Saturday, 29 February 2020

Back to black

Believe me, I have precious little in common with the late and lamented Amy Winehouse! But the post title is still apt. I have decided that an experiment has run its course. I am going back to my black hairband.

And initially with a definite reason. I need a hairband to make my hair look better, after a self-inflicted fringe trim that didn't work.

I haven't had a proper professional hair cut and blow-dry since mid-December, nor a professionally-done fringe trim. My stylist of ten years has got her man, bought the house, had her fabulous wedding, and has now had her first baby. That was in early January. (One of four babies I heard about at that time: January seems to be a very popular month for births!) 

She's presently at home, tending of course to her beloved little treasure, but offering occasional appointments to friends and longstanding clients twice a month. The snag for me is that these are all late-afternoon times, and I'd have to battle through the rush-hour Brighton traffic to reach her. I really don't want to do that.

I've got so used to having my hair done in the country village salon she was working in after quitting her last salon in The Lanes of Brighton. I willingly followed her into the sticks. I am not however willing to rejoin the Brighton rat-race. And however good her home set-up, it will lack the stylishness, buzz and atmosphere of a busy salon. I think she'll miss that too. I'm sure that once her baby is older she'll be renting a chair somewhere and getting back into it all. But for now, it has to be - baby permitting - a part-time thing. And it doesn't suit me. My 2020 caravanning season is fast approaching, and I need to set up my hair appointments when my schedule allows, not at these odd moments. The dates she can offer are mostly no good, even if I were willing to steel myself and endure the traffic.

So it looks as if a natural moment has come to quietly detach myself and float away to another stylist. Not that my simple hairstyle needs anything more than a competent cut now and then. Which is another thing. The cost of getting my hair seen to was getting a bit high, and I'd rather spend the money on more ambitious holidays while I have the energy for them, and extra savings for that fancy electric car I have in mind five years ahead!

My hair has grown a bit since December, and the layering and shape it had then is slowly unravelling. I don't mind; for various reasons, I would now like to grow my hair rather longer and eventually get it restyled slightly differently.

Growing my hair longer was discouraged by my stylist, because growth on my right side wasn't as luxuriant as on my left, leading to an imbalance. Well, there is something in that; but I want to see how it really works out if I let my hair reach my shoulders like it did ten years ago. If it looks odd, then so be it, I'll resign myself to shorter hair. But it's worth going for extra length, and finding out for myself. If there's any way to go forward with longer hair, I'm going to do it.

And there's a clear financial advantage: longer intervals between cuts will save me money! And if I behave like a tart, and flit between salons without ever getting fixed at one only, then I can escape buying my shampoo and conditioner from them - which also saves money. I know a place where I can buy these things at close to the trade price.

Meanwhile, the fringe needs regular attention. I love my fringe and will always keep it. But my goodness, how quickly it grows down over my eyes! It needs trimming at least twice as often as the rest of my hair.

One of my local friends, Valerie, had a go at trimming it in January. She did a subtle job. But three weeks on, with strands tickling my eyes again, I had a go myself.

This was a big mistake! I do not have the skill to get it right. And whenever I've done this before - in the middle of a long holiday, for instance -  I always end up cutting too much off, and I leave a hard line. The proverbial pudding-bowl cut. So when they see me again, my local girl friends will purse their lips and nag me no end, and I can't blame them. And my stylist always knew when I'd been tinkering, even if I'd merely had a couple of tentative snips; she'd tut-tut, appalled, and tell me off.

But I never learn my lesson. Let's face it, I hate being told what to do. I reserve the right to do whatever I like with my own hair - and my own body. It's mine: hands off.

Well, I hacked at that fringe again and it looked bad. And my friends were aghast.

Jo had a go at softening the edges yesterday, which she did very carefully. And it has helped. But really it will take at least another two weeks before it grows sufficiently to resemble the way it normally looks after a proper professional cut.

I'm minded now to leave my hair alone, and just pop into a salon in late March or early April, when away on holiday. There's bound to be a decentish place I can go to in Truro or Bideford or Barnstaple - just to tidy it up all round, but keeping the length that I'm trying to gain. I'll make it one of my Holiday Experiences!

And here's where the hairband comes in. When I wear one, it accentuates and flattens the fringe, so that it spreads out a bit and comes closer to my eyes. At the present time, that's important.

I've got one on now, not a black band (I binned the old one as a New Year's Resolution) but a tortoiseshell one - which looks fine, although I think that in the end I'll revert to black all the time. It's both comfortable (and comforting) to wear. I'd missed having one on my head. Well, the New Year Experiment is now over. I want my old look back. Half the people in my life liked it, half didn't, but I'm going to do what I want to.

