Tuppence a Bag

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

It was the morning of Black Friday, many years ago.

I was a driver delivering random bits of freight to rural areas. My route was a tight schedule, rarely affording the opportunity for conversation. Most days, I did an impersonation of the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland (“I’m late! I’m late!”).  

Not this morning. Black Friday would prove to be the rare exception to the rule. Many of my customers were fully stocked and the holiday rush was not yet upon me. I strolled through my day without a care in the world, greeting my customers with a cheery face while taking the time to share a few words. 

With each conversation, I found myself wishing more and more for my normally hectic pace.

“She pushed her to the ground to get to that T.V! Can you believe it?!”

“They were screaming at each other, right in the middle of the store. The manager had to pull them apart…”

“The other guy got to the laptop first, so he punched him in the face! Amazing…”

I felt nothing but sorrow at the end of the day. Relieved to be home, I thoughtlessly flipped on the television (I still had cable), more for the sound than anything else. To my surprise, the opening credits to a childhood favorite greeted me: “Mary Poppins.” 

I began to choke-up, immediately feeling pathetic. Here I am, a grown man, about to blubber like a baby, just because of a children’s movie. 

I couldn’t help it, for a couple of reasons. First, my father would occasionally gather us for a family event when I was a child. One holiday season, it was for the specific purpose of watching Mary Poppins. Sipping hot chocolate at five years old while watching the hypnotic Julie Andrews represents a nostalgically fond childhood memory for me. 

The second reason involves a specific scene: the bird woman. As the scene appeared and Mary began her heartbreaking melody, my tears were renewed as I felt an inexpressible sadness.

“Come feed the little birds, show them you care

And you’ll be glad if you do.

Their young ones are hungry,

Their nests are so bare;

All it takes is tuppence from you.”

Sure, it’s a children’s movie. Yet, isn’t it amazing the profound lessons a children’s tale contains, lessons actually aimed at adults but ignored due to their simplicity and genre? These lessons slip into our subconscious as children, not fully understood but still captured in essence. Somewhere along the way, we lose them while becoming another Mr. Banks.

You remember the scene, don’t you? Young Michael Banks has two tuppence for the birds, but Mr. Banks, et al., has other plans: investment in Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. Their reasons? Why, it’s prudent! Think of the possibilities!

And you’ll achieve that sense of conquest
As your affluence expands
In the hands of the directors
Who invest as propriety demands

You see, Michael, you’ll be part of…
Railways through Africa!
Dams across the Nile!
Fleets of ocean greyhounds!
Majestic, self-amortizing canals!
Plantations of ripening tea!

Of course, this is all cover for their real motivations, revealed in the third verse of the song and reinforced by the opulent living of one Mr. Banks:

You can purchase first and second trust deeds
Think of the foreclosures!
Bonds! Chattels! Dividends! Shares!
Bankruptcies! Debtor sales!
Opportunities!
All manner of private enterprise!
Shipyards! The mercantile!
Collieries! Tanneries!
Incorporations! Amalgamations! 

Banks!

And with the last word of “Banks” (the institution or the boy?), the tuppence is soon stripped from young Michael’s hand, causing the uproar that follows. 

Further strip the setting of Edwardian England, and it sounds like today’s financial world, doesn’t it? And yet, while this could be a reflection on modern day financial institutions, the banks are not the problem.

Black Friday only accentuates who we have become, people competing (along with the occasional snarling and brawling) for a product not in short supply, not necessary for our survival, and likely to be broken or obsolete within a year (if so, all the better).

It’s a brave new world, or so we are told. In reality, it’s merely a metastasized version of the old. With a bulging workload and hours akin to slavery, we feverishly work for every last bit of tuppence we can grab. 

Some of it goes into various financial mechanisms that, by and large, do not engage in such noble projects as dams, fleets, or railways. Instead, it is invested in products and services that, by and large, make nothing, produce nothing, and contribute nothing. That which does not flow into the coffers of directors is channeled into new, crowd-controlling consumer products. 

And while we pat ourselves on the back for our fiscal prudence, we take our remaining tuppence and engage in displays of greed like we see on Black Friday (or what we used to see – the ugliness of Black Friday is increasingly regulated to Amazon warehouses and their affiliates). 

Black Friday only accentuates who we have become, people competing (along with the occasional snarling and brawling) for a product not in short supply, not necessary for our survival, and likely to be broken or obsolete within a year (if so, all the better). The whole event kicks off another materialistic holiday, a surge of the same behavior we engage in all year around. 

And as for the bird woman? Our tax-deductible donation should take care of her. If we gave her more tuppence on top of that, we would only be encouraging fat birds!

All around the cathedral the saints and apostles

Look down as she sells her wares.

Although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling

Each time someone shows that he cares.

I suspect there aren’t many smiling faces among the saints and apostles nowadays. 

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