Cirencester Scene

Somewhere Else Writers now have a slot in Cirencester Scene, a monthly magazine delivered to 12,000 homes in the Cirencester area.


May 2019

“How Much?!”  – by Selwyn Morgan

“How much is that bike you want? Six pounds, seventeen and six!? Do you know how many ha’pennies that is?” It was always a worry when my dad expressed our proposed purchases in ha’pennies (or, even worse, farthings). There was good reason to worry. Firstly, there was no point arguing that he might be mistaken because he never was. Secondly, anything counted in ha’pennies sounded too much to pay for… well… anything, apart from a gob-stopper and finally, (the clincher), no matter how much we pleaded, we were not going to get the object of our desire.

He was a whizz at mental arithmetic, my dad. Eventually, time and the fall of the British Empire caught up with him. We grew up and could afford our own bike. Then when our once proud nation succumbed to the “foreign” notion of decimalisation, every Tom, Dick or Henrietta could tell you how many ha’pennies were in as many pounds as you could shake a ‘selfie stick’ at, simply by multiplying by two and adding two zeros… The love of numbers has been passed down to me.

Recently, in a bar in Ciren, I ordered a half pint of beer. “That’s two pounds twenty, please.” I reached for my card to waft, Harry Potter-like, at the bartender’s machine… I hesitated, as I remembered drinking beer with my Dad in a working man’s club. It would have been around the late 60s, and no matter what people say about real ales, the stuff they served up in that club was rubbish. In its favour, it was a cheap pint at one shilling and threepence. I went mental; arithmetically speaking.

In 1966, there were 240 pence in a pound, and one shilling was made up of 12 pence. Divide 240 by the price of a pint (12 pence + 3 pence) and that equals 16 pints per pound – easy! It follows that two pounds would buy 32 pints. The twenty new pence, (one-fifth of a pound), equalled 48 old pence. That would have bought another three and a bit pints. I was incredulous. I said out loud, “Thirty-five.”

“No, two pounds-twenty,” came the reply.

“No, what I mean is, when I was your age, I could buy thirty-five pints of beer for what you’re asking for that half… and I could have left a tip.”

“Very interesting,” he said, in a rather sarcastic tone. “Would you like a pint instead?”

“Not at these prices!” I laughed. He failed to see the joke, but gave me time, with due respect to my age, to get over it. I waved my card at his machine to show that I could be part of the electronic generation.

I felt a pang of regret. The gift of numbers passed on to me by my dad was, for me too, beginning to be a waste of time (if not money). But instead of counting the cost, I counted my blessings that I wasn’t carrying the weight of old change in my pocket.