I think I will buy a variety of hairbands in various styles, to wear with different outfits and suit different occasions. Why not? But for day-to-day wear, the simple black hoop. Back to black.

I expect everyone is thoroughly bored with pictures of me, but I do want to make a point - which is, that in my own opinion hairbands suit me, whatever the situation. Although I will admit that (contrary to a longstanding assertion) they don't in fact do much to control the hair in a breeze! Here's a selection of hairband-selfies from 2019, to illustrate what I mean:

I hope you agree. But I'm going to be philosophical if you can't concur.

Sequel - same day
Boots had what I wanted: a black hairband. Only £3.00. I'm back in business.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Free at last

It's probably tempting the gods to write a post celeberating this, but I can't resist. I have made my final loan repayment. It's over. It's done with. I have a closing statement, and the loan balance has disappeared from my list of online accounts, as has all mention of the monthly direct debit. I won't be paying that any more.

I haven't felt so unburdened financially since the Cottage was finally sold and off my hands in August 2011.

I'm £240 richer every month from now on. But I won't be spending it. I've just upped my monthly savings by £250. I have that new car in 2025 in sight. And I am good at sticking firmly to a plan. Provided nothing intervenes to stop me.

It all began in late 2015 - four and a bit years ago - when the Volvo dealer broke the news to me that Fiona's auto all-wheel-drive gearbox was kaput. I didn't have more than a few hundred in savings, and a fancy new box would cost £5,000. I almost cried. My beloved car wasn't in fact indestructible! But I bit the bullet and had the work done. Meanwhile I got a £5,000 loan from my bank in November 2015, and a month later commenced loan repayments.

Little did I know that I was going to need three more loans in succession!

In late 2016, the investigation of a worrying whining noise led to the replacement of the rear differential (a sophisticated electronic affair, not merely a box full of mechanical cogs). I had by then repaid some of the original £5,000 loan, so only top-ups were required: £1,750 in November 2016, then another £2,000 in January 2017. These were consolidated.

I'd repaid most of what was owing, and saw the end in sight, when the caravan dealer advised me in February 2019 that I'd need various things seen to on the caravan - chiefly a front-end rebuild to cure damp ingress. So yet another loan, as my savings had merely bumped along since the end of 2015, and I couldn't fully cover the cost. This time, 'only' £1,500. I now made sure that the repayment schedule would get rid of the new outstanding balance in twelve months. I was eager to be loan-free early in 2020.

And now I'm free at last. It's taken me four years and three months, but I've just repaid a total of £10,250, plus interest. I think that's quite an achievement, as it's all come out of my pension income.

I'm hoping that nothing unexpected happens before the end of 2020 to force me into applying for new finance. For instance, a central-heating breakdown. I'd certainly be able to borrow whatever I needed. But want a long, long, long break from all that. So it's still very much 'fingers crossed'.

As for exotic holidays, such as a nice cruise - perhaps as a treat for my 70th birthday in 2022 - it's great to contemplate such things. But putting money together to buy an electric car must come first - car ownership entirely underpins my countryside-based life. And beyond that, a 'green' replacement central heating system. And then a makeover for my home.

No, I think I'll be relying on my affordable caravan holidays for the foreseeable future!

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Not enough points! I wouldn't get in!

The proposed points system to be imposed on UK visa applicants after the end of this year has been published, and as it stands it seems rather tough. It will be difficult to secure the right to stay in the UK unless one is rather well qualified, and has a job fixed up in science, technology, engineering or maths. So basically a job in the electronic industries, pharmaceuticals, bridge- and tunnel-building, and research/teaching posts at Oxbridge. Possibly also in a 'shortage sector', which (I'm guessing) could cover any occupation perceived to be short of good-quality professionals, and it must have a wider scope than so far revealed. For instance, the top foreign talent in football, film-making and ballet must surely qualify under this provision.

People I've spoken with all think the government have merely unveiled the bare bones of a much more complicated system. They say it will have to let in hundreds of thousands of lower-qualified workers - and their families - who don't meet the exacting headline criteria.

It's early days yet. I dare say the points system will evolve over the next few months.

Meanwhile, it's disquieting to reflect that if ever I went abroad on a basis that deprived me of an automatic right of re-entry into the UK - let's set aside for the moment how that could happen - I think I'd be hard-put to qualify for a visa under this new points system.

Assuming one is of good character and not (for instance) a criminal or a terrorist, an applicant needs 70 points.

