Britain: money laundering, sandwiches, poisonous snakes

Because the British government’s taking a hard line on money laundering, it’s not easy to set up a bank account here. Banks and potential customers have to work their way through all sorts of requirements. And yet somehow or other, Britain’s a world money laundering capital.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

A year or three ago, Wild Thing had to set up a checking account for a small organization that had a treasury of less than £100. Probably a lot less, but I don’t remember. It took four trips to the bank with her passport, a utility bill, and a note from her mother, who is—inconveniently, although not surprisingly given Wild Thing’s age—dead. The note was hard to get and not entirely convincing.

The second person who was going to sign checks had to make two trips and the third had to make just one. Then Wild Thing had to drive back to the bank to pick up the checks.

Couldn’t they have just sent them? Don’t ask me. The bank’s roughly half an hour from our house. Why make things easy?

Irrelevant photo: The daffodils have been in bloom since late January. This one, as you can see, is not involved in money laundering.

At least one of those trips, I admit, was because Wild Thing hadn’t double checked that the name J.’s known by is her actual passport-authenticated, birth-certificate name, and it turned out not to be. But the others? They were part of business as usual.

But that was nothing. For a different organization, she tried to set up an account at a different bank and it took three months. Then the bank closed its branch in the town. We didn’t mourn.

I shouldn’t complain about this being so difficult, because in fact I have laundered money. I’ve also spin-dried it, but I don’t think I ever washed anything larger than a five dollar bill, and it may be in the interest of combating money laundering that the British government introduced its new plasticky five-pound note (no one but me calls them “bills” here) that can be run through the laundry but will shrivel up and die if is it’s run through the dryer. We don’t have a dryer, so however we manage to lose money, it won’t be that way.

But we’re small time money launderers at my house, so it’s—let’s say it’s mildly annoying to learn that in spite of our branch bank’s care in observing the anti-laundering protocols, Britain’s banks laundered £740 million for Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB.

Allegedly. I do need to say allegedly.

Deutsche Bank is also accused of laundering Russian money. And it lent $330 million to Trump, but it’s okay because the bank’s investigated itself and reports that there’s no link between those two acts. Which lifts a weight off my mind.

What else is happening here?

I’ve just learned that Britons eat a lot of sandwiches. I don’t know how British sandwich eating compares with other countries’, but the numbers–however meaningless they are without a point of comparison–sound impressive. Over the course of a lifetime, the average Briton will spend more than £48,000 on sandwiches. That’s a lot of money, in case you hadn’t noticed. It buys roughly 18,000 sandwiches. If you ever need to know what a lifetime supply of sandwiches consists of, there’s your number.

The typical eater will need eight mouthfuls and six minutes to finish a single sandwich and will prefer to have it cut on the diagonal. The list of favorite fillings is mostly boring, but number 12 is a chip butty–a butty being a sandwich and chips being what I grew up calling french fries, so bread stuffed with fried potatoes. Number 25 is mayonnaise and nothing else.

The list of “unusual” (for which you can read “disgusting” if you like, but far be it from me to push you in that direction) fillings includes mayonnaise and crisps (which I grew up calling potato chips); instant noodles (raw? cooked? six weeks old? I don’t know); lasagna; onion rings and ketchup; mashed potato and sweetcorn (which I grew up calling just plain ol’ corn); leftover carryout (called takeaway here: curry and Chinese food are mentioned); baked beans and cheese; cheese and chocolate spread.

I’m not sure why baked beans and cheese are considered unusual. Baked beans show up in everything except apple pie here, and the firm doing the research is, as far as I can tell, British. But while I’m going off on tangents. I feel the need to mention that British lasagna includes a heavy, pasty layer of white sauce, which I consider an insult to Italian cooking. Or maybe that’s Italian-American cooking. Or American cooking. I don’t really know–I’m not Italian and haven’t studied the evolution of lasagna. What I do know is that I grew up with a different kind of lasagna and consider the British stuff heresy.

Not that I’m stuck in my ways or anything. I just happen to know what’s right. I’ll come back to that below.

The press release spells it lasagne, not lasagna. That’s not enough to condemn an entire nation’s eating habits, but it does call its Italian credentials into question.

What else is in the news? The Western Morning News warns dog walkers that poisonous snakes are on the loose. I can’t find the story online, so you’ll have to take my word for it. But hey, would I lie to you without a good reason?

