On the way to the office yesterday morning I spotted a 20p coin glinting on the ground.
I paused, as most people would.
Should I pick it up? My brain got the scales out to help me decide.
It was quite shiny, but it also looked a little bit dirty. This is Embankment Gardens. It’s pretty clean here, but it’s early in the morning, which means that it might have been here for quite some time. How many people have trodden on it? Who dropped it? Maybe they’ve just realised that they dropped it and are hurrying back to find it so that they can buy the milk for the office. Maybe it’s a kid’s pocket money. Maybe it’s someone’s lucky coin. Maybe it’s actually a miniature tracking device. Maybe it’s one of those candid-camera-superglued-coin-to-the-ground tricks.
Bending down to collect it this early in the morning might pull a muscle. I’d have to wash my hands when I got to the office, which would waste another minute or two.
This was becoming a pretty costly 20p piece.
What would I do with it if I did pick it up? Leaving it there might benefit someone. It could give them that critical 20p that they need to buy a lottery ticket that will change their life. It might make the difference between a cheese sandwich or not. It could be the 20p piece that is used to tighten a screw and save something from falling apart. On the other hand, if I left it, I’d have my grandfather’s ‘find a penny, pick it up, you will have a day of luck’ claim floating about. I’m not wildly superstitious, but ladders, magpies….
By this stage, I’d been standing there for nearly ten minutes, close enough to claim ownership if anyone else spotted it, pretending to check my phone so that it looked normal to be rooted to the spot at a point in the path that is a bit of a bottle neck. And all the while considering what to do.
Eventually I walked on. I chose the fatalistic leave-the-20p-in-the-world route. This was hardy the snow cash burial scene in Fargo.
But I couldn’t let it go. I kept thinking about the 20p coin.
Later that morning I bought a coffee.
“Americano for Apeish?”
As I waited, I looked at my change. There was a 50p piece, a pound coin, a couple of others and, on top, a brand new 20p coin shouting at me.
Last night I went to my coin jar and tipped it out on the table. I have 57 20p coins in there. That makes £11.40.
It was all getting a bit Knaussgard. I started Googling. Put ’20p’ in as a search term and you get 45,800,000 results.
According to Wikipedia, “Twenty and fifty pence coins are legal tender only up to the sum of £10; this means that it is permissible to refuse payment of sums greater than this amount in 20p coins in order to settle a debt.”
It occurred to me, in a slight distortion of logic, those 57 coins of mine are worthless. I scraped them into a plastic freezer bag, picked up a felt pen, wrote ‘worthless’ on the label, and put the bag in the coin pouch of the rucksack I carry to work.
I went back to my laptop. I’m not quite sure why – maybe it was Google’s algorithm or my own – but I then started reading the fable of Johnny Appleseed, the man who planted apple pips all over the place.
This morning I walked along the path through Embankment Gardens and reached the spot where I’d found the coin. It had gone.
I had replacement no. 1 in my hand. I crouched down, planted it and moved on.