In Defence of Humble Cash

In today’s world, we have reached a point whereby it is possible to live almost entirely without using cash, such has been the advancement of digital payments. What shocks me is how quickly this has become the case, without me having really noticed any change.

Reading an article by David Mitchell (You can’t spend a penny without being snooped on, The Guardian, 9 April), reminded me of something I had long known, but chosen to bury in my mind for the sake of convenience (and sanity): cash will soon be completely obsolete, or even non-existent.

Full disclosure: I do indeed have a debit card, and I use it for the vast majority of payments I make. The accountant in me also appreciates that performing bank reconciliations today is massively more simple than a decade or two ago. But I do also always carry cash on me, and would not feel comfortable were that not the case.

There is no doubt that a cashless economy would benefit the Bank of England, as the setters of monetary policy in the UK. Since the downturn of 2008, interest rates have been falling in a vain attempt to turn savers into consumers, and thereby boost the economy. With the base rate now practically at zero, there is little leverage left: should the Bank set a negative base rate (essentially charging people for having savings), we would see a stampede of savers withdrawing their funds, and most likely a crisis that would make the Northern Rock fiasco pale into insignificance – this of course being an issue itself caused by banks holding such a small proportion of their funds in tangible cash. Were the option of converting savings into tangible cash no longer available, the Bank could do whatever it willed with monetary policy, and savers would have the unenviable choice of consuming or losing value on their funds. HMRC would also appreciate, I am sure, the elimination of the “cash in hand” payment option for certain tradesmen…

That is not, however, my biggest concern about a cashless economy – perhaps due to the paltry trainee salary I receive or the years of receiving 0.1% on what savings I do have.

A much larger alarm is ringing regarding the security of such a system. I remember a minor scandal when I was at university regarding a local takeaway defrauding students who had used their cards there (https://theboar.org/2013/03/leamington-takeaway-investigated-fraud/), and have been in the situation on more than one occasion where I haven’t felt comfortable using my card in a certain shop. Fortunately, in such situations, I have had the option of paying in cash.

It might be easy to think in that situation, “well, you shouldn’t be going into such shops if you don’t feel safe using your card there”. This is to deny the occasional necessity of these trips, and also to deny custom to shops that are usually entirely legitimate, but just give off a certain vibe. And if that makes me seem paranoid, then so be it. I’d rather be paranoid than defrauded.

At this point I would include points about Big Data and how digital payments make it easy for The Man to surveil and pigeonhole the nation, but I don’t have the will to enter into a debate on the concept of a Surveillance State or the specious cliché “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. So we shall move on.

A final thought, one that struck me as I was walking through town the other day, was how the homeless would fit into this particular equation. Granted, nice utopian thinking would render this part moot insofar as we would solve the homeless problem separately. Until that day comes, however, I feel it bears consideration. The situation here is thus: during the day, the town’s homeless population, as well as street musicians and other performers, ask for a portion of your spare change in order to help them get by. If we got rid of coinage, how exactly would the concerned citizen be able to offer some minor financial support to these people? Would each be equipped with a card reader? If so, see above concerns about security.

To finish, a more light-hearted consideration: without cash, would we have had the wonderful picture of Mario Balotelli dressed up as a Santa Claus giving out heaps of money to random people in Manchester City Centre? I don’t think so…

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Cashless life is already a possibility…

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Diary of a Madman

Walking into town this afternoon, I was once again struck by the thought of the ‘superlative’ nature of society today. I say that in inverted commas because I don’t mean that society is great, not one bit. I mean how everything today must be described in grossly exaggerated terms.

I had always thought that I had managed to avoid this by being the most cynical bastard in the entire universe, as if by dispassionately reacting to everything in the world I could somehow counteract a culture epitomised by every article ever shared on Facebook, especially if the source is Buzzfeed. I hate Buzzfeed.

However, on my walk, I was thinking about what I would write when I resumed the clichéd role of blogger sat in café, and how I was going to write of all the potential I had wasted, and how I should have made something of my life, and how I was a massive disappointment, when it hit me that I am an idiot. An idiot with decades ahead of him still to achieve something great.

My problem is that I, like everything I despise, see the world in black-and-white. Not literally, obviously, but in a success/failure, win/lose, love/hate, no-middle-ground kind of way. Which means that being in my current position of being 23 years old, without already having a career for life planned, being settled down somewhere and saving to buy a house, is a gigantic failure.

It’s a strange world inside my head. I spend much of my time in a delusional world 10 years down the line, where everything is great and I am awesome. The rest of the time I behave like I am still a grumpy, middle-aged man, but without the privileges thereof. If I could trade 10 years of my life to live in that world, I would do so in a heartbeat. Sod reality, sod youth, I just want to pass a way the rest of my life in front of a log fire listening to old records, and never deal with humanity again.

Of course, I will never work hard enough to make this delusion a reality. Partly because if it ever became real, it would lose its attraction, but more importantly because I’m too lazy to do anything worthwhile. But for now, I will at least try to see the smaller picture once in a while: I need to shake the idea that the first real job I get will be the final solution, my job for life. Such an attitude is probably not helping matters…

 

(p.s. what if my delusions aren’t delusions, but just glimpses of parallel universes? I don’t like the multiverse theory, personally, because it implies that somewhere, there’s a version of me who is a naive optimist. We can’t allow that)

New Year, Same Twelve Months.