I'd get 10 points for speaking English. Of course, I'm often misunderstood; but I put that down to my Anglo-Welsh upbringing and an accent some people find odd or difficult. But yes, 10 big fat points.

So far, the Immigration Officials are smiling and beckoning me on. But not for long.

I might not get 20 points for my level of income. I have a guaranteed, inflation-proofed pension income - it's the total of my government pension plus the State Pension - and it amply exceeds the required £25,600 per annum. But it isn't pay from skilled employment with an approved sponsor. I'm one of the so-called 'economically inactive', and I rather think pensions won't count. So nul points.

Nor am I well-qualified. I've got three good A-Levels - I still have the pristine certificates in Geography, English Literature and Art - but the exams were sat almost fifty years ago. And I didn't go on to university (my personal act of rebellion against a school system I hated and despised). So there's no PhD to earn me a further 10 points - or 20 if it was in science, technology. engineering or maths. Nul points again.

Whoops. Only 10 points. Or 30 points, if they will allow my pensions as qualifying income.

But not 70. They are showing me the door. No, worse: they are marching me off to a holding cage, pending deportation. Nightmare.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Fading flowers, smiling androids

Related to the topic of old age is the distressing loss of attractiveness. This matters to a woman. It's important, even if no relationship is wanted, or could be coped with, to feel that one still has allure, that one will still be noticed and be worthy of more than one glance. It's not entirely a matter of vanity. Women grow up to be prettier than men, and there's an obvious biological reason for that. Take away the attractiveness, ruin a woman's looks, and part of her basic functionality as a human being is threatened.

It's generally possible to go through the greater part of one's life with, at the very least, a standard gonad-stirring female body. Sometimes a lovely face too. And it can all be improved upon, even if this requires ever more invasive and expensive beauty treatments. But there comes a time when old age, abetted by gravity, will win the battle to stay young-seeming. It's cruel. Some beautiful women with marvellous facial bone structure can age stunningly. But the plain and flabby-faced have to endure all the sad decay of a fading flower.

And it's not just the face. Body wrinkles proliferate. Flesh sags. Years of suntanning are now regretted as skin turns to freckled leather. Wide, bright eyes now look like a bloodhound's. And bone, muscle and veins protrude, the firm plump covering withered.

I see signs of all this in myself. I'm not a desiccated husk yet, and I hope won't be for many a long year, but the decline has definitely started.

What do I do about it?

I don't see much point in spending a lot on beauty treatments. My thinking here is, where do you stop? Fix your face, and your scrawny neck looks odd. Fix that, and the chest and bust look witch-like. The only proper solution for the bits that can't always be covered up would be a complete head-to-toe skin transplant. Short of that, the years ahead spent under a mask of make-up, and no exposed skin whatever.

I think a nutritious, balanced diet and some muscle-toning exercise will be a much better bet. And to go easy on anything that will stress the mind and body in a bad way. Nice clothes, a flattering hairstyle, and an optimistic outlook must also assist.

Beyond that, it's probably best to go with the flow, and accept each new stage of decrepitude with a spirit of adventure. I mean, all those gadgets one can buy and use, when bending and kneeling become difficult! And what an excuse to buy the latest high-tech walking stick! And ultimately, a go-anywhere driverless car!

I can see myself in my nineties, telling my driverless car Greta (she'll have a name like that, and I'll be able to talk to her) that I'm ready to be driven to Waitrose, and I'm just locking my front door. By the time I've ambled over to her, she'll be linked into 8G, warmed up, and softly playing one of my favourite tracks.

'Greta, it's me, Lucy.'

She unlocks the door, and opens it for me. I step in and sit in the super-comfortable seat. The door softly closes and locks.

'Good morning, Lucy! I've worked out the best route to Waitrose. It should take eleven minutes for me to drive there, park, and pay for an hour's parking. Do you want a summary of the latest news?'
'No thank you, Greta. Just play the music a bit louder.'
'Will do! Once you've got your seat-belt on, we'll be off.'

And I sit back, and watch the passing view. I wave to my neighbours as I glide past their front lawns.

At the other end of our journey, all I have to do is wait for Greta to finish her manoeuvres, and pay the parking charge for me. Then I get out and walk into Waitrose.

