14 February, 2012

Well Fit

A few years ago the at-the-time new Home Secretary made headlines by declaring that his ministry, the Home Office, was “Unfit for purpose”, which everyone, judging by the press response, considered just about the most appalling thing which could have been said.
I differ. If something is not fit for its purpose, you know where you stand with it. You probably know what to do ~ or at least where to start ~ to correct the problems, even if the solution is as radical as scrapping everything and starting afresh. Worse in my opinion, at least for now, is that which is only just fit for purpose; that which works, but very nearly doesn’t, or only some of the time. This is worse because, in view of the fact that it is workable, there isn’t enough of a demand to change it, to improve it, yet every time it fails the frustration level mounts. I am, of course, driven to this view by a particular, so i’ll move to that from this general.
Every day at work i, obviously, deal with quite a bit of change, counting it, storing it, and delivering to my cashiers. The issue arises with the way that, in this country, that change is stored, which is barely fit for purpose. There are two, closely linked, methods of storing change; the first is that provided by the Mint when it issues coins, they come in small, sealed plastic bags with a fixed value for each different coin; the second is similar in that banks provide small bags, more like tiny sandwich bags than anything else, in which they will accept coin for deposit or sell it as change. Both these methods are poorly conceived.
The first, what one might call the official bags, are so poorly made that frequently they break, spilling coins, potentially losing them, certainly causing frustration. Curiously, the bags which break the most often, in mine experience, are those containing 2p pieces. I have no idea if 2ps tend to have slightly rougher edges, or if a pound’s worth (the value of a bag of coppers) is slightly heavier than the bags should be asked to hold, or if there is some other reason altogether. The point is, i have spent, wasted, more time than i care to think about picking up spilt coins, recounting to make sure i have them all, hunting for those which have rolled away, more than i ought to have to.
Sandwich bags are great for sandwiches: They fit each other: The sandwich stays fresh for a few hours, it doesn’t get shaken around within the bag and so lose its filling, and the top folds over to hold the sandwich inside. Think of a bag two inches by two inches, of exactly the same design, and consider if that would be your first choice for storing heavy coins in. Yet that is precisely what the second, the unofficial or do-it-yourself bags are. And, as you might well expect, they are completely useless, unfit for the purpose. And i find myself getting angry, not just frustrated, but positively angry with whoever was stupid enough to imagine that a bag with an open top is well designed for this task.
The reason i get more than frustrated, but really almost-to-the-point-of-strong-language angry is that there is a perfectly good design for this job. And i have used it, for years, with no complaints, no frustration, no anger. In North America, both in Canada, where i first came across them, and in the USA, where i worked with them for nearly two decades, coins come from the mint in paper-wrapped rolls; these are machine wrapped, very tight, so with no play to them, and no possibility of losing any coins until the roll is broken, which generally only happens as the middle of the roll is hit on an edge, of a table, for example. At that point, the coins are released, generally a few into your hand, the rest still in the roll but easily accessible for whatever container you are putting them into.
The second situation, filled in this country by open-top plastic bags, are also rolls; it is possible to get from the bank, or to buy from a stationers or department store, empty coin rolls. I remember struggling as a little fellow, having saved hundreds if not thousands of pennies, on the landing of our house trying to roll them into these self-forming paper tubes. Difficult, but doable, and i was rewarded with real cash when i was done, so it was worth it. Today, the ones you can get are even easier, preformed tubes, so all you have to do it drop the correct number of coins into them and seal them.
I used these on a daily basis, counting them, storing them, making and opening them, bringing them from the bank to the shop, for over a decade and a half; is it any wonder that i am thoroughly annoyed and frustrated with the attitude in this country that, “This is good enough, it just about works”; i have experienced better, and these sandwich bags are just barely fit for purpose.


Catie Eliza said...

My friend Lindsay who works as manager in the machynlleth spar said the exact same thing! He used to work in America and said the paper wrapped rolls are just so much better!!! :] xx

Stephanie Rae Pazicni said...

In 21st Century America they now have big machines that you can drop piles of coins into (and you can carry them to the machine in any way you like - bucket, bag, mostly-empty coffee can) and the machine counts them all and issues you a slip of paper redeemable for cash. This does not mean anything when you're counting change into a register, my point is simply that those paper rolls you remember fondly are very hard to come by now. In fact, if you roll coins in them now, the bank makes you unroll them for The Machine.

Elsie Wilson said...

Ha, Steph, interesting. I saw one of those machines in Austria, in a bank; they were talking about getting them in Wal-Marts & other stores, too, years ago. The benefit (to the store) or lack of (to the customer) is that there is a small charge (3.5% or so) for each dump of coins.