The icon brought memories of 1979.
The cashtill beside the Dun Laoghaire Allied Irish Bank has a notice with little pictures to show which cards may be used to withdraw cash; amongst them was a picture of an Ulster Bank servicecard as it appeared sometime in the past. It followed the example of its parent company, National Westminster Bank in having a card coloured white, caramel and orange. It was not the most striking piece of design; even in 1979 it looked like something from a decade before, had there been cashtills in the 1960s.
Design didn’t much matter in 1979 though, having a card to take out money was something new and exciting. The National Westminster bank on the Aldwych had a till which was a fascinating combination of the mechanical and the electronic. The ‘menus’ were printed on a black rubber roll and rolled backwards and forwards behind a glass screen, like the destination boards on London buses, the choices would be aligned with buttons that were pressed to make one’s selection. 4785, the PIN number still remains in the memory.
The tills dispensed £5, £10 and £20 notes, though it would be rare to have occasion to need a £20 note. Tickets for Wembley to watch England play in the European Nations Cup qualifying group matches were £2 each; a pint of beer was 32p, and on half-price nights it was possible to get six pints for a pound.
The reason the card remains so strongly in the memory is that there seemed a never ending supply of £5 notes. The student grant in those days was exceedingly generous. Even half board in a hall of residence cost only £350 a term and the full student grant was £2,000 for the year, £700 for each of the first two terms and £600 for the third, plus travelling expenses incurred above £50 per year.
Unless one was completely profligate, the full grant was sometimes hard to spend. Go to see the Royal Shakespeare Company on a Monday night and student seats were £1.10 instead of £6.60. The two most extravagant nights out were going to see Woody Allen in ‘Manhattan’ at a Leicester Square Cinema, which cost £3 – half as much again as a ticket for Wembley – and going to a Leicester Square disco for students from all over London, which had a reduced entrance charge but charged 60p for drinks.
Not only were they days of having cash to spare, they were days when being a student was a passport to reduced prices. Good old British Rail still had fares that people could afford and while the student railcard could not reduce fares below a certain minimum during the week, the 50% reduction was subject to no minimum at weekends. Visiting a friend in Brighton one weekend, a single ticket out to Falmer, where the university was located, cost only 8p or 12p, or something so small it was hardly worth requesting the reduction.
Money has never been so plentiful since. Sometimes I wonder if National Westminster Bank would give me one of their cards again.