Snakes on the loose didn’t strike me as particularly funny when Wild Thing read me the headline, so she asked where else snakes would be.

Ah. Good point.

The story below the headline is that a dog walker saw an adder—the only poisonous snake native to Britain—and it reared up and hissed at him. So how did he deal with the threat? Why, he pulled out his phone and filmed it for five minutes.

Are you getting the sense that this wasn’t a life-or-death moment? I don’t particularly want to get bitten by an adder and I won’t shove either of our dogs or the cat in front of one, but adders aren’t generally lethal. Since 1876, there’ve been only 14 known human fatalities. Most dogs, being smaller than your average adult human, are more vulnerable, but the expert the Westy interviewed recommended getting a dog that’s been bitten to the vet asap—carrying it if possible, walking it slowly if necessary. Dogs, he said, generally make a full recovery.

But, guys, I don’t have all that many readers so you need to take care of yourselves out there, okay? I can’t spare you, and poisonous snakes are on the loose. During the winter it was safe enough. They stayed inside, drinking tea and nibbling digestive biscuits while they watched movies on TV. Now, though, the days are getting longer, they’re getting the itch to mate, and they’re outside. On the loose. Be careful, people. You’re not expendable.

And if you do get bitten, please recruit a substitute until you’ve recovered.

But let’s move on while you’re still well, because there’s more news to report.

Thousands of protestors—or maybe I should call them celebrators, or, well, people; let’s settle for people. Thousands of people in London marked the European Union’s birthday by showing their opposition to Brexit in—well, I wasn’t there, but it sounds like the most restrained demonstration ever. Signs included one saying “I’m quite cross” and another saying, “I’m British. I am on a march. Things must be bad.”  The article I read describes it as “not so much a march as a very patient and stubborn queue.”

A queue, in case you need a translation, is a line of people waiting patiently for something. Forget the Church of England; queuing is the national religion.

The march wasn’t all patience and good manners, though. A third sign said, “Buck Frexit.”


I’ve been living in Britain so long now that I’m not sure how to call directory assistance in the U.S. anymore. When I was a kid and a young adult, it was free—and they’d give you the associated address as long as you asked for the phone number first. The phone company ran directory assistance, so it was only polite to pretend you wanted to call someone. Then later on, four calls were free. Then one. Then none—they’d started charging, but at least you didn’t need a calculator to figure out how much it would cost.

Britain, though, has a series of directory assistance numbers, and they’re allowed to charge a flat fee of up to £15.98 per call plus £7.99 per minute—and if they put your call through for you, they can go on charging for the every minute you talk. The average charge per call costs less than the maximum but it’s still absurd: £6.98. The services are heavily advertised and are used mostly by the elderly—or those among them (at, ahem, a mere 70, I clearly don’t qualify) who don’t use the internet.

This got into the paper because one 90-year-old was charged £501. No, I didn’t leave out a decimal point. That’s five hundred and one pounds for a single directory assistance call.

A spokesperson for Ofcom, which stands for We’re off meeting with someone powerful and important and don’t have time to communicate with you, said, “We are carefully monitoring the impact of the adoption of these new higher charges and are actively considering whether further action is justified.”

Yup. There’s a lot to consider here. You wouldn’t want to rush into it.

Next we come to a couple of stories about the brain. Only one involves Britain, but let’s not split hairs here.

The first is a New Yorker article that reports on research demonstrating that facts don’t change our minds. Given two sets of facts supporting opposing positions on, say, the death penalty, people will find the one they already agree with more convincing, better researched, and presented in a far superior typeface. The opposing one? It’s a piece of crap.

Appealing to people’s emotions may be a more effective way to change their minds. It doesn’t, unfortunately, guarantee a great decision-making process.

No, I don’t know what to do about it either, but if you’d like a name for it, it’s called confirmation bias. And I fall into the trap as easily as anyone else does, except that I’m right so it’s okay.

The second story is about a series of brain scans that document what we all suspected: that using a sat-nav (make that a GPS if you’re in the U.S.) turns off parts of your brain. This explains why people have been known to drive into the sea in an attempt to reach an island if a sat-nav told them to. It also explains the driver Wild Thing and I tried to convince not to drive up an unpaved, washed-out road a mile from our house. He kept pointing up the hill and repeating, “But the sat-nav says.”

