Forgetting what money was for

Mar 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Twenty years ago, £5 was not a lot of money, but it was enough to go out; it was enough to by a few groceries; it was enough to put some petrol in the car; if you were an older person, £5 was a good chunk of your pension.

It was £5 in relation to someone’s pension that was troubling.  Going through the pockets of a jacket before it went to the dry cleaners, a £5 note came out of the breast pocket.  Someone had handed over £5 for some specific purpose and it had been put into the pocket for safe keeping; keeping so safe that it had been completely forgotten.  The only person who would have given a country clergyman a £5 note would have been an older person, probably housebound, who wanted the money to be applied to some specific purpose; who the person was and what the purpose was had long since gone from the memory.

The £5 note was handed sheepishly to the church treasurer with a word of apology; it may well have been a widow’s mite and had not been noticed by someone too busy being busy.

Since then, I have declined to take money from anyone for anything unless it is in an envelope showing their name and for what the money is to be used.  I explain about the £5 note and say that even now, I regret I may have caused someone offence.  A few have raised their eyebrows and probably wondered to themselves about the incompetence of someone who can’t even remember why he was given money.

The £5 note feeling returned this morning.  Along with Euro notes, a slip of paper came out of my wallet.  A4 width and apparently torn from the foot of a sheet, it had nothing other than a name written in blue biro.

‘Ruairi O hEithir’.

A moment of panic.  Who was it?  Was I to visit them? Phone them? Were they in hospital or going through some pastoral emergency?


Ruairi is deputy principal of the school where I had conducted the assembly on Thursday, I had never known his surname.  He is working for a year in Rwanda and is recording his experiences on his blog:

I remembered, one his colleagues had written down his name so that I would find his blog; I would never have managed the Irish spelling.  His weekly diary gives a direct insight into the issues with which anyone working in Africa must grapple.

The Internet may have saved me from perhaps years of wondering of who it was that I had failed to see.

Twenty years ago, even the Internet would not have helped – I Googled “£5 note” – 1,370,000,000 hits.  I wonder if amongst them there is the story of an old lady who gave a clergyman a fiver and wonders what he did with it?

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  1. Ian, I don’t blame you having difficulty with the spelling of that name.

    You were asked to put the £5 to good use, but there was no time scale. Perhaps you handed it over at just the right time.

  2. Yep! Everything – especially on a Sunday morning – must be written down! And the Sunday notice sheet isn’t the place to put important details. How many of them have telephone numbers (no name) and I’ve no idea why the number is there or to whom it belongs.
    Now I carry a notebook and pen in my cassock pocket and EVERYTHING that I’m supposed to remember is put in it. I have discovered that announcements given just five minutes before a service, unless they’re on paper, will be forgotten by the time I get to the reading desk. Is it age?

  3. How different to the way we give money to the church . .all in a white envelope . .no name. Thanks for the link.

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