Most of the new recruits showing up with shiny morning faces for my first day at Salvation Bank on Monday were doing work experience. I estimated I was possibly three times older than some of them as I swiped in for the first time.
The boys were all well-spoken if pimply and sported hairstyles which were, let's just say, antithetical to mine. The girls were graceful and introduced themselves with names from the Victorian era. They all seemed to know each other but that could just be the way posh people interact.
We sat in a wide crescent in a sunlit auditorium and waited for the induction programme to begin, the girls nervously playing with their hair, the boys discussing their gap yahs, and me wondering how long my bladder would hold out.
While we waited, as if to emphasise the gulf in youthfulness and appeal, a security bod came in with a camera to take the photographs for our workplace passes. One by one he called everyone to the front to have a portrait snapped.
If you're called Olivia and you're 18 and resemble a pre-Raphaelite portrait this is no great hardship. If your face resembles a depressed kneecap and you have the frown of a clown with a smile upside down then this is humiliating. Sometimes, I can’t subdue an erection no matter how hard I concentrate and sometimes I cannot raise a smile for love nor money.
The first presentation was unsurprisingly on 'elf 'n' safety. It was given by an uncomplicated man who gave us a plethora of detailed instructions how to find our way around the building of the "turn left, turn right, go through the double doors, perform a U-turn, take the right fork into the service corridor, pass the fruit machine, left at the jukebox and you'll find yourself on the fire escape. Now once you are here you must proceed to the mustering point 'A' which is clearly signposted" variety.
Given recent events, I detected a greater attention to evacuation procedures than has hitherto been the case in my experience but I'll be buggered if anyone was going to remember the way out in a panic given the complex exit strategy laid out by the security guard. He mentioned other landmarks around the office and I took particular note of where the first aid boxes were situated because applying a tight tourniquet to one's throat is a useful way of helping the time pass on quiet mornings; and also the location of defibrillators because my heart often stops beating in protest at the harsh treatment it receives.
Helpfully, a tour of the building was laid on. Unhelpfully, I went to the toilet quickly as people filed out of the room but I must have been longer than I thought because when I emerged a minute later, of the fellow inductees, signs there were none.
A scene lifted straight out of Benny Hill ensued as I ran around various corridors and staircases, asking for directions asking "Have you seen some young people? Which way did they go?"
I never located them. I wondered if the security supervisor had been some kind of Pied Piper leading the children over a cliff or off the roof at least.
Eventually, I found myself in the bowels of the building, trapped like a rat between fire doors that were alarmed and another door which I could not open without a pass. This is how I missed the corporate sustainability presentation, a welcome from Salvation Bank's charitable foundation, a cyber security teach-in and a sharia compliance demonstration.
Gentle and Longstanding Reader, I can tell you the London headquarters of Salvation Bank are delightfully appointed.
The ceilings are high, windows abundant (I mean the glass ones, not Microsoft) through which sunshine pours like honey. The ambience is light and airy. The air quality is intoxicatingly pure, lifts arrive on command, the coffee machine produces something reminiscent of coffee beans and there are comfortable armchairs scattered around the floor where one can lounge, chat conspiratorially with one's lover (or a debt collector) or just have a breakdown in peace. It is temperate.
This contrasts starkly with Chaucer Securities, where the ceilings were so low the mice — and they were legion — had hunchbacks, the absence of natural daylight would have disappointed Dracula, the lift service was erratic, the coffee tasted of arse, and people were crammed in, and cooped up like claustrophobic battery hens. Like some celebration of the Roman cults of Stercorius, Crepitus and Cloacina, solid particles of filth and fart coalesced and gathered in the larynx, bringing on the sensation of asphyxiation. With faulty air conditioning, the temperatures soared uncontrollably. It was like working in a fat man’s armpit.
There are showers at Salvation Bank with undepletable torrents of hot water, mountains of fluffy towels and a drying room for the malodorous gym kit a healthy workforce casts off after its morning commute. Chaucer offered a prison shower experience straight out of Scum, sewer flies and raw seepage curling their way around the rotting linoleum while every corner of the trading floor itself was festooned with unsanitary lycra cycling shorts and rancid t-shirts.
Environmentally speaking, I’ve only moved five minutes up the road but it feels like I’ve departed a sweatshop and arrived at a health spa. I left a midden and now see my (unattractive) features reflected in the granite worktops of my modern designer kitchen.
I know, I know. The end result will be the same: all careers end in failure (mine started with it and had a flop in the middle for good measure too) but breathing is fundamental — even to denizens of the broking industry — and I do it more easily at Salvation Bank.
It’s early days here and like Updike wrote about extra-marital sex: The first breath of adultery is the freest; after it, constraints, aping marriage, develop.”
Be that as it may. I just sucked in a lungful of clean oxygen and while I wait for my licence to be approved by the FCA and I cannot trade, I shall exhale slowly. Indoor work, no heavy lifting and no quota to fill for now.