Luckily for him, the road was muddy and he spun his wheels and had to back down before he got to the part that would’ve eaten an axle. Because poisonous snakes could well have been on the loose up there. You can never be sure.

And finally, to reward you for reading this far, I’d like to tell you that the last Friday in April is National Hairball Awareness Day. Break out the cat food. Refresh the kitty litter. We need to celebrate–even if you’re in the wrong nation. (The nation in question is the United States.)

My thanks for Flo for letting me know about this. How could I have lived so long and not found out about it before?

81 thoughts on “Britain: money laundering, sandwiches, poisonous snakes

  1. Another hugely entertaining post, Ellen. Two of our nearest ban branches have closed within 3 years. Do tell how it is that you have discovered that plastic money shrivels up in the dryer. When, as a teenager, I watched cricket at The Oval, our Mum made tomato sandwiches. They got soggy and bent in transit. But at least, in those days, it wasn’t plastic bread.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ahem. Because I like to look like an a**hole — and also because I just learned it myself (40-mumble years too late, as far as I’m concerned!) — I feel duty-bound to report that “lasagne” is, in fact, the plural of “lasagna.” So now that’s a thing you know too.

    Also? Daffodils that choose to be all-white instead of yellow look even more suspicious than adders after they’ve gotten into the digestive biscuits again. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the money laundering rumors, if I were you…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oops–you’re right about lasagne and I know enough Italian that I should have spotted it. On the other hand, how many damned lasagne can you fit between two pieces of bread? I suspect it’s being spelled that way because French is more familiar than Italian–although the British are quick to accuse themselves of knowing no foreign languages.

      Liked by 2 people

        • I love lasagna, but not the British stuff with white sauce. And, well, since I’m a vegehoovian I don’t suppose what I make would be recognized as lasagna either. Anyway, we can, I’m pretty sure, agree that it’s not a great idea for a sandwich. Among other things, think about how much of it you’d end up wearing.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. so, let me see if I have this right. you and Wild Thing are gonna become snake handlers in order to set up a checking account to launder Russian money for Trump. Ok, I think I’ve got it.

    I won’t tell Miss Lily about Hairball Day. She will leave me a present if she knows that.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love chip butties, and crisp sandwiches (by which I mean the sort with crisps in not the ones that have been left out on the side for days and gone hard) but then I grew up in a place where patty (mashed potato fried in batter) and chips was an acceptable meal…
    I don’t eat any of them any more (well very rarely) mind you because I like to add protein to my meals!

    I think that daffodil, where it isn’t money laundering, may be helping the loose adders…it looks the shifty sort!!

    I have three cats…I am very aware of hairballs…does this mean I should save some so that I can send them to people who are unaware of them?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Unless you count Canada and Mexico, I’ve only been outside the US once, but that was to England. I took the train to visit a friend in Ipswich, and he made me a sandwich and he cut it on the diagonal. I didn’t see any snakes, but I might not have done well with it if I had.

    I once was invited to a “lasagna dinner” by friends who were what I called “economic vegetarians” – meaning they would eat a steak, if I cooked it on our grill but they served beans and rice if you visited them. The lasagna they served had layers of cheese and baked beans. I went out to Burger King and bought a Whopper with Cheese. I told them they shouldn’t have called that slop “lasagna” – now I know that I could have called you to back me up.

    Sorry for the long and windy comment, but I didn’t want to run the risk of posting another post that was inspired by yours, lest people talk.

    As for a chip buddy, I think I might like that. I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, where it’s quite common to serve fries on a burger, in a hot dog or on any sandwich. I still add fries to burgers at fast food places, and I’d happily do so, sans burger if necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One of the worst sandwiches I ever had was in England, and it was just supposed to be a turkey sandwich, not anything strange! The meat had been cut into tiny strips the way we would see at a salad bar. And the only condiment was a large quantity of butter. Bleh.

