Bandicoot, ever at the pointy edge of technology, this morning paid the council rates for the family condo via his electronic tablet while sipping a cuppa in bed, lovingly brought by the Cheese & Kisses early today. No more queueing for him!
As he pressed the final keystroke – feeling a combination of superiority and relief at paying before the deadline (15 February) – he mused on how kind it is of banks, governments, department stores, Nigerian conpersons and asst. local and international spivs to make spending money so absurdly simple, even from the comfort of the boudoir. It’s click “send” or tap a card nowadays.
Bandicoot generally prefers to deal in your actual money, but the cost of paying rates on a Mornington Peninsula dwelling these days, rate cap notwithstanding, runs to half a wheelbarrow of the folding stuff. He defers to the C&K, using his card for transactions of this magnitude.
He is ancient enough to remember when boy scouts raised money with “bob-a-job” campaigns: we would wash your car for a bob, or mow your lawn, or weed a negotiated garden area, for the equivalent of 10 cents, back when government child endowment of a few more shillings would buy the week’s groceries. A bob was a lot of money, but the scouts collected one’s earnings.
And he can recall finding the odd farthing – a quarter of a cent – in change or lost on a footpath in an era when four-a-penny lollies such as Ripe Raspberries or licorice blocks were popular among youth. In desperate times a farthing could be a life-saver.
One- and two-cent coins disappeared long ago and now the five-cent coin is under some pressure, such is the relentless surge of inflation. Society will doubtless be persuaded before long to move straight from coins and notes directly to an all-card economy, for our benefit, we will be told, and to the tragic detriment of street dwellers, charity tin rattlers and the like who rely on cash.
It is but a step from there to requiring all bill payments be made online. We are already far from the days when five-pound notes were the size of handkerchiefs and a Hungarian street sweeper was pictured (there he is!) disposing of valueless 100 million billion – yes, million billion – pengo notes down a Budapest sewer.
(Hungary replaced the pengo with the forint. One of these was exchangeable for 4000 octillion pengoes: that’s 4 x 10^29, a figure beyond both Bandicoot’s mathematical competence and his imagination. He hopes his rates bill is never this large.)
Bandicoot once read, in a compendium of schoolboy answers taken from exam papers, a wonderfully imaginative explanation of why the world stopped using the gold standard. Back then paper money was a sort of promissory note, that could be redeemed for its value in gold.
The schoolboy was ignorant but inventive: he said the gold standard was abandoned because the weight of gold in gentlemen’s pockets was threatening to pull their trousers down. Bandicoot recalls the weight of pennies, ha’pennies and the odd groat similarly threatened embarrassment. Now it’s 20-cent coins.
* Farthings were never minted in Australia and British farthings were not accepted as legal tender here after WWII, although a kindly local shopkeeper, Mr Columbine, known to Bandicoot as “Mr Collarbone”, honoured farthings presented by at least one small boy. The farthing pictured is the George VI Wren. They were about the size of a five-cent piece.