My first choice of career was to be the man who emptied the gas meter. This was clearly a position of some importance in society. Once issued with a company vehicle, (black bicycle equipped with large wire basket), and a large leather shoulder bag, he was authorised to enter any home and be treated with the utmost respect.
It was unfortunate, but the location chosen for gas meters usually meant that they were either tucked away under the staircase or hidden behind piles of bulky household items which had to be removed to allow access. Exasperating to a conscientious meter man in his search for efficiency. Using his special key, a large tin box was removed from the base of the gas meter, and a pile of pennies poured onto the table.
These were counted by sliding each one with a finger into the other hand, until the pile had been transformed with a pleasing symmetry into little towers of coins. All members of the household watched -- with skill the operation could be conducted at impressive speed. The total value was agreed, entered into a ledger, the empty container returned to the meter, and a cup of tea accepted.
A more delicate question concerned the mysterious appearance in the meter of foreign coins. Quite inexplicable. We were obviously being visited during any absence by Irish people, who were quite happy to pay for any gas they consumed. Dark rumours circulated concerning 'him at 23' and his collection of washers. As an avid collector myself, I assumed that the gasman would have a personal penny collection, one for every year, in good condition.
On reflection, by the time he had completed even our small street, the gasman must have been carrying quite a weight in pennies. Did the corner grocer shop exchange these for paper money - the familiar ten-bob notes or the legendary five-pound handkerchief? Did he stagger back to base, bicycle wobbling under the weight of pennies? How many pennies were being held in gas headquarters at Abbots Lane, having been collected from all over the City?
A penny for them....?