Monday, 8 September 2008

Gone to the dogs...

Monday. A frustrating day in small town Sevenoaks. Today there were no tiresome offers of freelance jobs to clutter my working day and so I was free to finish off Everything On My To-Do List.

aside: as we all know - and as Radio 4 informs us, repeatedly - Wednesday is Big Bang Day. Scientists at CERN in Switzerland will attempt to reconstruct the beginning of the universe, by making things collide that haven't felt the urge to collide (due to particulate headaches or Top Gear being on at bedtime) for millennia. There is an infinitesimal chance that this will cause the world to implode. At the same time, in another dark corner of Europe, a first-year Polish philology student with an exceptionally quiet social life and no taste for Wyborowa will be in the process of finishing off the final pages of the final book on the first semester reading list.
Do Not Panic! Contrary to popular belief, neither of these two events is liable to bring about the end of the universe...

First up on The List: book eye test (I'm learning to get these things done while in the land of the anglophone). I went into our old local family optician, who have taken care of my myopic Dad and I (and occasionally other, clearer-sighted family members) for years, and booked an appointment. I also bought eye drops, but the minute I got out my Scottish ten-pound note (with 'Sterling' written on it and everything), the woman behind the counter shook her head.

- Oh no. We can't take that.
Me: - Why not? It's from Clydesdale Bank. It's legal tender.
- No. We can't because the bank won't take them from us.

I handed her an English twenty pound note, and - I swear this has never happened to me in the UK before - she couldn't give me change.

- Which bank is it? I asked. 'I'll go over and check with them. Scottish notes are legal currency and they should accept them!'

I marched over the road to Lloyds Bank full of righteous indignation, ready to give the customer services lady a piece of my (admittedly less-than-rational) mind.

- That's strange. She said 'We definitely do take them. But the business itself has the right to refuse them, if they don't have the correct counterfeit detection equipment'
Now I was furious. Not only was I a suspected counterfeiter, but our local family optician had taken up lying to me to avoid taking my counterfeit money! It hurts, Mr Leslie Warren of 82 High Street, Sevenoaks, it really does...

I stormed back to the optician, threw my eye drops onto the counter and cancelled my appointment. Reluctantly, I decided to try Boots. It's so disheartening. Every NGO, every woolly leftie newspaper, every Nice Person tells you to buy organic and to support local businesses and yet these local firms are completely unable to open their minds to accept the rest of the world. We're talking about Scotland, for heaven's sake, not South Ossetia! (now there's a thought. Maybe Alex Salmond and Vladimir Putin are in the process of brokering some sort of liberation deal... 'who's pilfering North Sea oil now, Mrs T? mwah ha ha...' and Russia will officially recognise Scottish independence in time for Hogmanay).
How would these people cope if we were to enter the euro zone?

Incidentally, in Boots, the girl took my ten pound note, showed it to her colleague, put it under a magnifying glass, phoned the central finance department...
I only wish I were that skilled a counterfeiter. Bet it's easier to get into than interpreting.

I don't know why this all bothered me so much. Perhaps because I'm chronically bored at my parents' house with very little work and no disposable income (thanks Career Development Loan - where is this shiny redeveloped career I'm still struggling to pay for? Credit crunch?! Bloody copycats. Being in credit is sooooo nineteen ninety-nine...), and I want someone to shout at.
Perhaps because after living in a beautiful city like Kraków, where you can speak four languages in one day, watch any film, play or concert you like (Sevenoaks can't even keep a cinema open: identikit Giles and Annabelle don't have time after their fourteen-hour days glued to Reuters), and where people are aware that the rest of the world exists and is exciting, it's a little bit galling to be in a closed-up little town where people are suspicious of Scotland. Whatever the SNP might want, right now we're still in the same country! My family are part Scottish, several of us have degrees from Scottish universities, we visit relatives there All the Time and we shouldn't have to change money before going and after coming back simply because Sevenoaks is full of Daily Mail-reading xenophobes!

