Friday 13 August 2010

money money money

We went out to buy some fish and chips the other evening. It’s not something we do often – a large wodge of cholesterol-wrapped calories, no matter how yummy, doesn’t exactly get much of a menton in my cardiologist’s “Hints for a Long and Healthy” leaflet. Except filed under “Don’t even think about it, Fatty”.

But we’d had a gruelling day, I didn’t feel in the least like cooking supper, and suddenly, unbidden, the Chippie sprang to mind. And as you know, when a fancy for fish and chips comes upon you, absolutely nothing else will do. “Aw – go on then” said Susie “ It can’t hurt us just occasionally”.

So off we trotted to our local fryery. I was a bit badly parked, so I gave Suse my last £20 note, and sent her to do the necessary while I sat in the car in case a traffic-gollum slithered over our horizon.

Eventually, back she comes, carrying a tantalisingly miasmic parcel, gets in the car, and hands me a crumpled fiver, three pound coins, and some small change.

“How much”? I squeaked. “ The best part of twelve quid for two portions of fish and chips? Talk about the Piece of Cod That Passeth All Understanding!”

Because when I was young, you could buy the same delicacy for about half-a-crown (12.5p for you under-fifties) a go. Two bob for the fish, and sixpence for the chips. .And you’d get some interesting (if somewhat greasy ) reading matter thrown in as wrapping, flavouring the contents with a subtle hint of printer’s ink. Of course, the Brussels elf-‘n’-safety Gestapo soon put a stop to this early attempt at re-cycling as unhygienic, with scant regard to the fact that it hadn’t hurt a soul in a century or so. And fish ‘n’ chips without its newspaper packaging never tasted the same thereafter.

But it set me to thinking. Not about the seismic inflation rate since decimalisation, (well not after a time, anyhow) but about how much I miss the old money itself. There was the half-a-crown, a big, chunky coin, the earlier examples of which were made of real silver, as was the shilling, and the 2 shilling piece, or florin. The twelve-sided bronze threepenny bit, and its little silver forbear, much beloved of Christmas Pudding makers and Tooth Fairies. The old copper penny, much bigger than any coin we have today, and with more real purchasing power than most of ‘em. The farthing, or quarter-penny, which in my boyhood days still had some value, in my case for confections such as bullseyes, toffees or gobstoppers. The old white fiver, about the size of two paperbacks laid side to side, and printed in serious no-nonsense black on crackly crisp white watermarked paper. Serious money, in more senses than one.

And the lovely slang names we had. The half crown was a tosheroon or half-a-dollar, the sixpence a tanner or zack, the shilling known to all as a bob, the two bob bit, the ten bob note or half-a-bar, the oncer or (slightly earlier) the Brad (named after a Mr Bradbury, Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, whose signature was on the pre-war £1 Note.)

There were also some solid gold coins that were technically legal tender, albeit nobody in their right mind would proffer one – the gold content was worth far, far more than the face value. The Sovereign (Eastenders still talk of ‘Sovs’ , meaning pounds,) and that most elegant, useful and less-understood unit of currency, the Guinea.

A throwback to Georgian times, the guinea was worth 21 shillings (£1.05). Gentlemen, the Upper Classes, the professional middle class, and some auctioneers with delusions of grandeur dealt in guineas (as Gentlemen of the Turf still do. )

I say ‘useful and less-understood’, because as I saw it the first attribute was a direct result of the second. The main advantage was in adding to the confusion of Johnny Foreigner, whose mental decimal-based calculator was already having a nervous breakdown with the “twelve pence in a shillng, twenty shillings in a pound” concept. I used to work in a shop in Central London, and the sight of a vacationing citizen of Deepshit Arkansas running out of fingers to count with was one of the minor pleasures of life.

But for me, the guinea had some domestic advantage, as well.

When I had my Antique Dealer’s hat on I used to spend much of my time buying at auction – albeit very much at the the other end of the spectrum to the Christeby’s mob.

The bidding would rise, usually in one pound increments, which the auctioneer would call, as usual. But every so often, just as the hammer was about to fall, I’d call out “Guineas, Sir!” which in effect is a 5% increase on the previous ‘pounds’ bid – easy to work out for a round number, but not so for - say - £23 or £57. So by the time the any potential underbidders had done the maths, the hammer had fallen and I’d bought yet another lot.

Today’s cash is far less satisfying, somehow. But then it’s only a stopgap. Within a decade or so everybody will have to flash the plastic or set up an online payment on their voice-activated mobile computer (by then only periphally a phone) for every purchase. Inflation will make the coinage effectively worthless, and cash money will disappear altogether, with the result that every single transaction we make, no matter how insignificant, will be recorded somewhere, and open to inspection by any licensed snooper, corporate busybody or Credit Agency that takes a fancy to do so.
But why should I care? By then I'll have well and truly cashed in my chips.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Toil and Trouble

“Exercise!” quoth the Doc.

“Nevermore!” quoth the bookseller, but only to himself - it would have almost certainly been wasted on the good medic, who hails from Whereveristan and who had probably never even heard of Poe, let alone read him.

“Exercise – that’s what you are needing, Mr James – regular exercise. Two or three times a day. Nothing too strenuous to start with – stop if you start to feel breathless.

I forbore from telling him that I feel breathless just getting out of bed of a morning. I need half-an-hours rest before I can climb into the shower.

I omitted to remind him that my eroded lower lumbar is unravelling, almost on a daily basis, and that serious exercise in any form is a non-starter.

I thought it imprudent to mention that I can barely walk up to the shops without an oxygen pack. And as for running for a bus (whatever that is) – dream on!

I didn’t bother to inform him that I am an alumnus, graduate summa cum laude, of the “IfGodHadMeantUsToWalkHeWouldn’tHaveGivenUsTaxis” School of Locomotion.

