Willie Sutton, the famous American bank robber in the 1930s who kept robbing banks, going to jail, coming out, robbing more banks, was once greeted by the usual pack of reporters and cameramen when he left prison again. “Willie!” a reporter shouted. “Why do you keep robbing banks?”
“Cos that’s where the money is,” he famously replied.
But not apparently if you’re the Halifax. I went into my local branch the other day with a cigar box (Partegas Series D No4s for any afficianodos out there) full of coins. I’d been throwing all my loose change every night for years into empty cigar boxes.
And as I’d stopped smoking over a year ago I felt it was time to cash them in. They were towering over my bed like the leaning tower of Pisa.
On the other side of my bed is a tower of books, so it’s only a question of which mountain topples first and kills me. The obituary would say either ”money killed him” or ”he died in an avalanche of books”. (At least that would be an adventurous and literary death at the same time.)
“Can you count them for me please, I want to deposit them in my account,” I said to the cashier, sliding the cigar box full of coins across the counter.
“Sorry, we don’t count coins,” he replied.
“What do you mean you ‘don’t count coins’? They’re British… it’s all money.”
” We don’t count money…coins,” he repeated.
I looked round, just in case I’d come into the fish and chip shop a few doors along by mistake.
“This is the bank isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“And you are a cashier – am I correct?”
“Yes. I’m a cashier.”
“So what do you mean you don’t count coins? By definition isn’t that what a cashier does – counts money? And takes the money – in this case my money – so that the bank can stay in business? Am I missing something here?”
”You’ve got to count it yourself,” he said, pushing towards me a dozen little plastic bags. ”You put all of your pound coins in one bag and then all the 50ps in another one and so on – and count them and make sure they add up to £20. And then you give them to me and I can take them.”
”So just to clarify my thinking – you want me to count my money? Won’t I then be doing your job for you? That’s ridiculous. I don’t want to be the cashier – you’re the cashier and I’m the customer. You’re the one behind the counter and I’m on the other side of the counter.”
“Sorry, that’s the rule,” he said.
“I’ve got thousands of different coins here – I simply haven’t got the time to put them all into little bags and then count them. After all, that’s why I’ve got a bank.”
He shrugged. (Did you know the French don’t have a word for ”shrug”? That’s also ridiculous.)
“That’s your decision,” he said.
“OK. Look, I’ve got a better idea,” I said. “I’ll take all my money out of my bank account. How does that work for you? Will you count that out for me ?”
“Yes, I can count that out,” he said.
I withdrew £1,500. He counted it out in new £50 notes and put them in an envelope and handed it over to me.
I’d just read that the government has announced that all children will have to be able to do their multiplication tables by the time they leave primary school aged 11 – and he was older than that.
So I asked him the million dollar – or rather the £1,500- question: “How many £50 notes have you just given me?”
I know I shouldn’t have but really I couldn’t help myself.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“What do you mean you don’t know? You just counted them out in front of me. You just gave me £1,500 in £50 notes. How many notes did you count out? “
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Try dividing 1,500 by 50. Go on, give it a go!” He shrugged again.
Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, I’m with you, kid!
Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said ”First let’s kill all the cashiers”?
A couple of days later on Boxing Day I was walking along Kensington High Street and saw a bright red sign for Metro Bank. “Welcome! Happy Christmas! Come on in,” a smiling young man said.
I went in and seven minutes later I had a new bank account. This must be a world record.
And they had a huge magic Money Machine! “What’s that?” I asked Ashley the cashier with the huge smile. ”Oh, it counts coins,” he said, ”And you can win a prize if you guess to the nearest pound how much you’ve put in the machine.”
“It counts your coins!? You take coins! How many coins will you take?”
”As many as you’ve got,” he said.
“What kind of prize can I win?”
“How about a Yo-Yo,” he said.
“What time do you close the store?” – they don’t call it a bank.
”We’re open all day to 8pm, 362 days a year.”
“I’ve fallen in love,” I said. “Stay right there.
“I’ll be right back with 10 cigar boxes.”