Wednesday 18 September 2019

Billy Keane: 'Credit cards are all very well but there was always a lovely warmth to cash from The Bank of Bra'

‘In six months, credit card fraud losses to retailers and consumers was more than €20m. I am fairly sure it would have taken a huge army of pickpockets to bring in anywhere near €20m. We are more likely to be robbed by a skimmer than a dipper’. Stock image
‘In six months, credit card fraud losses to retailers and consumers was more than €20m. I am fairly sure it would have taken a huge army of pickpockets to bring in anywhere near €20m. We are more likely to be robbed by a skimmer than a dipper’. Stock image
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The abandoned handbag was sitting up on a table in the busy Dublin bar. There was a purse sticking out of the top layer of many.

I could see a sign on the handbag even though there was none. The imaginary sign read: "Please rob me."

I will get back to the pros and cons of a cashless pub shortly but in the meantime I can absolutely assure you there will be no talk of Brexit here this morning, other than to say I have no idea what is going to happen next and neither, I suspect, does Boris the Hapless.

It has been a grim week in so many ways. We will try to keep it light here this morning. There are times when I find news and life events overwhelmingly sad.

Escapism can be beneficial provided we never forget what it is we are escaping from.

I heard this joke the other day and I have taken to telling it in public. Let me assure you I am very fond of nuns.

Anyway the story goes as follows. The nurse bursts in to the reverend mother's office and shouts out: "Reverend mother, reverend mother, we have a case of gonorrhoea in the convent."

"That's great news," replies the reverend mother, "I'm sick of that oul Chardonnay." This joke has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the column.

We will go back for a while to the "please rob me" bag. I stood watch.

You might notice when you are talking to a bar person that we hardly ever make eye contact when on duty and this passes on to off duty as well. It's a habit and a necessary one for our protection, the safety of our customers and their property.

The lady who owned the bag came back. She gave thanks it was still there. I knew her well and told her about the sign that said "please rob me". She got a fit of laughing and said: "Don't worry, there's no cash in it. No one carries cash anymore."

We only got the credit card machine into John B's just before Christmas. I held out for as long as possible. There were two reasons.

One was the thought of paying for the use of the machine put me off, and the second was credit cards can be too easy to use for people when they have drink in. I gave in because there are just too many using the cards nowadays and you couldn't send people out in the bad weather to get cash from the ATM.

We were losing out badly. Customers left.

I could have lent money to the punters, but I learned a lesson many years ago and if you read on to the very end, you too may be saved.

There is a reasonable argument for the cashless society. But you would always worry when the big bosses in banks think cashless is a good idea.

We all know counting out notes and coin brings on a dose of reality. The money is there before our very eyes. We tap cards and that's it.

Money gone with no thinking-it-over time.

I would imagine pick-pockets and bag-dippers will complain bitterly over the diminution of their livelihood by the credit card companies. But I wonder has anyone bothered to check whether credit card fraud or picking and dipping brings about the bigger losses.

In the first six months of 2017, the reported credit card fraud losses to retailers and consumers in this country was more than €20m.

I am fairly sure it would have taken a huge army of pickpockets to bring in anywhere near €20m in six months. The facts are we are more likely to be robbed by a skimmer than a dipper.

There was very nice lady who used to come into our pub and she kept her cash in her bra. The money was always lovely and warm. She used to call her depository The Bank of Bra and she was never robbed.

But there are dangers in carrying large amounts of cash. The best thing to do is to take out enough to cover you for the shopping and the night out or maybe to use a mix of cards and cash.

Cheques are on the way out.

I'm not sure if this is such a good idea. Again, the reason is a money-saving move by the banks for the banks.

Cheques are often written out and there's a thought process involved which I find often gives us a chance to think on whether the purchase is a good idea or not.

But then again, I was caught badly by a conman at the Listowel Races. He set me up over three years. In he would come, acting the big man, and buys drinks for several up at the bar. The bouncer was personable and full of handy talk.

Then he would say: "I'm off to France to buy one for JP McManus."

To my certain knowledge, JP never had anything to do with the man. Then on the third year the bouncer ordered a big round of drink. It was back in the days before the credit cards.

He whispers: "I'm seriously embarrassed, Billy. I left my money in the hotel.

"I hate to impose on a friend, but is there any chance I could cash a small cheque?"

"No problem at all," says Mr Wonderful and I only delighted to be of service to such an important man.

And so I was done for 300 old Irish pounds and I wasn't going well at the time.

Eddie O'Meara was an independent South Tipperary county councillor.

He came to the races every year. Eddie passed away in 2018. We were great friends.

He was a proud Tipp man from Mullinahone in the Kickham country at the foot of Slievenamon. The cheque bouncer was a Tipp man and Eddie O was mortified.

Honourable Eddie O made sure our pub was full of his constituents every races from then on out. I got the 300 pounds back many times over.

I kept the cheque in the drawer, as a reminder of guileless gullibility. The mother got so annoyed from looking at the bounced cheque, she threw it in the fire.

Mam passed away four years ago last Thursday, and this column is written as much to distract me as you.

Irish Independent

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