I recently embarked on a simple mission: crack the £10 note in my purse to get a five to put in the church collection plate on Sunday. My first attempt failed. The cafe, where my order was delivered with a roll of metropolitan disdain, no longer accepted cash. I sat at one of their tables on the sidewalk, drinking the one macchiato I neither wanted nor needed, and thought about what I would do next.
I am aware that cash is now considered a dirty anachronism. All those hands through which he passes! yuck! Of the two churches I attend, one has anticipated this trend and installed payment terminals in the nave: tap and give. I can offer no rational objection to this. I just don’t like it. It doesn’t seem to give, just like in stores, tapping doesn’t seem like an actual expense.
My other church still clings to the parishioner method with a fundraising basket and I suspect it still will. I love it, especially the drama of it. The frantic groping week after week for a wallet, as if the offertory had been launched as a bad surprise. My personal difficulty is that I really can’t afford to give them ten ten every week. I don’t want to say “I gave last time”, and I wouldn’t have the nerve to ask them to give me change.
Giving to the church is of course the least you can do. There are many occasions when parting with a few pieces seems like the right thing to do.
I don’t like adding a restaurant tip electronically, for example.
I have written before about the disappearance of hard currency pocket money. My grandkids all have bank accounts, and they’re vaguely aware that a birthday check is more than a pretty piece of paper. Money is something they rarely see. Indeed, now that they have cell phones, they’ll probably get one of those apps, like GoHenry, so that granny’s dosh can be transferred to them silently. Simple, fast and quite stripped of moment.
The time was when I would have shoved them each a five, but the ATMs don’t dispense anything less than a ten, so now what? Ask bewildered preteen siblings to split ten? Like what? With scissors?
It is now well established that the Covid virus does not linger on coins and banknotes, but the prejudice against cash has not gone away. When they started providing Big problem vendors equipped with credit card readers and QR codes, you knew the cash game was almost over.
And it’s really very hard cheese for those who don’t have a bank account or a card reader.
The latest figure for people without a bank in the UK is around 1.2 million. They have their reasons. There are those who prefer to keep their money where they can see it. My late grandmother kept hers in her panty drawer, guarded by mousetraps. Some people are afraid of banks, or do not have the means, intellectual or material, to open an account. It is difficult to integrate the banking system if you do not have a fixed address or regular income. If you live in a sleeping bag on the streets of Luton or Nottingham or, yes, Westminster, how does personal banking work?
My quest for a small cash transaction continued. The supermarket wanted cards, cards, cards. Then I came across one of those Mom and Pop stores that sells a bit of everything. They were surprised by my question. Yes, they accepted cash and did so in exchange for their cheapest sheet of wrapping paper. I was cashed out, with a five for the collection plate and a few coins for my pocket.
Making my way from one side of the Thames to the other, I passed a number of homeless people. Many had been brought hot drinks and sandwiches by early passers-by. I was glad to have a few pounds to shell out. Guilt money? Sure. Money that would probably be spent on drugs? That too – though I’m not sure what pharmaceutical comfort my pitiful offering would bring you down the street.
Accepting money from a stranger can be a humiliating and uncomfortable thing to do. Would card readers for all sanitize the transaction and mitigate it? You don’t even have to look each other in the eye. Or would it just be another way to distance ourselves from the power of beautiful money? For me, the jury is still out, and as a relic of a generation for whom cash was king, I stock up on fives and coins. As soon as I find a bank with a real cashier who breathes.