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The Original "Getting Real"

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Friday, 5 December 2008

Money Talks

In a lovely wooden box, engraved with the initials of someone I never knew and have no idea where the box came from - I just always had it since childhood - there is a stash of old coins from the pre-decimalisation era of my earliest years. Some of them I put there, as a child, others were given to me later from ancient relatives. There are worn pennies from as far back as 1864; silver thre'penny bits and the other hexagonal sixpenny pieces, farthings and ha'pennies, and some half crowns and crowns. On some, Queen Victoria - in various eras - is depicted on one side and Britannia on the other. On others there is George V, George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II, also in various eras. They are all quite worthless now but, holding them in my hand, there is such a sense of history about them and they say a lot.

Firstly, I wish they had not compelled us to remove Britannia from our coinage. Secondly, I pray that they will not deprive us of our history by switching us to the Euro, because coins - like stamps or like letter boxes and telephone boxes - hold history and tell us where we came from. It's not a question of economics; it's a question of identity. Thirdly - the overriding thought - I touch these coins and wonder how many hands they passed through. Were they dropped into charity boxes from the pockets of philanthropists? Were they fought over? Were they used to pay for child labour, or for crimes? Were they dropped on the ground and trodden on by people in clogs, making their way home from the mills and eagerly gathered up by someone thinking they had made a great find? Did they pay for a gill of gin or did they pay for a gift for a child? Did they exchange hands gladly or were they handed over grudgingly? Who held them? What kinds of kindly or grasping hands? Where have they been and how were they used? A million stories flow from every one of them...Money does talk. It talks of history and identity and tells its own tale.

Money is an odd thing, isn't it? It was a piece of metal or pieces of paper. It's something that changes in value. It used to be measured in coinage and now is measured by a click on the screen or a piece of plastic stuck in the hole in the wall. Yet people kill for it, people create wars for it, people die for it. Strange how civilised we consider ourselves compared to animals - at least they fight over something concrete like something to eat or a mate. Only humanity could be bizarre enough to cause wars over something that is only a concept...Ho hum!

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