I thought it was just a family thing, but given my father’s career as an accountant, I should probably have realised there was a method in his madness.
For many years, as a child I was encouraged to supplement my meagre pocket money by peforming odd jobs around the home. These would be tasks for which I would be able to negotiate a small remittance in the hope that at the end of the week, I might have enough to accompany my father to the local off licence, which for some reason I seem to remember him visiting on a Sunday (but it may have been Saturday) evening. There, I would be able to purchase my prize which came in the form of a particular box of chocolates, called Matchmakers. These were thin, twig-shaped chocolates, thinner than a pencil and the length of a match, which were either orange or mint flavoured crispy shards covered with chocolate.
There were sold in the off licence because they were considered the height of 1970s sophistication for an after dinner treat – rivaled only by After Eight Mints – and so were on display as an impulse purchase for those who were preparing to entertain. I think they cost around 70p a box and had the added lure of a sleeve, which you pulled back to reveal a series of trays with the chocolates inside. Oh how I loved Matchmakers.
You can still buy them – just – in Australia, but generally have to hunt them down in a shop selling ‘English Sweets’. They are now the length of a pencil and the box design has changed and they cost considerably more than 70p, but I generally buy one box a year when the family are over for Xmas.
My earning power increased dramatically when I was twelve thanks to the arrival of my baby brother who offered a seemingly unlimited opportunity for earning money. As long as he needed feeding, or his nappy needed changing – two guaranteed requirements – I was quids in, literally. I remember drawing up a tariff of prices in my mercenary quest for yet more crispy chocolate treats. It was not long before my earning power outstripped the small change my parents kept about themselves and as we lived a good drive from the nearest bank, it was not long before I was introduced to the, ‘Note of Hand.’
The Note of Hand was issued by my father in lieu of cash and was a small slip of paper, onto which he had helpfully drawn a small hand, with the wording. It would state the amount owed and was followed by his signature, a promise of payment to come. At some point, when he had been able to get to the bank, I (and my brother because the Notes of Hand were also issued in lieu of pocket money at times) were able to redeem them for the amounts owed.
Now, of course, there are not many calls for a Note of Hand. I no longer charge my parents for tasks around the house and my baby brother is all grown up with a baby of his own. Last weekend, though was my birthday. For the past few years I have asked for a gift card as a present for the simple reason that I hate shopping for clothes and so if I have a gift card specifically for that purpose in my purse then at some point I am going to change the trousers I wear to work for a new pair. This year, however there was no gift card, but a slip of paper which fell out of the card, in my mother’s handwriting: ‘Note of Hand’ it proclaimed.
And so the legend lives on – and who knows one day, in the not too distant future, my nephew may find himself asking his parents for some money – if indeed cash still exists when he is old enough to use it – and may well find himself presented with a small slip of paper, upon which the legend is written above the tiny drawing of a hand.