The second thing on the To-Do list was to pick up this month's Le Monde Diplomatique. See now in sophisticated countries like Germany, Poland - even France are doing better than us on this one - you can pick up international and foreign language newspapers in all town centres. (in Germany you can also get a wide selection in train stations- not just English and French either: I found Polish Newsweek in Saarbruecken Hauptbahnhof). It's not as if Le Monde Diplo is even specifically French: it's an international publication that happens to be written in French, like The Economist happens to be written in English.

I went into WHSmith and waited by the customer services desk. There was no bell, so after about fifteen minutes, I set off the alarm on the stock room door.

- Oh no, sorry. Was the reply. 'There were two independent newsagents that did them, but they've closed down now and it's only us left'.

I appreciate that I've been a pain in the ass all day. But if you lived in a backward country like England, you'd understand my frustration. Why don't we just build a big wall around the coastline and pretend there's no outside world. Could we let me out first please?


peixote said...

So why then, since you were already in the bank that said they took these Scottish notes, did you not exchange it for an English note, and gone back to the first optitians?

peixote said...

Opticians, that is.

pinolona said...

It's the principle of the thing. People in England are so suspicious now. We only admit to being in any way related to the Scots when they get us gold medals for cycling and play in US Opens and so on.
And besides which, I personally wouldn't have been able to exchange my Scottish note in Lloyds bank because I don't have an account with them. No, I don't understand it either.

expateek said...

Don't bother going to Boots opticians though! They make you have yet another eye exam every four and a half minutes if you wear contacts. Believe me, you're NEVER "up-to-date" with their examination schedule. It's just a not so clever ruse to relieve you of more of your hard-earned cash! said...

Ouch! What a day!!

My dear old Scottish granny's neighbours used to give me a £1 note whenever I went up to see her but being so young it never made it back to England. Too many things to buy! Hoots mon!

The sooner Scotland is independent the better. I'm with Alex!

It's strange but having a Scottish father and supporting Scottish independence gets me lots of support and warm smiles but if I say England should be independent and that those nosey Scots should keep their beaks out our politics and that they've had more than enough preferential treatment over the years then I get an awful lot of earache. Both stances have the same outcome and yet one is good whilst the other is bad.

People's preconceived notions are powerful things.

Good luck with your eyes.


Michael Dembinski said...

I fear that social trust is going down the tubes in Britain. Which is sad, because it's what made the country Great.

Darth Sida said...


I collect Pund Scots. Seriously. Kind of (*).

Will buy them at 1:1 SCP:GBP rate.
However, the lower the face value the better. (Can't afford too big nums.)

(*) 'Kind of' explained: I rescued an American lady from troubles with 1 RBoS pound in her wallet.
And I rendered my service to a Londoner who didn't know what to do with something from Clydesdales.
Two notes don't make a collection, my point is.

pinolona said...

I actually went back to my old optician after all. Boots wouldn't sell me contact lenses unless I forked out for another eye examination (at £35 if you please) - thanks for the tip expateek!

I apologised - to the old optician - for my earlier rash behaviour and they said that they had in fact confronted their bank about the matter and got a special letter saying that cashiers should accept Scottish currency from them. And I was able to order my contact lenses, even with a prescription in Polish from Vision Express in Galeria Krakowska ... wow, progress all round and I still get to support local businesses!

Island1 said...

That's the first time I've ever heard anybody suggest that Poland is a more open and globally aware place than England. Are you sure? Are you not just comparing a city (although a miniature one) with a small town?

Move to London you crazy young fool.

pinolona said...

Move to London?? On a freelance translators' (non)salary?! Now that would make me a crazy young fool...

scatts said...

Please keep going with posts like this, Pino. They help me to remember not to move back.

The whole Scottish currency thing is a pain in the dupa but it is undeniably "quaint". A bit like having two taps on the basin and having electrical plugs the size of a hamster's cage. These are the very things foreigners love about Britain!