We may have survived Dry January but I’ve still got a Christmas hangover. Not induced by overindulging in eggnog and chocolate liqueurs, but one that’s a throwback to more analogue times. In one of my cards I discovered a cheque; my seasonal gift from a benevolent old lady.
Back in the day, it was de rigueur to peer hopefully inside a birthday or Christmas envelope for a postal order, book token or – best of all – a crinkly note. Nowadays such generosity is usually manifested by the less tangible digital voucher for an online store.
So I have this cheque and I don’t know what to do with it. I’d pay it into my account, but that is entirely administered online; the Island’s remaining branch closed a while ago.
Usually I have no need of a physical bank. I have fully embraced the pat-and-pay ease of contactless payments, particularly since the arrival of coronavirus. Even the meagrest of transactions which would have previously meant a rummage for loose change among the linty recesses of my purse are now made with a waft of plastic. No need to jab at a till’s number pad that might have been pawed by The Infected.
But, as with any technological step-change, there will be casualties.
In the early 1990s I had a job at Ryde Unemployment Benefit Office, mostly dispensing fortnightly Giros to laid-off seasonal hospitality workers. Then, practically overnight, the payment method changed and all benefits had to be transferred directly into a claimant’s bank account. This was, ostensibly, to combat fraud and make it ‘easier’ for people to receive their money. No more queuing at the post office counter to receive a fistful of dole.
But, understandably, it didn’t suit everyone. Some people didn’t even have a bank account. If those who did were overdrawn, the dough simply disappeared into their deficit abyss. At least with cash in hand, there is a degree of financial autonomy.
I thought back then, and I still wonder today, if the dizzying rush towards a totally cashless future disenfranchises parts of society? Many people, particularly women doing casual domestic work, rely on cash payments. Not only under the radar of the authorities, but also unauditable by coercively-controlling partners. I had a friend who kept a squirrel pot; money secreted from her husband for a rainy day. Over the years she had saved enough to buy a pretty huge umbrella.
A more entrancing reason not to give up hard currency is what it can tell future archaeologists about our civilisation. We already live so many aspects of our lives in pixels. Photos uploaded rather than printed; letters emailed, not written on paper. If money, too, becomes virtual will we leave no trace at all?
So anyway, back to my Christmas cheque. Once I eventually deposit it into my account, the money will go towards my own deficit abyss – a Ultra Low Emissions Zone penalty charge acquired while visiting a ‘Carry On‘ star in London. But that’s another story.