Quite a Lot of Change

Ever had one of those days when you wonder why your handbag is quite so heavy?  It was Friday last week, for me.

It was like doing one of those exercises to create a fictional character from the contents of their bag or what they habitually carry in their pockets.  I rootled around in the depths of the bag, that even I know is bigger than it needs to be.

I emptied some of the stuff onto the table: a diary, a novel, a notebook,  multiple pens, a phone, a camera, a wad of paperhankies, an umbrella, my travel-card, a couple of catalogues from recent art exhibitions, a lot of scrunched up receipts, a packet of headache pills.  Nothing out of the ordniary that would account for the extra weight I’d been feeling on my shoulder(!).

It was my purse that was the problem.  After a week of buying small items with notes, and then cramming the change into my bag without paying it much attention, I was weighed down with coins.

Charities are always enthusiastically asking us for our small change, even foreign currency bits and pieces, in strategically placed boxes or paper enveloped slipped into the bags with airline headsets; there’s money in them there pennies.  And what a lot of pennies I had.  It’s inevitable when so many things are priced at, say, 1.99 or 2.59.

I recall when I lived in Russia in the 1990s we would just wave away the offer of change; at the time a 100 rouble note was worth less than 1 US cent, so what was the point of a 50 rouble coin?  I saved any coins I wasn’t able to decline in a jam jar, and just before I left the country, I gave the jar and its contents to a man with no legs who frequently begged outside my block on summer weekends.  As it didn’t amount to much, I topped it up with paper money, but was surprised to see how genuinely pleased he seemed to be with the jar.

Another Moscow memory is evoked by the small wooden toy I have, the only charm of which is that I received it instead of the US$2 that the stall holder at the Ismailova craft market owed me.  Similar, I suppose to those pre-Euro times in Italy, when you might be offered a boiled sweet as change where the shopkeeper had no small denomination lira notes.

But who in London would turn away change these days?  Not me.  So I set myself the task to see if I could buy something using the maximum number of coins: a coffee for 1.90.  It was quite tricky, standing in line and capturing all the smallest coins in my hand ready to pay.  In the end, I lightened my load by 23 coins….,fancy trying to work out the combination? *

It reminded me of maths puzzles I faced not long after I started school in the US after my family had moved there when I was six.  We had to make up particular sums of money with the lowest number of coins.  I picked it up pretty quickly, but remember very clearly, the teacher remonstrated with the child sitting next to me who was being less successful with the problem.  ‘Rowena can do it, and she’s not even American.’


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  1. Classic comment by teacher. Sometimes people don’t hear the irony or the bias of their own statements!

    • It’s odd that I can’t remember her name, nor what she looked like, but I can see the worksheets clearly and how quickly I worked out the ‘trick’ of getting the right answer because American money was ‘easier’ than sterling, when at the time we still had pounds, shilling and pence!


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