It’s hard to believe that there was a time when a ha’penny could get you two chews from the local sweet shop! It’s true…so unlike today, if you see a penny lying on the ground you’d likely pass it by, back then you’d have had it straight in your pocket!
Ha’pennies (Half Pennies) no longer circulate, and really it’s not surprising. Besides, they were annoyingly miniscule! However, way back then, the ha’penny to a small boy with no real pocket-money to shout about, was a valuable asset.
I have a certain pride in the manner in which I once acquired a ha’penny. By rights it should have been a tuppeny bit! Alas, I had to settle for a ha’penny.
All the folks in the village loved a wedding! And if you weren’t invited and unknown to the wedding party, then it was still enough to be just local to pop along to catch the newlyweds emerging from church, to wave them on their way with the most honest of best wishes. We, as children, loved the weddings when they happened and on average, perhaps there would be one or two a month. It wasn’t uncommon for us to wonder whether, as we woke on Saturday mornings, there would be a wedding that day? And if there was, well, this was an opportunity for financial gain not to be missed!
There was a tradition back when I was a tot that was an earner for us at a wedding. Not sure how common it is now and I’ve only seen it once in the whole of my adult life – and for someone who has photographed literally hundreds of weddings (on the side, besides me burying folk), I guess it must be an all but dead tradition. Correct me if I’m wrong, wont you?
It was common back then for the happy couple to throw handfuls of small change out to the expectant children who’d gathered outside the church. The couple would appear, all smiles, into the throng of guests and spectators, being applauded and covered in confetti! After rigidly posed photographs, the couple then launched these handfuls of loot! Throw a fistful of torn bread in the direction of starlings and you’ll have an idea of the commotion that ensued as we all dove to grab and snatch at the coin and profit from the mêlée.
I played my own part in the grabbing and the snatching! Problem was – and you wouldn’t imagine it now with my height at well over six-foot – I was the smallest of any of us kids! I was a tiny little thing among giants as I pulled and pushed, groped, grabbed and gasped, along with everyone else! Luck wasn’t with me this particular day (could have done with my old man – see ‘Bingo’) and all I came away with was tuppence, ha’penny! Two and one half pence. Still, that was at least something I could get a few chews with.
Things were moving on and by this time the happy couple had clambered into their car and were on their way. We were all still pushing and shoving, eager to know what one another had picked up – how much swag we’d raked in? My brother was there also, and though I love him to bits, he wasn’t known for his kindness or generosity. A whole three years older than me, much taller and twice as heavy, he decided he would have my share too. It seemed that every other kid there too was going to make sure they had an opportunity to take my gains! A full-blown fight ensued and I fought back with a tenacity that would make a cage-fighter proud! Fists and feet flew, hair was pulled out by the roots, verbal threats screamed with intent! All to no avail. The result was obvious. I sat, crying on the ground, battered and relieved of my share of the throw-out… The only positive was that I had managed to keep hold of my ha’penny! However, I had sustained injury – at that age and degree of stinging soreness, I was convinced I was critical! The waistband of my trousers was irreparably torn and at the site of the tare, flesh was visible. The flesh was scraped and scratched, dirt was lodged in the skin and there was blood! Ouch!
Sitting in the middle of the path, I was almost alone as the wedding party had moved on, aside from a few who couldn’t have given a fig about this little boy sat sobbing and bleeding. My so-called brother and friends had made straight off to the tin-hut shop where, waiting inside, were hundreds of tasty, sweet pleasures that they could give over their ill-gotten gain for! A lady came toward me and with a firm but reassuring pair of hands, took me and raised me to my feet. Still sobbing she asked my name and cuddled me in to ease my sobbing. Another woman joined us, old Betty B, from a few doors along from where I lived: “that’s Sylivie’s bairn…”, she said to the first lady… Very shortly after that, we were joined by the vicar from the church who wondered why this disgruntled tot had been rescued from the ground outside the doors of the church. By this time I’d shown the ladies my hip and while I still sobbed, one of them produced a handkerchief that was used to dab the wound – as if it would bring comfort. “I have a first aid box with some TCP inside”, announced the cleric, in an enthusiastic manner befitting someone who thrived at the opportunity to put their first-aid, life-saving, never-yet used skills into effect! Don’t get me wrong, I was lapping up the attention being lavished on me, and had they not been there, I’d have probably dried my tears long before I did, wandered off to the shop and spent my ha’penny.
Satisfied that they’d cleaned me up sufficiently to chase me off home, the two ladies and the vicar were gone as quickly as they appeared… I wandered away, scuffed, however, slightly cheered that at least I did have something for my efforts. From what I can remember, I spent my ha’penny and made off for home.
To this day, I still have a little something that I picked up from the ground outside the church, my dirt. Barely visible, it can still be seen under my skin. Small black specs in a patch the size of my little finger nail. My tuppence may have been stolen and my ha’penny fitfully squandered on two minutes of a sweet chew, however, I still have my dirt…and my brother; so all’s not bad after all…