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Small Change

Updated: May 15

Where do you keep yours?

Remember that old saying: look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves? Years ago I had a gigantic scotch whisky bottle in my back room to throw my small change in. It was conveniently positioned next to the door, so that I wouldn’t forget to empty my pockets; it was part of the rountine: take off shoes, deposit keys in ashtray on phone table, shrapnel in bottle. I never drank a sip of scotch whiskey in my life; I have no idea where that bottle came from, or where it went, for that matter. I recall many occasions when I had to frantically chug the accumulated change out of the bottle to get me out of one tight spot or another: the window cleaner, a midweek takeaway, a Race For Life debt. And man, it took some effort; the coins would jam up in the neck, forcing me to shake the thing this way and that to encourage the flow. When I think about it now – a bottle was never designed for this purpose – just why did someone decide this was a more ergonomic vessel than say a big old fruit bowl? Was the physical effort required to empty a bottle part of the nifty-thrifty plan? Save money going to the gym by grappling with a shit load of coppers. Of course, it needn’t have been just coppers that went in. An accurate measure of a person’s social standing could be drawn from the contents of their change stash: 5 p’s were very clumsy to count, but also a nuisance to pick out of the corners of pockets or purses, so even old Betty, on her state pension wouldn’t give them the time of day; tens and twenties though, a handful of them could actually buy you the daily paper or pay your bus fare, or get you something from the vending machine at break, so it was a sign some degree of financial security had been reached if this silver coinage was mixed in with the small fry coppers; fifties were heavy, cumbersome things and those corners had a knack for finding your sensitive spots and digging in through your pockets, once even the lowliest wretch had been heptagoned in the testicles, they’d resort to cramming the ostentatious abominations down the bottle’s neck. But pound coins in the change bottle? that was indicative of a laissez-faire attitude and a flagrant disregard for the rules. And of course it made the whole arduous task of counting the bloody stuff so much easier. There was a real sense of accomplishment standing in the line at the bank with the handles of your free carrier bag straining under the weight of all those carefully counted out money bags. It was a good honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. If you carried out a study on the fat cats with their profits stashed in tax havens, I bet they all started out as pound coin hoarders. They’d have been the first in line at the Coinstar kiosk as well; the first time I used this marvel of modern technology, I actually jumped up and down and whooped, as if I’d won the jackpot on a fruit machine, completely forgetting it was MY money to begin with.


Now this was all back in the days of weekly pay packets; ah yes, those little brown envelopes that heralded the weekend. It was in a time when bus drivers insisted on the right change. And before we started to pay for everything online. It was before my bank details could be accessed 24/7; those dark days of worrying and wondering about the dregs of a wage that may or may not have been languishing in my current account, awaiting the next top up.


Now, I rarely pay in cash for anything. I still prefer to keep some in hand, just in case. In case of what, I’m not sure; a throw back to those days when keys, cash and fags were those ‘don’t-leave-home- without’ items I suppose. And Covid made paying cash as socially unacceptable as coughing or smoking for a time, didn’t it?

So what does one do with one’s smalls now?


One thing I have learned not to do is feed them to a machine. Where an actual checkout assistant would have been grateful for the oddment: it went something like this, “would you like the 72” (if purchases came to £X and 72 pence)? – me. “Oh, yes please if you’ve got it” – them. This rationale is lost on the idiot-bots that pose as ‘self service’ checkouts. The word ‘self’ here, indicates that I have increased control over my shopping experience; the word ‘service’ implies I will receive some sort of support or assistance to further enhance said experience. Try giving a machine the odd 72 and see what happens. Will you be rid of that 72 pence in small change? No, you will not. The idiot-bot will spit it back out at you in even smaller denominations; better those twenties and tens in your purse than 72 pence in 2’s, 1’s and 5’s; and don’t expect a nice round number in pound coins either, because these machines are programmed to shit out shrapnel as long as they have any in reserve. Effectively, we, with our unwanted dirty cash, are the bottle now. And the machines choose what to ram down our throats.

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