The way in which the value of certain shares was lowered dramatically in order to make a killing on the stock exchange shows several things, the instability of the market, the worry of the individual, the level of criminality and sheer, uncaring selfishness. This in turn made me think of what the value of money is doing, or indeed not doing, to our society today. When I was a schoolboy in the early 30s, I could buy four aniseed balls for a farthing, off a man with a tray on his chest standing at the school gates. The farthing was one 960th of a pound. In those days the average labouring wage was three pounds a week, and because we didn’t have a nanny society, the labourer had to pay for his medicine and everything else out of that, but he didn’t have to buy his house.
I can’t speak for England, because I have only been there mainly as a visitor for the last 60 years, but in the 30s there was a level of poverty that today I believe is unimaginable, where people were starving, there was nothing like the numbers of charities there are today, and it was the communities that looked after themselves as best they could, with little help that I remember from the State. It is just as well today that the there are all these charities, because people like myself cannot believe how insular everyone has become. Some families are a tight unit, if they can’t keep together they at least communicate, but there are so many others that are scattered without that level of help, guidance and assurance.
This in turn made me think about poverty, and I mean real poverty, which I have experienced when, in the period of a year, my mother and I went from a house with six servants, to me and my brother being farmed out separately, and she taking a job as a live-in housekeeper. Being poor doesn’t necessarily mean being unhappy, or didn’t in those days, because poor people were the order of the day, brought to that condition by World War I. What I find interesting about people who are impoverished is that their pleasures are simple, because they must be, and that the people enjoy them even more, I believe, than the wealthy do with their expensive pleasures. The poor invent their own games and pastimes, which cost little or nothing, and they can all enjoy. Further up the scale, there is a pecking order, need I say more. Our government should provide the same sort and quantity of facilities in the towns and cities, that we had when we were young, so that the impoverished could use them for their own entertainment at no cost.
Over the years of our retirement, Sophie and I have found that our gross income, has dwindled year by year, in spite of being indexed, but then having experienced a wide range of pleasures in the past, and steadily finding that our physical endurance is also dwindling, our needs and demands are just about keeping pace with our reduction in income. We find it ironic that our grandchildren are earning several times more than we, but while we are comfortable, if not expansive, with their colossal mortgages, the increased cost of living as they do, and as we did in our day, they are finding it almost impossible to make ends meet, and they are not alone.
They say that comparisons are odious, but when you get very old, to some extent that’s what you’re left with. Take the coinage, in the 30s, for the average man in the street, it was divided into tenners, fivers, guineas, pounds, half crowns, florins, shillings, sixpences, threepenny pieces, pennies, halfpennies and farthings. I have always thought it was a pity that we lost our coinage. Today I wouldn’t give my great-grandchildren anything less than a tenner, as one of those gifts we give to children whom we don’t see that often. On the principle that the differential between the 30s and today is probably about a hundred times, the tenner would represent in the 30s a florin, or 96 farthings, and as a child it was rare that I would find more than a silver threepenny piece in my pocket. This in my view represents not only a devaluation of the pound, but a devaluation of the respect for a pound.