Looking at these pictures and trying to think of something to write, I was struck by the price printed on the front of Arthur C. Clarke’s The Exploration of Space – 3/6, or three shillings and six pence. (The edition above was printed in 1958 and 3/6 equates to about three pounds today.)
Though decimalisation occurred seven years before I was born, old money was still entwined in the lives of my older relatives. I had never seen or used shillings or crowns but my grandparents referred to them often, usually when reminiscing about their youth, or recalling the travails of rationing.
Most anachronistic, though, was their use of the word ‘bob’. I was only dimly aware of its meaning (a bob was slang for a shilling, and it was always bob, never bobs, no matter how many you were talking about) but I knew it signified money. My grandmother especially was fond of the word: “I expect you’re short of a few bob are you?”, she inquired often, always to be answered in the affirmative. Charmingly, my grandfather’s name was Bob, so when my gran would decide to chuck me a few quid, she’d usually instruct him to give me the money with the words: “Let him have a few bob, Bob.”
The denseness of my associations with a simple pre-decimalisation pricetag seems remarkable to me. Just some numbers printed on an old book, but also a kind of loaded visual signifier, packed with memory. And implicit within those associations now is also the knowledge of my own anachronisms – the eccentricities I will exhibit within my own family. Only these will no doubt seem doubly strange, removed as I am from the bedrock of my own cultural heritage.