It’s budget day. Ozzie didn’t put up the price of booze and like Nothing2Declare, I don’t care what he does to the price of tobacco. The rest of it is pretty much the same-old same-old bleating about how they are doing their best for us and aren’t really screwing us for every penny at all. I haven’t enough interest to read most of it. The bits that affect me are the no-increase in booze prices and the raising of the tax threshold a little closer to my current total income.
If I had still been in mainstream science I would, by now, certainly have been caught by the 40% tax band. I have only paid 40% tax in one tax year and resolved never to work hard enough again to get to the point where I’m busting a gut for half pay. Now I am safely below that band. For the moment. I can see a time coming when the tax-free band hits the 40% band and the 20% band disappears entirely.
I doubt I could really have stayed in what science has become. When our department was closed back in 2005, the boss’s closing speech included the very telling line ‘When I started, we were chasing knowledge. Now we are just chasing money’. Perhaps if I wasn’t so old-school and could accept ‘just chasing money’, I’d have had more businesses paying me to prove their prewritten conclusions. As it is, I once lost a big contract by pointing out that probiotic bacteria could not possibly survive in sausages, not even vegetarian ones, because sausages have to be cooked right through no matter what they are made of. The contamination risk is not so much in the meat or veg content as in the way they are made. Anyway, that’s history now.
We are to get a new pound coin, one that looks like the bastard child of a new £2 coin and an old threepenny bit. As Mark Wadsworth points out, the new design is fitting because that threepenny bit is pretty much all the pound is worth now.
For those who are still in the first flush of youth or even in the second flush of early middle age, the old threepenny bit was more commonly written as 3d. The letter ‘d’ was used to denote pennies, ‘s’ for shillings and the same big flowery ‘L’ for pounds. It was known as the Lsd system because, as with most Imperial measurement schemes, it was clearly designed by people who were off their faces pretty much all the time. None of it made any sense at all.
One pound was composed of twenty shillings. Each shilling contained twelve pence. So rather than the 100 pennies to the pound we have now, before 1970 there were 240 pennies in a pound. They were proper pennies too, great big round ones the size of a modern 2p.
So, 3d is 3/240ths of a pound, 1.25 new pennies. They did indeed have ‘new pence’ stamped on them at the beginning. I can’t recall when they dropped the ‘new’.
We also had halfpennies and (slightly before my time) farthings, which were quarter-pennies. You could actually buy a small amount in a sweet shop with a halfpenny in the 1960s. That’s 0.2p. The new pennies also had halfpennies, tiny things that were needed to try to match the old prices with the new. They went away years ago. There isn’t much you can buy with 1p now, so half-p is pointless.
There isn’t a great deal you can buy with 10p, if it comes to that. 10p was 24 old pennies or two shillings, a mighty coin in the hands of a child in 1966. The modern 50p was ten shillings and that was not a coin. It was a note! It was the sort of thing you’d open a bank account with or, if you had it for your birthday when about nine, you went to the model shop and bought one of the really big plastic kits. Then used the change for enough sweets to make yourself sick – including candy cigarettes and Old Jamaica rum-flavoured chocolate.
The rum-flavoured chocolate might have been later. I do remember stuffing it down and feeling rotten because stuffing down chocolate can do that to you. I doubt there was any real rum in there but still, it could be the reason I don’t much like rum now.
Aside from the £1 and 10s notes (yes, younglings, £1 used to be a note) there were coins. Halfpenny (referred to as ha’penny), penny, 3d, 6d and then shilling (often called a ‘bob’). After that, 2s, (two bob) then the half-crown… okay, you’re baffled now aren’t you? A half-crown was 2s 6d, or 12.5 new pence. The crown was a 5s coin, I never saw one of those.
Then the ten-bob note and then the pound… and then the guinea. Hahaha, yes, it was mad. A guinea was 21 shillings, £1 1s, so if something was 20 guineas it was £21.
We had to just learn it. From a very early age, because coming back from the corner shop with Dad’s fags and the wrong change would send (coal face miner) Dad into a bad mood and that was to be avoided. He wasn’t violent to us kids, he didn’t need to, he just had to look as though he might.
So we knew. We learned it. At infant school we learned about
six four gills to the pint, eight pints to the gallon…. twelve inches to the foot, three feet to the yard, 1760 yards to the mile… sixteen ounces to the pound, fourteen pounds to the stone and much more random insanity.
Then it all went decimal and everything divided by ten. I was just about to move from primary school to grammar school (which later became comprehensive but that was OK with me because it gave me access to metalwork class) so ditching the random for the easy seemed like a good thing at the time.
Once, I reduced a kid to tears after he had proudly pronounced all his times-tables up to the ten times table. All I did was ask him if he could do the eleven times table. We had to learn to twelve. Eleven is easy, for the first nine you just replicate the numeral – one eleven is eleven, two elevens are twenty-two etc. In double figures you add the two together and put the result in the middle. 10 x 11 = 110, 12 x 11 = 132…. they don’t know these shortcuts now.
There is worse to come. In my fifty-odd years we have moved from having no, or only monochrome TV, to everyone expecting to have a cinema screen. We have moved from hardly anyone having a landline phone to children expecting to have a pocket phone with a camera and Internet access. The VCR became available when I was about 20, in Betamax and VHS versions. It’s completely gone now, the Betamax died first and I never even saw a laserdisc. Great big chunky reel-to-reel tape recorders became cassette tapes and then CD players and now MP3 players that can fit your entire album collection into your shirt pocket. All in my lifetime.
Nobody even buys CDs any more. You just download the bloody things onto something smaller than a cigarette lighter. I still have vinyl records and some of them are original Beatles singles that appeared in a ’25 random singles for 25p’ closing down sale in the late seventies. There is some strange stuff in those boxes. I’m afraid I wore out Napoleon XIV’s ‘They’re coming to take me away’ and the B side of Manfred Mann’s ‘My name is Jack’ – it was called ‘There is a man’. Worth finding.
It’s not really a new phenomenon though. It’s just accelerating. My grandmother was born before 1900 so powered flight, the motor car, houses with inside toilets and much more would have been culture shocks to her. The thing is, all those innovations she saw are still here. The disposability of invention is the new part. Those CDs are being replaced by downloads and even DVDs are doomed by the streaming services. It all depends on computer world now and like fiat currency, the future is a fiat reality.
The disposability of history is also new. Not just ancient history, but recent history. Sometimes very recent.
Take a look at the things Farcebok throws up. The first one is clearly a piss-take. It’s along the lines of my current favourite doom-serious comment of ‘Women! Can’t live with them, not allowed to kill them’ that often takes a while to sink in. Most of the rest are exactly what you would expect these days. The hashtag one and the maps one hurt, but do not surprise.
I don’t really connect decimalisation with dumbing down. It’s what everyone else did, 100 centimes to the Franc, same as pretty much every other country. The British were the only ones with the seriously mind-taxing systems in any system of measurement. So, okay, getting in line with the rest of the world might not seem a bad thing.
Then again, in those days we also kept on winning wars and producing world-changing inventions. Since decimalisation and the making of the easy in school maths we produce very little and slap down those who try.
But that’s probably a coincidence. Don’t you think?