I took part in a project two or three years ago, which was designed to see if asking elderly people to reminisce about the money and value would lead to their becoming more aware of how they managed their finances. Elderly – it is getting much harder to use this word now, and the project defined it as ‘over 55’ – people are often much more at risk than younger people because they don’t fully understand the small print. Probably, they’re the ones that the cold callers are after. However, actually finding volunteers to take part was quite hard, and those who did volunteer turned out to have quite fixed ideas about money. They weren’t the ones who were susceptible to being conned. Nevertheless, we pressed ahead.
The most memorable part of the project certainly came when it was arranged that the target group of oldies should discuss money with a group of tinies. A local primary school liked the idea, and we arranged for the children to have questions they might ask their pensioner counterparts. Each small group consisted of a helper (like me), two or three children, and one or two of the volunteers. What could have been foreseen was that the over-60s would use the opportunity to lecture the new generation on the need for thrift. But actually what happened was that the older people transformed in an instant into the kind of people who are tempted by UKIP – i.e. keep Britain as it always has been, and, above all, Save the Pound. Tremulous eight-year-olds were confronted by people old enough to be their great-grandparents telling them ‘Never, never, never, never use the euro!’
One of the children (all of whom were exceedingly puzzled by the virulence of the encounter) said that her mother was Greek, and that they used the euro all the time. What was the problem? Collapse of aged party. They had no back-up arguments at all. They simply saw the euro as a threat to civil liberty, and part of the successive rot which had seen off the farthing, the threepenny bit and the sixpence, and also introduced decimalisation in the early 1970s (the chief effect of which was to re-price everything that had been 19/11d as 99½p, as far as I can recall). The world was going to hell in a series of battered handcarts.
But the highlight of this un-meeting of minds came before the malarkey with the small groups. One of the volunteers was a numismatist with a long and complex understanding of Roman coinage. He asked if he could address the littl’uns. This he did, pitching his talk at a point way over my head, let alone theirs. He started with the etymology of the denarius. The children were incredibly polite. They put up with about fifteen minutes of this bewildering talk before one of them, in the spirit of being helpful, put up his hand. The speaker paused and allowed a question.
‘How,’ asked the boy, who genuinely wanted to know the process, ‘do you make money?’
The speaker glared at him. He scarcely missed a beat. ‘By Hard Work,’ he riposted, ‘and don’t you forget it.’