This week marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of decimal currency. Ah, yes, I remember it well. Flashback to the chilly morning of February 15, 1971 and I enter the local corner shop to buy my regular morning packet of Wrigley's chewing gum. I hand it to the woman (although they were called girls back then) behind the counter.
“That's two and a half pence,” she asked with the bright, assured air of one who has passed the new-currency course with flying colours. Flustered for a moment, I gave her an old threepenny bit. She gave me a new half-penny in change. Er, hang on, that's not right. We handed the money back to each other and did the transaction again. This time, I substituted an old sixpence which was exactly two and a half pee. What could be simpler?
After a while we 1971 shoppers stopped doing the mental conversions between old and new pees, partly because it was so depressing. It is not a myth that prices shot up on decimalisation; it is historical fact. MPs were furious and demanded figures. The hapless minister for food, James Prior, reported to the Commons that between June 1970 and August 1971, the period before and after the new currency arrived, the official food price index rose by a whopping 11.6 per cent.
Gerald Nabarro, an MP usually described as “colourful,” sensed a conspiracy. He asked whether Prior was aware that “The great British public believes that he is deliberately trying to raise food prices in this country to Continental levels in order to lessen the blow of going into the Common Market.”
Back then, people put up with hardships and we had little option but to tighten our belts and pay up. If food prices today rose by 11.6 per cent in a single year, we'd probably have rioting in the streets.
Here's an odd thing. In the drive to reach the minority of people refusing the Covid-19 jab, an array of psychologists, doctors and religious figures have blamed everything from cultural beliefs to general distrust of the system. But in this long debate, the T-word has barely been uttered.
Trypanophobia is the irrational fear of hypodermic needles. And while many of us suffer from it to some degree, it is a worry for about 10 per cent of folk – which, surprise, surprise, is about the same percentage as the refuseniks.
And I wouldn't mind betting that Trypanophobia sufferers are not helped by those endless TV news images of long needles going into fleshy arms. It's like sentencing a spider-dreader to watch nightly screenings of Arachnophobia.