When we were married in 1959, Robin proved to be rather unusual in his attitude to money. At that time there weren't very many career women, and the rest, on marrying, often stayed home and did the shopping, cooking and cleaning, while the husband went out to work to earn money – the amount of which he did not disclose to his wife. The wife could expect to be given a weekly 'allowance' from which she had to pay for everything to do with the house and catering.
Robin, however, took me to his bank the day after we were married and changed his account into a joint account, so I could spend whatever I wanted. I was actually very careful, as I was still a full-time student with a small grant, and Robin was earning a pittance as a very junior teacher. Robin showed no interest in money and I found it necessary to tell him what we could and couldn't afford. It gradually came about that I was in charge of our money, as Robin found it completely boring and incomprehensible – they don't use it on his planet! He just expected that if something were wanted the money to pay for it would be forthcoming.
After moving to Helensburgh, we found it easier to transfer to the Royal Bank of Scotland, rather than communicating by letter with the bank in Cambridge. My first dealings with the bank manager came about when he wrote to Robin to suggest a meeting to sort out an unspecified problem. Naturally, I went instead, taking with me my second child, Kally, then aged around 2 years old. Glyn, my son, was at school.
The Bank manager began by asking me why I had come instead of my husband. He clearly felt there was not much point in discussing anything with a woman. He then asked me the identity of a certain John Grey. I replied that this was my sister's husband. The bank manager said frostily 'I have had a most vituperative letter from your brother-in-law – it seems he doesnae like the Scots.' I asked why he should think that, and he replied that John had referred to him as inefficient and incompetent. I told him that John had no dislike of the Scots, only of inefficiency and incompetence.
This was all to do with a loan to my sister, the interest on which my brother-in-law was paying by a complicated method intended to avoid paying tax. The bank manager was having trouble understanding what this was about, and John had lost patience.
Kally was not finding this conversation riveting. Normally I insisted on considerate behaviour from my children and would have restrained her, but I was annoyed by the bank manager's patronising attitude – he still made it clear he would have preferred the discussion to be man to man, and so I ignored whatever Kally was doing, to punish him. First, she crawled under his desk and remained so quiet I think we had both forgotten she was there. Then she reached up and silently slid the papers from his desk with one finger until they were all on the floor. The bank manager's attitude did not improve, so I allowed the behaviour to continue. After some more silence, Kally let out a tin-whistle scream which caused both of us to jump. She then made a pattern in spit on his black leather chair, placed for her to sit in, and finally forced our car-keys into the keyhole on his safe, where they stuck.
Later another letter came, pointing out that we had overdrawn our account, and he wished to know what we would do about it. I phoned and asked if he would like me to come and discuss it with him. 'No, no', he replied hastily 'I just thought you ought to know.' I thanked him politely, and it was left at that. I managed to get us back into credit quite soon.
Then we wanted to buy the house in which we still live. I hired a surveyor, who probably got stuck turning into the awkwardly angled gate and remained in a bad mood for the rest of the afternoon. Thus, he found faults that weren't there, and placed a value on the house that wouldn't allow us to take out a sufficient mortgage. So, I went to the bank and asked for a loan to cover the rest.
Robin had been left money for his education by an amazing great aunt, who had been a suffragette, a female G.P. and one of the first women drivers, as well as raising her two nephews, one of which was Robin's father.
There was still some of this money left in Robin's account in the form of investments. The manager asked what I could offer by way of collateral, and I showed him these investments. He agreed to lend us a sum up to their value. and we were able to buy the house and install central heating and a kitchen.
In the meantime, the bottom had dropped out of the market, and our shares were worth a quarter of their previous value. The new bank manager sent for Robin, and I arrived. The bank manager said to me 'you owe us money, how are you going to repay it?' I replied, 'you're the expert, you tell me.'
He sighed and said, 'perhaps I should speak to your husband?' I said 'you can try, if you like, but you won't get very far!' 'Why's that?' 'Because he really isn't interested in money.'
The bank manager said 'why, what does he do?' I could see he thought Robin was some lowly individual who had left school without the basics of maths and English, so I replied rather indignantly 'He is an extremely clever man, brilliant at everything he does, he recently won the prestigious Thyne Scholarship for services to youth, enabling him to study educational methods in America, he is in charge of the curriculum for all the reluctant 15-year-olds who are having to stay at school since the raising of the school leaving age, for the whole of Strathclyde region, the largest division in Britain. There are just some things he can't do. One is put up a child's swing (that's another story) and one is to understand how money works. The bank manager said 'well, you take it very well'. He still thought that the little woman shouldn't have to trouble her head with mortgages, overdrafts and such. 'There isn't an alternative,' I said. He put his head down on his desk and laughed till tears were running out of his eyes. We left it at that.
The stock market recovered eventually, and we were able to pay back the loan.
Then a third new bank manager took over. He wrote a rather unfriendly letter on the subject of overdrafts. I made an appointment to see him. He also thought this was Robin's job, and that I ought to be heartily ashamed of being in debt. I knew perfectly well that without the money obtained as interest, banks would be in dire straits, so I said to him sharply, 'If you speak to me like that again, I shall take our overdraft to another bank!' That rendered him quite speechless, and we parted on friendly terms, surprisingly.
Sometime later I met him, and he told me he was retiring, and a new bank manager was taking over. 'Oh dear,’ I said, ‘just as we are overdrawn again, and I will have to deal with him.' 'You needn't worry,’ he replied, ‘he's been well warned about you.'
And he was right. There was not a peep out of the new bank manager, until the papers announced that Robin had won first prize in a first novel competition run by the BBC and Arrow books, starting with £5,000 and publication. The first note of congratulation was from the new bank manager! No doubt he was vastly relieved.