You may have heard of the Curse of Hello. This describes the way that couples who sell their story (or, worse, pictures of their wedding or the birth of their child) head pretty rapidly for the divorce court. There is a similar phenomenon in football, where the unfortunates who win the Barclays Manager of The Month award see their team plummet with a batch of poor results. This is, of course, explicable by simple statistics – wins and losses are not equally distributed, and a series of good results will not go on forever. Fixture lists also follow matches against a number of poor teams with a clutch of more challenging ones against table-topping opposition. But the manager-of-the-month curse is still out there in the popular imagination.
I have now discovered an equivalent to the curse of Hello in the public sector, in the shape of the humble 50p piece. Time was when our coinage was boring – well designed but unchanging – a little like pre-1960s UK stamps. In recent years we have had coinage that is more ambitious and jazzy, The 5p and 10p pieces feature only part of the national coat of arms, for example. The 50p piece, being a bit bigger, can be changed to include tributes to historical events or references to current affairs. Britannia will sit on her rock on one side, but the other will pay tribute to Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary or feature the sports of the London 2012 Olympics. However, have you noticed that other commemorative editions celebrate the UK membership of the EU and the signing of the Single European Act (now under threat from Cameron’s referendum) ? The anniversary of the NHS (currently being privatised by Jeremy Hunt) ? 150 years of public libraries (value them whilst you can – they’re being shut in droves because of local government finance cuts) ? Kew Gardens (Admission fee in 1971 – 1p, today £13.50) ?
So next time you see something being ‘celebrated’ on your coinage – National Parks, Technical Colleges, Public Transport, Social Housing – be afraid. Be very afraid.