Thursday, February 24, 2005

Three Shillings

every family has at least one story that comes up year after year, is meaningless to outsiders and is embarassing to the participants. This is my families story (the family in Australia).

In 1962 my mother had just remarried and we'd moved into a house in Seddon. At the time the gas meter was coin fed and it expected to be fed in shillings. One shilling gave you so much gas; when that much gas had been consumed it cut out. Since everything in that house was gas fed (well not quite everything - gas lighting had, by 1962, fallen into disuse even in Seddon ) my parents took care to keep a small pile of shillings beside the gas meter.

So one day we came home from school, myself and my two younger sisters. I was 8, Sharon was 7 and Deb was 5. Now this is way before the phenomenon of the latch-key kid; we didn't have a key to the house but it wasn't difficult to work out that if one rocked the sliding door at the back of the house back and forth the nail attached to a piece of string which was poked into a hole in the door would, eventually, fall out. Once it had we had entrance to the house!

I'm sure you can see what happened next!

We found 3 shillings in a neat little pile beside the gas meter. Being a thieving little bastard I pocketed em. And then we went a-spending... Three Golden Gaytimes later (a kind of icecream still sold in Australia but at that time new on the market) and we came home. (I can remember this scene so exactly - down the to shop where we bought the icecreams - alas long since demolished (it was on the corner of Charles Street and Victoria Street - it's now a computer shop) and even the little old lady behind the counter who has probably been dead these 40 years).

Sometime later the olds came home and it was time to cook dinner. I imagine there was still some gas credit though I don't remember. So I imagine they got part way through the cooking and the credit ran out. So they reached for that pile of shillings and they were gone! Thus began the interrogation. I of course had no knowledge of what became of the three shillings! . Nor did Sharon. But Deb, not understanding the stakes (it was MY bum that was going to be beaten) piped up and said 'Robbie took them'. Sure enough my bum was warmed.

Over time, and I think it was in the late 1960's it started, the story grew a life of it's own and was quoted at every Christmas. By 1980 it had become a tradition and I remember both my first and my second wives groaning when, at a family Christmas, one of us would ask 'have you heard the story of the three shillings'. After the third Christmas each wife would attempt to forestall it but we were implacable .

I have a similar story with my American family - it's nowhere near as old but I'm determined to elevate it to three shilling status - sometime soon I'll relate it.

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