Goodbye Barclays and hello Caixa Catalunya

Two days into my new teaching job in Spain, and at mid-morning during the teachers’ planning day in school, I went down the road to the local branch of Caixa Catalunya – the Catalan bank – to see if I could open an account.

At the end of the month I will be paid in Euros and the enormous amount of fuss and expense involved in paying that into a Barclays bank account, also losing on the conversion into Sterling, doesn’t bear thinking about!   On the other hand – just as I was dreading the visit to the Policia Nacional after dealing with the Gestapo-like CRB in England (see earlier post) but they turned out to be very pleasant – I was also ready for another experience of having obstacles placed before me in opening a bank account, as happens in England these days.  It seems that opening a bank account in England mainly involves proving you are who you say you are, demonstrating you will not be using the account for money-laundering, and begging the bank to take you seriously as a customer because you’ll bring in enough money to make it worth their while. All the time they regard you as someone who will eventually be begging them for credit and therefore little more than the “poor man at the gate”.

If you are lucky to have all the right paperwork, opening an account takes at least several days  and the various bits of paper, cards etc., arrive in dribs and drabs through the post (for ‘security reasons’ of course, and all this is in your interest).  Once you have opened your account, you will thereafter never speak to an employee again but will try and make yourself understood to a stupid low-paid ex-rice-paddy basket carrier now working in a call centre in some God-forsaken fly-swatted call centre in Thailand who is unhappily misrepresenting Barclays Bank in circular phrases reminiscent of Waiting for Godot.

Oh joy! I am happy to provide this free advertisement for la Caixa Catalunya.

I went up to the reception desk in the local branch and explained that – only last Sunday – I had arrived in Spain to work and I needed to open a bank account for my salary.  The very pleasant and welcoming lady at the counter asked me if I had a NIE number.  That was precisely what I had obtained at the Policia Nacional, without any hassle on Monday (see earlier post), so I gave her the number.  The next question was not so easy to satisfy.

“Have you got your passport with you?”

It was a no brainer really.  Any fool would have taken their passport along, but I had left it twelve kilometres up the winding road into the mountains when I left for work this morning.  I told her I had my driving licence, but that would not do, she said. I was filled with dismay: it looked as if I would have to come back another time.

“No, that is all right,” she said.  “Your passport must have been seen by the police who gave you the NIE number.  Come back in an hour and I’ll have your account ready.”

I did not believe it could be so simple to hand over my money to a bank!

I went back at the end of the morning’s work in school, not for one moment expecting things to have been arranged for me, so accustomed am I to everything going wrong in England.  Sure enough the young lady at the desk saw me and immediately called to a colleague, “Ah, here is the man I was telling you about.”  I was sure the earlier optimism had by now all gone the shape of pears.

“Mr Thomas?” asked the smartly dressed bank employee, a young man in his thirties with a pleasant and genuine smile.  “Come this way please.”

After years of habitual disappointment with Barclays and the attitudes of  their bank employees, I thought this was probably the branch expert charged with responsibility for spotting international fraudsters and this was time for the one hour interrogation about my credit worthiness.  We sat down.

“Everything is ready,” he said.

“Ready?”  I could not believe it.  How was that done?  I looked around for signs of Harry Potter wizard hats and magic wands.

One by one, I signed the documents, received my pass book, my sealed envelope with the PIN number in it, my plastic card with the secret codes to use for internet banking – which was already set up for me – and a free pen.  It was a good quality thick-barrelled ballpoint pen of the type I prefer.  It had no logo or advertisement for Caixa Catalunya on it whatsoever.  More’s the pity: I would be happy to flourish a pen advertising such a welcoming bank, for I was now the Hobbit who had arrived at journey’s end and was being treated as one who had survived all the trials of the journey.  Now banking life could be lived without the habitual fight with the incomprehensible Barclays call-centre gnomes, the serpents who took money from my account for no reason, and the ogre who refused the meagre overdraft requested for a rare emergency.

“Shall I put some money in my account?” I asked.  I looked in my wallet.  “I think I only have twenty Euros…”

“Yes, if you like!” said my friendly banker.

I wanted to buy him a drink now.  It didn’t seem right to just leave the bank without getting to know him.

What has gone wrong in England, I wonder?  Is it just Barclays?  Is it just the CRB?  Is it just the Department for Children Families and (Schools) who change the education system every two months?  Is it just the jobsworths who make life impossible in so many different aspects of life in England?  Or is the the difference between a declining culture and a culture that is in the ascendancy?  I have asked the question before on this blog.  It is worth reflecting upon. Anyway, that’s the wider question.  The more obvious question is why can’t banking be as easy and friendly as Caixa Catalunya makes it?

