MICHAEL WOLSEY: Spare a thought for charity collectors – and a few coins if you can find them
In the run-up to Christmas the streets of Dublin used to be full of carol singers. They were out in Kilkenny, too, and every city and town, but the numbers in Dublin were really impressive. Groups of singers would dot the entire length of Grafton Street and Henry Street and jostle for space at popular meeting points such as College Green and the statues at either end of O’Connell Street.
Some of the singing was more enthusiastic than ethereal but choral societies and church choirs helped lift the standard and they all raised money for good causes.
I always used to fill my pockets with loose change before walking the Christmas streets, so I could pay for the entertainment I enjoyed at many stops along the way.
I’m not sure why or exactly when this custom ended. A few dedicated groups still turn out, but it is 20 years or more since I last heard the streets of Dublin, or any town, ringing with the sound of Christmas carols.
I can’t blame Covid for the demise of public carol singing, but the pandemic has dealt a serious blow to all forms of charity cash collection. Inter-action between those who give and those who receive the money is frowned on and, more significantly, cash itself has almost vanished from regular use.
And cash was how most of us would contribute to charities, dropping coins into a rattling tin in exchange for a scratch card, a flag to pin on a lapel, or, in the case of the carol singers, a song and bit of festive cheer.
In two years, Covid restrictions have achieved what the banks have been trying to do for two decades: turn us into a cashless society.
I don’t care for this development but, like nearly everyone else, I have been forced to go along with it.
Since Covid arrived, I have almost stopped using real money. This time two years ago I had never once made a payment by tapping a card and was highly suspicious of the process. Now tapping is the way I make all small payments. For bigger amounts I put the card in the machine or offer its details for an online purchase.
It’s very convenient but I am still suspicious of the process.
Every electronic transaction has the potential for fraud. In the days before Covid I made about two such transactions a week, when I drew my spending money from an ATM. Now I make two a day and, whatever about fraud, it is much more difficult to keep a check on what I am spending.
The enthusiasm of the banks for a cashless society makes me more suspicious still.
Banks don’t want to be bothered with annoying customers who have the cheek to look for service. They drove us out of their branches and onto ATMs. Then they started closing the branches and now they are withdrawing the ATMs, forcing us to do our business by card or online.
There’s a gatekeeper at the entrance to my local bank whose job is to keep people away from the counter and persuade them to go online instead. Last week I defied her and boldly walked in. But it was a wasted journey.
I wanted to buy some dollars to send to a grandson at college in America. “Sorry”, I was told, “since Covid we don’t handle notes.”
A bank that doesn’t deal in money? It seems ridiculous, like the Pub With no Beer in the old song.
Fortunately An Post has no such restrictions and I got my dollars at the local post office.
A cashless society is what the banks would like, where they can make the maximum profit and employ the minimum staff.
I’m sorry to be helping them achieve this end and I’m sorry for the charity collectors, hapless victims of the move away from money. Spare a thought for them this Christmas and, if you’ve a piggy bank hidden away somewhere, maybe spare them a few coins too.