Normally, around this time of year, I would write one or two rants about how much I hate the Christmas/New Year period: how I despise the way that Christmas (in its contemporary definition, at least) makes people behave, and spend beyond their means; then, come January, a post underlining the futility of New Year’s resolutions. This season, however, I just can’t be bothered.

 

Having actual experience of how insane people become in the weeks preceding Christmas, (from a retail point of view, that is), witnessing how people become more and more crazy, and more and more rude, as the 25th approaches, I can only despair. Not even angry, just desperately disappointed with humanity. One customer had their Christmas ‘ruined’ because her son had received the delivery, instead of her. Because the son could guess he maybe may have been getting an item of Superdry clothing for Christmas. RUINED. What has the world come to?

 

 

Personally, I had a great Christmas Day. The roads were empty, I didn’t have to suffer a large family reunion, and I got to eat pizza. And then went to watch a game of rugby on Boxing Day, while people were relapsing into crazy fever, because things we don’t need, or particularly want, are now a slightly smaller waste of money. Thank God you didn’t just bankrupt yourself buying stuff for other people that they didn’t really want. Oh wait, that’s exactly what everyone just did.

 

I would love to see the world impose a ‘secret Santa’-esque price limit when it came to giving presents in 2016 (or maybe ban them altogether). Maybe then we could have a little bit more focus on the traditional sense of Christmas: seeing people that you haven’t seen in months, being locked in a room with them all day, remembering exactly why you hadn’t seen them in months, and then drinking until you can tolerate their presence.

 

Incidentally, it is undoubtedly the excessive nature of Christmas (drinking, eating, spending) that fuels the naive optimism of the New Year’s resolution. What better time to swear off alcohol, than with a raging hangover?

 

Thinking about these things, as I am wont to do, it struck me that I shouldn’t actually object to people attempting to improve themselves (because, let’s face it, we could all be a lot better at Life). My main objection is waiting until January 1 to start doing so. If you’re not satisfied with something, change it. NOW.

 

The real question, though, is why anything anybody does should bother me. I have some goals for 2016, which I will achieve. What other people choose to do with themselves is their problem. Until they drag me into it, with their annoying conversations and social media posts.

 

So here’s my advice for 2016: Please, leave me alone.

 

R is for Rejection

A degree is not an end in itself. It is supposedly a means of being more desirable to employers, a guarantor of a better, higher-paid job, of not having to waste weeks, months, slaving away on applications. Get a good degree, from a good university, and the world is your oyster.

So when, in practice, employers pay no attention to the degree that you bring, that you proudly place front and centre of your CV, it is hard not to feel like the 3 years spent working hard to earn it have been ever so slightly wasted. And then there’s the fabled Year Abroad, so desired by employers, giving you the chance to gain such valuable life skills, which is supposed to make prospective employers salivate. They don’t care. No one bloody cares.

I’ve lost count of the number of applications from which I have been rejected since my job hunt started, toward the end of my final year of university. Actually, that’s a lie. I wasn’t counting to begin with. Why bother counting, when employers LOVE Warwick graduates, just like Oxbridge graduates receive an employment contract with their degree.

Of all the applications and interviews I have had, only one has even remarked on my degree and alma mater; in that occasion it was to say that I seemed ‘too intellectual’ for the job and ‘would probably get bored’. As though my degree has only qualified me for a job as a philosopher.

I’m just glad I didn’t pay £9000 a year for the privilege of having the fruit of my labours comprehensively ignored. That said, in 10 years time, when the majority of the population are priced out of a university education, there’ll be some value in having a lame little B.A. after my name.

I guess all I can do for now is to pretend that I haven’t spent 2.89% of my life being rejected by employers, and keep applying to posts until exasperation leads me to crime or self-employment. Who knows, someone might actually realise how awesome I am.

Nombrilisme: Le Movie

Our Hero sits alone in a cold, cramped room, lit solely by the muted glare of his laptop screen. Silence reigns, save for the infuriatingly consistent ticking of the clock perched on the wall, a featureless white plate whose unremarkable nature is matched only by the dull black numbers. A reminder of the incessant advancement of time, waiting for no thing and no man. It’s almost one o’clock. Bed time has long gone.

Such stillness provides an ideal platform for some late-night navel gazing, an activity ever more frequently undertaken by our Hero, seeking a shadow of a glimmer of a dream hidden away somewhere in the past. Tonight’s trigger: a blog post written several months ago.

“Where did it all go so wrong? Just a matter of months and I have completely forgotten the state of optimistic anticipation towards what the future would hold in store for me. Now I spend my time looking backwards, trying to find some direction in something I abandoned long ago.

“I wanted to move abroad, to live and work in a country that was more exotic, exciting, more interesting than the UK. Did I really give up that dream so easily? Just because it could conceivably take more effort for less financial reward than jobs here could offer me? Am I really that lazy?”