Thank you, Caixa Catalunya.



About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself dividing my time mostly between looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca and preparing a legal case against the corrupt management of my monstrous last employer - the Elians group - for unfair dismissal. I like to hear the wind in the pine trees. I do not like struggling to get a duvet into a duvet cover. My musical tastes are extinct and I have mostly given up cycle racing.
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14 Responses to Goodbye Barclays and hello Caixa Catalunya

  1. Brother Burrito says:

    This article should be on the front page of every UK national newspaper.

    The people of Britain need to know how sh!tty their country is becoming, by looking abroad.

    I shall send it to Uncle Damian. He might be able to squeeze it into a corner of his blog, behind the soft toys.

    Meanwhile, I am going to buy a new 60 inch telly using that credit card number. Thanks Daniel.

    British TV is so marvellous too.

  2. Frere Rabit says:

    When you say behind the ‘soft toys’ I think that’s a bit harsh on Rutzinger and Judy8, isn’t it?

  3. kathleen says:

    Looks like your long calvary on stormy seas is over Rabit, and you’re in for a period of smooth sailing, Deo gratias! I’m happy for you – you deserve it – and long may it last.

    Talking about banks tho’…. I’ve heard that the giant BANCO SANTANDER is the best in Spain!! Glad anyway you were not bashing Lloyds (which is my bank) who have always shown me the same courtesy you got at the Caixa C. So is it really a question of countries?? Or just certain bank employees? Or not being norty and asking for overdrafts….. eek! 😉


  4. toadspittle says:

    Rabit, I read something by you recently on the Mass attendance at your new church. No men. Where did the town/village/city stand in July 1936? And is that relevant?
    A piece, by you(?) on the customs of mass going in different countries would be fascinating.
    This is not, for once, a joke.
    I have noticed here in Moratinos and other places, a very rigid seating pattern etc. Women there, kids over there, men.. well depending on age, etc.
    You must have, too.

  5. toadspittle says:

    I suspect banks, the world over, are like guardian angels. They look after you scrupulously until you really need their help, and then you are dead.
    But, I must say I agree with Kathleen, my Santander branch is really good.
    So far.
    But then we are always in the black, etc and don’t need anything.

  6. Frere Rabit says:

    Toad, it is indeed a very relevant question.

    The church had been gutted long before July 1936. This was an area of great poverty and the prevailing political movements were the CNT and socialists (it was a largely anarcho-syndicalist peasant population). The absence of men in church today is no surprise.

    When the falangist forces overran the village and re-established the church, putting a new priest in the village and some nuns to run a school – mainly for girls, because the lads had all been rounded up – they went about the business of reprisals.

    The largely illiterate and innocent girls were pumped for information by the priest and the nuns in the school. Then they saw their fathers lined up and shot against the church wall. The church where many of them had been baptised and later married. But they were not given their funerals there. They went into a mass grave outside the village.

    The bullet holes run through the stonework at chest height, just to the right of the main door in the village square, next to the present Ayntamiento. The story brought tears to my eyes when I heard it.

    The girls stopped going to school after they had seen their fathers shot against the church wall. And if today, the main Sunday Mass of this large village just has a congregation of a dozen old ladies and a stray Rabit Piligrimin, there is no mystery about that. The Catholic Church in Spain is still shamed and tainted by the blood of those days. To cynically exploit the ignorance of the innocent in order to hunt down your enemies and make orphans of the children is not exactly the ‘Catholicism Pure & Simple’ we should aspire to, and it is certainly not the Gospel. We must take care who we side with.

    Under the present Partido Popular regime in the village, the Ayuntamiento decided to finally plaster over the bullet holes. (The Partido Popular here includes an English woman – surprisingly – and I wonder what any self-respecting ex-pat is doing siding with the old reactionary forces of a history that is nothing to do with her… ) But when people got wind of the plan, they vociferously demanded that the evidence of the atrocity should not be wiped out. The bullet holes remain. At chest height. Glanced at by passing old ladies, some whom would never again set foot in the church.

    Well, Toad, you did ask… Horrible, isn’t it?

  7. toadspittle says:

    Yes, and variations of it can be found most everywhere in Spain. The area around me was not so bad as some. Nationalist from day one. Which spared a lot of grief later. But there were some ugly ‘incidents’
    Thank you for telling us.

  8. Frere Rabit says:

    Well yes, Toad, of course and I knew it from the inside in a way you never did.