First, a coffee. Then the things I need to buy. An android is helping me - I can't reach those higher shelves now. In any case, Waitrose is using androids as personal shopping assistants, and assigns one to every customer as they come in, regardless of the customer's age or state of health. They push along a special pannier, scanning the price of each item as we go. There's no till to go to like there once was. After confirming with the android (whose name is Richard 22) that I've bought all the right things, he'll take payment and carry the goods out to Greta for me, myself following at my own pace. They seem to be having some kind of conversation. They've met before. I think Richard 22 likes Greta and looks forward to speaking with her. He thanks me for shopping once again at Waitrose, waves me goodbye, and walks jauntily back to his shop-service point, faster than I can manage nowadays, with a smile on his face.

Although, frankly, he always smiles, and always looks happy. They all do, all the forty-odd androids at the Waitrose store. It cheers you up, all those smiling faces, and the way they want to help, their willingness and their patience, and how they remember your last conversation with them, and what you typically like to buy, so that they can suggest the next thing to go in the pannier they push along. They even take you around the shop by the shortest, most efficient route.

I'd buy one for my home, but I can't afford it. I can at least chat with Greta while she's driving me about. She's actually very chatty as we drive home.

At ninety-three, I'm definitely looking like somebody with a long life behind them. But not a lot worse than when I was eighty. I'm still recognisably me, still alert. Just slower and liable to tire sooner.

One big thing I like about these androids, and all Sentient Devices really, is that they treat you like the most glamorous person on Earth. To them, I'm ageless Lucy Melford, their registered user, and it doesn't matter what I look like. Whatever the outer envelope, they respect it and adapt their behaviour to it. It wouldn't matter if my arthritis gets worse.

I've stopped worrying about my sagging bits and my wrinkles. It's funny, but my friends are similarly not worrying. We all look after ourselves, and like to dress well and look our best, but there's no competition, and we're not measuring ourselves against some impossible expectation. Whatever we look like, the androids greet us with cheerful voices, prompt us diplomatically if we forget what we were talking about, and help us in and out of chairs with the greatest gentleness imaginable. They make us feel like princesses.

'Greta, take me to the car park up on the Downs, the one with the view. I want to eat my lunch there, then stroll in the sun.'
'What a great idea! Let's go!'

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Age discrimination

I'm beginning to feel othered, and dismissed as an absurd and possibly dangerous irrelevancy. The people in the news seem to be predominantly much younger people - under thirty, anyway - and their growing restiveness and rebelliousness over certain issues is contrasted with old people's complacency, set ways and behind-the-times views.

So what's new? Has there ever been an age when the older generation hasn't been ridiculed/resented/regarded as a waste of space? I don't think so. I can remember the summer of 1968, when students and young people everywhere seemed to become rebels. There was indeed a lot to rebel against. In the States there was the Viet Nam war, the segregation of black people in the Land of the Free, and the out-of-control repressions of the police. In Western Europe it was the turgid policies of the fat-cat Establishment. Students imposed a complete shut-down of Paris, for instance. Behind the Iron Curtain, brave - perhaps reckless - young people took on Russian tanks. It was all basically a series of flare-ups against the smug rule of old men.

I don't think older people have ever had a completely warm and sunny reputation. Too many have feathered their nests at the expense of the young. Too many have exercised power and control at the expense of the young. Who called the shots when you were a child? Mum and Dad, and a host of aunts and uncles. Who had the whip hand at school? The teachers. Who marked your exam papers? The teachers again. Who made you sweat at work? The bosses. Only in older life did it seem that the scales could tip the other way. That's been my experience - as every year passed I got more opportunity to run my own life, and finally do things my way, with nobody older to push me around. Now, at almost sixty-eight, and retired almost fifteen years, I feel I can do whatever I please, and certainly kick other people if I choose, and all with a certain immunity.

Of course, I'm not going to do that. I'm not even on a mission to rectify past injustices. I can see that perhaps I deserved some of the bad things dished out to me from time to time. In any case, only the present and the future matter. And I do have a long future yet. At least potentially. I want to be seen as somebody who is going to be useful and active for a long time to come.

This said, I've moved into the 'older' category, and a lot of younger people will stick labels on me that say 'Slow person - pass by' or 'Another oldie in the way' or 'Dependent on our taxes' or 'Do not resuscitate'. Perhaps even 'Waiting for God' and 'On Death Row already'.

One of the things that irks me is that although mentally I'd put myself around age forty-six, it's assumed that my mind is slipping away and soon I'll be gaga, dribbling from the mouth, and a burden on society. Really.

For instance, in just over two years time, at seventy, I'll have to complete forms to self-certify my continued capacity to drive a car. What? Maybe that used to be a problem for my parents' generation, but things have moved on, and I'd definitely say that unless one's body has been wrecked with drink and drugs, most seventy year olds are in a good state and perfectly alert and fit. At least, the ones I know. We haven't become doddering, short-sighted old fogies, a menace to every other road user. And I'm probably correct in saying that a great many eighty year olds remain similarly alert and fit.