    Oh, and I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that I spotted a copy of your book at a store here in the states and bought it. The bad news was that it was a dollar store. :(

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it’s a very romantic life being a writer. You get remaindered, discounted, pulped. And so does your book. In second-hand bookstores in the US, I always look under the H’s to see if one of my books is there. If it is, I feel bad (someone didn’t want to keep it). If it isn’t, I also feel bad (so few people bought them that they’re not showing up here). And yes, I do know how absurd that is. Since none of them were published in Britain, I have an exemption on this side of the Atlantic and my relationship with second-hand bookstores is much less complicated.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve 4 cats…they’ve been more active than normal, lately, in the hairball thing…so they’ve been ramping up to National Hairball Awareness day for some time.

    The last time I made lasagna, I used rutabaga (although you may know it as Swede on that side of the pond) instead of noodles…do you have any idea what Italians with money-laundering, amok-running adders would think of that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t speak for the Italians, the money launderers, or the adders, but I think it’s right up there with substituting tofu for chicken–fine if you like tofu (and I do), but not so great if you’re expecting chicken.

      I’ve been told before what Swedes translate to but keep forgetting. Thanks for the reminder.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anytime I can be of service :D

        I avoid a lot of wheat based products…not because I’m allergic, or pretending to be allergic, but because I’ve found that keeping close watch on my carb intake keeps the rampant heartburn at bay.

        If I were a cat, I’d bet eating a lot of noodles & stuff would cause me to hork up hairballs.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That sounds like a good reason to me. And having said that, I’m going to get all philosophical on you: One of the problems with humanity, I’m convinced, is that (noodles or no noodles) we don’t consume enough hair to produce hairballs. So celebrate Hairball Awareness Day as best you can.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the translations. I thought about doing it but don’t trust myself. Even using a website that converts currencies, if you put the numbers in wrong (which I have a gift for doing), what you get out will be meaningless.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A delightful read, as per usual. Only one question: Is Hairball Awareness a day of celebration or mourning? It wasn’t very clear from the title. Autism awareness is coming up April 2nd (here in the States, anyway) and I have often wondered the same thing. I guess it depends on the day you are having and the size of the hairball/autism spectrum you are facing. And whether you ARE the person with the hairball/autism issue or not, as well, I’d imagine. Oh dear, I think I have conflated having hairballs with autism, and I didn’t mean to do that at all. Sigh. Enjoy your hairball day while I ‘celebrate’ autism awareness. Let’s just hope no cynicism shows through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, we’re getting into touchy territory here, aren’t we? I’ll just hack up a hairball–or ask Fast Eddie the cat to if (as I expect) I can’t manage it–and from there try to figure out if it’s something to celebrate or simply ponder deeply. Because I’m not sure mourning’s the only possible alternative. Maybe awareness is enough–quiet, unemotional, zen-like hairball awareness.

      Do you think there’s any traction in a title like Zen and Hairballs?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a riot this post was! Sometimes entertainment takes quite a range.
    Stubborn queues and air-line drying bills and filmed adders, not to mention my favorite bit about your peace of mind over the banks…
    I am 3rd generation Italian-American and there is no white sauce in lasagna. Tsk. It’s like when people bake those frozen circles of chicken and cheese covered in tomato sauce, they call it chicken parm on the box, and they might be tasty, but that’s not really chicken parm.
    I love sandwiches. By far, sandwiches are one of my favorite meals. Apparently Americans also eat a lot of sandwiches. I have a Canadian friend who finds the American dinner a la sandwich absolutely gauche. Gauche dinner sandwiches will always have a place in my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have no problem with sandwiches for any meal, but I draw the line at putting white sauce in lasagna. Thanks for backing up my prejudices on the subject with some actual information. Which is, of course, presented in a far superior typeface than any opposing information could be.

      When I left New York, I really missed the hero sandwiches that every Italian deli used to sell. Other places sell subs and think they’re the same, but they’re not. That’s not really related to what we’re talking about, but they came to mind as I read what you’d written. Apparently I still miss them.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The mind boggles that there are people actually researching topics like how many sandwiches are consumed, etc., and getting paid for it (I presume, as who would do it for fun?). But then, I remind myself, there are all kinds of people on this weird planet of ours. Thanks for another very entertaining post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t remember who funded the study, but it was someone selling sandwich fixings. No surprise there. If we took all that inventiveness and put it to some good use, just imagine what the human race could do.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder if I changed my Z’s to S’s, added a random handful of U’s, and kept my mouth shut I could pass myself off as British.