He sat and pondered that last question for a few moments. Sloth: one of the deadly sins, or so we are told. If it’s worth having, it’s worth fighting for. Those words of wisdom have never felt so far from reality; upon reflection, laziness had been the only constant during the tumult of the past three or four years. Wherever there had been an easy route to the goal, you can be sure it had been taken. Living by a motto of ‘work smart, not hard’. Is it any wonder he is still sitting here, unemployed and thoroughly underwhelmed by the experience that is ‘life’, waiting for divine intervention to throw some money or a job right into his lap?

*New Blog Post*

Another night spent contemplating my pathetic existence. All roads lead back to a singular, depressing conclusion. I have dug myself this hole, without consideration for an escape plan. Now I’m waiting for God to throw me a ladder. It’s too late now to fix this situation by myself, I’ve committed to this route. Have no choice now but to see what hand fate has dealt me.

Reading back these words, he was struck by a sudden impulse to punch himself in the face. Such insufferable self-obsession. How could a man with so many blessings and privileges whine like an impetuous child, while millions of people around the world fight every day just to stay alive?

He was thrown out of this thought by the ding of the proverbial mental lightbulb. Saying “Lightbulb” in such instances was now an involuntary reflex acquired having watched Despicable Me one time too many.

“All I need is a change of perspective. My life is wonderful in so many ways, and yet I am blind to this. At the risk of sounding like a self-help book, I need to FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES. Whatever they may be. Sure as hell not in my job hunt. But there’s nothing I can do but wait now to see if I have progressed or not. If I don’t, I’ll find something else. Maybe it won’t be my dream job, but that may just be ok…”

And on those words, he closed his blog, did a quick compulsory twitter stalk, and went to bed feeling like every other night. Like something good was just around the corner.

À répéter à l’infini. 

One door closes…

As the saying goes, “when one door closes, another one opens”. Fans of The Big Bang Theory may remember Sheldon’s objections to such a statement, but, for my current situation, it isn’t particularly inaccurate. Having now officially closed the door on my University education by receiving results and moving out, it is now time for a new door to open and guide me to a well-paid, low-stress job that will support my wild, playboy lifestyle. And so, this blog is magically transforming from the incoherent ramblings of a University undergraduate to the even less comprehensible scribblings of a Warwick alum trying to navigate the minefield that is ‘real life’.

As I see it, I currently have two distinct options vis-a-vis my future: I stay in the UK and inevitably work in London, as that is where most jobs are (especially the internationally-minded ones); or I up sticks and relocate to continental Europe before Britain decides to leave the EU, and find a job in one of many wonderful, beautiful European cities. If the two options were equally simple, and equally feasible, it wouldn’t even be a contest. However, moving abroad alone is about ten times more difficult, even if I were to choose a country in whose language I am already well-versed – adding the factor of finding and tackling a job in another country makes it quite a dissuasive course of action. It would be a dream though, to be able to live and work in somewhere like Vienna or Berlin…

Over the course of subsequent updates to this blog, I will endeavour not just to waffle on and on about this or that application that I have made/am making/will make/want to make/wish I could make, and instead not wish to bore any potential readers to death (or beyond). Just like das kleine Krokodil, I will try to keep it Schnappi. (Boooooooo to you too. That was witty)

In the meantime, the world is my oyster. Or so I have been told…

Closing Time

A blogger sits in a café. A cliché if ever there were one. A nice contrast to the atypical university experience of mine.

The end of my University period is all but finished now, like a train approaching its terminus, a boat pulling into a dock, or an arrow milliseconds from bullseye. Except none of those metaphors are entirely appropriate, each ending with the item in the desired place. For my degree, what would perhaps be more apt would be to envisage William Tell shooting his son in the leg, rather than the apple on his head. Something got done, but not quite what was initially intended. I won’t pretend that I got nothing from my time in higher education, that it was completely futile, that I learned nothing or acquired no skills. Over the course of a languages degree, one learns a great deal in terms of linguistic and communicative capabilities. But such skills may be somewhat wasted on a grumpy misanthrope: teaching someone who doesn’t like people to communicate effectively in multiple languages is an exercise in futility akin to teaching a monkey to play the banjo. A nice party trick, and little more. Or more of a waste of time and effort than Hot Tub Time Machine or The Hangover II.

Languages, I hear you not thinking, you must want to be a teacher or a translator, surely? Or both? Well, no. Not at all. Frankly, I have no idea what I want to do right now – though a large lottery win seems quite an appealing option – and am trying not to panic about what is to come. All conventional wisdom suggests that calm reflection and not jumping into something is the most sensible course of action, and that many people each year are in the same position, they sort themselves out eventually, blah blah blah. The problem is that I’m a bigger worrier than a paranoid elephant.

For now, I shall continue to get my life advice from the television. Watching The Office has made me want to be Regional Manager of a mid-size paper company, House a genius diagnostician, and The Big Bang Theory a physicist. Reading makes me want to be a writer, and British politics make me want to leave the country.

So, I guess we’ll see what lies ahead! Sadly, it will not be a Foo Fighters gig this Friday 😦