Sunday, 9 July 2017

Was this really 50 years ago?

Today it is 50 years  since New Zealand changed from pounds, shillings and pence to a decimal currency system and it has set me on a nostalgic journey of memories.  As a just-out-of-school teller the change over had meant weeks of training at the bank where I worked, angst, excitement and anticipation. As it turned out the change over went without a hitch and life soon settled down into a comfortable, albeit less complicated, routine again. Although I did hear a story of a prisoner in jail concerned that the money he had buried would be worthless when he got out!

One pound became $2. $2 is now a coin.
Young people today might spare a thought for the 5 and 6 year olds of earlier generations, starting school and having to grapple with the complicated three column adding system which was as follows: pennies in the right column, shillings in the middle column and pounds in the left column.  To make matters worse 2 halfpennies made a penny, 12 pennies made a shilling, 20 shillings made a pound, 21 shillings made a guinea  There was no logic to it at all.  But it was not only currency that made learning maths difficult, New Zealand's whole system was in imperial measurements: distances, weight, land area, oven temperatures etc. etc.  So a primary school child had to struggle with 12 inches make one foot, 3 feet make one yard, 1760 yards make a mile and that's not counting furlongs, roods, acres etc., it was enough to put you off maths for life!  Those lessons must have really sunk in, though, because even today I still think of a person's height in feet and inches and, curiously, babies birth weights are still often reported in pounds and ounces. Even Britain, which has steadfastly clung to the names Pound and Pennies, has changed to a decimal system for their currency at least.

At the time of my banking career all interest payments were calculated on a daily basis by staff, (nothing so fancy as a computer or even a calculator, then)  and entered by pen in a column running down the side of a customers account ledger card.  I worked at this for a while and I must say it certainly brushed up my mental arithmetic. The bank employed elderly, retired men to double check the interest workings just to make sure they were correct.  These old men were great to work with and were affectionately known in the bank as "retreads" I remember one who wore slippers to work so, in order not to be seen by the public, had to take unbelievably long circuitous routes around the bank to get from A to B.

My first weekly pay was 7 pounds 10 shillings = to $15. It was a very reasonable pay rate at the time. I paid 3 pounds to my mother for board, and still had enough for bus fares, lunches, clothes and the odd trip to the movies etc.  We weren't really a consumer society then and most of my clothes I made myself but I still felt I was doing OK.  By the time I became engaged, a couple of years later, and after a couple of modest pay rises, I had managed to save $1000.

When I look at photos of those days in 1967 I can hardly believe that that was my youth, it looks so old fashioned!  Interestingly I worked for the bank for 6 years and do not have a single photo of myself in the work place, or even of my workplace, no one ever thought of taking photos at work, and besides, photography was expensive so kept for holidays and special occasions.

So here we are 50 years later and so much has changed, computers do a major part of banking work, actually the bank I worked for was the first in New Zealand to get computers and I was among the first to use them, and small coins became worthless so that now New Zealand's smallest coin is 10 cents, the equivalent of a shilling. Also, interestingly, while I worked at the bank staff were invited to sit a computer programming aptitude test.  I gained a high score, higher than some of the men who were selected for training in that area, but I was not selected because I was a woman "and would probably leave to have children".  I still, all these years later, feel some resentment over that. And I can't help being stunned sometimes  when young shop assistants have to use a calculator to add two very simple amounts leaving me to wonder what on earth they get taught at school these days.  Not like the good (not so good) old days, eh?

P.S. Another sign of the times is that the beautiful, heritage bank building I first worked in now houses a McDonalds.