    The irony is that in 1965 I first walked the Camino de Santiago not far from where you are, with my ‘Cara al Sol’ cameradas, led by our ‘jefe’ Capitan Nunez.

    You cannot imagine life then in these villages Toad: it was all long before you discovered the horrors of your local history! What the hell: we’ve talked about it before anyway. We are destined never to have a reasonable conversation, for some odd quirk of fate… You regard me as the young upstart, and yet I feel I have lived in the 1930s, as we all did in those days in the Franco Spain of the early 1960s…

    Nunez was an old Civil War career officer in uniform, who taught us history in the Instituto Santa Maria de Ensenanza Media, sitting under the portrait of El Caudillo (above every teacher’s desk in those days) and encouraging us all to join in the activities of the “FE de las JONS”… Falange Espanola de las Juntas Obreras Nationalistas Sindicalistas. (We learned it by heart then, but my memory may be Fawlty after all these years: “Don’t mention the war!”)

    Anyway, Capitan Nunez was convinced that the Communists were going to invade Spain and put back the tremendous advances of the “25 Anos de Paz” experienced since the Civil War. (… by the way it ws “25 years of peace” that commenced with wiping out a million people in concentration camps, more than all who died on both sides combined in the 1936-39 Civil War.) So, in order to defend this marvel of late twentieth century freedom, we gathered on a Saturday morning on the beach, firing ancient pre-WW1 .22 Martini rifles at the sea, and sometimes if we aimed carefully, hitting the sea.

    I remember one day, when I bunked off school and went fishing in the local harbour, I met a bunch of working men on a tug boat in the harbour, and one of them said, “You like shooting the communists with Capitan Nunez?” They all laughed. They made remarks involving obscenities and gestures… They swigged wine from a porron and they looked grim as they thought about Capitan Nunez. Years later, many years later, I wished I had had the courage to ask these men to tell me more. They would never have done so anyway, not in those days.

    One day the shots rang out from the Old Town Cuartel. A prisoner had been shot while escaping. Someone they had caught in hiding since 1939. (He’d had a good innings in his kitchen cupboard surviving until 1965.)

    Yes Toad, thanks for reminding me of all that. I wasn’t a Catholic then. I don’t know why, but I became one many years later. Looking at that time, I should never have allowed myself to be converted. It was unspeakable. But God is greater.

    Anyway, we walked the Camino with Nunez and the rest of the blue shirted 13 year olds of Spain that year… We marched through villages where even the cats spat at us. And as we marched and we camped and lit fires and sang songs, we learned of El Cid and El Caudillo and the campaigns against the Moors and the Communists and we believed that Espana was “Una, Grande y Libre”.

    And today the clever democrats forget that the Americans were backing that ideology 100%, with US air bases all over Spain. Referring to the above cranky ideas of Capitan Nunez, don’t forget the whole of US foreign policy also believed the Communists were going to invade….!

    Then the Americans screwed up. Big time. “Oh sorry: we just accidentally dropped a nuclear bomb on Almeria from a B52 with a bunch of guys all on drugs in the flight deck… Hey folks, don’t kick our bases out of the Peninsula: we’ll provide free school milk for all of the schools in Franco’s Spain.”

    Yes, OK, I look at the bullet holes in the church wall now and I wonder how the hell I can ever have been marching to Capitan Nunez’s tune. It was only a few years later I was an aircraft technician on an RAF V-bomber squadron and I came through Paris on my summer leave, joined in an Angela Davis demo and took a poster home to stick on the barrack room wall. Within 24 hours I was under arrest and all my friends and family were being interviewed by the military SIB plain clothes people… The heavy-handed idiots turned me into a Communist overnight! So easy then to become a Catholic, as so many 20th century intellectuals discovered, long before my time.

    It’s been a great life, Toad, and you haven’t seen the half of it. I’ve hit all the right buttons all the way down the line, righty up to the end of my so-called ‘career’, as I end up in Spain with one final action for full financial compensation against an incompetent Orwellian agency of the British State. A pointless rebel, yes. Who cares?

    Yet I support the traditional Catholic view now. Isn’t that weird? You will never get your head around it! How can a fighter and a one-time believer in ‘other’ ideologies become a Catholic? Why, because I have a community view of life, not an individualistic one. The ideal community in the end is the Holy Trinity. There is no other destination. You’ll find the way Toad. Just different routes, different speeds. You can kick the chair over now and go to bed, saying as usual, “There’s no point in talking to you!”

