There’s nothing quite like the joy of cold, hard cash
Fifty-one years ago this week, the first ATM machine opened. There’s a gorgeous photo of Reg Varney, a popular actor of the time, grinning broadly as he avails himself at the Enfield branch of Barclays Bank, taking receipt of what looks like a single tenner while two Sassooned dolly birds look on admiringly.
I didn’t see an ATM until 10 years later, but as with all great historical events, I remember where I was – working at the New Musical Express, when someone burst into the office, shouting that there was a machine in the wall nearby WITH MONEY COMING OUT!
All of us writers thought we were dead cool but nevertheless we abandoned our cocaine and canoodling and rushed out to gape. I was 17 and it was the start of an epic love story.
The Automatic Teller Machine is an English invention; Adrian Ashfield came up with the idea of a card combining a sequence of numbers and user’s identity – originally intended to dispense petrol – in 1962 and gave it to his employers who paid him 10 shillings for the patent. This inspired John Shepherd-Barron of the printing firm De La Rue.
“It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK.
I hit upon the idea of a chocolate-bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.”
And thus this most flagrant of fruit-machines was born.
The ATM appeals to my basic immaturity, which is remarkable even as I approach my 60th birthday. Like many a triumphantly self-made swell, I don’t feel happy without a couple of hundred pounds in cash on me. Of course, I have plastic, but it’s too grown-up; what it is good for is feeding into the nearest ATM and making the everyday miracle of cold hard cash come out.
And for me, one of the main pleasures of money is giving it away – a crisp £20 pressed into the hand of a homeless person or a harassed waiting-person can make their day.
I would never give coins to a tramp – at my level of affluence, I’d find it disrespectful – but if I don’t have the right money on me there’s always an ATM to which my homeless homie and I can walk together, acknowledging that there but for the grace of God go I. And I find them aesthetically beautiful – money encased in concrete and metal does it for me every time.
I’m going to miss them when they’re gone, and they’re going at a rate of 300 every month, closing to make life easier for the banks who lie to us that it’s in our own interest to go digital. Besides, no other mode of transaction will ever have the reckless panache of cash, the sexiness and shamelessness – whether thrust into a thong or given in charity, cash is our truly flexible friend.
Cash is honest – when you give it, you see who gets it, on the street or in a restaurant: the unlucky poor rather than the wellheeled parasites. Getting rid of readies will, I’ll wager, give those sadsacks inclined that way even more of a chance to be stingy. But I’m going to cling to my dirty cash with all the life-affirming lustiness of Reg Varney leering at those long-ago dolly birds, until they prise it out of my hot little hands. READ MORE at telegraph.co.uk/opinion