Standard Bank, 150 years old this year, has issued a colourful commemorative book about its past, present and future, and in one of its many side panels it mentions AB Hughes. AB was a humourist on the Rand Daily Mail long ago.
He wrote that Standard Bank was “a pillar of the establishment – you might say almost a branch of the Church of England” and how the doorman at the central branch was dressed like an admiral and how AB’s dad, as he entered the bank, would respectfully doff his hat.
Even today, major banks’ interiors look like a cross between a cathedral and a showroom for expensive cars.
I rarely enter a bank these days, and when I do I use a small local branch with the layout of a Kentucky Fried Chicken establishment but without the aroma.
I recall feeling a little intimidated entering large banking halls.
Even today, when passing a bank, I get a bit jumpy, especially if there’s an armoured van outside. This was the case years ago when I visited my bank’s regional headquarters. It coincided with a spate of bank robberies. A man in black battle fatigues, combat boots and one-way shades stood there with his feet astride cradling a pump-action firearm.
Although I could not see his eyes, I knew they were swivelling this way and that, like a chameleon that had just swallowed a killer bee.
Two of his colleagues, guns in belt, were moving tin boxes and a fourth stood next to the vehicle. He, too, was cradling a serious gun.
I knew that one false move on my part could be disastrous. I mounted the marble steps slowly avoiding any abrupt movements. The thought of tripping and lurching into Rambo sent little spurts of perspiration jetting from my forehead.
The door read “PUSH”. But I checked myself and, instead of barging in as I would any other door marked “PUSH” (just to prove I’m not slow) I opened it “real slow”.
It is best, when entering a bank, to look around, smiling frequently so people think you are relaxed and mean no harm. To be really safe, I suppose, you should raise your hands above your head to show you have no weapon.
I was well aware that cameras were following my every step and experienced a twinge of stage fright.
I put on my “calm and relaxed” expression and gave a little reassuring wave to a camera swivelling on the wall.
At the same time I was ready to drop to the ground and burrow into the marble should anybody shout: “This is a stick-up!”
In a busy bank it is difficult to tell robbers from customers. In Joburg everybody looks pretty mean when banking and everybody’s eyes are shifting about. And many are poised, ready to hit the deck.
At the “Enquiries” counter I, very slowly, took out my wallet, smiling all the time, reassuringly.
As I did so my newly-arrived silver AA windscreen sticker fell from it on the counter. Slowly, very slowly I slid my hand across to retrieve it. The teller was already examining it and asked: “What’s this?”
“It’s a sticker,” I said.
The phrase shot through the chapel-like silence of the banking hall with the speed of highveld lightning.
“It’s a stick-up!” somebody muttered to somebody.
Next thing alarms were screaming, people were yelling and hitting the deck before throwing me their wallets while the guards all shot each other.
The English rugby team visited an orphanage in Soweto yesterday: “It’s heartbreaking to see their sad little faces with no hope,” said Sipho, aged 6.