AT the supermarket yesterday, my bill came to €42.37.
I handed over a €50 note. Looking in my purse, I said “I can give you the €2.37.”
The cashier looked at me with a withering eye. “I’ve already entered 50,” she said.
“But if I give you the change you can give me back a €10 note.”
She gave an audible sigh and threw her eyes up to heaven. “The computer says that the change is €7.63. That’s how much I have to give you.”
But... but… oh, forget it, I thought, putting all the change back in my purse.
It got me thinking back to when I started work in 1962 as a Post Office clerk. We didn’t have a computer to tell us the change that was due to customers. We didn’t even have a calculator. Every calculation was done in the head.
The supermarket cashier had only to deal with multiples of ten. We dealt in LSD.
NO, we were NOT dealing drugs! We were NOT high on acid! LSD was from the Latin - Librae, Solidi, Denarii. In plain English, pounds, shillings and pence.
An Irish letter stamp at the time was 3d. So therefore ten of them was 30 pence. But there were 12 pence in a shilling, so 30 pence equalled two shillings and six pence.
A sixpence, a small silver coin with a greyhound on the back, was known as a tanner.
A florin, a large silver coin with a salmon on the back, was two shillings.
But two shillings and sixpence was half a crown, a larger silver coin with a horse on the back.
You could send a fairly large packet for a shilling. Ten of them would be ten shillings ,so you could hand in a ten bob note. Twenty shillings was a pound note.
The shilling coin had a bull on the back, while a three penny bit, a very small silver coin, had a rabbit on the back.
Then came the copper coins. One penny, a large copper coin, had a hen with a clutch of chickens, and a ha’penny (halfpenny) carried a sow with bonhams (piglets)
The farthing was gone from use at this time, but there were still a few flying around with a woodcock on their backs.
Not alone did we not have a calculator, we didn’t even have a biro - we used an indelible pencil. An ordinary lead pencil could be erased with a rubber, but the indelible one, when wet on the tip of your tongue, wrote in purple and could not be rubbed out.
Between licking postage stamps and wetting the pencil, it’s a miracle we didn’t all suffer from mouth and stomach ulcers.
We had little tricks for adding up long tots. A ledger could have 50 lines of figures in three columns. Break it down into manageable chunks of ten lines. Add these ten lines and write the total in the margin in pencil. You end up with five lines of figures in the margin. Add these and there’s your final total. Then rub out the pencilled figures.
I remember clearly decimal day - February 15, 1971. All our counters were closed to the public, but it wasn’t a day off for us. Quite the opposite.
Our Head Office had 88 sub offices. All their stocks of money, stamps and postal orders had to be collected and checked. New decimal money and decimal stocks had to be made up and delivered back to them in time for business the next day.
Stamps arrived in from small sub offices that were so old that the younger clerks had never seen them before. We had biros at this stage but still no calculators. It was mentally very demanding work, but I remember the day fondly.
There was great camaraderie among the staff. Mrs Carrick kept us well supplied with cups of tea and slices of her fresh griddle cake topped with home made gooseberry jam. Eva brought buttered tea brack and Ann arrived with a tray of donkey’s grunge.
John McDonagh brought in his granny’s transistor radio to keep us entertained. The two most played songs that day were The Beatles Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds followed by Merle Haggard, singing through a haze of cigarette smoke in our office,
We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,
We don’t take no trips on LSD.
By the time the euro came in, in 2002, I was postmaster of my own sub office, one of the busiest offices in the west of Ireland. I don’t have the same fond memories of that day. It’s very different when you’re in charge and responsible for all the cash!
There was no closed day. We were supplied with the new euro cash, and we had to take in old punts and give back the change in euros. One punt was equal to 1.27 Euros.
Not surprisingly, that year my blood pressure went sky high and I’m on medication ever since!