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Banking on a day off

Today is a day of celebration in the Stevenson household. For two reasons.

By far the more important relates to our younger cat, Madelaine. The other is that it is a Bank Holiday [late amendment .. apparently it's next week but what do I know .. see below], which as I will narrate later is not at all what people think it is.

In a household of two adults, now in our 51st year of marriage, many of the conversations are between "hooman" and cat. And for the last 36 hours, Madelaine had absented herself from such conversations. Indeed from the household. She went AWOL at about 1400 hours on Wednesday and returned at 0550 this Friday morning. Sporting a new decoration, some white paint on her tail. And carrying a substantial appetite. She has clearly been part of a lock-in. Naughty!

She is a feisty wee character, weighing some 3 kilos. A particularly memorable occasion saw her standing on our back step with every hair on her body at full alert, making her profile much more substantial than usual. And one metre away a large dog fox contemplated the paw, equipped with a dangerous set of unsheathed claws, which was being waved at his nose. Cat 1 : Fox nil.

She has also brought home on two occasions weasels that she has caught and dispatched. That is no mean feat. Weasels sprint and must be difficult for even an athletic cat to catch. It must have been a pounce. I doubt she would win the sprint.

But more to the point is the nature of the weasel. On a number of occasions, we have seen rabbits moving across the back garden in an unusual way. Closer scrutiny revealed that they were being dragged by a weasel. Something about a quarter their size: in a contest between a cat and a weasel, I would not want to predict the winner.

Madelaine came to us aged about two. We had a vacancy because Malcolm had wandered off and not returned. He, in turn, had lost a brother, Duncan, when the latter disappeared. We are all too aware of the hazards of the countryside for any free-roaming animal.

Cats are both predators and potential prey. Foxes, badgers, and possibly even buzzards might contemplate attacking them.

Herself came to us five years ago as a complete "townie". As a Burmese pedigree cat, her breeder had intended that she be the mother of many kittens. And she lived in a big wire cage, a "run". But a gynaecological problem meant that was not to be.

Arrival in Banffshire and introduction to our resident male cat revealed her to be quite a nervous individual.

Over about three months she lived indoors and became imprinted with her new home. And its other inhabitants. She had never been outside in her life. The day came for a supervised visit to the garden.

A properly tentative standing in the doorway, sniffing the air, preceded a confident stroll across the grass. And then into the animal shelter in our park. And within ten minutes the delivery of a rodent to our doorstep. The hunting instinct was clearly inherent in her genes. A natural indoor and outdoor cat in one package.

Her return this morning sets up our day. The online drink I shall be having with former colleagues from the Bank of Scotland this evening will be both larger and more celebratory than I had imagined when I rose from my slumbers this morning.

For many, today is another cause for celebration. It's a bank holiday.

In my professional career before elected office, bank holidays meant little to me because, even though I worked for a bank, they were not days off for me. The computers with which I was engaged with, in a number of roles over the years, never shut down. Not even for bank holidays. We "techies" were still on duty.

And in any event, the legislation covering bank holidays, the first in 1871, now the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, entirely contrary to popular belief and practice, does not create any entitlement to a day off work - except for bank workers.

Indeed the main laws around bank holidays were not introduced to provide holidays for bankers, or anyone else, but to create holidays from bankers. How so?

A bank holiday is actually a day on which no interest may be charged and on which debts may not fall due. The holidays associated with bank holidays are simply custom and practice.

It's rather like the parallel banking mysteries around money.

Most of us will have seen a Bank of England banknote that has crossed the border into Scotland. This its status is diminished. It is no longer legal tender. That only applies elsewhere in the UK. Or, as we shall see, is it that simple?

There is an attachment to having the monarch's portrait on their notes, fine lady, fine lady, but she is the first and only such head of state to have appeared on banknotes in general circulation. Only actually happened because the Bank of England was nationalised in the late 1940s. Yes, for the first 250 or so years of its life, the central bank was privately owned, not part of the state apparatus.

And this business of the legal tender status of banknotes? Nothing on any banknote in the UK states that it is "legal tender". That's proper because they are not - even in England.

Because in strict legal terms the description applies to the transaction, not the representation of money that is used to effect it. And you make a "legal tender" when you tender the exact amount necessary to settle whatever the debt might be. If change has to be returned, then the transaction is not "legal tender".

There are further rules covering the proferring of money as a "legal tender". They prescribe limits on the number of certain coins and describe which banknotes may be part of the transaction.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland all Bank of England notes up to £50 may be proferred. In Scotland, only the Bank of England £1 note may be proferred, although other legislation has demonetised that note, so such a provision is ineffective.

Thus in Scotland, the only transactions which are "legal tender" are ones which do not involve any banknotes, even Bank of England ones. They may only involve coins up to a quite small figure.

But here's the rub. What is a rub? The word seems to have come from Shakespeare's `Hamlet', act 3, scene 1. One of the many words he introduced to the English language?

Anyway, the point is, that any transaction which is not a "legal tender" may be declined by the creditor. So, alas, it is perfectly legal for a business in England to decline to accept a Scottish banknote. But it is also legal to decline one involving a Bank of England note here. And in most transactions, also in England. And the system works?!

Enjoy your bank holiday off.

If your employer has decided to grant you one.

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