In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Home A Loan
In 1975 I was thirty seven years of age and living with my wife, Margaret, who was thirty five and our two children, Rory, twelve, and Jenny, who was seven. We lived in Melbourne, after spells in Newcastle and Sydney in New South Wales and two years in Malaysia. Rory had been born in London and Jenny in Sydney.
We were in our tenth year as ten pound migrants and by all measures, were pretty successful and well integrated. I was the Security Manager at General Motors Holden’s, a car plant employing around 8,000 people. Our house, which we were buying, was new when we moved in early in 1972. I was well paid and was given a new company car of my choice, every six months. I had previously spent a year in the Victorian Police and six years in the RAAF.
I couldn’t say that that I was unhappy, but was aware that I wasn’t all that happy either. Margaret hated Australia, had loathed the Police, detested the Air Force and wasn’t that enamoured of GMH either. We decided to return to Britain ‘to see if we liked it’. We missed our families, the British people and the proximity of Europe. Travelling from Sydney to Perth was the equivalent of the journey from London to Moscow. The first trip was entirely in one country, the second covered a dozen or so. We were also uncomfortable that our kids might grow up in Oz, and it would be impossible to move, if we left it too late.
We sold our home and prepared to leave. For a reason I can no longer recall, our ship’s voyage was cancelled. We bottled out; there was no other way to express it. Fortunately I had not given my notice, or told anyone, so we bought another house and settled down again.
The fault lines did not close; they widened, and after twelve months we decided to go for it, this time for real.
One day, driving home from work and listening to the news, I heard an item about the British economy and the view that Mr Healey was making a pig’s ear of things. Revaluation of the pound, or was it devaluation, made me think. We would clear $A 30,000 on the sale of the house, and I was anxious to buy as many pounds as I could with that money. I realised that if the UK recovered, we would lose a lot of money on the exchange.
I went to my bank manager, at the State Savings Bank of Victoria, where the mortgage was held.
“Yes, sir”. Or was it “G’day, mate”.
“I’d like to borrow $ 30, 000, please.”
“Well, you know that I will clear that amount when I sell the house and I want to make sure I don’t lose out if the UK recovers.”
He was aghast. “We don’t lend money to speculate against the currency.”
“What about lending it to build up a credit rating in Britain?”
“Yeah, we might do that, but it will still need to be cleared by the Reserve Bank before you can send the cash to England.”
I had previously, through my brother, opened an HSBC account in Llanwrst in North Wales. I wrote to the manager, a Mr Williams, hoping he could read between the lines as to my predicament. The only folks in North Wales not called Mr Williams are called Mrs Williams.
He was great and I quickly received a letter which was sent to the Reserve Bank, Australia’s version of the Bank of England. All the while the British Government was negoiating with the IMF for the loan of a few bob to bide them over the hard times. I was very worried; I had a loan of thirty big ones from my bank on which I was paying 11% interest.
On a Friday morning I had a phone call from the Sate Savings Bank, and I shot into Melbourne. The Reserve Bank had given their approval to transfer the money. It was getting near to closing time when I was faced with the bank clerk who would send my cash to UK. “It’s getting a bit late, mate; shall we leave it to Monday?”
“No,” I protested, “Let’s do it now.”
He was still reluctant. “There is a charge, you know.”
I reached for my wallet and the deed was done. The sweat was still wet on my brow when I left the bank and the door was locked behind me.
On the Saturday, it was announced that the IMF had agreed to lend Britain billions of pounds. The pound immediately strengthened. On the Friday I paid $1.23 for my sterling. On Monday it would have cost $1.57 for each pound. In gross terms, I received in the region of £24,400 on Friday, instead of the £19,100 that was the price on Monday. Remember this was in 1975, and the value can be gauged by our subsequent purchase of a four bed roomed house in St Johns, Woking, for £23,000.
As the great Duke might have said, “It was a damm close run thing.” As an added and unexpected bonus, the loan which was costing me 11% was invested in HSBC at 14%. For a long time I could not believe I had pulled it off. I was fearful that a heavy police hand would grip my collar very firmly.
This was the best loan I have ever had.
Written by BM