It's morning in the charming little village of Britham. A man - let's call him John - goes into his local bank.
"I want to borrow £1000", he says.
"Let's see what we can do", says the bank manager.
After close inspection of John's payslips and a few phone calls to local shops and tradesmen to check that John has always paid his bills and paid for his goods, the bank manager agrees to give him the loan.
"l'll just sort that out for you now", he says.
He disappears through the door into the back office. Once in the office, he gets out a shoebox. Into the shoebox he puts.....well, we'll find out later what bank managers put in shoeboxes. Then he seals the box and stamps it with an official bank stamp saying "£1000". He takes the box back out to where John is waiting.
"Here you are", he says. "Here's your loan". He and John shake hands, and John leaves, carrying his shoebox.
John takes his shoebox to the bike shop to buy his son a bike for his birthday. The bike he wants is on sale at £500. John hands the shoebox to Fred, the bike shop owner. "There's one thousand pounds," he says. "Can you give me change?"
Fred doesn't have £500 cash in the till, but he has another shoebox with an official bank stamp saying "£500" that someone gave him earlier. So the two swap shoeboxes.
John takes the new shoebox to the grocer, where he buys his week's shopping and hands the shoebox over in payment. Muttering beneath his breath "people seem to think I'm a b***y bank!", Bob the grocer gives him three shoeboxes. each marked "£100", plus £80 in cash. Bob then takes the £500 shoebox to the bank. "Can you look after this for me, please?" he says.
Armed with the shoebox that John gave him, Fred goes to the wholesaler to replenish his bike stocks. Outside the wholesaler's warehouse is a large sign saying "CASH ONLY - NO SHOEBOXES". Fred is slightly puzzled by this, but doesn't think anything of it. After all, the shoebox contains £1000, so all he has to do is open the box.....
Opening the box takes him a while, because whoever sealed it used industrial-strength glue. And all the while the wholesaler watches pityingly. He's seen people do this before.
Eventually Fred manages to get the box open. And inside is - nothing.
"I'VE BEEN SWINDLED!" he shouts. John is nowhere to be seen, but the bank that issued the shoebox is still open. He runs in. "This box is empty. Where's the money?" he cries.
"I'm really sorry, sir", says Joe the cashier. "Our back office must have forgotten to put in the money. If you will take a seat, I'll go and get it for you."
Slightly relieved, Fred sits down. Joe runs through to the back office.
"Someone's opened their box!" he cries. Everyone stops whatever they were doing. The manager turns ashen.
"How much?" he asks.
"One thousand pounds", says Joe.
"Crikey", mutters Stacey the clerk. "We'll never raise that much from a whipround!"
She is indeed correct. The amount they manage to raise by emptying their pockets is £100, mainly in used £10 notes.
Joe rings round the banks in the nearby villages to see if he can borrow the £1000, but none of them want to know. Apparently a bank in Pondland ran out of money and went bust, and now none of the banks will lend money to other banks in case those banks also go bust and they lose their money.
"I've got a better idea," says the manager. "Give me one of those £10 notes".
He runs out to the street. Opposite is a stately-looking shop called "Britham's Printers". Its owner sees him coming.
"How much is it this time?" he says.
"A hundred of these, and I need them quickly!" He hands over the £10 note.
The printer goes out to the back of his shop, where there is a printing press. He runs off one hundred £10 notes.
"Here you are," he says. "I need it back tomorrow, though, and I'm keeping your £10 as payment. Oh, and I need some security. How about that gold watch you're wearing?"
The bank manager gives him his gold watch and walks back to the bank carrying the new banknotes. He goes in by the side door so Fred doesn't see him, and he gives the notes to Joe. Joe carries the bundle of notes through to the front office where Fred is waiting.
"Here's your money, sir," he says. "I'm so sorry about that". He picks up the shoebox, carries it through to the back office and puts it on the shelf.
Fred walks home a happy man. The bank manager is not so happy, though. He has to raise one thousand pounds by the end of next day or he loses his gold watch. And the printer doesn't accept shoeboxes - after all, he knows what is in them.
The next day, Fred takes his £1000 in new £10 notes to the bike wholesaler and hands it over in return for a consignment of bikes. The wholesaler takes the £1000 to the bank and hands it in in return for a shoebox stamped "£1000". After all, shoeboxes you get directly from the bank must be ok. It's only shoeboxes from customers that could be dodgy. Can't be too careful these days! Mind you, that shoebox is a bit battered - looks as if it's been opened before, maybe?
The bank manager takes the £1000 cash to the printer and hands it over. The printer returns his gold watch to him.
"See you tomorrow", he says.
But next day, the headline on the local newspaper reads, "LOCAL BANK RUNS OUT OF MONEY - HAS TO GET EMERGENCY FUNDING". It seems that when she got home, Stacey told her husband about the emergency printing yesterday, and her husband went to the pub that evening.....anyway, somehow the story got out and now it is all over the local papers. Bob the grocer sees this and thinks, "Oh heck, I put £500 into that bank yesterday! I'd better get it out!"
Outside the bank is a VERY long queue......
The shoebox shortage - part 2 of the Britham saga