74. Tickets please

The inventor of
The train ticket
Lived down the road:
It was his ticket
Out of here.

(All the way to Manchester
Where he died in 1851)

Teenage couple
Can’t wait to make
Their fortune to escape;
Can’t quite raise
The fare to anywhere –
Just know they must be going.

Hiding in disabled loos
Between carriages
Where Edmondson rode
Upfront in topper, one imagines,
Signing stubs and visualising
Tickertape parades on Princess Street.

Where to go is moot (toot-toot!)
For our young heroes.
“Please wash your hands” (they do)
Then jump the barricades
To find a world run by
Fat controllers, grey cardinals
Entwined – demanding tickets please.

Soon they are proven to be on
The wrong side of the tracks;
Then sitting on the fence
At an erroneous angle
By blinking data readings on
Smart troops’ smart watches.

(The Internet thinks
What I type is what I want,
So up pops an ad for a
Military smart watch:
Henceforth official timer
Of this poem.)

Here the ghost of Edmondson
Decides to intervene.
“God is in everyone,”
He tells the tooled-up bureaucrats
“Not according to this,”
Comes the reply; but when they
See his pasty Quaker face and swoon
The couple are off again.

Finding a planet blighted
By splurge and gut-greed,
And while weeping over birds
In sticky deaths throes
On foamy beaches
The couple decide
To try Plan B.

The office is manned
By a man in a topper,
They ask for one-way tickets;
Edmondson requests a code
Downloaded from a website,
Then smiles: “Please permit
My little joke.” They do.

And off they go again;
You hear the engines roar
While hanging out the washing;
But don’t worry, old man,
Old woman, old ghost –
You are not compelled
To join them: your only duty
Is to let them go (ticket or no ticket).

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73. Goodbye to all cash?

Silver dollarCashless pubs – an overdue innovation for a struggling sector, or the thin end of the wodge, as our interactions become increasingly dependent on technology, and the pinpoint precision with which it tracks our movements?

Depressing to find the pub closest to me, a fine place to drink and eat with which I have no other complaints, now only accepts card payments. Efficiency is mooted, the most overrated aspect of our current society. And, the management claim, it’s reflective of customer habits – the customers a modern pub wants to attract, anyway. No more looking down the back of the sofa for nuggets of the non-chicken variety – overnight a series of invisible signs has been propped up beside the shouty SKY SPORTS blackboard. The first to catch the eye: Buskers, Bankrupts and those of No Fixed Abode not welcome here. Indefinitely.

All this tech. All this joined up tech. It’s not that we’re necessarily being spied on now; not unless you happen to fall into an ethnic group under perpetual suspicion – we’re simply allowing the tools for a surveillance society to be put in place if/when we get an elected leader who isn’t wild about elections, as is happening in many parts of the world right now. Fortunately, we still have a minimum wage in the UK, but it doesn’t amount to enough to let you go contactless all day, tempting as that may be. Consider the bar staff deprived of those modest ‘keep the change’ gestures. Another freshly painted sign: Charming and helpful bar staff must rely on cashless customers utilising that awkward piece of pottery marked TIPS.

I can’t deny my bias. Having lived in Hong Kong; having friends in Hong Kong who have no choice but to stay there, the latest news about the Chinese governments roll-out of a yet-more intrusive, data-based monitoring system (there’s only so many times you can huff ‘Why should I worry if I’ve got nothing to hide?’ before it sounds like utter crap) gives me the fucking willies, and why wouldn’t it?

The issue may soon be out of our hands, here on our small island anyway. In Latin America, dollars are kept under the bed while local currencies fluctuate wildly. They are a safe – if galling – bet, for those who can afford to accumulate them. Ironically, my experience of the US is that the federal system won’t allow a huge amount of joined-up thinking when it comes to the technology taking hold here. Of course, that will change. In the meantime, swallow your pride, and get yourself some bucks. Just don’t expect to be able to spend them down the local, mighty dollar or not.