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Backwords: Well, Would You Credit It?

Mike Shaw deplores the modern habit of being in debt.

My father, who to the best of my knowledge never owed anyone a penny in his life, must be positively writhing in his grave.

His generation surely never dreamed the credit craze would run riot like it has.

Even to us still on this earth, the relentless march towards the plastic economy is enough to send shivers up the spines of those reared in an era when debt was regarded as the eighth deadly sin.

Colne Valley has always been a place where hard work and thrift were the watchwords.

Not for nothing did it become known as the land of the long stocking (stuffed with pound notes and hidden under the mattress).

Dad never actually had any money secreted beneath the bedclothes. But he did have a few quid tucked away in some of the most unlikely places.

Such as an old Bulwark tobacco tin perched on a high shelf over the inner door of the greenhouse. Or a pewter tankard, won in a local flower show, which was kept in a sideboard cupboard.

All the tanners and shillings that he earned from his sideline of cutting hair in the greenhouse (when wet) or the garden (when fine) went into the tobacco tin.

And the pound notes that he accumulated by selling salads to workmates and neighbours were stuffed in the tankard and kept under lock and key in the sideboard.

The long stocking label hung round Colne Valley’s neck probably had an element of truth, and still may have for that matter.

But dad and his mates used to reckon it was just a cheap jibe by the envious spendthrifts from urbanised Huddersfield whose wages went down the drain after hours in the pub.

In his case, at least, the cash was not allowed to pile up indefinitely at home. He regularly trotted off with his pink bankbook to pay it in at the Co-op, and less frequently bought some of the ever-so-safe National Savings certificates.

While father took care of the savings, mother adopted the traditional working-class system of handling the household budget.

So much was set aside for such things as the rent, electricity and food. There was no little tin for the gas because we used to pay for that as we went along through pennies in the slot.

Children in those days were encouraged to save their pennies. Mine went into a pillar-box and a piggy bank which came as presents from Father Christmas. Nowadays the kids get consumer durables like computers and micro-chip golf instead.

Paying in the weekly contribution to the school penny bank imposed a heavy responsibility on me and my contemporaries.

Parents constantly fretted about whether we would get it safely to its intended destination. And many and ingenious were the methods devised for preventing the coppers being lost on the way.

Most of the lads used to have the money knotted in a corner of their hankie, although some had the dubious luxury of a purse -- for which they were promptly labelled cissies.

The girls usually had a double safeguard. After tying the tanner in a hankie their mothers would put it in what they considered to be the safest possible place. A pocket in their little girls’ knickers.

So far as I know safety was ensured. What the ruse also ensured was a weekly flash of underwear as the lasses dived until their skirts to fish out their bank money.

Everybody was paid in cash then. Managers as well as manual workers were handed their little brown wage packets every Thursday or Friday.

Shopkeepers expected real money as well. Not like today when they stand open-mouthed and goggle-eyed if you offer them a handful of notes instead of a piece of plastic known as a credit card.

A journalistic colleague on one of the posh Sunday papers put his finger on it. “The reality is that we live in a society which is not only riven with debt, but in which debt is an integral part of the system,” he wrote.

My father would almost certainly have summed it up with one of his favourite sayings. I can almost hear him now proclaiming, “Ee, we are at a nolt.” Which, roughly translated, means what a right old mess we’ve got ourselves into.


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