Summing It Up

Saturday was pocket money day when we were kids and Dad always made a big deal out of the ritual. He insisted that all three of us kids were present for the pay out.

This came back to me as I was pottering around the kitchen this morning and one episode dominated the whole recollection. I think it was the Saturday after my 6th birthday and Dad announced that we were all due a rise. There was a sliding scale and I was at the bottom of it because I am the youngest. My rate prior to the rise was ten pence and I always got it in ten single copper coins.

Irish Penny Coin

On that Saturday, Dad handed me one small silver coin ~ a shilling ~ which was equal to twelve pennies so it was a rise of twopence.

One Shilling Coin

Much to Dad’s horror, I burst into uncontrollable tears and was so upset I couldn’t even explain to him what was wrong with me. Eventually, he got the message that I had loved the ten coins and didn’t want just one. It took him ages to explain that a shilling was twopence more than a shilling and the only way he could placate me was to give me twelve copper pennies.

I still have a grand theory that small denominations last longer and always steer away from say a 50 euro note and go for ten 5 euro notes, if at all possible.

Oddly enough, pocket money was the only money that was unequally divided between the three of us. As a result of this, we all became absolute experts at dividing by three. I still think of a pound note meaning six shillings and eight pennies each. Christmas tended to be a time when pound notes would drop out of Christmas cards to be divided between the kids!

I should stress that all three of us were HOPELESS at maths in the academic sense but we where whizzes when it came to money and time!  The time bit arose because Mother was absolutely insistent that we could only watch 30 minutes television each per day. This give rise to lots and lots of negotiations as we poured over the newspaper’s television listings for the three channels that we had on the black and white telly. There are three years between each of us in age terms so it was rather difficult to find programmes that we all wanted to watch. Mother had to do a bit of refereeing to ensure that I got to see at least a few of the ‘babyish’ programmes, like Mr. Ed, the talking horse:

The whole business of having to be very discerning about what we watched has stayed with all three of us and there is no question whatever that any of us will have the television on in the background. It only goes on for very specific programmes and then gets turned off.

Mother had another little ploy when it came to dividing food that we liked. She’d tell one of us to cut say three slices of cake and then ensure that the cutter was given the smallest piece!  So, we’re all dab hands now at cutting a whole into equal parts.

I wonder if other families had/have rituals along these lines that are about what I call ‘real world’ mathematics.




Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

25 thoughts on “Summing It Up”

  1. These are excellent ploys! I wish we had had them in play in our house though I would of been the end of the line of six with fourteen years between me and the eldest! ❤

    1. I was thinking about that ~ Mother came from a family of three like us and Dad had eight sibs. He wasn’t as into it all as much as she was as it was complex in his house like yours. Interestingly, having an only child makes it different for me as a parent.

  2. I had to smile when reading how 10 pennies seemed so much the better than the 1 shilling. We never had an allowance. My parents did not believe in it, and you were supposed to do chores because you were part of a family and it was part of your responsibility to contribute, and they totally refused to “reward” good grades–they just expected them. My “city cousins” on the other hand, had allowances and grade rewards. I think it was likely the difference in my parents being the eldest children during the Great Depression, and having had a very difference experience growing up than did their younger siblings.

    However, two very clear rituals related to this were about sharing: One Coca Cola to be split between the two of us: one poured, the other chose first. Dividing a candy bar or piece of cake or pie: One divided, the other chose first. If there were 3, or more, the one doing the dividing always got what was left. It definitely ensured an attention to fairness. 🙂

    1. Hi Suz, how interesting about the pocket money! I think my father was in favour of it because he was a banker and we were encouraged to save at least some of it from a very early age. ( I was never good at that bit but good at borrowing from the others!)
      Sounds like we had the same principles applied re the food and drink. Fairness is quickly learned that way, I feel.

  3. Aha Jean – from a young age you appreciated the benefits of counting to the base-12. And, btw, Mr Ed was a highly intellectual and intelligent horse, we need more of them I still love it – there are whole episodes on Youtube -I recommend 😉

  4. It’s so interesting the way those early lessons form us and stay with us. I was an only child so never had to worry about dividing things up in that way, though I was still always taught to share so I never became selfish.

  5. You and your siblings grew up with more practical life skills than many young adults today Jean. I knew nothing about anything when I left school, except how to pass exams and play football. I love the gentle lessons in discipline that, I’m sure, have stood to you since.

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