EDITOR’S PERSPECTIVE: From bartering to contactless cards and back again

THE move towards a cashless economy has been a quick one.

Even in my teens if I was planning a couple of nights out and maybe a football match or a bit of shopping, I would have to calculate how much money I would need, go into the bank and collect it and be careful with what I had — or borrow some from my parents.

An unexpected outgoing could mean the curtailment of my weekend’s plans as the bank didn’t open again until Monday morning.

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Then came the “oil in t’ wall” as my dad called the cash machine, which meant, as long as you had money in your account, you could blow your budget and withdraw some more.

My dad didn’t find his first insertion of a bank card too satisfactory.

We were in Bolton and he wanted to go into the bank to get some cash. I told him to use his card but he was nervous — with good reason.

The problem was he didn’t know his number. “Both halves add up to nine,” he offered, confidently, pleased with his memory jogging technique.

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“What, like eight and one, seven and two, six and three,” I said. I was good at maths, you see.

He went for it anyway.

First attempt — unsuccessful.

Second attempt — unsuccessful.

Third attempt — unsuccessful, card “eaten” by the machine.

“It’s eaten my card, you bloody idiot.”

“Why is it my fault?”

“You told me to use the bloody thing. I should have bloody ignored you and just gone in the bloody place. You, you... you bloody idiot.”

My dad did, eventually, grasp the rudiments of  using a cash point, but it’s strange to think it’s not that long ago when he first approached the “oil” as if there was a risk of being shot by the person crouched down within it counting out the money.

I loved the handing over of an envelope of cash at the end of the week when I worked in a warehouse — often two £50 notes and some loose change.

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That contact with what you are using — a bit like reading a physical book, playing some vinyl or even a CD, rather than downloading it onto a screen — properly stimulated the senses and gave you an appreciation of value.

The bank card, as we called it then, didn’t take that away, it just allowed you to withdraw money at any time, but paying for items with it certainly fast-tracked the removal of cash from pockets and the speed at which contactless payment has grown will surely end the days of notes featuring Churchill, Jane Austen, Adam Smith or JMW Turner (Alan Turing is on the £50, but it’s a few years since I’ve seen one of those).

It’s progress and I get it, but it’s also another way of controlling what you do, of knowing what you spend your money — will it still be called money? — on and where.

Cash kept my parents grounded and they passed that on to me (honestly!), but when you’re out in town, shopping, drinking, eating, repeatedly tapping that card, it’s not so easy to hold yourself to account.

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I’m not suggesting a return to the old system of bartering, though the way the world — or this country at least — is heading, whatever possessions you currently own may be all you have to offer in return for goods and services.

In fact, many are already at that stage — it’s called going down the pawn shop.

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