A farthing for your thoughts on chip and pin

PUBLISHED: 12:12 16 February 2006 | UPDATED: 09:40 06 May 2010

IT S barely believable that a little less than half a lifetime ago – or much more than half your allotted span if you live in a certain district of Glasgow – the trusty £sd was shown the financial door in Britain. After many centuries of sterling service,

IT'S barely believable that a little less than half a lifetime ago - or much more than half your allotted span if you live in a certain district of Glasgow - the trusty £sd was shown the financial door in Britain.

After many centuries of sterling service, our old currency was ditched 35 years ago yesterday (Wednesday) to herald in the era of decimal.

I remember it well. There were a lot of old people wandering round shops with puzzled looks on their faces as they tried to work out just how much 57p or £3.72 was in real money.

Some of them never got the hang of it and stuck to the old system in their heads until the day they died.

Conversion tables and "helpful" advice were available everywhere, from the national press to posters in shop windows and even on tea towels.

There were chocolate decimal coins and decimal games.

It was a major and costly campaign to get the stick-in-the-mud Brits to think Continental.

But young adults and the middle-aged - and some children I suspect - found it a struggle to stop thinking in 12s and 20s and switch to the 10s formula.

I was a young man then but even so it took some months of sweat-inducing practice to become confident about handling decimal coinage and, miraculously, naturally think decimal.

Young people these days have no idea how difficult it was to abandon the old familiar farthings, thrupenny pieces, tanners, shillings, two-bob bits, half-crowns and ten bob notes.

They know not of what I speak but the very words bring back powerful and happy memories.

Do we have any special, pet names for our coinage these days? No, of course not, and that is a measure of what decimal means to us.

Talking about paying for things at the checkout, it is not so long ago that saying "chip and pin" to people probably made them think you were talking about golf.

Now they know better and, for the majority of the population who don't like using cash for anything, chip and pin is the bee's knees.

This week came the warning that people who do not have a chip and pin card or, if they do, could not remember the number risk being turned away at the point of sale.

The prospect of some being treated as second class shoppers and having to walk shame faced and empty handed from the store because they had not bothered to get themselves a magic card does not concern me.

What I'm bothered about is this: there is so much publicity these days about security, protecting your pin number and never divulging it to anyone.

It's awkward, but by manoeuvring one's body and manipulating one's hands like a contortionist one can stop anyone seeing the number being punched in at an ATM machine.

But there's no way of doing it at a busy checkout or store counter with people milling around perhaps in front, at the side and behind you.

Maybe there is something to be said for the old system of signing a slip of paper.

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