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Skidmore's Island: A Land Of Glory?

"I was always in trouble with the various banks to whom I entrusted my overdraft, in the days when I believed that beyond my means was the only place to live,'' wrote Ian Skidmore.

Despite the best efforts of politicians over the past half century England will always be for me a land of hope and glory. Unfortunately, these days, she only lives in my heart; in the music of Elgar and Butterworth, Vaughan Williams and Novello; in books and in the paintings of Constable; in cartoons and gardens and the memories of old folk like me.

I glory in being politically incorrect. I always laughed at Bernard Manning. I enjoy Music Hall, Gilbert and Sullivan, Oratorios and fish and chips, despite their Italian origin. I also like tripe and onions, red beef, Bury black puddings, George Orwell and Game (birds, definitely not sport). I admired Enoch Powell, like Manning, in private life, the least racist of men.

England no longer lives in the feral young; in what used to be the country pub, in the media or the slum village of Westminster, where I believe there has been a deliberate Government policy to reduce the liberty of the private individual. I would be prepared to go to prison with Shirley Williams rather than participate in the identity card scandal.

Patently the Freedom Restricters’ legislation only affects the law-abiding majority. The gun law after Dunblane limited the rights of responsible citizens to bear arms; yet there has been a vast increase in gun crimes and I knew of several pubs where I could buy a handgun as easily as a packet of cigarettes. The Dangerous Dogs Act doesn't work, the anti-hunting bill isn't, the smoking legislation is built on a lie since there is no reputable scientific evidence that second-hand smoke harms. The World Health Organisation spent six years trying to prove it did and then had to admit it couldn't.

Commercial organisations boast of their customer services. It took me longer to buy Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G from Virgin stores than it took him to write it. First Virgin refused my credit card because it claimed I had given the wrong security number. It passed me to an HSBC website which gave me a number to ring. The number was unobtainable. I found a second number, rang that and my call was answered by the only English girl whose speech was so incomprehensible as to make one wish for an Indian call centre. She gave me an email number to register for MasterCard secure code. I have spent literally thousands on the Internet on antiquarian books, bronzes, wines, furniture, but no one has ever asked for this number. Dutifully I typed it in and a message came up to say the service was unobtainable. Alas, I got the same girl when I rang back and she wisely put me on to a technical adviser. All these calls were of course linked by long passages of music, which whatever it was had not been written by human hand.

The technical adviser was a man from the Indian continent. He was convinced that he had a senile idiot on the other end of the line and not only told me how to fill in the form but insisted on spelling every word. Eventually I got a security number but when I rang back the record had been sold.

How different things were in the old days when your fitness to have an overdraft was decided by the bank manager and not by some acne ridden child with an economics degree!

I was always in trouble with the various banks to whom I entrusted my overdraft, in the days when I believed that beyond my means was the only place to live. For some years I lived alone in a council-owned manor house in Cheshire called Picton Hall, my wants supplied by my housekeeper Mrs Higgs, a woman of great discretion who if she saw high heels in the hall always brought two cups of tea to the bedside.

One day when she brought the post up to my bedroom, the first letter I opened was a bill for the livery of my hunter, the second a brochure from a builder of cabin cruisers and the third an invitation to the Regimental Ball of the Duke of Lancaster's Yeomanry at Houghton Towers. Tickets 20 guineas. Under all these was a pitiful letter from Mr Miln, the manager of the Midland Bank in Commutation Row in Liverpool. It read: “If you would even try to live within your means, we might come to some accommodation.”

I bundled up my post and sent it to Mr Miln with a covering letter in which I explained: “I enclose this so that you can set the Hamlet's ghost of my overdraft against the Elsinore of events.”

Almost by return Mr Miln wrote: “Thank you for your full and frank disclosures. May I remind you that Hamlet was one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies as you are one of the Midland Bank’s?”

Years later I told another bank manager of this. He said “If I had written that to a customer, I would have been sacked on the spot.”

This bank manager answered my complaints about the treatment I had received from the Trustee Savings Bank by saying, “If you think the bank treats you badly, you should see the way it treats its staff. When I arrived at this branch the manager had not been told that I was relieving him.”

Take back your Ipods, your mobile phones that take photographs, your credit cards that allow our feckless to run up astronomical debts, your PCs and your PC regulations. I will settle for the England you have destroyed.

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