Money... a mickle mak’s a muckle

Jerzy Morkis, Editor north east Fife
Jerzy Morkis, Editor north east Fife
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We all have idiosyncracies, these little foibles that add another dimension to one’s character.

I’m the first to admit I have quite a few, none of which I assumed was particularly irritating, preferring to think of them as... endearing.

Note the past tense, “assumed”, as it appears I have one annoying trait that is now requiring my behaviour to be modified.

It stems from a penny I carry in my pocket; that’s a real penny, real money, not one of those totty wee ‘new pennies’ which slithered into our pockets on February 15, 1971.

I’ve never warmed to that new coinage, always viewing it as the Uriah Heep of currencies, not solid, upstanding and proud like the thruppenny bit, florin, half crown... even the old halfpenny had more character before its ruthless cull in 1969.

It is likely most people under 50 won’t know what I’m blethering about, so here is a wee history lesson for those who missed out on the days when cash was cash.

Pre-1971 we had pounds, shillings and pence (£sd).

A pound was made up of 240 pence (denoted by the letter d). There were 12d in a shilling (a ‘bob’), and 20 shillings, (or 20s or 20/-) in a pound, £1, or as I remember it “a fortune”.

There’s no point going into the guinea (21/-) as my particular psychological flaw only concerns everything under £1.

When you hit the magic ‘quid’, you were in a different ball game and as a child of the 1950s and ‘60s, paper money

was something I knew about, had seen but rarely touched (except of course the 10 bob, note which is worth an entire article in tribute just by itself).

Anyway, when it comes to anything £1 or over, I’m a man of the 21 st century but anything under £1 and I’m back pre-1971 with my sixpence pocket money burning a hole in my pocket.

And so it came to pass that my wife and I, after a weekly shop, headed for a snack and found ourselves in a queue.

There in front of me was a bold advertisement for a sausage roll. And underneath the picture of a tempting meaty pastry was the inspired caption “Sausage roll” and then beneath , bold and brazen like it was some sort of bargain, was

“Only 85p!”.

Totally oblivious to the folk in front of me and behind, I yelped: “Seventeen shillings! Seventeen shillings? Seventeen shillings for a sausage roll! They’ve got to be kidding. They’ll probably want a couple of bob for a dollop of ketchup...”

A couple of pensioners sniggered but most of the folk around me probably didn’t have a clue what I was on about.

“You have to stop this,” said my wife when we sat down at the table. “It’s embarrassing. What about that scene the other day, the ‘nine bob for a teeny-wee bar of chocolate’ sketch in the garage. The girl thought you were an idiot...”

There were a few more examples of my compulsive currency conversions but to be honest I wasn’t really listening, I was staring at her 19/- capuccino and wondering if she was going to dunk her 10/4d biscuit.

Having refused to hand over my penny, I sullenly ate my shortbread, having decided against taking it to the bank and asking for it to be placed in a safety deposit box.

So I’m now in pre-decimal detox and restrict my shopping to Poundland and Poundworld, and look forward to Pounduniverse and Poundgalaxy coming along. I’ve even learned not to say: “I got this in Poundland, you’ll never guess how much it was?”

But... the other day there was a secondary school lad down the town at lunchtime. He was juggling his change with whatever greasy goodie he’d bought when he dropped a coin.

He and his pals looked round at where the coin had fallen and the lad said: “Och, it’s only 2p” and he didn’t even bother to pick it up.

And I thought: “That’s 5d, nearly a tanner; that used to be my pocket money.”

But I didn’t pick it up either.

And that bothers me.