Thirteen pounds is what it costs to transfer a parking permit from one vehicle to another in my borough. Kensington Town Hall.
I was there switching the pass for my blue Nissan to my new Ford Galaxy. I need to be able to take more passengers.
The guy at the desk is full of life. Italian. Funny. Switched on. But still at the mercy of the uncompromising bureaucratic machine.
This is an unusual request. It takes a while for us to establish how to do it, but we manage it eventually. “That’ll be thirteen pounds,” he says. He gestures at the machine. My card is in my car but I’ve got one on my phone. “Oh no, sir, there’s no contactless here,” he says.
I pat down my pockets. I find a £20 note. “Do you have anything smaller? A ten quid note. A triumphant one pound coin. And shekels. Not quite enough.
It is clear that nobody ever pays cash here. He knows what it is, at least. “This isn’t my desk,” he tells me guiltily. “If it was my desk there’d be change.”
He sends my £20 off with a post it note on it. “One ten, one five, five 1. Customer is waiting.”
We wait. We talk.
He came over here so long ago he can barely remember. His girlfriend is Chinese. “People look at her strangely because of this virus,” he says. This tallies with the cabbie I took the other night: “Chinatown is empty.”
But as we talk I’m not thinking about Corona virus. I’m thinking about how I’m here in the heart of my borough’s governance and they can’t change a score.
They’re about to release a new twenty pound note. Chances are it’s gonna be the same horrible plastic stuff that they made the five and ten from. But how frequently do we handle cash any more? In keeping with this outbreak scare that’s hanging over us at the moment, I’ve heard people tell me in the certain voice of learnt information “bank notes carry disease”. Balls.
I waited with the Italian guy long enough to mine into his sadness, and his concerns about the future. He’s a kind man, and his desire to do a good job mixed with my impatience eventually earnt him two quid. He borrowed a fiver from his colleague and came back apologetically.
I told him to keep the two, and left. I’d been there long enough – almost two hours from taking a ticket to getting everything squared off.
I never pay with cash anymore. On this job, perhaps, as I’ve been getting lots out to deal with tips to concierges etc. I also use it to pay the cleaner. But compared to ten years ago…
Ten years ago “sorry we don’t take cards”. Now “sorry we don’t take cash”.
When one of those eloquent homeless guys comes up it’s so rare that I’ve got anything to give that if I actually do have cash I tend to be so proud of myself that I give it all away. And then I haven’t got any again…
I’m going to try to pay for things with cash for the next few weeks. Keep the stuff rolling round. I like having a wodge in my pocket. Why not?