You may have been aware of a recent wave of hysteria of almost ‘millennium bug’-like proportions sweeping across the nation of late, with media outlets seemingly taking great delight in scaring us all half to death about the impending demise of the round pound coin this month.
If you were wondering what on earth was wrong with the old one, as ever, it all comes down to money: fake money, to be precise. Since replacing the Bank of England’s £1 note in 1983, the circular £1 coin has become increasingly easy to forge over the years, with the Royal Mint discovering in 2012 that roughly one in every 30 was a dud – amounting to an eye-watering £44m.
Enter the dodecagon.
This 12-sided wonder (which has quietly been doing the rounds since March) is far harder to copy and instantly recognisable by touch. Thinner than its predecessor at 2.8mm, it’s also lighter, weighing in at just 8.75g, and wider, measuring 23.43mm in diameter. Other additions include the use of two metals (a central silver disc and a brass outer rim), an etched holographic image, micro-lettering, and a ‘top-secret’ feature widely speculated to be a scannable layer for verification.
Rather embarrassingly, despite being heralded as the “most secure coin in the world”, minting mishaps led to a few faulty versions slipping into circulation, with blank sides, double queens and missing middles – dubbed ‘Polo pounds’ – fetching up to £300 on eBay. Nonetheless, every news bulletin in the land was screaming that the round pound would cease to be recognised as legal tender at midnight on Sunday October 15th 2017.
This doomsday deadline left thousands of fretful citizens – myself included – diving down their sofas, smashing up their piggybanks and raiding the petty cash in a frenzied bid to avoid being short-changed by the switchover.
In my infinite wisdom, I decided to swerve the mad dash by dragging several bulging sandwich bags of hard-earned £1 coins – as well as everything in between I’d found along the way – down to the local bank in my lunch break, well in advance of the round pound’s final curtain. You know, the bank – that place I’d been led to believe actually deals with consumers’ monetary transactions on a daily basis? HAH!
Firstly, I was cheerfully informed upon entering this so-called financial establishment that despite having neatly labelled them with the amounts contained within, I’d now have to recount all of the coins in my sandwich bags into inconvenient, teeny-tiny plastic pouches issued by the bank. Not only was I not allowed under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES to mix up the denominations, but each pouch could also only contain the exact amount decreed upon each bag: £1 in 1ps or 2ps, £5 in 5ps or 10ps, £10 in 50ps or 20ps, or £20 in £1 or £2 coins.
He then directed me to a private room where I could set to work on this mind-numbing, thankless task in solitary confinement. All hope of actually eating any lunch was immediately drowned out by the deafening roar of a decade’s worth of coins cascading onto the table. But I pressed on undeterred, determined to beat the masses.
O…M…Gggggeeeeee. I wish I could describe the toe-curling terror of fishing for 5ps in an endless sea of brass; or the despair of having to restart the count every time I was distracted by an encouraging wave from my inexplicably jolly assistant on the other side of the window. Inevitably, a bunch of bags didn’t quite meet the requisite amounts – 12 quid in £1s here, £4.80 in 10ps there – but I tallied them up regardless. Who knows how long I was trapped inside that glass cube of misery but I emerged sometime before sunset with an array of plastic bags, all neatly labelled with the amount in each, and made my way to the counter.
Any smug sense of achievement soon withered away upon reaching the front of the queue. The woman literally looked at me as if I was trying to deposit a sack of onions into my savings account. I took a quick glance to make sure. Nope – still coins. It was creepy – lots of sideways glances and long pauses and cautious taps on the keyboard that clearly weren’t doing anything other than stalling for time.
Had she become so accustomed to online banking, paper pounds, contactless cards and clearing cheques that she’d completely forgotten how to cope with coins? It was like she was afraid to touch them, gingerly prodding at the plastic bags in the same way as you might gingerly prod at a saggy nappy.
She then starts telling me that she can only bank the ones that have the exact amount specified by the bag, but not the ones that don’t. I explained to her that they were in their individual denominations, as requested, and if she just quickly chucked them out and sifted through herself – one contained three 50ps, for goodness sake – she would see that the amounts were correct and we could just add them to the account. But apparently, this didn’t follow protocol.
The surreal exchange that followed went something along the lines of:
Me: Don’t you just chuck them all into one of those coin-sorting machines anyway?
Cashier: No, no – we don’t have one of those here.
Me: So how do you know the amount?
Cashier: We go by weight.
Me: So they have coin counters in Asda, but not in the bank?
Cashier: We don’t have the resources for one of those here. I’m sorry – I can’t accept these bags. You can spend that money in the shops.
Me: But the point is I don’t want to spend it – I want to save it. That’s the whole reason I brought it here.
Cashier: Yes, but… no.
Me: So are you actually telling me that I’m not allowed to deposit cash into my savings account?
Cashier: Yes. Because it’s the wrong amount of cash, you see.
Me: Except I don’t see how there can be such a thing as a ‘wrong’ amount of cash? Surely you should just be able to pay any amount of money into a bank?
Cashier: No. No because it doesn’t come up to the amount that’s stated on the bag, you see.
Me: Yes but – okay, look: let’s just forget about the bag, okay? Can’t you just take the coins out of the bag, count what’s there, and then record the amount I’m depositing?
Cashier: No. Because you’re depositing the wrong amount of cash.
Me: So if I handed you a cheque for £1.50, you’d be able to cash that?
Me: But because I’m handing you £1.50 in actual cash, you can’t cash the cash?
Yes: Yes. Because it’s still the wrong amount of cash. See?
At this point, I did have to take several steps away from the counter and look all around, just to make sure I hadn’t accidentally wandered into the Twilight Zone. Nope – allegedly, I was still standing in the bank. And yet… here we were.
Turfed out with a rumbling stomach and several bags of MONEY – seriously, go figure – it’s since transpired that the blasted round pound coin has still been very much in use well beyond the dreaded due date of October the 15th.
Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, was accepting them at tills and self-service machines for an extra week. Aldi and Iceland decided to give shoppers two weeks’ grace, while Poundland opted to continue raking them in until closing time today (October 31st). Alternatively, toy store The Entertainer (clearly with one eye on children’s pocket money and the other on Christmas) has announced that all 140 of its UK stores will continue taking the round pound right up until the end of the year – guaranteed to be a far less frightful experience than the horrors of Halifax.
Happy Halloween, folks. : )