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Old Money

On hot summer days such as today
the newspaper headlines used to delight in reporting it under headlines like “London
Sizzles in the Seventies”.  They can‘t
any longer because we’ve switched the temperature scale from Fahrenheit to
Celsius, and there doesn’t seem to be much alliteration available for
temperatures in the high twenties or low thirties.

“Torrid Twenties” is about the
best I can manage without recourse to the Thesaurus.  “Thirsty Thirties” might be a good caption
for a photograph of people drinking outside public houses. 

I can’t say that I consciously
miss Herr Fahrenheit’s system; what is there to miss about a system of numbers?
 And Celsius probably makes more sense. But
I still instinctively think in terms of seventy degrees rather than
twenty-something especially when, first thing in the morning, I open the
bathroom window to ascertain the weather. 
Freezing point is stuck in my brain as 32 degrees Fahrenheit, because
that’s what I learned in school.  What is
it in Celsius?  Zero, I think. 

What a fool, you may be thinking,
but customs and references absorbed since childhood and observed over a
lifetime, or even half a lifetime, are not easily discarded.

I’m starting to sound increasingly
like my parents, I now realise.  Perhaps
even like my mother who, thirty years after Britain’s money went decimal, still
insisted on converting ‘new’ money into ‘old’ money, for every purchase, invariably
shocked by the results.  “You mean to
tell me that newspaper cost a shilling!” she’d exclaim in wonderment a few
years after the Event.  Five pence made
it sound cheaper. What would she think now of £1.50?  Dad would have gone spare.  “You mean to tell me a newspaper now costs
more than a pint!”  He moaned incessantly
about the price of his beloved pint. 
“That there pint, not so many years ago, would have cost a
shilling.  Now it’s 50 pence.  Sounds cheap, but that’s ten bob (ten
shillings) in old money.  Ten bob for a
pint!  It’s all a racket, this new money,
a way for Big Business to put prices up faster.” 

Of course, the pint he’s talking
about is a holdover from the days of imperial measures.  Now, under European law, it ought to be a
litre-and-something, which doesn’t have the same ring.  To be fair, the pint’s special social status
has been recognised by the European authorities with a special dispensation to
keep it.   

 The ‘old’ money survives in the language,
though probably not for much longer.  Much of it lingers only in the recollections
of old folk.  “I’ll give you a four-penny
one,” I remember as my mother’s constant threat, meaning a clip round the
ear.  “It’s not worth tuppence,” was a
common term of derision about a shoddy, over-priced product.  Neither would make much sense to a
twenty-year old.  Farthings and guineas
carved a permanent place in the language, but only in silos of tradition – the
former in a nursery rhyme, the latter at the race-track (where prize money is
still defined in guineas).  Few
teenagers, assuming they’d ever heard of either, would be able to hazard a guess
at their value.

Height and weight have been
transformed, too, to widespread confusion among the over-seventies.  I used to be five-foot-ten (incidentally, above
the national average).  Now I’m 1.7983 metres
(these days a bit of a short-arse).  My
weight, once a svelte fourteen stone something, is now a mysterious 110
kilograms.  We used to speak admiringly
of policemen as “burly six-footers”.  Now
they’d be – what?  “Burly 180 metres”;  doesn’t quite work, does it?  

And another thing … I’ve just
received from our estate agent a glossy brochure depicting our house.  The floor plan says it cover 448 square
metres.  What the hell does that mean in
real money?  It sounds tiny.  Surely there must be some mistake.  No, there’s no mistake and it’s far from modest.  The place is stretched across 4,812 square
feet, as I’ve just spotted in the conversion table.

Anyway, back to the weather.  It’s going to be thirty-odd degrees today,
possibly higher, which by any standard of measurement is a bloody scorcher,
whatever the scale.   Long may it

{By the way, we’re off to Sweden tomorrow (for a wedding,
since you ask) and Rants may go from Random to non-existent for a few days.}


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