This 'I'm older, but can still outpace a slobby twenty-five year old who lives on cheeseburgers' frame of mind is partly what lies behind my own lack of interest in getting a free bus pass. I don't want to queue up with the kind of old people who use buses. I don't want to queue in the cold wind, full stop. I don't want to shorten my lifespan sitting on a steamed-up bus with brochially-challenged geriatrics coughing and sneezing all around me. But I particularly don't want to be perceived as a person living life in the Very Slow lane. I want to buzz around in a fast car, covering distance, and going to places that the bus never goes.

In fact I'm willing to pay handsomely for running a car. It makes me independent - and empowered. And nobody can say that I'm sponging on the State, or the local council. As they could, if I applied for a free bus pass. Even though I'm fully entitled to one, and have been since the end of 2014.

I do wonder, however, what will happen if ever the Young Rebels take over and decide that people like me are too old to count, and must toe the line in every way, accepting only the handouts they allow, and all the restrictions they will impose, so that the young can have the best of whatever's going. On pain of social exclusion and inevitable death, presumably. There's a word for a society ruled by its younger members, but I can't recall what it is. But I assure you I will. It's just a passing Senior Moment, not remembering what that word is.

Where was I?

Maybe a time will come when I'll start to back-pedal on admitting what my real age is. Not out of vanity, but from fear of being discriminated against, and possibly being denied certain enjoyments or even necessities, because I am deemed too old for them, or can't have them by law.

That's it, I'll be an Old Rebel. I'll learn to live under cover, with a new name, a new identity, and a new wardrobe. I'll make people believe I'm years younger than I really am. I may have to learn new ways, a new way of speaking, a new way of walking, and attend classes to lose weight and stay fit. Seems like a tall order, but if the old get oppressed and marginalised, then that's how it'll have to be. And surely, I've done it before, for another reason? I wish I could remember.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Casting my horoscope

Have you ever cast your own horoscope? Properly, I mean, using Ephemeris Tables and doing all those calculations, afterwards drawing up a chart showing the precise positions of the sun, moon and significant planets at the time of your birth?

Well, I did. In 1970. More on what it all looked like in a moment.

First let me say that my attitude to astrology is one of scepticism. It seems unlikely to me that the various masses moving around the Solar System - chiefly the planets in their orbits around the sun - can have a profound effect on the character and destiny of an individual person here on Earth.

I do see that there must be a tiny gravitational effect, in that as the sun, moon, and all the planets move about, we are pulled this way and that by minute tidal forces. My money is on the moon having much the greatest effect, and the rest not much at all. But perhaps all of these bodies, acting in combination, do exert sufficient tidal forces at a molecular level to affect the development of a human embryo inside the womb. And it's obvious that the aggregate tidal effect varies from moment to moment: so a horoscope for ten o'clock in the morning will be different to one for five minutes later, when the sun, moon and planets, will have moved on a bit.

So far, so good. Gravitational attraction, be it ever so small, could have nudged my embryonic cells and their contents slightly, so that there was a tendency for me to develop in this way, rather than in that. 

I don't however see how this translates into a system for making assertions about character, and detailed predictions about what will happen to me. A system, moreover, than was devised centuries ago, well before there was any concept of the real forces that masses exert upon each other. Astrology is pre-science, full of magic numbers, and appeals to everyone's primitive desire to impose order on chaos, explain the differences between individuals, account for what has already been, and to reveal what is yet to be.

So why did I cast my own horoscope back in 1970, just as I was leaving school? And how did I know how to?

It was my younger brother Wayne. He had become deeply interested in Greek myths and from there to mysticism and religions generally. It fired his imagination. Mum and Dad treated all this with amused tolerance. They were anything but mystical and religious. I stayed neutral. I could see plenty of interest in what Wayne was looking into. But it didn't appeal strongly to me.

Then a new monthly magazine was published, called Man, Myth and Magic. Wayne got Mum and Dad to buy it for him. It was glossy, serious, and well-produced. I dipped into it and was impressed. If I remember correctly, there were properly learned but easily-read articles on such things as the history of witchcraft, and indeed all aspects of the occult. It built up into a fully-illustrated encyclopedia - see,_Myth_%26_Magic_(encyclopedia). I don't think it would turn you to devil-worship, but Wayne was only in his mid-teens, and unlike me was obsessive about whatever took his imagination. So I'm sure Mum and Dad were keeping a close eye on what this magazine was going to cover, and were poised to pull the plug if necessary. It was potentially dangerous and distracting stuff for a youngster who needed to keep his attention on his O- and A-levels. They must have thought me old enough, and too sensible, to be ensnared by the magazine's baleful influence!

