That’s probably why I have little recollection of the world of pounds, shillings and pence prior to New Zealand’s big decimalisation switchover in 1967.
Local stores extended credit to folk like Mum and Dad. An invoice from each supplier would turn up at the end of the month to be paid by the following 20th. By cheque. Everything from groceries, farm supplies, petrol and diesel, clothes, the works. It was always a bit of a mission to find lose change for the plate at church on a Sunday.
Fred Dagg summed this world up nicely in one of his short TV clips back in the day. Arriving in The Big Smoke in his Land-Rover, he parked and was confronted by a parking meter. After studying it, he ascertained its purpose, wrote out a cheque and poked that under the meter’s knob. Some farmers may have struggled to see the humour in that.
Cheques were marvellous things. I got my first cheque account and chequebook when I left home to enrol at Massey University. The Massey University, when there was only one. In Palmerston North. I practiced my signature endlessly until it was just so. A calligraphic triumph!
Chequebooks had to be reconciled against a bank balance. Cash flow reared its ugly head for the first time. Now I am a self-employed businessperson it is once again stalking me.
I still have a chequebook. It tells me that haven’t written out a cheque since 2011. The latest iteration of my cashless world now involves business-card-sized pieces of plastic with electronic data captured thereon, or a computer keyboard. I can go weeks at a stretch without any cash in my wallet. When beggars in town vie for my attention and cash, they don’t appear to believe me when I say that they have more than I do.
In return for this, my bank collects transaction fees and other levies. It is even prepared to loan me funds, in return for yet higher fees. My bank loves me that much that it recently acquired another bank that I had deserted it for some years ago after we had a disagreement about customer service standards. How’s that for loyalty? I suppose I had better learn to treat them kindly. They haven’t yet sent me a replacement chequebook.
The only cash-only business I have encountered in recent decades was a local dairy, now closed. The owner didn’t even have a cash register. Transactions were diligently recorded in pencil on a sheet of cardboard. He had regular encounters with representatives from the Department of Inland Revenue, I suspect for reasons other than not being able to read his handwriting.
1967 was an interesting year for New Zealand. A lot of people of A Certain Age will remember decimalisation and the conversion from Pounds to Dollars. Some may also remember that that was the same year that we were supposed to abandon imperial measurement and adopt the metric system. SI, or System International.
That’s 45 years ago. Two generations of people. Why then haven’t maternity wards in this country thrown away those old scales they must still have lying around for weighing newborn babies? Why do most people still describe their height in feet and inches and live on blocks of land that are specified as fractions of an acre? I despair. Whatever units of measurement are used, my BMI still tells me that I am too short.
Somewhere in there too came along the centimetre. There is no such SI unit. The metric system is based on thousands or thousandths. My theory is that women’s fashion blanched at the thought of having to ascribe waist, hip and chest sizes to image-conscious women in millimetres. They needn’t have bothered, as the mighty inch still seems to hold sway in that world too. Meanwhile building supply businesses are assailed by folk wanting to buy their products who have measured things in the wrong units: centimetres not inches. Occasionally those customers get more than they asked for.
It’s a shame that banks don’t apply the same level of generosity.