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U3A Writing: Brassed Off

…This was a lady who scrimped and saved to feed and clothe her children. In the summer she stopped her clock to save the works. In daylight she looked across at the factory clock. Wool from old jerseys was unravelled and re-used.

She could not afford to waste anything. I’m sure she would have been mortified by the mountains of waste in today’s society. She was accustomed to make do and mend, a phrase which is now long past its sell-by date…

Gillian Tovey does not feel at home in this spend-spend-spend credit-card age.

They used to say ‘that money makes the world go round,’ but I wonder nowadays if the phrase should be ‘money makes the world go pear-shaped.’

I am having great difficulty coming to terms with a spend-spend-spend or a buy-now-pay-later culture. I also thought debt was a thing of the past, but it can’t be, as it seems to rise daily. Not surprising really when so many people of all ages are literally spending their free time in various emporiums and shopping malls - ‘spending’ being the operative word.

Whenever I stand in line to pay a cashier, I simply recoil in horror as customers unravel a zigzag of credit and store cards tumbling downwards. I watch mesmerised as cards are selected, swiped and pin numbers inserted into an impersonal machine.

After a time delay and recognition the cashier asks the question, “Would you like any cash back?” What is this madness? They’re not giving it away, buckshee, and yet many customers say ‘yes.’ It leaves me speechless, and I can’t wait to hand over my cash and get away.

The latest mantra is that we should abolish money entirely in favour of as many plastic cards as possible. Coins and notes are frowned upon as they’re unfashionable. Meanwhile free vouchers or offers of buy-one-get-one-free are treated like gold dust.

I believe they are stealing our money by stealth before our very eyes, and at what cost! People are up to their eyeballs in debt, and somewhere someone is pulling a fast one.

Those Green Shield Stamps of the past seem innocuous, and the Co-op divi was a bonus for many families on tight budgets in days gone by. Hire purchase did allow many families the opportunity of purchasing a fridge, washing machine and television, which were affordable, for those on low incomes, providing that the weekly payments were kept up. Yet many felt that this was equivalent to selling one’s soul to the devil.

It is very difficult to keep up-to-date with the proliferation of banking and financial services in today’s modern world. It is no wonder that instead of watching tadpoles, we have a ‘spawning’ of financial advisers eager to take their bonuses from our investments, so we can keep pace with inflation rates.

Some distant, often foreign, voice calls you up to say that you have won some prize when you haven’t even entered a competition or filled in a form with an idiotic slogan. Daily we are bombarded with unrequested junk mail, media and billboard advertisements constantly enticing people to buy this or that product. It is a vicious conspiracy to buy into whatever is on offer. This constant bombardment is seductive and pernicious, and sadly so many are gullible and easily swayed.

It isn’t that I don’t want to buy anything. Occasionally we do have to update and replace various furnishings, fittings and household gadgets. I know we are lucky to be able to do this. But in my case it is often easier said that done.

I have always enjoyed saving up for something, so it’s very frustrating to find that what I need is not available. If I do come across something I like, I discover that there is the added problem of remembering my pin number so the goods can be paid for.

We actually bought a shredder the other day so no one can search our dustbin for papers with codes and personal details, in an effort to protect our identity code numbers. Whatever happened to the simple life?

When I do simmer down, I realise how fortunate I have been to have had parents who understood the value of money and how to manage it well. Money had to be earned with a hard day’s work and spent wisely. It must not be frittered away, as it had to be saved for that illusive rainy day.

When my parents married in 1938 my father bought a metal box, and inside were various compartments. On the lid were various slits, which were neatly labelled. The box was locked, and the key was duly hidden away in a safe place. Every Friday evening money was placed in the various slots, namely: electricity, water, YMCA subs, holiday expenses and sundries. Whenever the bills arrived and payment was due the money was there ready for its recipient. At a later date the last slot was used to meet the regular payments for the mortgage.

Before her marriage my mother followed in her mother’s footsteps by saving silver threepenny pieces. After her marriage she began a collection of sixpences. Much later I was to play with these and yet it was also an exercise in counting money. I soon learned that there were 40 sixpences in a pound.

The first coins I ever had in my own right were 23 farthings. It was the day of my christening, and I was a mere six weeks old. Dad’s sister, Auntie May, arrived on the doorstep with a beautiful doll, fully dressed, and it was larger than me.

“What a stupid gift for a baby,” Grandad Roberts snarled at my aunt.

Her immediate response was to pick up the doll, throw the farthings across the carpet and immediately leave in a huff. My mother put the farthings in a small linen bag, which many years later I found when spring cleaning. My mother always referred to it as my inheritance.

Thankfully the saviness and sagacity of my sensible parents ensured that during my upbringing I would be shown how to respect the value of money.

My maternal great-grandmother was a formidable dragon of a lady who brought up a family of 11 children with great difficulty. She saved farthings to see them through the bad times, and she controlled the purse strings. She knew what it was like to go on tick at the corner shop in the middle of the week, but she claimed her husband’s beer money at the end of the week so she could clear the debt quickly.

After the death of her husband she always saved a few coppers to pay any doctor’s fees and to build up a nest-egg (or her own funeral expenses). The undertaker was paid for long before her death at the age of 95.

This was a lady who scrimped and saved to feed and clothe her children. In the summer she stopped her clock to save the works. In daylight she looked across at the factory clock. Wool from old jerseys was unravelled and re-used.

She could not afford to waste anything. I’m sure she would have been mortified by the mountains of waste in today’s society. She was accustomed to make do and mend, a phrase which is now long past its sell-by date. There are no replacement parts to be bought because as soon as something new comes off the production line it is immediately out of date, or ‘passé’ in modern parlance.

My parents encouraged me to save from an early age. My piggybank was in the shape of a large refrigerator. My meagre pocket money was dropped in regularly each week.

The primary school was involved in the Yorkshire Penny Bank Savings Scheme, and when I joined I was given six old pence a week to hand over each Monday morning. By the time I left the primary school it was half a crown that was placed in the account. At a later date National Savings was the order of the day at the grammar school, and my father suggested that I should participate in this during this new phase in my schooling.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence Friday night was the time for cashing up. So out came the heavy ledgers and cash books. It was my job to place the money from the cash till in piles, from half pennies to half crowns and then total the different amounts.

Cheques were placed in date order and then the amounts were totalled. Dad checked and verified my calculations before the money was placed in the correct bank bags. No calculators in those days, not even any scales for weighing and checking the amounts. My how times have changed!

From early childhood I had been taught never to be afraid of doing something for nothing, like running errands for our elderly neighbours or weeding their garden, helping change the bed sheets or popping peas and dusting. Occasionally there’d be a biscuit or a glass of lemonade for my trouble, but to be honest I enjoyed doing these odd jobs. Yes, I wonder whatever happened to those small gestures of neighbourliness and generosity of spirit.

‘What? Do something for nothing?’ That’s fast disappearing. Its replacement is more likely to be ‘What’s in it for me?’ My philosophy is ‘money helps but it isn’t everything’. Let’s hope the materialistic age of wilful consumerism will reach a sensible equilibrium and people, rather than things, will be worth their weight in gold.


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