Royal Air Force
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“Pick a Card, Any Card ….”

As aficionados of amateur conjurors will recognize, the above title refers to the opening gambit of the would-be magician’s attempt at a card trick designed to use legerdemain to bamboozle the eye and present the audience with a seemingly wondrous outcome deserving of applause. The trick, of course, invariably involves the use of the standard 52 playing card set comprising the traditional assortment of black and/or red cards featuring Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs and Spades.
For those of my generation these stalwarts were inevitably what we youngsters recognized whenever the suggestion arose that perhaps a “game of cards” might be socially acceptable. Indeed, most of us have used them at one time or another in our own games and the concept of there being any other kind of ‘cards’ would have struck us as rather odd. It is possible that we may have heard of professional people exchanging cards as part of their business lives, but few of us had first-hand experience of this practice. Accordingly, for many years the term ‘cards’ implied ‘playing cards’ featuring pictures of angry Kings wielding swords!
Flash forward a few decades and the picture is very different. Cards are now all the rage and modern life appears inaccessible without them. They are even being touted as the root cause for the coming demise of cash. I first encountered this growing trend a few years ago when it became apparent that – whether I liked it or not – it would probably be wise to obtain a wallet, not so much as to contain my ill-gotten wealth (which never actually materialised in any case) but more as a receptacle for the growing number of ‘cards’ being thrust upon me.
They appear innocent enough. Generally of a standard size they come in a variety of colours and are usually laminated to ensure longevity. No doubt their initial introduction bestowed a degree of social status upon their recipients, comprising – as they did – a visible confirmation of their elevated position in society. After all, scarcity carries with it an air of exclusivity. But no longer. They now proliferate to the point where they have become a b****y nuisance, especially to those of advancing years condemned to remember PIN numbers and/or Passwords!
A recent check of my wallet reveals that I harbour no less then 10 of these cards – certainly a good deal more than the amount of paper currency I normally carry around. I do not propose to itemize them all, but reference to the following four will serve to illustrate the problem. The first (probably the most important) is my UK Driving Licence which embodies a multitude of data about me. It also includes a small photo showing me staring at the camera in tredipidation, strongly resembling your average criminal’s mugshot taken on his arrival at Pentonville Prison!
My local Bus Pass also carries a photo less guaranteed to frighten the horses. However, I must confess that although I habitually rode the buses for many years, since passing my driving test I have never since rejoined the University of Life and co-mingled with the common herd. I don’t even know the route of the local buses! I know, I know, I should be ashamed of myself and – quite likely when senility takes hold and driving is no longer an option – I may have to resort to this mode of transpot again. Sufficient unto the day thereof.
I will lump my Credit and Debit Cards as a single item since they are so similiar. In fact I have to stop and remind myself of their characteristics every time I am obliged to use them. The Credit card ensures that payment is deferred for about a month, while the Debit card results in instantaneous settlement. They also involve the use of PIN numbers which can sometimes lead to confusion (along with Post Codes, telephone numbers, etc., etc.)
Lastly we have my European Pacemaker Identification Card. It has a little pocket in my wallet all to itself even though I have yet to be required to produce it. I rather imagine its time will come when I finally give up the ghost and shuffle off this mortal coil. Initially I thought it was slightly exclusive and set me apart from my fellows, but from speaking to friends and acquaintancies it now appears to be quite common so there goes another chance for notoriety!
And now we have the arrival if Artificial Intelligence (threat or boon to Mankind) and Lord knows what technological advances will manifest themselves. Will the current proliferation of cards result in the miniaturisation of their data (implants even?) One thing is guaranteed – change will come whether we want it or not – and I am too old (and unwilling) to assimilate it. On balance I think I shall turn the clock back and resort to the traditional playing cards of my youth.
Thanks to Georges Bizet and his amazing opera ‘Carmen’ I have been forewarned that prophesying the future using these cards is just fine as long as you don’t draw the dreaded Nine of Spades!