This is a public service announcement. If you have any old £10 notes hiding away in a wallet, purse or piggy bank, you have until midnight tonight to spend them. They won't be legal tender tomorrow and it would be criminal to waste them. The Bank of England reckons that there are still 117 million old £10 notes out there somewhere, which is about two each. I'd check down the back of the sofa and under the mattress just in case because otherwise that's more than a billion quid up in smoke by the end of the day.
I should clarify that we're talking about the old £10 note with Charles Dickens on the back. The one with a picture of the cricket match between Old Muggleton and Dingley Dell from Pickwick Papers. That's the note that ceases to be legal tender tomorrow. It's being replaced by the new £10 note with Charles Darwin on the back. The one with a picture of HMS Beagle and a Galapagos Island hummingbird. That's the new note with all the clever security features. Tenners are only supposed to have a life expectancy of 18 months, and Darwin first started replacing Dickens way back in November 2000, so the Bank of England think they've waited long enough before withdrawing them. Just not long enough for some.
Our current set of banknotes features Elizabeth Fry (£5), Charles Darwin (£10), Edward Elgar (£20) and Sir John Houblon (£50) (he was the first Governor of the Bank of England, before you ask). That's British society, science, art and finance all summarised in four pieces of counterfeit-proof paper. And all different sizes and colours too. How much more attractive and easy to use than those nasty green American banknotes. All exactly the same colour, all exactly the same size, and all bloody hard to distinguish when it's dark or you're drunk (or both). And Americans wouldn't dare put Darwin, the father of evolution, on a banknote either. Not least because he wasn't actually American, but mainly because whole communities would be up in arms demanding that God be pictured on the $50 note just to maintain a sense of balance.
The Bank of England website contains a treasure trove of banknote trivia. For example, the first fully printed banknotes were issued in 1855, before which date every note had to be signed individually. The last private bank notes in England and Wales were issued by a Somerset bank in 1921. Modern banknotes feature a red and green fluorescent number clearly visible under ultraviolet light, just below the hologram. Demand for new banknotes peaks around Christmas, Easter and the summer holiday periods, with troughs at the end of January and in mid-October. And yes, there really are four times as many £20 notes as £5 notes in circulation, which is why you can never find a fiver when you need one and if one ever does appear in your change you probably spend it almost immediately afterwards.
Footnote 1: Don't panic. The old £10 doesn't completely lose its value tomorrow because it can be exchanged at the Bank of England forever.
Footnote 2: This year's batch of Creme Eggs also reach their best before date today. I still have ten to eat by the end of the day.