Tuesday 24 September 2013

The 1976 Bread Line

In 1976, we rented a cottage in Monkstown Farm, near Dun Laoghaire Co Dublin.  The price was right - £60 / month - and it was huge: four bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room and a large weedy old garden behind and sort of a lawn in front.  At the end of summer it was idyllic.  I dug up a couple of kilos of dandelion root, chopped and dried them to make "coffee". The Boy was crawling and it seemed a fitly romantic place for him to grow a bit more.  Through all the moves, we've kept a hard-covered note book which starts optimistically with financial accounts for the new venture.  About three weeks later, the disciplined itemisation of the nature and cost of all the food we bought, dribbled off.  A couple of blank pages later, the book finds another use "SEPTEMBER 1984 RECIPES USED".

So I thought it might be interesting and even instructive to record the data for Dau.II as she manages her own culinary affairs a generation later.  I think what strikes us now is how simple it all was.  We got two pints of milk delivered to the house in glass bottles every day, occasionally three (you left a note out for the milkman in the empty bottles put out for collection).  The other thing is that there seems to be a helluva a lot of sugar consumed.  A pound of dabs Limanda limanda was 30p - less than a pound of hamburger and much less than a pound of cheese.  We shan't see those prices again.

The prices are all in decimal pence.  It was two-and-a-half years since we had moved from a truly medieval currency: 12 pennies (d for denarius) to the shilling (s for solidus); 20 shillings to the pound (fancy-L for libra) so called £.s.d.  These pennies must be multiplied by 1.27 to convert to euro-cents.  But we have lived through several cycles of currency inflation, so you can't buy a pint of milk for 7p anymore.  Nevertheless, you get money values so stuck in your head and it's hard to shake them.  The weekly total in the second table suggests that the three of us lived a week on £5.20: call it €6.65 in today's money.  So you can see why I used to blench when I saw graduate students, in the Celtic Tiger boom times, spending more than half that on a soda and sandwich for a single lunch.

I've looked up the Consumer Price Index at CSO.ie and WolframAlpha.  This has fluctuated quite wildly (the cost of stuff was rising at 20% in 1975/1976 and was going down, briefly, in 2009; but has been creeping up at an average ~5% over the last 37 years.  1.052^37 says that things are 6.5x more expensive now than then because of inflation.  The final 2 does matter here because of the ^37 exponent: 1.05^37 is only 6x. And you have to multiply everything by 1.27 for conversion to the Euro.  So multiply everything in the table by 8 (and a quarter if you're pedantic).  Call a pint (570ml) = half a litre and a pound/lb (450g) = half a kilo?
Milk 7 x 8 x 2 = €1.12/lt; Bread = €1.80 loaf; Sugar = €1.80/kg; kg of mince €4.50.
 Q. What do you reckon the 'eggs' are: 6x or 12x ?

And I should add that the romantic glaze fell from our eyes when winter kicked in.  The huge kitchen was impossible to heat properly and ruinously expensive to heat inadequately and we left the cottage the following summer.
p Sat 18 Sept p Mon 20 Sept p Thu 23 Sept p Sat 25 Sept
28 mince 3.5 pepper 7 milk 15 oranges
22.5 sugar 2 lb 7 milk 1pt 9.5 margarine 10 1lb carrots
28 eggs 22.5 bread 13.5 beans 16 2lb onions
43 fish-fingers 23 onions 22.5 bread 15 1lb tomatoes
18 margarine x2 8 carrots 19 sausages 30 dabs
9.5 pasta 15.5 matches 20.5 sugar 15 1lb spinach
15 white pudding 60 cheese 27.5 eggs 18 1lb beans
12.5 beans 24 peas 12 biscuits 25 mince
17.5 onions 15 tomatoes 22.5 bread 19 margarine
7 milk  13.5 beans 19 sausages
And more
p Mon 27 Sept p Fri 01 Oct p Sat 02 Oct (cont) p Weekly Total
7 milk 22.5 sugar 14.5 oats 112 milk
60 cheese 15.5 white pudding 22 meat 70 bread
4.5 buttermilk 18 margarine 18 margarine 23.5 sugar
22.5 sugar 56 cheese 20.5 bread 48 margarine
Wed 29 Sept 9 carrots 13 tin tomatoes 36 flour
16 lemons 5 buttermilk 14 milk x 2 100 cereals
20.5 bread 119 milk bill 10.5 peas 72 cheese
7 milk Sat 02 Oct 5 pepper 60 eggs
14 onions 26 Toilet paper 7 lemon ?? beans
 7 milk 14.5 salt   £5.20 Total

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