In one of the early editions there was a pull-out guide to horoscopes and how to cast them. I ended up possessing this, and found it in my attic the other day. Click on any image to enlarge it.

As you can see, it was a good a basic guide to casting one's horoscope, with notes on how to interpret the resulting chart. There were tables to consult - one for the Houses of the Zodiac, and concise Ephemeris Tables for each year from 1926 through to 1953. I'll show only the page with 1952 on it, my year of birth.

Wayne was rather disappointed. He was born in 1956, so he didn't have the planetary data to draw up his own horoscope. But of course I could. I did it as an academic exercise. Predictably - never being good as figuring, and this was before such things as electronic calculators - I made the odd error, but finally got it right, and could construct a chart showing where the sun, moon and planets were at my moment of birth.

There was a slight snag. Although it was definite that I'd been born mid-evening on Sunday 6th July 1952, Mum wasn't quite certain of the exact time. She thought it was 9.15pm BST, but she might be an hour or more out. So I had to assume a bit of leeway on the precise time of birth, with 9.15pm BST as only the most likely bet. 

Here's my figuring, including corrections:

That's my handwriting in 1970, of course. It's developed rather further in the last fifty years! 

This is the chart I produced. I invented a movable 'inner wheel' so that I could see how the position changed with different times of birth.

The wheel is pointing at 8.15pm GMT (the same as 9.15pm BST), and the various heavenly bodies are in their proper positions in the sky at that moment, as worked out from the Ephemeris Tables. Their positions are a matter of scientific fact. But the division of the sky into twelve sections named after signs of the Zodiac, and the twelve houses around that wheel, are no part of science as we know it. 

Even so, the chart shows something quite remarkable. At the time of my birth, the Sun, Venus and Uranus were all in the same spot in the sky, 'in conjunction' in other words. Surely that's a rare event? An unusual event, anyway? That part of the sky bore the sign for Cancer, which is the same as the Zodiacal month for my date of birth. Really? Is that a coincidence? And with the Ascendant set on 8.15pm GMT, and therefore in Virgo, those three bodies all fall into the Seventh House, which (if you remember the musical Hair) is the House for marriage and partnerships

Hmm. The Sun, Venus and Uranus are very close together. Should this get me excited?

Further along, three other bodies are close together, though not quite in conjunction. Saturn, Neptune and Mars. The latter two are both in the Tenth House, but if you shift my birth time forward by only half an hour, all three fall into the same Tenth House - the one for fame and celebrity. What fame and celebrity? Something amiss here...

I won't go into what's in sextile, trine, square and opposition. It can all be interpreted, but I have never gone into it.

I think the way the sun, moon and planets were arranged in the sky is highly interesting, but what can it possibly say about me? I'd be impressed if there were other children born nearby at the same time, possibly in the same Cardiff hospital, and we all had more-or-less the same characteristics, and we all turned out much the same in our lives. That common outcome would be some evidence of a common influence at work - the particular arrangement of the heavenly bodies at the moment of birth being one serious possibility. Though other factors might be a common social setting in South Wales in the early 1950s, a common upbringing and primary education, and generally belonging to the same generational cohort.

I never revisited my horoscope in later life, to refine it. I never believed in astrology, and more pressing matters kept me away from looking into it again, although in the early 1990s it was fun to see what Chinese astrology had to say about myself and the people in my life. But I've grown more and more sceptical as I've got older, more disillusioned anyway, and I've modified or shed the thinking instilled in me when young. 

I wouldn't mock attempts to find out what human individuals are really like, and what their future might be. Any self-aware, intelligent being naturally wonders about their kind and whether the course of their life can be predicted in some way. That's not a laughing matter. But I don't personally believe that firm predictions are ever possible. It seems that the unexpected always happens instead.

Nor is prior knowledge of what's around the corner clearly a good thing. I definitely wouldn't want to know for certain what my future is going to be. Let it be a delightful surprise! Or if it's something awful, then I want to approach my doom in happy ignorance, and not live out my remaining time in gloomy anticipation, or dread, of the inevitable.

