22 February 2013

The Bank Bicycle

I have a Bank bicycle. My very own. I have had it for a while now. If you are English or have been to London you will know what I am talking about. They are everywhere in London. The Bank jumped onto this bicycle hire scheme about three years ago and there are thousands of Bank bicycles all over London. Commuters and tourists can hire one by slipping a pound coin into a slot at most of the tube stations in the City or by using a credit card.

The bikes are quite heavy and clunky but they have three gears and the Bank's brand is all over them. It is emblazoned in bright blue. They are used by people to commute from one station to another and they are picked up and dropped off at docking stations. I have ridden them before in London. The scheme is very popular and it is very successful.

I had an idea that this might be a good idea here in Singapore so I reached out to my colleagues in Head Office. To the English. I discovered that we don't actually own these bicycles but we pay a shit load of money to a Company called Serco. We pay for naming rights but we do not actually own the bicycles. Serco run the scheme for us. I say 'we' because I work for the Bank. In Singapore.

Yes I work for the English and I work for a Bank. Life is quite often not what we intended it to be.

Serco run a number of bicycle schemes around the world and they also build roads and operate super highways. In Australia Serco actually run most of the prisons. Australia has privatized their penal system. They have outsourced it to the English. Ironic huh? They used to ship their own criminals out there a couple of hundred years ago. It was how my nation was established.

So the Bank dude referred me to the Serco dude who is the guy that runs the Bank's bicycle scheme. I rang him up and I said 'gidday' for this is the Australian way. I told him that I was interested in looking at getting the Bank's bicycle scheme over here in Singapore. I told him that I was looking at the possibility and  could he give me some more details. He told me that he could. He also told me that he was going to Tokyo in a couple of weeks and he could drop in on Singapore on his way back to England if I wanted - to talk about the scheme. He asked me if that would be OK and I said, "no worries'. I told him that would be good.  I set up a couple of meetings with some of the Singapore Government boys from the Parks and Lands Department. They were very interested in setting up a public bicycle scheme with the Bank.

The Serco dude rang me a couple of days before he was due to arrive in Singapore to confirm the meetings. I told him that they were all set up. He asked me then if I would like a bike to  be sent over to Singapore. I told him that I would. So he did. Send one over. Apparently to receive a bicycle in Singapore one needs an import document. This is for some sort of strange customs or tax reason. It had to specify an owner and the owner was me. So the bicycle is mine. I have a paper to prove this. It is a certificate of import. It is a document of ownership.

So I met with the Serco dude and I showed him around. I took him down to the East Coast Park - where I thought the scheme would be best located. There are miles and miles of bicycle paths down there. They wind their way through beautiful gardens. It is flat land and is on the coast so there is often a nice ocean breeze. He agreed it would be perfect for bicycling. We then met with the Government guys and showed them the bike. Mr. Serco did a very nice presentation. I can't recall the exact reason the matter didn't progress but I do remember feeling a little disappointed. I think so too were the Serco people.

However I got to keep the bicycle.

I decided to raffle it off at the beginning of last year to raise money for a little charity that I am involved with. We got tickets printed up and managed to convince a local resort to also donate a weekend at their establishment. For a couple. Including all meals and a spa. This was to be the second prize. We sold tickets for $2 a pop and I was shocked at how many tickets we sold. More than 2000 from memory. Who would have thought that so many people wanted their own Bank bicycle?

The raffle was drawn at the annual Bank Family Day picnic which was held on Sentosa Island. I was there for the draw and was handed the winning ticket holders name and contact details. I rang him on Monday. He was a very Senior guy in the Bank. He was a Managing Director. I recall him being quite excited that he had won the prize. He told me that he had bought many tickets in our raffle but he had never won anything ever before. I congratulated and thanked him and explained that the funds we raised from the raffle were being used to build schools in remote parts of Nepal. I told him that if he was a really good bloke he would donate the bike back to my charity. To his great credit he didn't hesitate and he donated it back straight away.

So I have been holding on to the bike for a while now. I plan to raffle it off again to raise more money for my charity. I might do the raffle in Hong Kong this time or perhaps Tokyo. We have lots of staff in both of those cities. In the meantime I keep the Bank bike at my little house. On the verandah. I ride it a lot. I ride it pretty much every day.

I ride the bike most often over to Starbucks where I get myself a beverage. I park the Bank bike outside and sit down and drink my coffee. Occasionally I drink a green tea and sometimes an iced chocolate. Hold the whipped cream. The Bank bike is often surrounded by overseas tourists when I re-emerge from Starbucks with my beverage. Japanese and Korean visitors like to take photos of it. I don't mind and I am sure that the Bank doesn't mind either.

It is free publicity.

Quite frequently English tourists will approach me and ask me if the Bank's bicycle scheme is also here in Singapore. Very occasionally I tell them that it is. If I am in a playful mood and just for the crack. I enjoy winding up the English. When they ask me where they can hire one I tell them to go down to Clarke Quay and walk up and down all the back alleys. I tell them that the Bank bicycle place is not very easy to find so they should look very hard and they should ask around. It gives me a small sense of perverse pleasure to imagine these sweaty English tourists tramping up and down this crowded tourist destination looking for a Bank bicycle. 

It's a bit cruel I know but I only do it to the English.

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