Notes from West London

£50 notes at the cashpoint

£50 notes are back. For as long as I can remember they have been unwelcome in shops and restaurants. They were prone to forgery and, frankly, how many cash purchases justify breaking into a fifty? I still apologize for using a £20 note if what I’m paying for costs less than a fiver.

(This reminds me of the old joke about someone buying a large mocha and a blueberry muffin at a service station. “I’m sorry, I only have a £20 note,” they apologize. “Well,” says the cashier, “You’ll have to put the muffin back, won’t you?”)

My brother came to London for Christmas, as he usually does (he’s been living in Spain since the 1980s). On our Boxing Day Pub Crawl he paid for a round of drinks with a £50 note. I hadn’t seen one for years. There were five of us at this point in the crawl, so the round came to £20 or more. He managed to offload the note without any fuss from the bar staff, but I wouldn’t try it.

Earlier today I took out cash from the cashpoint. I generally take out £200 at a time, to minimize the number of times I have to visit the bank. I appreciate that some people feel more comfortable taking out smaller amounts, and making more frequent trips to the hole in the wall, and some people carry no cash at all and use plastic for everything. Usually £200 will be dispensed as 8 x £20 and 4 x £10. Today it came out as 4 x £50. I went into the bank to change the notes for smaller ones. There was a queue. I don’t know what the first two people were doing but the woman immediately in front of me was there for the same reason I was, to change her £50 notes. So was the man behind me. Our combined waiting time came to something like 15 minutes, and we wouldn’t have had to wait at all if the cash machine had dispensed notes in its usual way. Last year I wrote about a machine giving out unwanted copper coins as change. Now there are machines dispensing notes that are a higher denomination than most of us want to carry. What are they thinking of?


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