Thursday, March 20, 2014

George Osborne and the new pound coin

As the fallout from the budget statement settles, and families across the country do their sums and realise with joy and gratitude that they could well be £2.37 a month better off – but not until 2016 – it’s time to sit back and reflect on our  Chancellor of the Exchequer’s lasting legacy.

What, when the history books are written and the students of 2114 scribble down factoids about the early 21st century, will be George Gideon Oliver Osborne’s foremost claim to fame?

Will he be remembered as The Iron Chancellor? The Bankers’ Buddy? The Hammer of the Needy? Austerity Man?

No. None of those things. If George Osborne is remembered by anyone, for anything at all, it will be as The Toff Who Invented The Twelve-Sided Pound.

Announcing it on the same day as the budget was clearly a ploy to distract us commoners  from the nitty-gritty of belt-tightening, and it appears to have worked exactly as he intended.

Because here we are, worrying more about the wear and tear on our pocket linings from those extra corners, and reminiscing about the days when the pound was foldable, rather than girding our loins for a few more years of pain.

Where did Osborne get the idea from, anyway? All this talk about the trusty round version being too easy to forge doesn’t really hold water. And don’t think for a minute that he was inspired by the good old threepenny bit.

Because he’d have a hard job remembering a coin that ceased to be legal tender just three months after he was born.

No, the smart money is on the theory that he was sitting in one of those posh cafés where they serve dainty petits fours on hexagonal plates, and  thought: “I can go better than that – twice better”.

Although to be strictly accurate, George didn’t get his sums right in that glorious moment of gustatory inspiration. Because if you count the top and bottom, or the heads and tails, a hexagonal plate  has eight sides, and a dodecagonal coin has 14. And 14 isn’t twice eight but 1.75 times eight. (Guess who’s been helping out with the maths homework this week?)

And if you’re confused by all those numbers, just imagine the effect they had on the Chancellor.

As with any change in economic policy, though, some people will benefit and others will suffer.

Those with the most to lose, of course, are the manufacturers of  chocolate coins. Year in, year out, they’ve been happily churning out sweet circular simulacra of cash and packing them into plastic nets ready to be stuffed into Christmas stockings up and down the land.

But now a new challenge lies ahead for the doughty chocolatiers: digging out their old 12-sided moulds, left mouldering (sorry) since the demise of the thruppence, and retooling.

Vending machine-makers, meanwhile, are rubbing their hands in glee. Because once Osborne has knackered the pound coin,  what’s to stop him fiddling  with the rest of our currency? ATMs and self-service tills will all need updating, to accept rhomboid 2p pieces and triangular £7 notes.

There are even rumours that Osborne has it in for the venerable seven-sided 50p, and is having it redesigned as a four-dimensional Möbius Strip with no sides at all.

Sounds fun? Hah! Try getting one out of your pocket, the next time you want to spend a penny.

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