The bank that likes to say "bugger off"

"I think I've been in your bank's branches more this week than my own home."

I suspect it was this line, coupled with an expression somewhere between fury and imminent tears, that finally won me an audience with an actual banker.

I'd been in the bank for at least an hour by this stage, and I'd seen lots of people who looked like they might be bankers, but apparently they weren't.

"We're rather short staffed today you see" explained the very nice, but not immediately helpful, staff member. She politely explained to me that the four staff walking the floor of the bank, like a phalanx of more relaxed Captain Peacocks, weren't in any real sense bankers -- even though they worked in a bank.

Somewhere behind this front line lurked the real power-brokers -- bankers, actual bankers, with computers and telephones and the ability to grant your wildest dreams.

I would apparently, have to wait at least another hour to see one. Hence the display of imminent rage. A space opened around me in the soft-seating area, and ten minutes later I was sitting down with Dave.

As I explained my needs to Dave he sighed, the kind of sigh a man gives when he's got used to dashing the hopes of total strangers.

"Well, that's not going to take five minutes, is it?"

To be fair to Dave, my needs were pretty complex. I needed to move some money between two accounts, and set up internet banking.

Dave tried his hardest, but thirty minutes in progress was slow.

He'd made at least ten phone calls by this stage, ending each by simply slamming down the receiver. Life just behind the front line of modern-day banking had taken its toll on Dave's grasp of social niceties.

He disappeared upstairs, clutching half a dozen pieces of paper, and I'd swear he gave me the kind of look you'd give to a man you found urinating through your letterbox at 2am.

But I wasn't left alone with my thoughts. The bank very kindly provides its own entertainment, an in-branch radio station mixing soft rock and 80s hits with frequent, but identical, news updates, which serve to remind you just how long you've been sitting there.

Dave returned, to save me from having to listen to Simply Red singing "The Right Thing." He was going to try another way to move my money, the way we'd discussed an hour or so earlier but he'd dismissed as impossible. It worked.

I left the bank, around two hours after I'd entered, clutching my own collection of notes and a small brightly coloured calculator.

This would apparently secure me access to their website, so I would never again have to darken Dave's partitioned work unit.

It didn't work.

I think I finally understand why banks now look like coffee shops -- all stripped pine and soft seating areas.

There are lots of posters showing happy, smiling customers, presumably at some other branch, Narnia Central or something. 

The in-branch radio urges you to chat to one of their friendly representatives and get yourself a mortgage, or an overdraft, or another credit card.

But first you must cross the giant empty space where years ago, actual banking was done. Now, the four strong Praetorian Guard are there to stop you, pacing the stripped pine like the ghosts from Pac Man, offering water and somewhere to sit, but little else.

They want your custom, they just don't want any customers. The bank is merely a showroom, a bit like one of those giant sofa warehouses offering twenty years interest free credit, zero down and zero to pay.

You have a look around, you make your choice, you finally attract someone's attention only to find out it's not actually available, unless you're willing to wait until the middle of next year.

As I left the bank, I noticed the huge red sign, glowing out of the window. It said "Express Banking." The tears I'd nearly summoned two hours earlier almost returned.