Every Friday afternoon, right about the time when I’d really like to wind down the week with a lazy night in, I pack my daughters into the car and drive off to their swimming lessons. The 9-year old usually doesn’t mind because she loves swimming, but the 12-year old is less enthusiastic; she’d much rather hang out with her friends than suffer through a Friday evening in the company of her uncool mother.
Frankly, I’d rather not have to leave home on a Friday afternoon either but, as I tell my children, I don’t make them practice an instrument five times a week and I don’t expect them to study until their eyes bleed; but swimming lessons are non-negotiable.
But this is not a blog about the virtues of being a good swimmer. What I want to tell you about is the highlight of my Friday evening.
Once my daughters have finished their swimming lessons, showered and changed and we’ve had dinner at the pasta bar outside the gym, we prepare to drive back home. I always park the car in the adjacent supermarket car park and to pay I have to insert the ticket into a machine that takes either card or cash. I usually go for cash payment although it takes a bit longer as I stand there with my purse open, inserting one coin after another until the machine spits out my ticket and wishes me a safe journey.
Sometimes a queue of impatient drivers forms behind me, but I won’t be rushed. I take my time inserting every 5p, 10p and 20p coin I have because I love the feeling of using up my spare change. What else are those grubby little metal coins for, if not to pay for your parking?
We have a state-of-the-art coffee machine named Freddie at home, so my caffeine supply is pretty constant, but on the rare occasion I buy a coffee from one of the infinite numbers of coffee shops littering the streets of London, I also pay cash. The idea of pulling out my debit card to pay for a £2.50 cappuccino strikes me as absurd. Again, what are grubby little metal coins for, if not to pay for your coffee?
On a recent visit to Stockholm, my childhood home, I stepped into a café in the city centre and ordered a coffee. When I began to line up my Swedish coins on the counter, the barista said, with more than a hint of smugness in her voice, ‘We’re cash free.’
‘What,’ I replied, ‘you don’t take cash?’
‘That’s right, we’re cash free,’ she repeated as if she’d just told me they had lactose free milk or gluten-free muffins.
A day later I went for dinner out with my parents, and at the end of the meal, my dad attempted to pay the bill with cash. When the waiter (an insufferably jolly Englishman with a limited command of the Swedish language) came over to take payment, he smiled and said,
‘We’re cash free.’
Cash free! There’s nothing freeing about being told you can’t pay cash!
The only time I’d rather not use cash is when I’m visiting a Eurozone country. I’ve nothing personal against the European Union; it’s just that I always get confused when handling Euro bills and coins.
Speaking of foreign currency, I keep a purse full of coins left over from long-ago trips to Guatemala, Bosnia, Bulgaria and Macedonia; I’m saving them in the event of future visits.
The only problem with hoarding coins is that occasionally they cease to be legal tender. That happened a few years ago when unbeknownst to me, Sweden changed the look and shape of its coins.
As usual, were spending the summer holiday in a small village where my parents have a house and because it was a hot day, I’d given my children a purse full of coins to buy ice cream from the local farm shop. The shop is rarely staffed and operates on the principle that everyone who purchases something will be decent enough to leave the correct amount of change in the money box provided. It was only after my children came back with their ice creams and presented me with the remaining change, that my mum pointed out that the coins in my purse were essentially worthless.
At least the farmer hasn’t gone ‘cash free,’ so I’m saving up my new shiny coins for this summer’s visit.