  9. kathleen says:

    May I interrupt in your conversation with Toad?

    Your tale has me spellbound. You don’t need me to tell you – you must know it – you have a insuperable talent for relating that touches the heart and conscience of any reader….. and I am (for better or worse) hyper sensitive; this has been my downfall in more than one occasion!

    I know Spain very well. I have worked and lived in Spain and I have family and many friends there. I speak the language fluently, and until recently I was doing translation work through the internet.
    There were terrible atrocities on both sides of the Spanish civil war, and I could tell you many firsthand stories that would make your hair stand on end. Both “sides” though, were not a unified ideology (as I’m sure you know) so whereas the Falange were fascist, ultra right-wing “nazis”, other nationalist groups were far more “christian” and un-bellicose. The same goes with the republican/communist/anarchist factions. Many of the people during the civil war were simply identified as being on one side or the other by their location, not by their personal ideologies, and this often ended up with family members finding themselves fighting each other – brother against brother. (I know of cases where this tragedy occurred). What is certainly hard to justify though, is the harsh vengeance dealt out to the “losers” after 1939 by its victors. May God have mercy on all their souls.

    I believe that a civil war leaves more sorrow and more scars of hatred and resentment behind than any other war. Look at the ex-Yugoslavia today.

  10. Frere Rabit says:

    Kathleen, you have put it well. The subtle nuances of allegiance in the Spanish Civil War can only truly be understood by the brothers and sisters of the divided families who, tragically fought out their family dysfunctions on a national stage.

    For all my rejection of Spanish Falangism, however, I would still not equate them with ‘nazis’. The language has to be carefully chosen. The Falange was not the Nazi party. Even Mussolini – the leader of a ‘softer’ fascist movement than the dark northern European Nazis – despised the Spanish falangists for not being proper thugs. Yes there were death squads. A million and more died in Franco’s concentration camps. But the Falangists had no real worked out political ideology that equates with Nazism. They were uniformed romantic crusaders, as stupid as the anarcho-syndicalists who destroyed the Catholic heritage of Spain by burning down churches, murdering priests, raping nuns, and generally running amok in a way that provoked the ultra-right into the attempted coup of 1936.

    The Dragon Rapide that took off from Croydon aerodrome, flown by two MI6 officers posing as husband and wife on their holidays, and flew Franco from the Canaries to Spanish Morocco to begin the assault on a democratically elected Republic, unleashed a horror that was planned and predicted by the clever public schoolboys in Whitehall corridors. The ‘nazis’ just did the dirty work. It was the intelligentsia of Eton and the old guard of the officer class in Spain who worked together to engineer the situation.

    Atrocities were the inevitable result. But that’s what happens when ‘Johnny foreigner’ has his wars… Or such is the mythology. We are such hypocrites in England.

  11. Toad says:

    I started coming to Spain in the early sixties. Had I known then what we do now, I doubt if I would have. Not paying enough attention, I suppose, although a lot of stuff didn’t come out until several years after Franco died.

  12. kathleen says:

    You are quite right Frere Rabit:
    One throws around the word “nazi” too easily nowadays. The real Nazis were something else!

    However I would hardly call the perpetrators of the destruction of so much of Spain’s beautiful Catholic heritage, and especially the massacre of so many innocent priests and nuns (including a whole community of monks!) merely “stupid”! Although I am sure there were those amongst these murderers who were just simply that – stupid, and incited by the war cry of the leaders. Those responsible for these acts though were surely no less than Satan and his hordes at work.

    Really interesting what you say about Franco….. and those “clever public schoolboys in Whitehall….. etc,” who engineered the situation in the first place. I’m trying to find out more. Foreign meddling and undermining has so often been the cause of unrest, rebellions and wars.
    And wasn’t it our boys who were partly to blame for the dismantling of the great former (and stable) Catholic Austrian-Hungarian empire??

  13. Frere Rabit says:

    Yes, perhaps “stupid” was a little mild. “Very very norty” would have been more deservedly severe. As for the Austro-Hungarian fiasco, I’m not sure who was to blame. Unfortunately, I have to study it all very quickly now, as I’m teaching five hours a week of Key Stage 3 History this year…

    Can’t remember anything about the causes of the First World War, except the memorable line from Blackadder Goes Forth when Baldrick says, “I heard it all started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry.”

  14. Meerkat Chaplin says:

    To bring this discussion back to serious matters…
    You writied: “I did not believe it could be so simple to hand over my money to a bank!”
    Handing over your money is probably the easy part. Will it be so easy to get it out again?

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