Job 18 – Computer Consultant, Barclays Bank France, June 1975 to March 1976

Or something like that. Jun 1975 &ndash Mar 1976
My time as a computer consultant at Barclays Bank France between June 1975 and March 1976.
Together with a colleague of Vietnamese origin, Tran Quang, I went to Paris on contract to ICL to try and help resolve some of the problems that Barclays Bank France were having in getting their ICL mainframe computer to function as required. My role was as the expert in ICL operating systems, which I suppose I rather was at the time.
It being France, the problem was not so much with the system as with political intrigues among the staff. I can’t remember what I did from day to day or whether it had any effect, but when the time came for me to leave, Paul Sahuguet, who was the American-trained French IT manager, asked me to stay. Stay here and be my eyes and ears, he said, in another three to six months your French will be good enough to understand everything and communicate fluently and then I can really make this place work in the way I want.
It was very tempting but Val was firmly against. Had I put career above family my life would have followed a completely divergent path and I would possibly be writing this in French. But I put family before career. I often wonder whether that was the right decision.
Barclays’ offices were in an old Paris building in a side street near to the Opera and it was an odd place to work. At lunchtime everyone went to the canteen for a significant lunch and regular as clockwork at about two in the afternoon there would be the most enormous turd in the bowl in the gents toilet. This was produced by a very large man with an especially wide beam and it was so large and heavy that flushing had no noticeable effect.
I seldom went to the canteen which I found rather stuffy and crowded. I liked walking the streets for half an hour.
In the evenings I would wander the streets some more.
I came back to the UK most weekends as Val was tending to freak more and more. She did come to stay in Paris with me for a short whiile but hated it and felt lonely.
I was actually in Paris for two three-month stints, June to September and again November to March (roughly three months each). In the first session I lived in a flat with Tran Quang at Wagram and in the second in my own flat near Place Mouffetard. Mouffetard was not then the tourist venue that it is today but was lively with restaurants and street music.
In between these stints I spent a bit of time going back to Budgens. Alf said to me that I looked very well on living in France, and I think he was right. I did a lot of travelling back and forth and had to deal with grief at home but I felt extremely well and confident on it. I think it was Paris that did that. The very smell of the streets.
Mostly I returned to the UK at the weekends on the train and boat. Sometimes by air. One weekend I travelled in the train along with lots of French rugby fans who were going to Cardiff to see a match. At the customs – for there were customns to negotiate between Britain and France in those days – the Britsh official asked one of the rugby fans what he had in his bag, to which he replied that it was his grandmother in powder form. But he said that in French and the official didn’t understand him. In fact in his bag was a jerrycan of red wine; many of the rubgy fans had one, or two, of them. ‘On a dit que les viandes ne sont pas bon a Cardiff’, one of them said to me by way of explanation.
On my return to Paris on the Sunday following, I got chatting to an English woman on the boat, also travelling to Paris, who turned out to have been born on the same day and in the same hospital as me, or said she was; I asked my mother about her but she had no memory. I said goodbye to the young woman outside my flat, for she by coincidence was travelling to the same metro station as me too. Or said she was, and did. I never asked her in, and that was perhaps a disappointment to her, but we had shared rather a lot of red wine from jerrycans on the train from Calais and I had rather tired of her company. But how stupid of me to have thrown away her tale, if her assertions were indeed true. I think I was feeling a bit tired not only of her but generally. No, I know I was feeling more than a bit tired generally. A missed opportunity, one of so many.
And I didn’t take up Paul Sahuguet’s offer to live and work in France. I came back to the UK at the end of the contract. An episode with a fistload of of missed opportunities.

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