Six pence doesn’t buy a lot these days thanks to inflation. When I was a child it was very different.
6p was a king’s ransom.
When I was 4 years old in 1977 the Dandy (a UK children’s comic, and my absolute favourite) was 4p. This kept me entertained for days – weeks even – as I read and re-read the stories within.
Desperate Dan and Korky the cat never failed to make me smile week after week with their slapstick humour. When the shops were shut on a Sunday and it was raining outside I used to lie lengthways across my bed with my head dangling over the side on a pillow reading my comics on the floor for hours at a time while the blood drained into my head.
As I got older I also realised the position was good for night time stealth, since the comic or magazine in question could be quickly slid under the bed and the bedside lamp switched off before any parent caught wind of illegal nocturnal activity.
This tactic worked just fine with the coarse cover on the Dandy, which was pulp and low grade paper, but if you had a glossy covered comic (I’m looking at you Star Wars weekly) you could easily slide it way too far on the carpet and if you did, then you needed a long arm to retrieve it or the bed needed to be moved.
There was an art to such subterfuge and I was trained from an early age in delicate periodical concealment for the trifling sum of 4p per week.
The 2p change from this bounty could be used to buy some sweets, since at the time 1/2p was also valid currency. Although generic boiled sweets could be purchased by weight in a little white paper bag I rather liked buying the bigger sherbet centred soft ones (Refreshers) – two for a penny.
The chewy outside of the sweet begged you to bite into it immediately, but if you did then the sherbet within might burst out before you’d moistened it enough. Stick it in your cheek like a hamster however, and the sherbet blended with the rest of the sweet, making a soft sparkling mush in your mouth that fizzed as you sucked it into nothingness.
Since I never had many sweets as a child (a 5p cache of them was like being gifted a bag of gold) the combination of my infant literature, sugar, colouring and E numbers was absolute heaven. I could get it all for 6p.
These days I can’t buy anything with it. I need a bag of 5p’s just to get some sugar free chewing gum. Since I’m diabetic this is much less fun. It doesn’t fizz and its primary reason for existing is not to provide enjoyment, but make my breath socially acceptable.
If I want a comic (which I still do) then that 6p covers even less ground. A copy of Spider-Man is now £2.99 – nearly 75 times the price of my Dandy.
So why the preoccupation with 6p?
Well frankly as I type I’m trying to figure that out myself. I found amongst my mom’s possessions on Sunday a small teddy bear. It was in a carrier bag yellowed with age, with one slightly larger bear that was tagged and dated – suggesting it was purchased in 2002. The larger bear (as did everything else in the house) also had a label with her name on it.
The smaller bear had a hand stitched red jumper on it and had a belt with a purse that looked like my mom had made it. It looked gaudy and twee, was covered in little sequins and I didn’t like it.
I removed the jumper, threw it in the bin and started to take the belt off. The bear would be going to charity naked – as nature intended.
Then I noticed in the bear’s little felt black purse, which had been carefully sewn by my mother, there was a five pence piece and a one pence piece. I took them out of the purse, tutted, put them in my pocket and dropped the little purse in the bin as well.
After several weeks I’d had more than enough of sifting through dusty relics of creepy dolls and endless carrier bags and this was just another obstacle in the way of us handing the bungalow keys back to the council.
However, for the past two nights I’ve been pre-occupied with guilt. I feel like I have been callous and unfeeling in my treatment of her bear, and I regret what I did. It made me cry on Sunday when I got home and lay in bed and every time I think about it it makes me want to cry again.
I don’t know why it makes me feel like this. I know grief isn’t rational, and I shouldn’t over analyse. But I can’t help it.
I think I threw away something human on Sunday though. I think I threw away something that’s lost to me now. The 6p won’t buy me anything, and it doesn’t matter – but maybe the bear and its accoutrements did.
Or maybe its not the bear…
Maybe my mom mattered to me more than I want to admit, despite her failings.
I think I miss the mom that inspired me to hide my comic and turn off the light when I was little.
I miss the mom who came upstairs to check on me because she loved me.
I miss my mom.