Barrister, Oxford University lecturer, author
on legal and professional subjects.
The year was 1929. Aged six, I had a morning off
from Miss Steele’s Infant Academy at Harrow. There, a week or two before,
I had first
encountered the joys of the Sand Tray. You could
make any country or landscape you liked in that, loose sand being so versatile.
I have never since felt such power.
Although well supplied with pocket money, I must have convinced myself that I needed cash. We
lived in a small terrace house in Butler Road. A narrow, rarely-used alley ran alongside the
house to the pavement. You get cash by selling things, but I had nothing to sell. Not put off
by that, I decided to sell whatever was lying about the house and portable.
We owned a rickety folding card table with a green
baize top. Father, who worked in the Exchequer and Audit Department, had won
this table by saving an enormous number of coupons from Player’s Navy Cut
cigarette packets. I dragged the table along our narrow alley, and set it up
by the pavement. On it I deposited a tray laden with such trinkets as I had been
able to lay my hands on. A ring of my mother’s in a white ivory box. A
silver-plated button hook. An empty photograph frame. Our crystal set (to which
I was not allowed to listen). And so on.
Feeling I should contribute something of my own,
I carefully cut several used envelopes into strips. These I offered for making
shopping lists, at a penny each. It took me an hour to write out a label conveying
Throughout its commercial existence, the stall had one paying customer only - a gracious lady
who bought a shopping list, and smilingly handed over one of those old heavy copper pennies.
I was overjoyed. Shortly afterwards my mother arrived on the scene. Failing to understand her
rage, I was enraged myself when she confiscated my hard-earned penny.
That afternoon mother took me shopping in Harrow.
For years I could not understand why her anger broke out again, was indeed redoubled,
when, as we passed a sweet-shop, I righteously demanded that an ice cream cornet
be purchased with my money. Her refusal has rankled ever since. By my labour
I converted a worthless used envelope into something exchangeable for value,
and sold it on the market. Isn’t that what economics is about?