An old chap came in today to buy a pair of mono-skin compression running socks (he said they worked wonders for his corns) and asked if we still took cash.
I said that in our shop, cash would always be king, and even when he handed over a supermarket carrierbag full of five-pence pieces which took my assistant Norman over an hour to count, I still wished him a happy afternoon and warned him to mind the step.
You’ve got to look after people like that in a world in which anyone with a mobile phone can pretend to pay for something worth a million pounds and then change his name and sail off into the sunset on his super-yacht.
In our case it was a packet of knee sleeves so I suppose we got off relatively lightly, but the truth is that I could well do without all this electronic credit card stuff and so could Norman. When he had a card stolen recently he decided not to report it because the thief was spending less than his wife did. I’m proud to say I was one of the last shops in our street to accept credit cards, and I’m not all that keen on cheques either. What exactly was wrong with the world of ten shilling postal orders and a comforting wodge of half-crowns in the back pocket? Happy days, eh?
My mother-in-law feels the same way as I do (it’s the only thing we have in common) and refuses to sign her credit card on the grounds that she doesn’t want anyone to know who she is. When she forgot her PIN number she asked my wife: “What number do you think I might have chosen?”
At least debit cards, which are usually grim-looking black things, are honest enough to say what they are. If you misbehave with a debit card, you are likely to get a call from the bank manager by tea-time and he will usually pretend to be very angry.
My friend Pellworm, a fellow independent retailer, was once called to the phone from his pork-pie and chips by his bank manager and told to destroy his debit card that very instant.
His wife held the phone so that the manager could hear the scissors on Pellworm’s Swiss army knife slicing into the plastic. When he got back to the table, the dog had eaten his pie. It was not one of Pellworm’s better days.
I can trace my own credit-card anathema back to when I received my first-ever bill. It said I owed £0.00. Since I had not made any purchases, I threw the bill away. A week later the credit-card company wrote to say that if I didn’t send them £0.00 they would cancel the card and put me on a credit blacklist.
I rang the company and spoke to Shane, who said he was my credit support advisor, and who was very decent and helpful. There had obviously been a computer error and he would take care of it. I wasn’t to worry any more.
Next day I got a bill for £0.00 and a letter saying I had only ten days to settle the account or the company would take steps to recover the debt.
Deciding to enter their fantasy world, I mailed a cheque for £0.00 and received a statement thanking me for the cheque and reporting that I was now in credit. It was apparently a pleasure to do business with me.
A week later the bank called to ask why I had written a cheque for £0.00 which had brought havoc to their cheque processing software and caused the central computer in Gateshead to crash and send out a top-priority alert for terrorist hackers.
Shortly afterwards, I got a letter from the credit card company saying that my cheque had been returned by the bank and that I now owed £0.00 pounds. Unless I sent a cheque by return they would again be forced to take steps to recover the debt.
I was going to use the card to buy my wife an electric drill for her birthday but instead I cancelled it and sent a postal order as a deposit on a bargain winter-break weekend in Lyme Regis.
OK, I may be a fossil of an extinct economic species when it comes to online transaction technology, but it seems I’m not the only one.
Recently returning from a closing-down sale, with a load of left-handed hockey-sticks, Norman and I stopped for a meal at a roadside restaurant. After a good lunch we were dismayed to find that the proprietor, a retired Navy chap, would accept neither cheques nor cards on the grounds that they were operated by “robbing ******** who won’t get a penny out of me.”
But payment was no problem. “Go out of the door, steer a course of 287 degrees and you’ll find all the money you want,” he told us.
The course, followed with the aid of the Boy Scout compass on Norman’s key ring, took us straight to a building society cash point.