I think I might perhaps have momentarily nodded off over a pile of VAT invoices when my assistant Norman burst into the office to say that there was a chap in the shop trying to pay for a pair of cardiovascular jumping stilts with a sack of potatoes and what should he do about it?
Sure enough, there was a geezer with a broad smile and half a hundredweight of King Edward’s, standing there as bold as you like. “Hi, I’m Nigel,” he said. “I’m from the New Age Bartering Fellowship.”
He went on to say that at least 35 per cent of world trade now operates through barter and it’s growing at 12 per cent a year. “Our great grandchildren probably won’t know what cash is,” Nigel said. “Already traditional money is going out of fashion.”
“Not in this shop it isn’t, squire,” I said, but I had read somewhere that King Edward’s make the best chips and they do say that exchange is no robbery, so I thought we might as well hear him out.
“The taxmen don’t like it,” Nigel said, which was enough for me to tell Norman to put the kettle on.
“But they can’t do anything about it because invoices saying ‘400 cabbages’, or whatever, change hands in the normal way, but any cash you get goes into your pocket.”
Nigel said that only that morning he had arranged for an undertaker to swap a butcher’s mother-in-law’s funeral for a weekly delivery of pork chops, lamb cutlets, sweetbreads and a corn-fed chicken for the next two years.
“If she’s not dead by then, we’ll have to have another think about it,” Nigel said. “But with all that cholesterol flying about, the butcher thinks he’s on to a winner.”
Nigel said that was the most unusual swap he had personally handled, but he’d heard about Japanese corn-flavoured Kit-Kats being exchanged for a man’s green latex cat-suit and a tattoo swapped for a baby alligator in Stevenage.
Then there was the woman in Devizes who had offered a 1992 Wrangler Jeep in exchange for a marriage proposal. She got 400 offers on the first day but most wanted to know what the mileage was?
In the meantime, how did we feel about bartering the jumping stilts for his sack of spuds?
When Norman pointed out that he would be getting a custombuilt quality product based on the natural movements of the kangaroo for the equivalent of about an hour’s business in a chip-shop, Nigel said that was fair comment and he’d throw in some swedes, baby carrots and half a dozen sticks of celery to make up the difference.
I said I’d think about it and when Nigel had gone, Norman said: “You know, if we offered the veg to the woman who runs the greengrocers in Gladstone Terrace maybe her husband would repair the leaking roof on our shed. He did his City and Guilds as part of his stroke rehabilitation programme.
“Then we could offer the second-hand slates to old Mr Mortiboys in the junk shop next door in exchange for that coal-dust statue of Harry Kane which has been in his window for months, and I could give it to my nephew for his birthday.
“Then maybe my brother-inlaw would return the mower he borrowed four years ago and I could mow my neighbour’s lawn in return for one of his very nice bottles of home-made wine which I could give to you and your wife for your wedding anniversary in return for letting me have the jumping stilts at a decent discount which I can offer to Nigel in exchange for the phone number of the woman with the Wrangler Jeep.”
“I think there’s a flaw in your reasoning which I can’t quite put my finger on at this precise moment,” I said. “Apart from the fact you’re married already and I don’t like home-made wine.”
By now I’d begun to get a few ideas of my own about this bartering business and the upshot was that when Nigel came back the next day while Norman was at the chiropodist having his corns done, we did a pretty good deal over the veg, with a pound of rump steak thrown in, and he took the jumping stilts away in a wheelbarrow he’s going to exchange for a weekend on a nudist beach in Filey.
It goes without saying that we can’t compete with the big boys and their suicidal discounts and cut-price sales but a nice bag of mixed veg with every purchase could well be a winner in our forthcoming winter sale.
And I must say a nice bit of steak does go very well with my wife’s home-made oven-cooked chips and a few baby carrots.