A Call to Reality
As it was late morning in England, Joshua reluctantly decided that he reasonably could telephone his parents in America. Leaving the pub and his newspaper behind, he immediately spotted one of the many charming-looking, red booths familiar the world around via cinema and television. For some reason inexplicable to him, just the sight gladdened him. Anticipatory relief from the forthcoming sound of familiar voices albeit far away further gladdened him. Excitedly, he opened the door of the booth only to find its floor covered with litter and its air reeking of stale urine. With the chyme rising in his throat from the stench, he propped open the door with his foot; lifted the filthy handset; then pushed the scarred, numbered buttons, entering firstly the code on the card then his parents’ number. A telephone rang in a distant land where public telephones had become a historical curiosity.
It was his father who answered; his mother already having left for work The man listened to his son’s disappointment but remained non-committal, offering no advice nor even a hint of re-assurance. Slowly replacing the handset, Joshua returned to the comparatively fresh air outside the fetid booth, feeling even more isolated, even more lonely, even more scared. His American dream of adventuresome foreign travel was becoming a British nightmare.
The Fluidity of Fiat Currency
Passing a bank, Joshua entered. A fair-haired teller in his mid-thirties was idle, so Joshua approached his cage. “I’d like to exchange this Scottish note and this English one. Oh, by the way, is this coin still valid?”
The teller examined the two notes, placed them aside, then handed Joshua their replacements. As he examined the coin, he became visibly excited. “I say, this coin is a schilling. May I show it to my colleagues?”
Somewhat bewildered, Joshua merely nodded his head in the affirmative. The teller returned smiling.
“I can exchange it for you if you wish, but I’d keep it were I you . . . historical value.” He handed Joshua a sheet. “Just for your interest. The sheet explains the different denominations before decimalization in 1971. Before decimalization, every Briton was a whiz at addition and subtraction. Nasty consequences for a behavioral deficit there, you can be sure. Today, computers do all the calculating, so clerks even can’t make change by themselves . . . decimalization notwithstanding. Decimalization, good for foreign-made computers . . . bad for British-made brains. Very sad, really.”
The sheet read as follows:
WHEN ENGLISHMEN COULD ADD AND SUBTRACT IN THEIR HEADS
1 Gold Guinea = £1/1s = 21s = 252d
1 Gold Sovereign = £1 = 20s = 240d
1 Pound = £1 = 20s = 240d
1 Mark = 13s4d = 160d
1 Crown = 5s = 60d
1 Shilling = 1s = 12d
1 Sixpence = 6d
1 Threepence = 3d
1 Penny = 1d
1 Halfpence = ½d = 2 farthings
1 Farthing = ¼d.
Joshua took the sheet. He returned the large coin to his pocket. “I’d also like to exchange some U.S. dollars . . . two thousand, to be exact . . . for pounds, English pounds . . . current, English pounds, preferably ones that still will be valid tomorrow.” Joshua handed the teller the green U.S. notes, “I’d like one-hundred-pound notes, please.”
“Sorry, the largest denomination printed is fifty-pounds. The Scots, however, fo issue a note for one-hundred-pounds.”
“Fifty-pounds! That’s less than one hundred dollars.”
“True. Many governments don’t print large notes anymore. The States issued five-hundred and one-thousand-dollar notes until 1935. The larger would equal almost twenty-thousand in the debased currency of today.”
“Why the reluctance to admit reality and print larger denominations?”
“The government claims that the policy protects the public from ‘money-laundering’ . . . drugs and terrorism, you understand. You do understand?”
“No, do you?”
“No comment other than to say currency has lost its essential essence . . . it no longer is freely fungible. As an example, to exchange your dollars, I must ask to see your passport.”
“My passport? Why?”
“For purposes of personal identification. Banking rules, I’m afraid. Protecting the public again, I suppose.”
“Don’t you mean wrapping us in chains by invading our privacy? What if I don’t have my passport with me?”
“Nothing I can do for you . . . except to suggest a ‘currency exchange’,” the teller replied with a slight wink. “I understand your feelings, Sir, really I do.”
Joshua thanked the man for his suggestion then departed into a street crowded with people whose looks or speech labeled them as something other than British. “Twenty-shillings to the pound . . . eight-pence to the shilling,” he muttered to himself.