Count­ing out my ac­count


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.”

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