The Comings And Goings Of Cash

Posted on Sunday 3rd June 2007 at 00:00
The lady orders a cappuccino and hands over a '2 coin.

I place the coin, all alone, in the appropriate slot in the till, and close the draw, having handed her the change.

Sometime later a man orders a latte and hands over a '5 note. I place the note in the appropriate part of the draw and as change, I give a 5p, a 20p, a 50p, a '1 and the '2 coin that I had taken from the lady a short while before.

I look up at her now, sitting there drinking her cappuccino, and I wonder if she realises that the coin that she was carrying in her purse a few minutes ago is now in the pocket of the man walking past her table.

This got me thinking about the extraordinary journey that our currency takes throughout its lifetime. All those transactions, all those tills and purses, pockets and sweaty palms. The number of times we count the coins in our possession before we surrender them and the number of times they get counted in the till, bagged up and put into a safe, taken out and counted again, put back in the till and given out as change to another customer.

Coins and notes must each travel hundreds of miles a year. Maybe even hundreds of miles a month or week or day. If you think of the guy who takes '10 out of the cash machine in Bristol Temple Meads railway station just before catching the 08:30 First Great Western Service for London Paddington, you've got a journey right there. When he arrives at Paddington at 10:00 he is quite thirsty and so pops into the caf? for a coffee, which he pays for with the '10 note.

The lady in the queue behind him buys a cup of tea and a slice of cake, but only has a '20 note in her purse. Apologising to the girl behind the till, she hands over the twenty and receives the '10 note in her change. She is in London for the day with her daughter, and after she has had her tea and they've shared the cake, they travel to Covent Garden via the Bakerloo and Central lines for a spot of shopping. Later they lunch in the Garrick Arms, just off Leicester Square, and the Lady hands over her '10 note.

At 14:25, a bloke in a suit pops into the same pub for a late lunch with some work colleagues and pays on card. He asks for '10 cash back and, yep, you've guessed it, he is given our favourite note. After lunch he takes the tube to London Euston and boards a Virgin Express train to Birmingham International, where he gets a connection to the Airport. Before boarding his flight he spends his '10 on an evening newspaper in WH Smiths.

An hour later, an arrival at the airport requires change for '50 that the bureau de change gave her for her Euros. The cash draw of the till is fairly full by this point in the day and the cashier obliges her. The passenger than travels from the airport to the railway station and catches a train to Bristol Temple Meads. Here she buys a waffle from the stand in the station underpass, which is just shutting up for the night.

And so you can see how on a typical day a single note or coin can travel all over the place, just by changing hands a few times.

If we consider electronic money, the journey can be even more crazy. For example, if I were to log onto Amazon now and buy a book by Stephen Fry, the money would go from me to Amazon. They would then send some of it off to their supplier, who in turn would pass on a proportion to the publishing house. At the end of the month, Fry would receive a royalties cheque from his publisher, a little bit of which would be my money. He then visits a cash machine and takes it out before meeting up with his good friend Hugh Laurie for lunch. Hugh pays for the meal and Stephen pays him back for his share. Hugh then discovers that he has rather a lot of money in his wallet, and so deposits some of it into his bank account, including the money that I paid Stephen Fry.

Later that day, Mrs. Laurie is browsing the web and comes across The World of Yaxlich. She notices his request for Pants Aid, and, understanding the need for pants, uses her and Hugh's joint bank account to donate some money to the cause. Yaxlich then goes out and buys some more pants, and suddenly the money I paid Amazon for a book by Stephen Fry has gone to making sure that Yaxlich has clean underpants to wear.

And you know what? I'm going to wash my hands every time I handle money from now on. Clearly that stuff is more dangerous than bar peanuts!

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