On Monday, 14th February 1971, when I was nearly 14, the UK currency system changed from the Roman Denarius system over to decimal (named after the Roman god of decorations – which is why Christmas is in December). On the same day Belgian farmers illegally entered the EEC building in Brussels with three cows. (Some of those cows went on to form UKIP).
It was on this day that I would have preferred to have been attacked by a mad, Flemish-speaking cow, as my mother had ordered me to teach her this new fangled method of money.
I have mentioned before in this vehicle that my mother’s education was limited given her own mother keeping her away from school for the duration of the war. A consequence of which, although my mother could read, she was unable to write and certainly couldn’t add up (she thought that calculus was a former Roman emperor, multiplication was a song by Little Eva and division was a town in Wiltshire). I had to teach this woman that, as from today, 240 was now 100. I had more chance of successfully teaching my pet goldfish long division without using the aid of a sunken ship and a diver.
It was one of the most painful evenings of my life. Given that I would go on to fail Maths O-level three times (I think it was three) it was like the blind leading the blind. If we’d have involved my maternal great grandmother it would have been the blind leading the blind, as she was blind.
Sadly, she’d “gone to meet the angels” when I was six. I always assumed the Angels were a family she knew who owned an Old Peoples Home for blind people and my great grandmother had gone to stay there.
I was never going to get my mother to get her head round the fact that half-a-crown was going to be twelve-and-a-half new pence.
“Halfpence,” she questioned, “will they be cutting the coins in two?” So, adding up abilities poor, but she could do simple division.
The only good thing, in mum’s eyes, was that £500 was still a monkey.
However, this potential problem was averted as my mother, not yet forty and certainly not looking it, was tall, stunningly good looking with blonde hair and blue eyes. She might not have been able to add up, but she managed to get a lot of things from various shopkeepers the length of Balham High Road for free. Well, when I say free…
She couldn’t spell, but, from the carpet seller on Balham High Road, she would never go short of a new shag-pile carpet. Quite apposite, really!.