WORDS Doris Grantez

ILLUSTRATION Natasha Reis

HELLO DEARIE. IF YOU READ THE PAPERS, YOU MIGHT HAVE HEARD OF SOMETHING CALLED “BITCOINS.” THEY ARE QUITE DIFFERENT TO A “THRUPENNY BIT” FROM THE GOOD OLD DAYS AND ARE AN EXCITING NEW WAY TO INVEST YOUR MONEY. THEY’RE MORE VALUABLE THAN PREMIUM BONDS, FANCIER THAN CO-OP STAMPS AND EVEN MORE FUTURISTIC THAN CHIP AND PIN – IF YOU CAN IMAGINE SUCH A THING. WHAT US “SILVER SURFERS” ARE ASKING IS WHAT A BITCOIN IS, AND HOW YOU’D GO ABOUT BUYING A BAG OF THEM.

 

You can’t get them at the Post Office counter and neither do they sell them in those high-tech catalogues you get with the Sunday Telegraph – because bitcoins are so new you can only buy them online, like the blue pills my cousin Gerald orders from China. After failing to invest in Myspace the first time around I didn’t want to miss out on the latest online gold rush, so I sat down with my grandson for an hour, and as soon as my head stopped spinning I went home, logged onto the W W web and exchanged all of our savings on a website called Crypt o’ Currency. It sounds Irish, but I rang my grandson and he swore that Bitcoin has nothing to do with The Corrs. If you too fancy a chance at being rich beyond your wildest dreams (like Andrew Lloyd Webber), then “scroll down” to read on! 😉

Doris, what even is a bitcoin?

As every schoolboy knows, normal coins are made out of metal – either brass, copper or silver if it’s part of a limited edition set commemorating Princess Diana. Those are all valuable, but if you’ve ever tried to spend a Jersey pound on the mainland you’ll know that the problem with coins is that every place has daft rules about which ones they’ll take. This is why it costs so much to buy an ice cream in St Malo these days. The eggheads who live in the Silicon Valley, who already invented Nintendos and the Dyson Airblade, travel so much that they just hate carrying all of the different coins. They thought to themselves “what if we could make a coin that is valuable everywhere – even in a virtual reality matrix?” This might sound barmy, but remember these people are so clever that their robot butler knows what you’re looking for (Cliff Richard; no shirt) before you even finish typing the first F. The boffins thought long and hard and a lightbulb went off above their heads, although slowly, because they use the energy saving kind that make you strain your eyes. The answer was to make a coin out of “bits” – science-speak for the tiny invisible molecules that make up the internet itself. A bitcoin is therefore a perfect nugget of condensed internet. When you consider that the internet particles are so small that you can’t see them even when you trip over the modem and pull the pipe out of the skirting board, you’ll understand that a single bitcoin must contain an incredible amount of pure internet. Possibly enough to record an entire episode of Midsomer Murders. They are very, very, very valuable indeed.

I still don’t understand, Doris, but tell me why should I buy these bitcoins.

“Yes, bitcoins are valuable, but so are Toby jugs and nobody would expect you to invest your savings in them.” Well Mavis, the difference is that bitcoins can’t be knocked over and smashed into pieces by the cat, because they carry on zipping around the webs until you need them. This also means that the evil taxman can’t get his hands on your bitcoins, because at any moment they could be flowing unsupervised between the Algarve and Thailand – like my daughter’s ex-husband. It is impossible for anybody to know how many bitcoins you have, where you keep them, and which kinds of online content they are made from. Because things these days are more and more online, the value of your bitcoins also increases as fast as the amount of internet that is needed. I know this is confusing, but think of it like buying some flats in the 1960s – wait long enough and you can put them on the market for £1400 a month to young couples who were too busy gallivanting to Ibiza to save for a deposit. The difference with bitcoin is that the value goes up as soon as more people go online and need internet in order to sign up for a Minecraft or those dirty, dirty pictures. You’d better buy some before they sell out, is what I’m saying.

Okay Doris, tell me where I can convert all my money into Bitcoins

Buying Bitcoins isn’t as simple as going to the Bureau de Change, because you need to be logged in. Obviously you need to follow the usual precautions – if your computer browser tells you it is cluttered or needs a deep clean, download that software straight away. It also helps to have one hand on the pipe, so you can pull the connection if the Nigerian FBI hijack your window to ask questions about that bank transfer you made last Christmas. You’ll then need to go to a marketplace, follow only 200 steps of instructions, hashtag your blockchain, crypto your partition and move any instances of goatse.cx or the millennium bug straight to the recycle bin. Eventually you will have a very long number, which is like an international dialling code if you need to bring your bitcoins home like a racing pigeon. Write the number down, put it under the mattress with your cash savings, and let them mature like a jar of pickled onions.

But Doris, how do I actually spend my bitcoins? And who gives me my change?

Earlier I said that bitcoins are nothing like Co-Op stamps, but there is one area where they are the same: you can only spend them in the same place you got them. Being made out of pure internet, bitcoins can only be exchanged for online services. That’s not a worry though – when I first webbed-on I wasn’t even sure what I would do with Yahoo, but now I buy all my prescriptions from eBay and my husband tells me he watches his sports in the browser. That explains why he’s always in his office with the door closed, and those massive phone bills. You can use internet to pay those phone bills, renew your subscription to the Radio Times, and more besides. I also read the other day that the government plans to move our pensions online, so I expect you’ll soon be able to cash in a few numbers from your bitcoin savings at the Post Office. You’ll even be able to send them to your grandchildren, with electronic mail, instead of a birthday card – they can turn the bitcoins directly into Pokémon, “likes” on Grindr or credits for their favourite Youtubing prankster! No doubt this is a lot to take in dearie, but one more tip before I go – always protect your computer with a secure password. Otherwise a burglar could break in, rifle through your browser history and be away with your bitcoins before you can say “Julian Assange”. If I ever have another funny turn mine’s “Cl1ffR1ch4rd” but whatever you do make sure Nigel’s had a chance to spring clean his browser history before you log in. Ta-ra for now!