Andrew Martin: Give me an Edwardian teller over a hole-in-the-wall any day

Share
Related Topics

John Shepherd-Barron, the man credited with inventing the hole-in-the-wall cash dispenser, died last week. In 1967, he sold the idea to a Barclays executive over a pink gin. The first cashpoint machine was then installed in Enfield, and its first user was Reg Varney from On The Buses, a fact presented with no further explanation in most obituaries of Mr Shepherd-Barron. Was Reg Varney by any chance a keen early adopter who happened to have about him the world's first cashpoint card when he suddenly saw the world's first cashpoint machine? No. It was all a publicity stunt, and those early machines required the insertion of not a card but a cheque impregnated with a mildly radioactive substance. Mr Shepherd-Barron, who went on to become a snail farmer, calculated that he would have had to eat 135,000 of these cheques before they did him any harm.

I'm sure that Mr Shepherd-Barron was a charming and brilliant man (although he somehow managed not to make any money from his invention), but he didn't do me any favours.

I acquired my first bank account in the early Eighties when the cashpoint machines were beginning their rapid proliferation. (There is today one at McMurdo Station in Antarctica). That first account, with Lloyds, lasted three months. After about six weeks, my bank manger warned me off the cashpoint machines; he then confiscated my card and tore it in half. So I took my overdraft to Barclays, whose machines I use on a daily basis, despite my bookkeeper telling me to "take out a fixed sum at the start of the week, and try to live on that".

I never know how much money I have in the bank. The only question is whether the cashpoint will give me any cash. I approach the machine in a craven, prayerful state, and when the money comes out I'm ecstatic – although I have never said to the machine "Oh, thanks very much!" as an impecunious friend of mine did when – while standing at the head of a long queue – he over-optimistically (as he felt) keyed in a request for £150.

Sometimes the people ahead of me in the queue will check their balances before deciding on a withdrawal. I always try to peer over their shoulders to see how much money they've got, and I once observed, in the case of an ordinary-looking middle-aged man, a balance of ninety-something thousand pounds. He then havered for a long time before withdrawing £30. I did wonder whether the fact of that man having £90,000 was related to the fact that he checked his balance before withdrawing his money.

But surely the use of a cashpoint machine to check one's balance is an improper use, like buying whisky to treat a cut. The machine is there to give you excitement, not to serve a regulatory function. My problem is that I subconsciously think of a cashpoint machine as being like a fruit machine that (almost) always pays out.

It is said that our progression towards being a cashless society is dangerous in that electronic money will encourage reckless spending. But the moral virtues of old-fashioned cash are undermined if the stuff is instantly available at any time. With all due respect to the late Mr Shepherd-Barron, my interests would be best served by a reversion to Edwardian conditions: my money available solely from a rectitudinous bank with very limited opening hours, a five-mile walk away. My withdrawals would be slowly counted out to me by a fundamentalist Christian in starched collar and pince-nez – and if I took out more than £20 his eyes would follow me all the way to the door.

Andrew Martin is the author of 'The Last Train to Scarborough' (Faber)

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk