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?