Incidentally, the standout events in my life - and I can think of a few! - weren't obvious to me from that 1970 horoscope. Perhaps the problem with these things is that they need an expert practitioner to work out what they mean, with the issue that no two experts will ever completely agree. An amateur might well be able to do the maths and draw up the chart - as I did - but interpretation is quite another thing. That said, I doubt whether a professional astrologist could, back in 1970, discern certain things about my personality, and could predict - with accuracy - what was to befall me in my fifties!  

Thursday, 13 February 2020

The old coinage 3

Let's finish off with the 'silver' coins. Actually, a hundred and twenty years ago, at the start of the 20th century, these coins did contain real silver. But it was progressively replaced with alloys that wore better, cost less to mint, and avoided the scenario where the value of the real silver in the coin exceeded its nominal value. You couldn't have a shilling worth twice that, if illegally melted down.

First, the sixpence, otherwise known as a 'tanner'. It was written as '6d'. Or when combined with shillings, as 'X/6'. where X could be any number of shillings up to 19 and even beyond. So 'eighteen shillings and sixpence' or 'eighteen and six' would be written '18/6'. Come to that, the same writing-method applied to other numbers of pennies. So 'nineteen shillings and elevenpence-halfpenny' would be '19/11½' - that's slightly more than £0.99 in decimal money.

I had a fair collection of sixpences.

The sixpence was a very popular coin. It was silvery, small, and easily put by in a big jar if you were saving up for Christmas or whatever. I imagine nearly every household popped sixpences into tins and jars, for a rainy day. It was handy for spending too. Many things cost 6d. It was the standard amount for a child's weekly pocket-money for many a long year. In the 1950s, visiting uncles and aunts would often give me 6d. Now that's a custom that's died out, giving children small amounts of money if you make a family visit! Or at least, I haven't come across it for a long time, and I never did it myself. I sometimes saved all these gifts, but more often I'd spend any cash I got at the Barry Island funfair. Not on the rides; they cost too much. On sideshows, such as throwing hoops. Or on candy floss.

The sixpence originally resembled a small shilling (next up), but in the 1920s an acorn design was introduced that lasted into the 1930s: 

Then for some reason this was abandoned in favour of the King's official initials:

Thankfully, a plant theme (the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Irish shamrock, and the Scottish thistle) reappeared for Queen Elizabeth's reign:

I ought to really like the sixpence, but I was never a fan. Perhaps it was just too popular as a coin. If you liked what the crowd liked, it was the coin for you. I instinctively discarded what the crowd liked best. I still do. But really I think that it must have had an association with something I hated, or was afraid of, though long forgotten. Perhaps something in a film. I hope that I never end up on a psychiatrist's couch, being urged to 'explore' why I have this strange aversion to sixpences! I don't want to remember. It might be something awful.

So to the shilling., also called a 'bob'. It was written as '1s' or '1/-'. Twelve pennies made one shilling, and there were twenty shillings to the pound. I amassed a good collection of shillings.

My earliest shillings still had a little silver in them. Such coins tended to wear badly, which is why I never got hold of any very old ones. Here are examples from 1920 and 1933:

Something that is not generally known is that from the later 1930s there were two kinds of shilling in circulation: one with an English design (originally showing a crown surmounted by a leopard, but later leopards on a shield), and one with a Scottish design (originally showing a lion with swords, but later a lion rampant on a shield). It was a nod to the monarch's Scottish connections. Here are examples of both kinds, and both designs.

The shilling was of course an important coin, and I liked it, mainly because it had a handy amount of value, and was very useful for many smallish purchases. But I thought the designs uninspiring.

Next, the 'two shillings' or florin. It was also called 'two bob'. It was written as '2s' or '2/-'. I haven't quite so many of those, partly because the florin had significant value and I couldn't afford to put too many aside.

I always thought it was an odd coin, as it didn't seem to fit into the old coinage scheme very well. It seemed like a precursor to decimalisation, as there were ten of them in the pound, and in fact it became the new 10p. That didn't endear the coin to me. I find it more natural to count in threes and fours, not fives and tens.

The first design I have is based on the national emblems of England, Scotland and Ireland - poor Wales didn't get its own emblem - in a saltire formation, with maces in between.

This was replaced by a design showing a large English rose, with an Irish shamrock and a Scottish thistle on either side. Poor Wales still didn't feature.

Those three florins above are all wartime coins, and once again are in almost pristine condition. As noted with my immaculate 1943 threepence, it is surely likely that these coins spent the war in a jar, as part of a nest egg for eventual victory celebrations, or to kit out the returning family hero with a new suit for his post-war job. I believe a man could buy a cheap made-to-measure suit for 50/- then. That would be only twenty-five of these florins. In our modern money, £2.50. I have no idea what men pay for a cheap suit in 2020 - I'm guessing at least £100, or forty times as much.