      Nah–probably not. I do enjoy the British sense of humo(u)r, though, so many thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Poisonous snakes? Yikes. That sounds horrendous. I used to have to deal with them in AZ and CA. I did not know sandwiches were big in Britain. I have heard of people putting crisps on them and using leftover takeaway. Always interesting, Ellen!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Your observations on money laundering touched a nerve with me. I strongly object to requests from banks who want to know everything about me under the excuse of preventing money laundering, when, as you say, they launder money in a massive scale – allegedly!
    The other excuse used by banks to obtain information is “data protection “. Some time ago I became the signatory on a bank account for an organisation. The bank account was with a bank where I had never held an account. The bank requested a large amount of personal information about me. When I asked why they needed it, the response was “to ensure our information about you is correct and to comply with data protection laws”. I pointed out that since I had never been a customer they coukd but possibly have any information about me, so it could not be incorrect. The bank clerk didn’t know what to do and called the manager. I repeated my objection to the manager, who simply accepted my point and allowed me to become a signatory with very little evidence.
    So always fight back against banks. Bankers don’t realise that without customers they won’t have a bank.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Chocolate and cheese sandwiches… well, I’ve had cheese and strawberry ice cream and it wasn’t too bad, so maybe there’s some merit to it xD I enjoyed reading this eclectic post, and the articles you mentioned are definitely really interesting! And now I know what the Britons call a GPS: funny how we use British English in Singapore and still call it a ‘GPS’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting that you use GPS. Language does change shape every chance it gets, doesn’t it?

      We were watching a Scandinavian TV series the other day, and one character asked the other if he wanted cheese in his coffee. He said yes, she pushed it over to him, and he put some in his cup and stirred it in. I don’t think that’s Norwegian–both characters were Sami, a original people of the area, so maybe it’s a Sami thing. It struck me as a whole lot stranger than a cheese and chocolate sandwich–or anything you could do with a sandwich.


  14. My head is spinning with all that news. I had to bring up the calculator to keep doing sandwich figures. That’s an average of almost 19 sandwiches a month (for someone living to be 80). I guess that’s about right if you bring your lunch to work or school most days. I only had two options in grade school–bologna and mayo or peanut butter and mayo. Mom obviously needed some British creativity when it came to packing our lunch boxes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never tried peanut butter and mayo, but peanut butter’s great with butter. I tried figuring out how many sandwiches it was per week and came up with something meaningless–that happens with me and numbers; if you put trash into the calculator, you get trash out. So I gave up.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I didn’t read the 800 comments above me, so forgive me if I make the same point. British sandwiches I found were definitely “different”. The earl of Sandwich has a lot to answer for. I think it would be cooler to be called the “Duke” of Sandwich. I read about the controversy over the 5 pound note having animal products used in it’s manufacture, and vegetarians not wanting to use it! I was wondering if it makes a good sandwich? Or can you get a good sandwich for less than a fiver?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It depends, I guess, on what you consider a good sandwich, but you’re probably better off with a pasty–a meat and potato (or potato and cheese, although that’s not traditional) pie, folded into a half moon. Cornwall and Devon are at war over who invented them. The £5 note doesn’t make a good sandwich, and I say that authoritatively without ever having tasted it. Better to put it in your pocket until you can use it to buy a pasty.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I do love sandwiches (I am from the UK after all) but I don’t like crisp sandwiches. Also, trying to open a bank account is a nightmare – it’s taken me 4 trips already and it’s still not sorted! Aargh! #blogcrush

    Liked by 1 person

      • Haha nothing exciting. It was just that I needed proof address so I went to my old bank for a bank statement, and they told me to just print one off at home (I have online banking), but the new bank wouldn’t accept that as proof. So I went back to the old bank and they stamped the statement I had printed to verify it, and the new bank still wouldn’t accept it!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Right! I’d forgotten about that. Our bank wants us to go paperless. Everyone wants us to go paperless. But no one will accept a paperless bank statement or utility bill. They’re all insane. Thanks for the reminder.

          Liked by 1 person

  17. Plastic money and plastic bread – makes me think of the saying – you cant eat money! These days there is always a political notion behind every move of the government – be it any country. I just feel so irritated with the latest developments and the launderings takng place here.
    Thanks for joining the Bloggers Pit Stop
    Launching SIM Organics This April
    *Menaka Bharathi *

    Liked by 1 person

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