“But OK, ” I reasoned. “The man may have a point. Indulge him. Let’s give it a go. “

My mind harked back sixty-odd years to when I was a spindly lad, untimely ripped from the family bosom and thrust unwilling into the harsh surrealism that is an English prep school of the boarding variety. Whose headmaster had the notion that since the young Prince Philip had done fairly well for himself, what was good for him had to be good for us, so the whole place was modelled on HRH’s alma mater, Gordonstoun School, an establishment whose Spartan ethos made HMP Dartmoor resemble a sissy version of Butlins. And as far as I know, none of us got to wed a Windsor.

We had to start off each morning (after the statutory plunge into a cold bath, that is) with a ten minute PT (that’s PE in old money – or as my dad would have said ‘physical jerks’) session (followed by a 3 mile run, but let’s not go into shudder mode.) Held in the school car park, perched half way up the Malvern Hills, it consisted of running-on-the-spot, stretching and bending ,jumping up and down into and out of a simulacrum of Leonardo’s “The Man” with legs apart and arms raised, and similar such pointless exercises. And woe betide any slackers. Slacking was a crime punishable by being named and shamed in front of the whole school, and losing house points, which made one seriously unpopular with the large lads in the Sixth Form, usually to one’s physical discomfort. Worse, the weekly chocolate fix (we were allowed a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk apiece - price sixpence) went out of the window.

In our Aertex shirts and shorts (standard garb, all year round , although they did issue us a thin sweater apiece during blizzards) we must have looked like one of those old Leni Riefenstahl films of the Hitlerjugend doing its calisthenics. Except that Leni only ever filmed in bright sunlight, but in early-morning Malvern it was usually misty or raining, when it wasn’t snowing. Or, as it was half the year, dark. Or most of these at once.

In retrospect, I did inherit a dual legacy from this worthy regime. I ended up impervious to cold; and with a tendency to run a (metaphorical) mile in the opposite direction to any suggestion of unnecessary exercise. Or indeed, and by extension, anything else that was deemed to be ‘good for me’.

Anyway - I knew the drill. It had been drilled into me every morning for six cold, wet, hungry (breakfast was still an hour away) years.

So the following morning I creaked out of bed, took on a strong intravenous coffee to prime the pump, and set to.

I thought I’d start with a bit of stretching and bending. The stretching part I’m good at.. It’s all those years pulling books from tops of bookcases as does it. I can reach a fresh bottle of Laphraoig down from the highest shelf in the kitchen, no probs. So far so good.

The next bit is supposed to consist of standing on tiptoe, putting the hands on the hips, and slowly bending the knees until the posterior touches the heels

The descent was OK, if a bit wobbly; at which point the idea is to slowly straighten up again, back into stretch mode. But my sense of balance isn’t as good as it used to be. And the joints aren’t as supple as they once were, either. With the result that just as my left knee gave out, with an audible crack, I lost my balance and fell over, hitting my head on the corner of the bedside table on my way down.

So that was that, for a week or so. If at first you don’t succeed, give up, and pour yourself a stiff brandy.

Nevertheless, I had a stab at various exercises over the next few weeks, with, frankly, limited success, although the attempts didn’t involve any further painful contact with either the floor or the furniture. And I only put my back out twice.

But we’ll keep trying. Things are looking up. I managed to do most of a press-up this morning.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Moaning at the Bar

In my inbox this morning I found an email, offering to sell me a list of "150,000 criminal lawyers in the USA." Although why they shold think I have a requirement for a rogues gallery of such magnitude escapes me.

Had I thought about it, I might just have realised that the Legal Profession, even the American Legal Profession, would almost certainly harbour a few rotten apples, but 150,000 of 'em? And presumably that's just the confirmed criminal element - they don't mention those that are merely a bit iffy, or for that matter those that haven't been caught yet.

I think I'll write to Barak Obama personally and beseech him to do something about this scandal. We in this country tend to import American culture by default, and I'd hate to see a dramatic increase in the number of bent briefs here - we have more than enough already.

To continue briefly on a legal motif, I was in the foyer of the local Ploddery the other day – not because I’d done anything that might have necessitated the aid of one of the 150K mouthpieces as noted above, but because I’d had my mobile purloined, and I had to go in and make a statement. It’s a nice new shiny Nick, our local, with a smart light oak hotel-style foyer far bigger than our front room, and with various doors leading off it, to interview rooms, cells, torture chambers and such. One of these doors had a smart sign, in brushed aluminium, saying “Disabled Toilet”. What I don’t understand is instead of some expensive and permanent-looking signage pointing out that the loo’s broke, why they don’t just fix it and have done.

Saturday 23 January 2010

de minimis non curat lex, if it's alright with you.

The British Labour Party has been dreaming up 33 new crimes a month

Daily Mail 22/01/10

As I get older, there’s one thing I’m more and more sure of
It’s that legislation is what we need less of, and not, as we’re getting, far more of.

Spawned by the aptly named Balls, or that femino-fascist Miz Harperson.
(Whose reforming zeal is rapidly turning her into a mad-eyed take-it-too-far Person.)

We’ve a surfeit of statutes. A glut of rules, jurisprudence in superabundance
And bye-laws keep falling on my head like raindrops on Cassidy (or was it Sundance?)

But legislating for ev’ry misfortune of which anybody’s ever dreamt
Serves only to make us all treat the Law with contempt.

For if there’s one law the Bully State never learns
It’s the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Besides, if we deserve so much protection from ourselves
Then they might as well put us in cages, number us, and stack us in shelves.

We’re sufferning from teminal legislative overkill
So let’s suggest to the Mother of Parliaments that it’s time she went on the pill?