17 MARCH 1967, Page 22

Penny plain


The decibels of the decimal dialogue have crashed over my tolerance threshold. What with the Government pounding away, the Con- federation of British Industry mille-ing around to add to the confusion, and the great British public showing a sterling apathy that would have done them credit during the years of appeasement, I demand my ten bob's worth.

Too much serious nonsense has been written about this for me to want to do more than say to all those who have spent their lives remembering that 6s 8d is a third of a pound and that 6d is 21 per cent of a quid that it will be a sad day when these specialised pieces of information are no longer any use. It will be even sadder if we find ourselves stuck with a new equivalent of the hated halfpenny, which is what the official Halsbury system is bound to do.

For years the poor British shopper was forced to go on considering the farthing as legal tender, long after everyone but the trickiest

of special offerers had discarded it. Towards the end of their life a few years ago farthings began to pile up at the backs of drawers, in the bottoms of old hand- bags and in the toy cupboard (the best place for them). The signs now are that the ha'penny is a-dying. Only bread and some grades of milk still carry fractional prices, and there is no real need for that. The increasingly popular cheque can never be sullied by the use of fd. Will it be so with the ic? Of course it will, so why don't the banks speak out loud and clear in favour of a lOs basic unit? We can always keep the pound to please the gnomes of Zurich (who don't seem to trust it anyway) and the mandarins of the Treasury, who never go shopping. Perhaps, like royalty, they never actually carry money, but only think about it, which would explain why we had the farthing for so long, are doomed to keep the halfpenny and have soiled our hands and clothing for generations with great, dirty discs of copper.

The most vocal proponents of the lOs unit are women, because they do the shopping and they are fed up with the tricks of the trades- men and their 4s 11$d style of bargain. A is 6d loaf will be priced at 15 cents under the lOs system, or 7+ new pennies under the pound. A 3s 6d paperback book will cost 35 cents or 17-} new pennies. A 10d pint of milk becomes 9 cents or 4+ new pennies. Who would have thought that a government so half- minded could be so stubborn? Or is it half- hearted, too? At this moment it lacks any public support at all for the Halsbury system, but then the public never catches on till the deed is done.

The Gallup Poll findings were encouraging, though, showing that the number of 'Don't Knows' had shrunk in two months from 24 per cent to 18 per cent and that support for the lOs unit had risen to 58 per cent last month from 30 per cent in January. I suppose the argument that a 2fd penny is a mighty infla- tionary jump from a Id penny, as compared with a l 1c1 penny, goes ricocheting off most people's minds as just another statistician's argument. I hope that they feel the same about the cat's attempts to pelt us with hundreds and thousands.

For the sake of simplicity, let us keep our penny plain ten to the shilling, ten shillings to the double crown (it would make a lovely coin) and four crowns to the pound.

The Polaroid process laboratories in England have been afflicted with both man and machine breakdowns and have had to be closed. The result is that all colour work now has to go to the United States for the next six months, with a delay of up to three weeks, while black and white copies will be sent to Aberdeen, taking up to ten days. At the same time enlargements from Swinger prints (the little camera whose arrival last summer was celebrated in this column) now come only in two sizes, 5 in. by 7 in. and quarter plate, instead of three.

This is the kind of confusion usually attributed to British, not American, firms by prominent commentators. But what is most mystifying about this crisis of Polaroid's is not that it has happened (strikes and mechanical failures are not unknown, though rarely do they coincide) but that in a letter of explanation and apology to customers the company says that it feels sure 'that all Polaroid camera owners appreciate the more efficient service we can now offer.'