Banking on a Day Off

One of the most bizarre parts of our British calendar has to be the ‘Bank Holiday’. The name itself is, to many people a mystery, and given the events in our financial world during the past twelve months almost seems to be the final slap in the face to those who have lost so much. John Lubbock, the 1st Baron Avebury was the bright spark that came up with the idea of such a break when he introduced the Bank Holidays Act in 1871 which came about to allow the banking community the opportunity of taking full advantage of cricket fixtures, an idea inspired by the dates of matches in his own constituency. Apparently, the working people of England were so grateful for this time off that the first bank holidays were called ‘St. Lubbock’s Days’. To a certain extent this remains the case: we don’t care what they’re called so long as we get a statutory day off. It’s just the name that grates on me. Lubbock was certainly no saint in much the same way as the various leaders of today’s financial institutions are far from the heavenly Super Trouper. Yet here we are, 138 years later, in the infancy of a new millennium, at a time when even fathers receive paid maternity (or should that be paternity) leave, and the bank holiday still rules the waves and bank branches don’t even open their branch doors until 9.30 on a weekday morning. So what’s in a name? After all it could be Darren, Robin or even Doris Day. Does it matter? For many years, especially during pre-recorded bank holiday specials on radio, this neat little ‘filler’ of a subject pricks the national conscience. Names like Trafalgar, Churchill or Wellington have been put forward as jingoistic replacements, using the French and American models of Independence or Bastille. It has to be said that we’ve tried innocuous substitutes like spring, Labour or August as uninspiring alternatives they’re always followed by that hideous word ’bank’. One suggestion might be to change all the names to things that might make us smile or reflect the culture of the British people. Four might be Burns, Shakespeare, Thomas and Wilde, reflecting the four corners of our nation’s rich literary heritage. Pankhurst might be worth a shot, though Elizabeth Fry’s last name may cause confusion. In any event we’re spoilt for choices. Yet whatever we do we should eliminate any notion that the banks or bankers have provided us with a statutory day off. They are not worthy of our recognition. In the unlikely event of a business turnaround within the next five financial years we, as the so-called owners of some of these lumbering failures, should start to wonder when we might receive our first ‘owners’ dividend’ or ‘bonus’ being debited to our individual accounts, along with our allotted share certificates in RBS or Northern Rock. Ah, that’s it: Pay Day!

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