Once upon a time, English teachers who couldn’t think of anything else to do with their classes always had “the life story of a penny” to fall back on. Roald Dahl remembers having to do it once for “prep”. In his version, a lump of copper is excavated from a South American mine, shipped to England, melted down and cruelly stamped with the king’s head before passing through the hands of bankers, a housewife, a fishmonger and several clumsy boys.
Take a walk down my local high street in Hull and you’ll see the story of money alright – the lack of it, anyway: potholes in the road that stay unfixed for years, the homeless and rootless huddled in the doorways of takeaways and vacant shop units, the well-stocked pawn shops and bargain supermarkets with cardboard cut-out coppers in their windows to deter shoplifters.
This is what economic “recovery” looks like in the post-industrial north, where despite the promises of City of Culture and the Siemens investment, a minimum-wage, zero-hours contract in a shop or factory is still the norm for many. Household debt is among the highest in the country in this