The Duke - February 11, 2015

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The Gazette was the first publication to regularly pay me to write for it – but it wasn’t the first I was paid to “work” for.

I only mention this because on January 30 this year John “Hoppy” Hopkins died in his late 70s.

Who he?

Well he was a photojournalist and political activist, a charismatic and influential figure in the London counter culture of the 1960s who became known as the “King of the Underground” and, more importantly helped establish the International Times (or IT) – the voice of the hippie movement.

IT provided information about bands and gigs as well as venturing into more controversial areas – it was busted for running gay contact ads, paying for its defence courtesy of a benefit concert which featured Pink Floyd (above) and Soft Machine.

Like The Big Issue today much of its circulation depended on street selling.

Its cover price was one shilling and sixpence (seven and a half current “new” pence).

Every seller received six old pence per copy – a 
princely sum indeed for 
hard up students such as me.

Sellers also received “You Can Get IT Here” posters to advertise our wares. All well and good until Mother Dearest spotted mine in my bedroom window.

“We are not a house of ill repute,” she snarled.

My selling days were numbered.

But thankyou John “Hoppy” Hopkins and RIP.

How I’m still the proud owner of the skintflint tin tin

I have much to thank my Yorkshire upbringing for.

Things such as the ability to speak proper, a good sense of the ridiculous, one the few puddings which it is unwise to pour custard on, a long memory when it comes to sporting achievements and a short one when recalling whose (i.e. my) round it is at the bar, are all rooted in a youth spent in God’s own county.

But most of all I’m proud to be thrifty. This actually has as much to do with Mother Dearest as it is with geography. Like the Yorkshire Penny Bank she has always been a great believer that thriftiness is as much next to godliness as cleanliness is.

So no sooner would the candles be blown out (and the wax recycled) on Christmas or birthday celebrations than a fund would be started for the next one. There was a milk money fund, a newsagent’s one, a holiday kitty and an emergency one.

Each was given its own dedicated tin.

Grandma Whitley took things one step further, neatly labelling everything in her pantry – what date she’d bought it, where she’d bought it from and how much more or less it cost than the last time.

She also stashed whatever spare cash she had at the end of the week all over the house so Granddad Wilf couldn’t invest it in Tetley’s Brewery or that racing cert he’d been tipped off about.

“Penny wise, pound foolish” the women would both drill into me – the result being that as soon as I started earning money I started saving it too. I’ve mentioned before my Firework Club membership which guaranteed I’d plenty of penny bangers by November 5 without having to dress one of my younger brothers up as Guy Fawkes and beg strangers for money. My university days were in the era of student grants and no fees, and plenty of vacation job opportunities – with the result I graduated with an average degree but a decent bank balance.

Some of this I could also put down to “the envelopes of thrift.” Every expenditure could be saved for (ok the car and mortgage were exceptions) and, like mother’s tins (but cheaper), each fund had its own place in the depths of a domestic drawer rather than a bank safe deposit box.

The Oxford Dictionary definition of “thrift” is: “The quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully (it’s from the Old Norse “thrifa” – to grasp or get hold of, if you are remotely interested) so I’ve always reckoned bunging a few bob away each week is better than being stung for a wedge of notes the day after you’ve splashed the last of your cash on some frippery.

I have felt no shame in having envelopes for newspaper, milk (we still have ours delivered), meals out, spare 2p coins and the like.

No shame that is until this month when The Manager presented me with what she dubbed “The Skinflint Tin.”

Needless to say that is not its real name. It’s a Thrift Tin. It’s a 1940’s or 50’s artefact, complete with lock and key and divided into sections for Rent, Gas, Electricity, Newspapers and an un-named compartment. It’s a sign of the times that they are all of an equal size and that rent required no more space than any other impending bill.

I’d planned on making the un-named compartment a dedicated Beer Fund but have bowed to pressure and am now the proud owner of a Treat For The Wife Fund.

“I did pay for the Skinflint Tin in the first place,” she so rightly pointed out.