somewhere near Balmoral - at least, that is what we deduced from the opening remarks.

She: 'You had no trouble finding Balmoral?'

He: 'No. I just told the driver to come here and he came.'

She: 'Jolly good. Cup of tea?'

He: 'That's very kind of you.'

She: 'Well, we can still afford to give visitors a cup of tea, thank goodness.'

He: 'Funnily enough, that's what I came to talk about.'

She: 'You came to talk to me about tea?'

He: 'No. About money.'

She: 'Good heavens] Well, if you're short of the ready, just tell me how much, and I'll see what I can do.'

He: 'No, that's not quite what I had in mind. I was hoping to talk about the money we have given to you over the years . . .'

The two partners in the conversation discreetly addressed each other by nicknames. (He called her 'Marm', and she called him 'Major'.) And you could readily see why a conversation all about money riveted the bank managers so much - indeed, they rather thought the man called Major was a bank manager, who had called on the woman called Marm to try to recover some sort of huge loan from her.

Further extracts from the tape seemed to bear this out. He: 'You see, Marm, it's very hard for me to justify the millions of pounds spent by your family . . .'

She: 'Oh, come now, Major. Surely you don't think you're not getting value for money?'

He: 'It's not that, Marm. It's just that some members of your family are not perceived as being a good investment. The feeling generally is that it is no good giving millions of pounds away if the recipient shows no sign of duty, or even gratitude.'

The general feeling among the retired bank managers in the pub was that the Major was going about his bank-managerly duties in a most peculiar way. The Major was letting Marm walk all over him, even though she was obviously in debt to the bank for millions. Nor did the Major's attempted blackmail of the family go down too well. As one man put it: 'There are all sorts of ways of recovering debts, dammit, without threatening a woman's children.'

Sympathy swung back slightly to the Major when it turned out that Marm had a vast personal fortune of her own.

He: 'What makes things so complicated is that your own personal fortune is well known to be vast, so people can't grasp why you should need such a regular injection of more money.'

She: 'Well, tough, Major. I can't be held responsible for people's lack of understanding of my situation.'

He: 'With respect, Marm, that isn't quite true. Perhaps a little rationalisation of your property might help . . .'

Rationalisation, my foot, grunted one of the retired managers. The Major should tell her to jolly well sell off enough of her estate to settle her debts, or he'll send the bailiffs in.

Just then there was a sharp noise on the tape that gave us all a shock. The Major, too, from the sound of it.

He: 'What was that? Sounded like a shot.'

She: 'Probably was. The police are letting off rounds the whole time by accident. Perhaps they think it scares off assassins. On the same principle as a bird- scarer. Tell you what, Major, how about a deal? If I can effect a few economies my end, what say you fix up a little privacy for me?'

He: 'That's not going to be easy. Just for the family, you mean?'

She: 'Why not? Fair's fair. Don't forget, you may have the money, but we have the whip hand. The family can jack it in any time, and then where would you be?'

He: 'Hmm. I'll have to refer back and let you know.'

That settled it - anyone who had to refer back to head office must be a bank manager. But by this time, most of us had lost interest, and we passed on to the next taped conversation, an interestingly fruity phone exchange between a Mr Murdoch in the United States and a Mr Neil in London . . .