Wednesday, 9 March 2011


I was in Sweden back in 1967 when they made the change from driving on the left of the road to driving on the right. It was very impressively handled. All the new road signs were already in place but covered over and at the appointed hour of 4 a.m. on September 15th, the covers were whipped off and after an initially massive traffic jam everyone just adjusted.

Such a huge shift in motoring rules carried many more implications than just the road signs of course. Over a period of years, the Swedes had to gradually change over to cars with the steering wheel on the left instead of the right. There was also a massive program of repainting needed to alter the white lines and arrows on their 70,000 miles of roads.

I believe that we Brits have decided that the whole task is just too daunting, not to say expensive and so it is very unlikely that we shall ever change sides here.

However, we proved that we were just as capable as the Swedes in making major changes just a few years later when we dispensed with the shillings and sixpences which were so familiar to everyone in favour of 'new pence'. After a few years the 'new' was dropped along with pennies. Indeed our natural laziness soon had us calling pence simply 'p'.

I soon adapted of course, as did everyone else, but I still have happy memories of those lovely old coins such as the farthing and the thrupenny-bit. There was no ninepenny coin of course, though a few centuries ago such a coin did exist.

This made it all the harder for me to understand what on earth my parents were talking about when they said that something (or somebody) was 'as right as ninepence' .

I now discover that the saying has nothing to do with coinage at all but everything to do with the game 'ninepins' or skittles. When the nine pins are set up in readiness, they have to be placed exactly right in terms of spacing just as the modern bowling pins are which is why those are set up by a machine. So the phrase is essentially a mis-hearing of 'as right as ninepins'.

Finally, after all these years, the penny has dropped.

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