Cash still wears the crown in this realm

If you were a fan of comedy team Monty Python in the 1970s, you will recall, as I do, the Four Yorkshiremen skit, a sidesplitting game of friendly one-upmanship played out at a posh holiday resort by four obviously well-to-do gents from Yorkshire. 

The scene opens with them sipping fine French wine and, with comic absurdity, comparing notes on their dreadful childhoods.  All the while, an Hawaiian guitar thrums in the background.

“We used to live in this tiny old house with great big holes in roof”, says the first.

 “House!” exclaims the next.   “You were lucky to live in house! We used to live in one room, all twenty-six of us…”

“Eh, you were lucky to have a room,” fires back the third.  “We used to live in corridor!”

Miserable claim and counterclaim are exchanged until the unbeatable is uttered: “There were 150 of us living in shoebox in middle o’ road”.

And so it was that last week I unwittingly initiated an equally friendly game of one-upmanship over lunch with my brother and two cousins. 

Fresh from a peculiar experience at the fruit shop that very morning, which I will describe shortly, I was reflecting on the evils of the cashless society. 

Stepping on to a soapbox can be a perilous exercise.  For someone with chronic vertigo and occasional bouts of foot-in-mouth disease, it can be risky indeed, but I nevertheless began my sermon. 

Call me an old fogey if you will, I said, but for my money, cash is king. 

So far, so good.

I like to pay cash or use my debit card for everything, I continued, and only use credit if it can’t be avoided.

And I always pay my credit card balance in full by the due date, I added sanctimoniously.

Credit card providers hate people like me, I offered, because I have control over my finances.

Warming to my theme, I continued, uninterrupted. 

Spending money’s a bit like eating, I proposed knowingly.  If you do it slowly, it’s more satisfying and you’re less likely to overindulge, I said, which is why I never ever use payWave. 

I must have sounded dreadfully smug, but I blathered on unabated.

This nonsense about “Just wave your card, and you’re on your way!”  Well, that’s too cavalier by far for me, I opined. 

I prefer to count out the cash, I explained, or at least insert my debit card into a machine, check the screen and enter my PIN. 

All very deliberate, I said, nodding wisely to my companions.

To this point, they had indulged me benignly, but when I went off on a tangent to complain that my first weekly pay cheque in 1974 was a paltry $23.65, there was no holding them back. 

“Gee, you were lucky!” countered my brother, who said his first full-time wage was only seven pounds five shillings and sixpence, from which he had to pay board to our parents (“unlike you, Kate!”) and running costs for his old Austin A40, leaving him with a pittance to spare.

Not to be outshone, my cousin harked back to the late 1950’s and his time as a rouseabout in a shearing shed.  Wages were five pounds a week, he said, plus “keep” and a tobacco allowance. 

A tobacco allowance?  Surely not! 

But apparently it was common in those days for wages for rural workers to include “smokes”, a choice of roll-your-own tobacco or tailor-mades. 

My cousin, who took up smoking to extract maximum benefit from his labour, opted for Benson & Hedges.  A lover of all things fine even then, he was attracted to the aspirational theme of the advertising tagline “When only the best will do ... and isn’t that all the time?” 

Readers of a certain vintage will remember that the urbane Stuart Wagstaff featured in many Benson & Hedges ads in an era when cigarette advertising dominated our TV screens.

Well, I was flabbergasted and incapable of rejoinder. Kicking aside the soap box, I promptly proposed a toast to the good old days. Chink, chink.

So that was lunch with my brother and cousins but let me tell you what happened beforehand at the fruit shop. 

All I wanted was four fresh figs to have with lunch.  Having chosen the fruit, I headed to the cash register, purse in hand.  The damage was $4.95 so I decided to pay with spare change.  After all, too many coins can ruin a good purse and mine was feeling particularly heavy that day.

I was counting out the coins but must have been taking too long – perhaps 5 seconds or maybe even 10 – when the young person behind me sighed and said, “It would be so much easier if you just used payWave”.  

A million and one responses flashed through my mind, but I settled on one. Thanks so much for your concern, I beamed, but for me cash is king.