Friday, 19 August 2016

Being part of the story

Read almost any book which tells the history of a place and you are being told the story of people of some significance.  There is the possibility it might include detail of an individual whose record only appears because of a single event.

That's the problem; a history is not unbiased, it is not fair (as in, "you've only heard his side of the story" – and it usually is 'his', not her).  And it most certainly is not complete.

To try and fully understand the complexity of a recorded history of a person, a place, an event or a time period, we will begin with an individual: you, or me.  We have many opportunities each day to make our mark.  We email or text others, we take photographs, we complete forms (some for ordering products and others for banks and to record official events, such as births).  Our belonging to groups may include records of membership, decisions made or newsletters of our contributions. Who knows how many records are made of our employment, our health, our travel, our pensions.  We may write a letter, and if it is to a newspaper or journal, that and our name may be published and may form part of a dialogue.

Our daily lives are recorded in so many ways, most of them with at least some of our personal details.  Whether it all gets left around to be picked up by historians in five hundred years time will depend on how effective our descendant communities are in sifting and keeping; passing on our records or stories for future generations.  Who knows how permanent our digital records will turn out to be.  And if our photos are so personal to us why are we so casual about storing them, unsorted and unlabelled on our phones?

If we have impressed so many marks on history, just from our everyday lives, what about Thomas Blackmore and Elizabeth Fetty?  For the sake of this article I have to invent their names because they were just two of a small group of people who lived between St Albans and Hatfield in the early 1500s.  There is no record of their lives at all, not even their names.  It might be reasonably argued that therefore they did not exist at all.  But homes do not get built without a need for shelter.  Land is not tilled without a need for  food.  The continuity of a settlement is not sustained without children to form the next generation.

Thomas and Elizabeth, and others like them, were used to moving from one place to another, but we do not know whether they knew each other, married and had children, or whether they lived their lives as strangers.  They represent the wide base of a pyramid of  sixteenth century existence in every part of the country and in those parts of our east end of St Albans at that time occupied.

The point is, Elizabeth and Thomas survived and lived out their lives while others made the history we read about.  They were, of course, part of that history, but it was not recorded, even in the most rudimentary ways.  If only the voice recorder was available to Thomas, just as it is to us, so that he could speak his thoughts at the end of each day, or when some unusual event occurs.  Wouldn't that give us a more complete view of the period in which he lived?  Elizabeth's life was transitory, each day's existence wiped clean by the next.  Without an ability to read and write, or the opportunity to buy a medium on which to record thoughts as words, and a secure place to keep them safe, Elizabeth's life was not even worth to others the equivalent of an inscription on a park bench.

So, who gets to tell the paragraphs, pages and chapters of our collective history?  Power, influence and education have counted for most of the contributions, and our knowledge of the history of these islands have been dependent on the parts of the story they chose to tell us.  Those parts played by all the Elizabeths and Thomases down the ages are largely absent.  If we were aware of their evidences, surely that would provide us with a much more rounded account.  As it is, a democratic process it most definitely is not.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Do we need a bank in 2016?

Although no official statement has been announced by the company, a number of Marshalswick residents think they know that one of The Quadrant's two banks, Lloyds, is to close.  Whether they have made an assumption, base on the bank's latest national intention to close two hundred branches, on top of the branches in the current closure programme, may simply be speculation.  Lloyds' website only lists the tranche of branches being closed under the existing programme.  It states that after that programme "90% of its customers will still be within 5 miles of their local branch".  It is, though, a moot point whether a branch which is five miles distant can be considered local.

Barclays and Lloyds occupy opposite ends of a side block at
The Quadrant.
Even if every customer used online banking and cash machines (ATMs) there would still be a need for banks.  Cash which businesses need to deposit, or any of us, come to that; cash which we need to withdraw for our own use (and for which uniform £10 or £20 notes are not satisfactory; the advice and help branch staff are able to give, face to face, more satisfactorily than via telephone calls to service centres; ditto after online problems have grunged up our systems or been interfered with by malicious strangers.  If banks wish to add to their customer base, they need to invest in their customers.  Remember when banks universally opened weekdays only from 9.30 to 3.30?  Then they tried Saturday mornings with limited services. Then they closed again, leaving an ATM in charge. Now many have 9 to 5 opening and extended Saturday business for a full range of services.  Is this the time, then, to shut customers out and force them to travel out of their local area?

Barclays opened a branch at The Crown before World
War One.
Until World War One all of the banks in St Albans were in the centre of the city.  But then you could probably draw a circle a mile around the Town Hall and enclose almost everywhere, except for Fleetville and Camp.  Barclays was the first to open in the east, with a branch at Alexandra House, on the corner of Hatfield Road and Clarence Road, and there it remained until around 1968 when it moved to the corner of Sandfield Road.  The Midland arrived in 1922 (now part of Tesco Metro).  NatWest opened nearby in c1970, where the Grove charity shop is now, and moved to the other Sandfield Road corner five years later.  Lloyds pitched up at the Harlesden Road junction, now the home of City Glass.

Barclays moved more to the centre of its Fleetville
customer base in the 1960s.
Although NatWest and Lloyds seem to have arrived late on the scene, all of them recognised the huge mix of business potential in Fleetville – which would include Camp, given that no Bank existed along that road.  But today there are no banks in Fleetville, although there are broadly the same number of businesses and even more families.

Marshalswick has been served by two banks ever since The Quadrant opened, and since 1960 the eastern districts have continued to grow outwards.  It is not as if modern (i.e. online) banking has reduced the waiting time if we require counter service or need to speak with an adviser – meaning a member of staff who could make decisions, a role which used to be known as the Branch Manager.

Dare it be asked, that could the decline in banking availability be arrested by requiring us to pay for our accounts?  Should we have a right to complain if our account is serviced for free?  Maybe there is no room in the market today for two banks at The Quadrant.  Just as long as the one which remains doesn't "up-sticks" and disappear into a vortex as well.  And in order to spread a little banking happiness would it be too much to ask for the bank which leaves The Quadrant (if, indeed, one does) could not return to its old haunt in Fleetville?