There’s noth­ing quite like the joy of cold, hard cash

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment - JULIE BURCHILL

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

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