Thursday, 27 September 2012


See a penny, pick it up and all day long you'll have good luck.” I recited scooping a penny from the pavement. I held it aloft and rolled it between my thumb and index finger. Caught in the light, the Queen's copper head glinted, her thin lips look pursed, but she could be smiling. Is a shiny new penny luckier I wondered? If you picked up a penny that's old and brown, would your luck too be tarnished? A bad penny, layered with dirt, discoloured by other people's misfortune. Could this be why brown pennies are mostly used for making wishes? Flung in a fountain or down a well? Fingerprints washed away, cleansed by water. Brown penny, make a wish and get rid; shiny penny, pick up for a full day's good luck. Someone should investigate this, conduct a study to find out.
Personally I don't recall any instances of luckiness on 'I-saw-a-penny-day'. It would make no difference even if I had for I was intent on saving. Browns and coppers stashed in my purse for a rainy day. Tempted to dip my fingers in fountains and wishing wells, save the coins from drowning. Rescue them from a watery grave. Hands held tightly behind my back; resist, resist, resist... “Money doesn't grow on trees”, my dad told me. I never thought it did nor did I trust the money-spider. Why does he always tell me this? Money doesn't grow, it's made by Snow White's seven dwarves tunnelling underground in caves. Really, adults are so stupid! I thought as I rolled my five-year old eyes. But I liked being a money-saver; listening for the clunk as I pushed bronze coins into money-box tins, rattling the container. Emptying them out on my bedroom floor, counting one, two, three.... two, four, six... Separating the pennies from the pences. Inhaling their stale, musty-brown odour, which left a residue on my fingers. Penny fragrance, an Autumn perfume: the mulch of dead leaves and bonfires.
The bank was important. Men in suits and women that sat behind huge glass screens. My head just reached above the counter, money-bags clutched in one hand and my savings book in the other. My fists prised, coins and book swiped from the customer's side to the banker's. My pennies scrutinised, patiently counted; the sum calculated. A proud smile touching my lips as my pocketbook is transferred back: I did this! These frugal lessons have stayed with me. Penny-pinching gives my heart that same leap of satisfaction, along with receiving a payslip or cheque for services rendered. Managing my funds, creating a cushion.
The way banks operate has altered; it's harder to access your money or talk to someone about your finances. Nobody is on familiar terms with their bank manager. Telephone and Internet banking is a web of security passwords. All of us duped by their assurances. The economic climate we find ourselves in was a sudden boom, a crash, but was it? Somewhere there was a gradual shift away from saving. A switch to spending, hemorrhaging. A subtle tide to have what you want when you want it: credit. The account entries in red, unbalanced.
There's a wise Japanese saying: 'A fortune begins with a penny.' The colour red may not be considered lucky by us, but a penny should be. Seeing a penny and picking it up could change your luck: begin with bronze, follow with silver, then go for gold!