Pennies are bad for your image

10th February 2006 at 00:00
When it rains, my charity tin prospers, for the kids stand around in the hall and throw coins at each other. The shrapnel soon litters the battlefield. And then the scavengers move in.

I pick up such unconsidered trifles and the children are amazed. They have an alarmingly casual attitude towards small change. They refuse to take it from the till, they will leave it on the table when they leave.

When I first saw this I was astonished. How can they have such little sense of value? They will even throw their change into the bin. Such a waste - a coin lost forever, its potential squandered. We put out charity boxes to collect the unwanted debris but the coins still fall. So I must pick them up.

There is a simple explanation for all this. To pick it up shows that you are poor. It is all about image. What do you want others to think about you? That you are poor? They would rather appear confident, beyond and above minor coins. So they walk on by.

That is why they are so confused. A man in a suit picking up small change? Why should I want people to think I am poor? The world has gone mad. At charity time they will hand over fistfuls of change. It does not seem real to them. Their generosity - if that is what it is - is remarkable. Small change is merely inconvenient heavy metal.

I am still shocked by this. Are things too easy today? I do not know. But I know that the community where I grew up valued every little scrap. We cooked everything. We reheated. We recycled. We never threw anything away.

You brought home the change from your errand to the corner shop clutched tightly in your palm.

Now food and clothes are cheap, and change does not matter. There is an inability to see how small coins can build bigger amounts. It extends perhaps beyond money to self. There is no future where that small coin can grow into something else. There is no future where they can see themselves growing into something else.

They will sometimes throw coins on the floor for the strange pleasure of watching me pick them up. They do not seem to connect money with work.

Anything less than 50p is expendable.

But with my own working-class background I cannot share this. I horde the unwanted coins like a squirrel.

Ian Roe is a teacher in north Wales

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