Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A Bit of Give and Take

Bartering is still an accepted form of trade in the countryside. In fact I'd go as far as to say that bartering is the preferred currency around here. And it's tax-free. Just a simple trade.

Everyone has a specialty to bargain with: Oz & Janet have their homegrown vegetables, Ron has his honey, Higgins has his lamb, Paul has his venison, Ted has logs, and this time of year, we have partridge and pheasants. Dollars and cents respectively (or pounds and pence if you prefer). Partridge are of higher value trade-wise than pheasants.

Besides consumables people trade time and skills. These things have value but it tends to accrue over time. That is, a favour is done and put on account. Enough favours translate into 'consumables'. Favours and 'lending a neighborly hand' are important because they signify to the rest of the village that you are one of them and open for business.

It doesn't even have to be an intentional trade. Sometimes these things just happen, and those are the best kind. For example, Mrs Ted (the woodsman's wife) has been unwell and stuck at home. Mike and I sent her some flowers to wish her well. It turns out no one had ever done that for her before (I need to have a word with Ted!) and she was very touched. So was Ted, who dropped by this morning with a load of logs for us by way of thanks. And we were grateful, even though Ted starts his day at 4am, and I woke up to the sound of thudding logs and truck hydraulics. Mike got up to make Ted a cup of tea - another important social bonding ritual. Always with the tea.

Not much later (but at least I was conscious by now), Paul dropped by with some oven-ready pheasant and partridge from Monday's shoot. The boys down at the local garage have been kind to Mike. He's not been able to change a tire yet since the accident, so the garage boys have been looking after him through his recent spate of punctures. Mike was going to drop off the birds to say thanks. Paul added his services of 'preparing oven ready game' to his account. A few more favors and I will shoot another deer or pig for him. And so it goes.

The drawback is that it only works on a small scale. I really notice the difference when I have to drive to town for non-barter items and services. Particularly in England where people have made keeping to themselves an artform, and even a smile is too much to muster.

I also notice it when someone new - especially a 'townie' - moves into the village; in our case next door. On her first night in the house, Mike dropped by with some logs. There had been a cold snap and we guessed the house wouldn't be warm yet. She said thanks, but has yet to say much more even when we're both in the front garden separated only by a low fence. Mike bumped into her again today and offered her some pheasants, if she'd like. She said no. Maybe she doesn't know about country living or maybe she does and she's not interested in doing business. It's not mandatory after all.


Poppy Cottage said...

Barr Humbug to the 'new' neighbour. Maybe she is just VERRRRY shy? or Grumpy, or just rude. Still loveing the old folks. Is a walk still on if fine tomorrow?


Sara said...

I can see how a bartering system might create internal strife to the newb. For instance, I wouldn't know what to offer someone that's worth 1/2 cord chopped wood. And I'd never know if I've adequately "re-paid" someone. It's truly another learned social survival skill, but one that seems natural and instinctive.

Jennifer Montero said...

Hi Sara - Quite. It's always hardest being the new kid in town. I go by the "muffin basket" principle: it's up to you to extend your hand first and give them an 'in' if they want it. But, if they don't, you have to respect that.

Populations are more transient than they use to be, and it seems the real hardcore barterers around here were born and raised here, as were their parents, and their grandparents etc. That kind of long term involvement - families intermarrying, farms and land changing hands - leads to its own set of problems too.

I haven't got firsthand knowledge of that (only local gossip). We're outsiders even though Mike's been here 20 years, because he's not FROM here. And I'm a foreigner so I'm still viewed with mild curiousity (and suspicion) by some.

But the more I participate, the more I seem to earn a bit of trust. Keeping sheep and keeping them healthy, has earned me credibility. Chickens don't count - too 'fashionable' these days. I was watched like a hawk, but have since had compliments on their condition. There are bets between locals as to whether I will keep them as pets (townie) or put them in the freezer (country). If they don't go in the freezer, I think I will lose a bit of status and trust.

Anonymous said...


Pomona said...

Luckily we don't have the incomer thing here - well, I don't think so, but I suppose I am one of the locals so I might not notice! I think Kent has a much more changeable population so it is perhaps not such an issue. But then there is not the barter which I would love - I think game is good currency, though - I only seem to grow what everyone else has stacks of! But I would happily swap a night in our B&B for meat, etc. I think some people worry about being under an obligation - or perhaps she thought you were trying to sell her something!

Pomona x

P said...

Jennifer- mild curiosity and possibly suspicion means that you're exotic.

And the sheep don't go in the freezer. Their offspring can (lamb is soooo yummy), but not the sheep. I would happily remain an outsider all my life if being an insider were decided by a dinner of mutton....

Jennifer Montero said...

Hi P, thanks for your comments. I never considered I could been thought of as 'exotic' before. And I'm ashamed to say I've never tried mutton either, though I hear mixed opinions on its taste and flavor.

I call them 'sheep' but I should be clearer - they are 2 orphan lambs born 1 April 09. I was going to kill them out as hogget but they've done so well on the grass keep with a handful of barley/sugarbeet that I don't think they'll see Christmas. I'm struggling to ensure they are meaty without being too fatty.

jessie said...

Last night my neighbor,who works on an organic farm, brought me a year's supply of garlic cloves and helped me plant them. I gave him some of our sausage. Tonight he's bringing me some yeast so we can make hard cider, from the sweet cider we pressed with the cider press another neighbor loaned us.

It's good to have good neighbors; lately I think we're more on the receiving end than the giving, but it balances out over time.

Jennifer Montero said...

Hi Jessie - It sounds like you have the good neighbor thing going for you too. All that garlic!! I never seem to have enough garlic, or onions for that matter. Do you make your own sausages?

I agree the giving/receiving balances out over time. I haven't felt hard done by yet. Just the opposite. Everyone else seems to be so generous.

Good luck with your cider. I'm watching my poor attempt bubble away in the larder and I wonder if it will ever become anything more than vinegar...