Once Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, the design changed yet again. An even bigger English rose, with little thistles, leeks and shamrocks dancing around it - yes, leeks! At last, Wales was recognised!

Now for the larger 'silver' coins. We've come to my favourite silver coin, the half crown. Also referred to as 'two and six' and written as '2/6'. It had no decimal equivalent - there was never a 12½p coin. These were eight half-crowns in the pound, and they had real value. A lot of things could be bought for a half-crown. Two of them might cover a small box of groceries to last the week. I could only afford to collect only a few, just seven. (The three coins on the bottom row are crowns)

Why did I like the half-crown? I suppose it was its substantial feel - it was a large coin - and its strong heraldic design. It was definitely a coin worth collecting.

It was the largest British coin in general circulation. It showed the Royal coat-of-arms, surmounted by a crown; or, on the older coins, with two small crowns on either side. Being a big coin, the detail was large and deep too, and it wore well. If you carried a couple of these, you'd have your taxi fare home. I understand that the half-crown was the usual coin given at the conclusion of church services, and that after decimalisation, when the largest coin now became the florin (or the new 10p coin), the Church of England found its income had shrunk a bit.

There was a larger coin still, the crown, but it was never seen in one's change. It was the five-shilling piece. There were four in each pound. Although legal tender, crowns were too large and heavy to be convenient. They were minted for important national occasions. I have a few. This 1951 Festival of Britain crown is my favourite. It was in fact bought and put by for my arrival as a baby in 1952. So I've had it all my life.

It's a very handsome coin, thick and heavy. You can see how big crowns were: that's my adult left hand. It showed a mounted St George slaying a dragon

The old King died, and his daughter, our present Queen, came to the throne. I was a lucky child. I could have another gift - the 1953 Coronation crown:

A design reminiscent of the older florin, though with a little Welsh leek this time, and on the other side the Queen mounted. 

I have three later crowns, the 1965 Winston Churchill crown, the 1977 Queen's Silver Jubilee crown, and the 1981 Diana and Charles crown

But I'd already lost interest in coins by the mid-1970s, and just filed these away with hardly a glance. 

There were no larger coins in the old currency. Above the 2/6 coin, the half-crown, there were in practice only banknotes. The smallest of these was the brown ten shilling note, or 'ten bob note', written as '10/-'. I have one nice example. It must be from 1969, when the ten bob note was withdrawn and the new 50p coin substituted.

And that's all the old coinage covered, at least whatever could be collected from 1966 to 1971.

The green pound note itself continued into the decimal era unchanged. I have three much-used examples:

The old paper banknotes did not stay crisp and unfolded for long. They soon looked the worse for wear, and might get marked by pen, or stained, or torn, before taken out of circulation by the banks. Our modern plastic banknotes are much more likely to last a long time without major deterioration.

That pre-decimalisation pound lasted until 1978, when a smaller but more colourful pound note took its place. I have three crinkled and dog-eared examples:

Then in 2017 it was deemed time to downgrade the pound to a coin - although it was a sophisticated two-metal affair with anti-fraud surfaces, about the size of the old threepenny bit :

This time the design was dominated by the Welsh leek and Scottish thistle, with a smaller English rose and Irish shamrock on either side. Seems fair to me. 

The pound coin is still with us. It's the best of a pretty poor decimal bunch. There's a similar, but larger, two-pound coin too. It's a bit too big, in my view.

I really can't work up any enthusiasm for any of these modern coins. To be truthful, I regard the bronze 1p and 2p coins, and even the 'silver' 5p and 10p coins, as next to worthless - in effect, junk coins. The next coin up, the 'silver' 20p, just about justifies its existence for buying the occasional car park ticket, when I can't pay by phone or credit card. The 'silver' 50p coin retains some value, but it's too big for what it's worth, and I try to get rid of any that come my way. The one pound and two pound coins are the only ones worth carrying in my purse.  

Can I tell you what the designs are on any of the latest decimal coins? No, I can't. Because I don't care. I don't love any of them, and never will, because these are the tokens that usurped the historic old coinage of my childhood. 

Of course - to be more reasonable - I will agree that none of the old coins, not even the half-crown, would now have any value worth speaking about, such has been the effect of inflation. And if decimalisation had not come, I'd have witnessed the gradual death, one by one, of all of them. That could have been distressing. Perhaps it's better that they were replaced by a brand new system, in a well-organised fashion, and have since become half-forgotten museum pieces.