Friday, 17 February 2012

Saturday job and decimalisation

The year is 1971 and I am 15 and a half. The half is important - well actually the quarter is important because that is the age you were allowed to work.

"old money" - pounds, shillings and pence
I had found a job in a supermarket in the nearby town on Saturdays and had been employed for three months when D Day came. That was the name that was given to the change over of our coins in the UK from pounds, shillings and pence to decimals. It was known as decimalisation. Although there must have been years of planning for this change the schools didn't seem to be focussing on this in my formative infant years and we were taught in what is now called "old money" so we had very little advantage over the rest of the population.  But I was helped by the fact that I was involved in the changing of all the pricing of merchandise the night before we went decimal - 15th February. Then the tins, for example, and tins are what I recall the most,  had purple inked prices on them that had to be rubbed off with alcohol to be replaced with a more advanced ticketing machine label with its new price.

I enjoyed working in the supermarket most of the time but thinking about it does bring back some memories of pungent smells - the metallic, cardboard smell of the warehouse for instance. Then there is the time I left 2 minutes early and the giant mechanical clock on the wall showed 5.28 as the manager bellowed across the store - Susan Clow you are two minutes early, just as the numbers dropped and revealed 5.30! Did I scurry!

Another time after I had been moved to the canteen I was asked to take a cup of tea to the Manager's office. I knocked on the door and went in and declared that I had been asked to take a cup of tea up to his bedroom! Nothing was further from my mind - not a Freudian slip this - he was 30 years older than me...but he said "it must have been the come to bed look in my eyes". Was I embarrassed! More scurrying!

The canteen was a bit of a doddle. The only problem was finding a way to please the more genteel ladies
[don't fill it right to the top please..] and the rough butchers [what's this half a cup?] but I met a lovely Polish cook, did some cake making and was sometimes left in charge. Big plus - I could go early and still get payed - now what was it? 2/6 an hour in old money or 12 1/2 p in new!! I still managed to buy a watch with my earnings after a few months though...


  1. I don't remember decimalisation having any great impact on my life - I was 20 at the time - but Saturaday jobs, now that's another matter altogether! I have such a lot to say that I think I will have to write my own blog on the subject. Just to whet your appetite, I earned the princely sum of 17/3 per DAY!

  2. Dear Susan,
    I so love wandering through the past when bloggers post stories like yours today. It's exciting to learn about what life was like for you in England. I was 35 in 1971 and involved in protesting the Vietnam War and getting a graduate degree at the University of Minnesota.

    Thank you for sharing. Is 12 1/2 p the same as 12 1/2 cents or pennies here in the United States?


  3. ON FB Eileen said
    Keep bringing back those memories Susan! I was 21 and had a 'New Penny' haircut - short and feathery on the top and long down the back...a bit like Rod Stewart's...I loved it!! I had an 11 month old daughter just walking and she took off one of her £5 Clarkes shoes in her pushchair and we lost it...I could have cried as that was our food bill for the week! x

    Eric said:
    I was walking towards the Chell Green paper shop in one Sunday morning just after decimalisation came in and I was stopped by a little old lady who asked me if the combination of coins she had in her hand (1p pieces, 1d pennies, the odd threppeny-bit, and a sixpence) was enough to buy a paper. The poor old soul was too embarrassed to go in herself and ask so I had to go in and buy her paper for her using her money.

  4. Heather - glad to have got you going on that topic - I could add to that a whole lot too!

    Dee - I suppose the units are the same being decimal but the value is different The minimum wage now is about £6 an hour now [how many dollars in the US?] and then it was 12p..but of course it is what it will buy that is important!

  5. I think you must have read his mind and it came out of your mouth! I love hearing these stories.