Notes from the outer regions…

Having lived in London for over 20 years now I’m always careful not to bring back too much of the local currency when I return from trips home. I’m referring of course to the regional banknotes produced by Danske Bank, Ulster Bank, First Trust and Bank of Ireland. It’s a well-worn rant that most retailers and service providers in GB won’t accept such notes despite the fact that they are sterling and should (in theory) be legal currency (albeit not “legal tender” apparently, but I’m not quite sure what the difference is) across this not-so United Kingdom. Bizarrely they aren’t even legal tender in Northern Ireland! If you’ve got time on your hands or suffer from insomnia you can find out more about this on the Association of Commercial Banknote Issuers (formerly known as the Scottish & Northern Ireland Banknotes Technical Standards Board!) website.

Many years ago, I was returning to London after being home for Christmas. Knowing that my local banknotes wouldn’t be accepted once I got off the plane at Stansted airport, I tried to get them changed at Belfast International airport. On being told by the cashier (to my utter bewilderment) that there was a charge (yes an actual charge to change sterling notes into different sterling notes of the same denomination of equal value) I point blankly refused and walked away in disgust, resigned to the fact that I’d have to wait till the next time I went home to use up these notes. Or simply pay them into my bank account of course.

I once attempted to pay a London bus driver with one such note, but he refused on the grounds that he didn’t take “Irish money”. I’m sure someone out there has a story where somewhere in England they once tried to spend a note issued by the institution formerly known as the Northern Bank, only to be told that Danish money wasn’t acceptable in the UK.

And then there was the time where I tried to buy a newspaper with a pocketful of change, which included a Manx 10p. I assume I must have received it in change from a different shop, as I certainly hadn’t been to the Isle of Man lately. The shopkeeper wouldn’t accept this “foreign” coin, refusing to believe that it was a real 10p.

I’ve even tried to get around this issue by avoiding human interaction and instead trying to insert such notes and coins as payment into self-service machines at supermarkets and train stations – but not even the machines recognise them.

The comedian Michael McIntyre (although I use the word “comedian” advisedly here, as I’ve never found the guy remotely funny) once did a routine about Scottish banknotes. He recounts an incident where he hands over a Scottish £20 note to a shop assistant who then looks at him as if he’d just passed her a dead baby.

I do remember reading somewhere that the main reason why English businesses generally won’t accept these notes is that they don’t want to take any chances with forgeries.

All this begs the question of why NI, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are even permitted to have their own notes/coinage in the first place if such “funny money” effectively can’t be spent within the same currency zone. Presumably, it’s meant to be some kind of fob to the “nations” – but a pointless one at that. Ironically they’re more likely to be accepted in the Eurozone in places like Lifford, Letterkenny or Louth than in London, Luton or Leicester.

Admittedly, this is less of a problem these days, now that we seem to be gradually moving towards a cashless economy – a situation speeded up by the covid pandemic. Does anyone even remember cheques? A few short years ago in cafés, pubs or small shops, I would ask whether they accepted credit or debit cards, but now I find myself asking them the default question of whether they accept cash.

It’s a funny old world.