Coins matter, but go for change

November 24, 2017

Goodbye and good riddance to filthy lucre and the pain of coin-hungry parking meters.

One of my favourite things is my Dad’s old horseshoe wallet where he kept his spare change and a rolled pipe cleaner or two.

I used it for years after he died, packing it with British bronze 12-sided threepenny bits and shillings until I arrived in Australia and stuffed it with dollar coins and 50¢ dustbin lids.

The leather became thin and shiny after years of opening and pocketing.

It became ingrained with the scents of two lives — tobacco, Sunday drives in the old Rover 95, tweed jackets with elbow patches, wet dogs and the sticky hands of curious babies.

The stitching fell out and I re-sewed it because it was a treasured memento of my Dad and his quirky professorial ways.

The way it made the pocket bulge on my slimline jeans annoyed me though.

It also wasn’t big enough to carry the growing deck of cards necessary for modern living.

Bank, credit, transport, library, car, security, loyalty — all these cards now require their own separate wallet.

Hence the invention of the MANbag — pronounced with a definite lower resonance on the first syllable.

But now my Dad’s horseshoe wallet lies invisible in the darkness of my sock drawer — rendered useless by the march of the cashless society.

My pockets are no longer weighed down by dollars and dustbin lids because financial transactions are all conducted in the silent, seamless and odourless world of the bankcard.

This year, there were a still few smaller shops holding out against the beeping army — insisting on either cash, a small charge for using a card, or a minimum transaction limit for using a card.

But now, even a $3.50 coffee can be paid for with the beep of a paywaved card.

The last bastion of cash appears to be the parking meter.

Interestingly, this situation shines a light of reality on the argument about free parking in Shepparton’s CBD.

The debate is off-centre — there is no such thing as free parking.

Even if there were no paid meters, we would still need time limits enforced by wardens — and who pays their wages?

I don’t mind paying $2 for a park.

Try parking in Melbourne for $5.50 an hour — that’s more than a coffee.

What I do mind is driving around the block three times to find a park outside a bank ATM, drawing out $50 in cash and finding a shop to buy a pack of chewing gum I don’t really want so I can get $2 in cash to put in the parking meter.

So my Shepparton park ends up costing as much as a Melbourne park.

If I could pay for my car park with the satisfying beep of a paywave, life would be simpler and I could give up my chewing gum addiction.

If the council puts a year’s worth of parking fees towards installing swipey digital meters, the cashless, the time-poor and the coffee-addicted can cancel their anger management programs.

But I’m not a hard-headed pragmatist with a clipboard of sensible solutions, I’m just a wallet-sniffing old scribbler with nothing better to do than dream of a simpler world.

Next week — how poetry and vegetables can prevent the collapse of western civilisation.

John Lewis is chief of staff at The News.

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