Donald MacInnes: Plastic is the real thing and cash is prehistoric

In The Red

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The Independent Online

There has been a lot of talk about whether 1p and 2p coins should be done away with. In logistical terms, of course, we would be left with a lot of spare coppers. But I have a suggestion: melt them down and remould them into a touching recreation of the bus-sized lump of food fat and used tissues recently removed from a sewer in Kingston upon Thames. The metal behemoth could then be taken on a tour of the country to highlight the need for a less fatty diet.

Personally, I rarely hang on to my coppers, but then again I hardly ever use cash. I even found myself in Marks & Sponglers the other day paying for two bananas (29p) with my debit card. I can't think this is what Frenchman Roland Moreno had in mind when he invented the smart card in 1974. Or maybe it was. Perhaps my seemingly profligate act is nothing less than the ultimate expression of the triumph of plastic over metal.

It's amazing how things have developed this far. These days, if I do happen to use cash, when the shopkeeper states the price of my purchases, I automatically reach for the card pocket in my wallet. I have to force myself to stop and fumble in my jeans for that fiver.

It actually now feels a little neanderthal – not very digital – to hand over a piece of crumpled paper in exchange for a pint of milk.

Oddly, the situation is not pan-European. On a recent trip to Germany, we were often caught out at shops when the vendor wouldn't accept Visa debit cards. One morning I went to the local supermarket for some breakfast stuff. It was very busy and they had one lady on the tills. I had queued for about 15 minutes when I got to the front.

She scanned everything and I held out my debit card. She snorted her derision, then spoke to those behind me in the queue. My German wasn't up to translating, but she was basically inviting her fellow locals to have a laugh at the dummkopf Britischer mit der silly-billy debit kart. Mortified (and being somewhat cranky in the morning), I called her a bad word and stormed out. No, I'm not proud of myself, but if Monsieur Moreno was kind enough to facilitate a fantastic, plastic future for us all, we can at least stand up to the unbelievers.

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