Just last week, I bartered a block of butter and six slabs of chocolate for six novels. The week before that, a friend who had been out shopping dropped off the four recipe items I had forgotten to include in my online shopping and I gave her a bottle of brandy that had been in my cupboard for about two decades – undrunk.
Both were good swaps for me – and excellent ones for my chocoholic friend who is immune-suppressed and so can’t go out to get her fix, and for my friend who likes a drink but ran out of her daily tipple in week one, as she had failed to read the sobering fine print of the lockdown regulations.
Welcome to the barter economy. If you don’t have enough books to read or jerseys to keep warm – or indeed, a bottle of wine to toast your 20th wedding anniversary – you have to find a way of getting them within the lockdown rules.
The swapping of these mundane items has been like something out of a 1950s spy flick – identical shopping bags on either side of the gate, then a quick march by at a safe distance and the swap is made. Within masked parameters, it is possible to fit in a quick chat. Not too long, though, or the curtain twitchers in the neighbourhood will be reporting you for loitering – or worse – breaking the no-fun lockdown code.
The barter economy is an inexact science, which is why money mostly replaced it. But many companies aren’t above trying it in modern times – just think of all the performers, authors and influencers who are offered “exposure” in return for giving their services free to all sorts of brands.
The biggest challenge is that you do need to know where the supply is so that you can demand it. However, through the same communication networks that raise funds for school libraries and collect money for family birthday presents and community groups, it is possible to get what you need.
It is true that a whole lot of the newly minted lockdown barter system is built around booze – one friend who drinks only white wine traded her red wine collection for a red wine drinker’s whites, and both went away happy. However, there have been swaps that are more righteous – my mother, who is making masks, couldn’t buy more elastic (a non-essential item), so a call-out to the community got her a big box of ribbons and bias binding to complete the mask task.
Now all I have to find is someone who not only knows what Drambuie is, but is willing to trade two vintage bottles of it and has a good selection of crime novels to make the trade worthwhile before I run out of something to read again.
- Follow me on Twitter @GayleMahala
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