I can never work on something without seeing the meaning behind it, or without a proper incentive. I’ve chipped away at this habit over the last year and I’ve managed to turn myself into a somewhat productive person by instituting rewards for working on (as yet) unpaid creative projects.
I blame the need for my reward-based productivity on a system implemented at school during my formative years. It’s likely my own fault, but you can’t get a 1,000 word story out of introspective self-punishment. Only professional authors can do that.
This reward scheme happened in Primary School (or Elementary School but not quite, to any American readers), and was in place between the ages of 6 and 10 — Important years for development and the prime years for being on a bouncy castle.
These rewards were tokens, called Albys (pronounced: Al-bees). Albys were handed out for good behaviour, hard work and achievement — The big three.
Albys were little white slips of paper that you’d write your name on before placing it into a raffle box on the teacher’s desk. At the end of the week, in front of the whole school, each class would draw an Alby from their respective box, and the winning good-child could choose a reward from one of two glass jars.
I have no doubt that other Primary Schools had similar systems in place — It’s a simple lottery-based rewards system that’s akin to modern-day loot boxes. Although you earned the in-game currency through hard work and intelligence, as opposed to draining your parent’s bank accounts by screaming in the aisles of Target until they get you a million V-Bucks.
Albys, and any other systems like them, are better than V-Bucks. (Whatever they are, I had to Google them)
As far as I know, no other school used Albys specifically. I could be wrong, and there’s simply no record of this turn-of-the-millenium, North-East England, Primary School reward scheme left. Maybe every school in the country had an Alby, although if they did I think we’d see social media posts like:
“lol, so random but does anyone remember Albys!? Lol”
I’m actually hoping that if I type the word Alby enough in this piece, it’ll appear towards the top of a Google search and subsequently unite me with someone from a different Primary School who also remembers these little tokens.
Although I’m a little worried that I may be spelling it wrong, as there could be an ‘e’ between the ‘b’ and ‘y’. So I’m going to say Albey once, just in case.
Seriously, I’ll pay money if anyone still has an original Alby (Albey).
The nerds (me) would work really hard to earn Albys, just so we could get our hands in the glass jars and rummage for a prize. To really have something to show for all the hours spent being socially inept freaks.
There were two types of prizes you could receive in the Alby-system; Cool Kid Sweets and Geek Stationary. I bet you can guess which jar yours truly always put his hand in. That’s right, I am in fact a cool kid and I got all the sweets, all the time. Go suck on a lollipop losers, except you can’t, because I have all the lollipops! Ha!
No. Obviously I pocketed stationary at any available opportunity during my childhood. You can’t turn free pencils and notebooks down, not in this economy, I always told myself.
The more Albys you received in a week, the more likely you were to have your name drawn out of the box. It’s basic maths, which I know, because I got lots of Albys.
In assembly every Friday, each kid would wait with bated breath to see if their name would be drawn from the box. Even the kids who didn’t get an Alby that week couldn’t contain their excitement at the possibility they’d get to rummage in the sweetie jar.
(No self-respecting non-Alby earning school kid would EVER rummage through the stationary jar, are you kidding me? No way!)
When your name wasn’t drawn, you’d always hope that the Chosen-One would choose from the sweet jar, because if it was something shareable then there was a chance that you too could benefit from the Alby system, without your name even appearing out of the damn box. What a rush.
In what has become a trend for my entire life, I would always disappoint my peers by picking stationary — Something that you can’t really share with anyone else. Well, you can, I just didn’t want to.
Now, I know what you’re thinking — “But Matt, couldn’t you just take a stack of blank Albys from the teacher’s desk and write your name on them when nobody is looking, before placing them in the box before the teacher catches on?”
Yes. Yes you could. And we all did.
It was a victimless crime because most of the Alby-earning students did it, we all boosted our own numbers. Blank Albys also served as a form of playground currency during lunch hour.
“I’ll trade you my Mars Bar for five blank Albys.”
“Throw in that uncommon Pokemon card and you’ve got yourself a deal my friend!”
In hindsight I’m surprised the teachers didn’t notice that there were far more Albys in the box each week than they’d handed out to students. But as an adult with friends who’ve taught kids of that age — They didn’t care what happened as long as the clock kept ticking closer to 3:30.
If all the extra Albys had prevented them from pouring a glass of wine at the end of the day, then you best believe that box would’ve been policed like Buckingham Palace.
I also wonder which teacher, or member of the governing body, came up with the Alby scheme. It must’ve been someone with a penchant for light gambling. Some genius who recognised that kids get addicted to things just as easily as adults, and that if we all try hard enough with these Albys, we can get them addicted to learning!
The Alby system taught me, and countless others, how to work in exchange for some kind of reward. But it also taught us how to gamble, cheat, lie, swindle, barter and to expect stationary in exchange for good behaviour. And for that, I am thankful.
Years after leaving Primary School I still want to sarcastically say “Oh, have an Alby” to anyone who achieves something mediocre. But that’s a very niche reference, one that would be hard to implement to any friend group outside of the one I had between 1998 and 2004.
So now, in my early adult years, I’m half tempted to print off a batch of my own Albys, that I can give myself as a reward for productivity. My name will be the only one in the box, so I’ll get to rummage in the prize jars every week. Win/win.
I’ll fill one jar with sweets and the other with stationary (keep it classic), and the sweet jar will remain full and unrummaged for years to come, because if I’m anything, I’m regressively consistent. I can already see a pocket notebook with my name on it, because I put it there, and I’m an adult.
Today is Monday, January 7th and it’s time to mellow out and tell some stories (on most days).