Fake plastic keys

Seeing the awesome tale of a man who barbecued his modem to try and make it go faster – a story almost South Walian in its a) cheapskateness, b) stupidity – reminded me of the tale of Simon and his key.

Now Simon (not his real name) had something of a reputation for gullibility, of the “Have you heard that…” “No! Really?” “No.” variety. It was him who, persuaded that none of his friends could possibly have swapped the labels on a can of Irish stew with one from a tin of rice pudding, wrote to Tyne Brand to complain that his meat dinner had metamorphosed itself into a milk-based dessert. Confused but possibly suspicious, they sent him a two quid voucher (redeemable against a range of products, including spam) and an “er, what are you on?” letter.

Anyway, at college we had orange plastic keys, covering a chip that held electronic money. We’d charge these up, ten pounds a time, at a monumentally temperamental machine (“It’s going in! It’s nearly there! It’s… oh. Best iron the note again.”) and use them to buy our food, snacks and photocopying. These keys had more money on them than we had most times. So you really didn’t want to lose them, and you really really didn’t want to do anything stupid with it.

So it must have seemed like a great idea, at the time, to tell Simon that if you warmed up these orange keys, they would magically recharge themselves to their original balance of ten quid. We were probably collectively guilty in not stopping him from doing anything about that.

It probably took scraping the warm, orange, gelatinous mass out of his toaster to make Simon realise that, even if the key could be recharged by warming, it wouldn’t be very usable after that.

And the really worrying bit about this story? Not the fact that Simon was put up to this in the first place. Not the fact that he dropped his key down his toaster in the interest of scientific research – or maybe greed. Not even the fact that the college staff gave him a new key (I can’t even think what Simon must have told them to persuade them to give him a free replacement).

No, what’s worrying is that Simon, after gaining a first-class honours in geography, was last seen in international development. By people like him are policy decisions on Africa made.

Let’s just hope they keep him away from the toaster.

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