I’m steadily working my way through Trollope’s Pallisers, this being the fourth book in the series, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it all. In fact I’m having to make myself take a rest in between them and read something completely different (and less of a chunkster) otherwise it would be ages before I was ‘living’ outside 19th century Britain.
As you will realise from the title, Phineas Finn makes a comeback to Westminster via the constituency of Tankerville where he is eventually proclaimed as their MP after the vote was scrutinised and his opponent was found to have been bribing voters.
Although he doesn’t like the look of the place or its inhabitants he’s glad to be able to be part of the life of Westminster again, despite the fact that he is having to live off his savings as of course in those times MPs weren’t paid a wage, politics was really a rich man’s pastime. Phineas is hoping to gain a ministerial post as ministers were paid, but things don’t go well for him and he has such a quick temper and he takes offence so easily that it’s inevitable that he falls foul of enemies who are out to get him.
Well, that’s about as much as I’m going to say about the storyline, except to say that it did take a completely unexpected turn – for me anyway. I haven’t seen the Pallisers on TV so it’s all new to me.
In this book and the previous one there has been a lot written about Plantagenet Palliser, who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, trying to get decimalisation of the currency through the House of Commons. This was a huge surprise to me when I first read it because decimalisation didn’t take place in the UK until 1971, when I was in primary 7. We were all given dummy sets of the new coins in plastic so that we would be used to them when they were minted. You can see what the old coins looked like here.
I was quite amazed to discover through Trollope that decimalisation was mooted as far back as Victorian times. I had a bit of a search and discovered it being spoken of in Hansard on 12th,June 1855. So it took over 100 years from then for the system to be changed to what is definitely a simpler way of calculating things but I must admit that I’m one of the generation who still thinks of prices in ‘real’ money, so I still find myself saying occasionally something like: Flip! That cauliflower is 30 bob in real money! In other words 30 shillings – or £1.50 in decimal coinage.
Planty Palliser or the Duke as I must now call him was exasperated as he didn’t know what to do about the farthings as five farthings wouldn’t fit into an old penny. That was no problem in 1971 because farthings had been abolished by then as being too worthless to bother about. A certain person sitting not too far from me now can remember being charged tuppence three farthings for something, it must have been sweeties surely. I bet shop workers were glad to be rid of them, it’s such a lot to have to say – for so little.