Sunday, November 09, 2008

Cultural Exchange – Fair Exchange: We’re very proud to present a wonderful piece of original artwork, a larger-than-life-size mural which instead of pieces of silver, we paid for with pieces of wood. Using permaculture principles as our guide, we try to link different parts of our gardens / farm / lives into a coherent, designed synergy rather than a disparate collection of individually useful stuff, so that we end up with something that is more than the sum of its parts. One tool we use is to consider permaculture inputs and outputs, so that, for example, windfall apples are hoovered up by grazing pigs and chicken poo, rather than being a caustic pollutant, is turned into rich compost for the vegetables. In the same terms, an output from our wood is a happy excess of firewood, having this year cut a forest ride to provide access. Our friend Alastair has an excess of artistic talent (he’s also a very good rhythm guitarist) but a dearth of logs. A cultural exchange of inputs and outputs has taken place and we are now the proud owners of a superb piece of art, allowing Alastair and Caroline to relax in front of their cosy wood-burning stove.

An interesting point was how to fix the tariff of exchange. You might have heard of Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) wherein goods and services are traded without using money. The exchanges don’t even need to be a direct, so that, for example, a member may earn credit by doing childcare for one person and spend it later on carpentry with another person in the same network. If I ever talk about LETS, Gabrielle usually smiles at me in a slightly knowing, slightly sceptical way, as her experience, when living in Brighton, was that it was easy to find any number of people offering aromatherapy treatments but damned difficult to find a plumber. And is the plumber’s hour worth more than the aromatherapist’s hour? Apparently, this "equivalence" is the one of the most controversial issues in LETS. What we decided with Alastair was to compare the local retail price of firewood with the price he’d charge commercially for an equivalent painting, thus calculating that our painting (which to us is “priceless”) was worth four cubic metres of chopped, split and seasoned firewood.

Talking of plumbers (as compared to aromatherapists) we encountered a blocked drain situation during the installation of the French drain around our French barn. Late on a cold and damp autumnal afternoon, on his way home from another job, our plumber called in to see what he could do. Ian worked his plumbacious magic, using chimney sweeping rods and a high pressure hose and, after a good three quarters of an hour, with fingertips turning blue, we had water flowing. Intended only as a “tip”—in French un pourboire (lit: for to drink) we pressed some of our homemade sausages on him. Unbelievably, for him this was enough. I disagreed; he insisted; I added a homemade chorizo. So there you have it, a plumber paid in sausages! And what about the aromatherapists? If you know of anyone working in Brittany that can give me a lower back massage, using sweet almond oil with lavender and who’ll take in payment a kilo of probably the world’s best British breakfast bangers, do let me know.