An Abundance of Apples (Part 5 of 5).

For the five Mondays in June, I’ve been taking a break from my usual subject to make one of my stories available free online. We’re now up to the final part of An Abundance of Apples.

In part one and part two, we meet an orchard owner who starts to trade items in alphabetical order. In part three and part four, he keeps moving up the alphabet. Can he still reach Z?

West Hollywood Hotel

Naturally, a lot of my e-mails were coming from the US, and one in particular caught my attention: a four-night stay at the West Hollywood Hotel in return for the Beetle.

We spent evenings on the phone negotiating delivery of the car. We’d read up thoroughly on international deliveries since the Australia incident and we had arranged to pack it off, when by chance, Kelly spotted a news article.

A group of criminals had been passing themselves off as representing prestigious hotel chains and airlines, and they would take payment for stays and flights that never happened.

We’d been so swept up in trying to find a swap that we’d failed even to check their quoted phone number against the one listed on the real hotel’s website.

We felt like prize idiots. I made an online post to that effect.

My parents talked to me like I was five years old and told me this was a wake-up call, that I’d had a good run and I needed to stop now. Kelly had supported me unwaveringly so far, but even she started to express her doubts. I remained as determined as ever to see this through to Z.

Only Daniel didn’t care one way or the other. He’d forgotten his football obsession thanks to his new girlfriend, some little brat from his class.

While the flood of messages had slowed sharply, I still had a number of contacts willing to swap. I learned my lesson and no longer considered foreign offers but I found someone who wanted to swap my Volkswagen.

Wurlitzer Organ

We only played it for five minutes before the sound really started to grate.

Xylophone

Jeez, do you know how much a new xylophone costs?

I thought a few hundred at most, but even a second hand one can go for over a grand. I know this because the instrument dealer who inspected the Wurlitzer through thick glasses talked me through the entire history of the organ and current market values.

Yngling

“Yngling? That’s not even a word,” exclaimed Kelly. “Don’t you mean yacht?”

“It’s not a yacht,” snapped the outdoorsy type as he unstrapped the thing from the trailer. “a yacht is a completely different class of boat. This beauty competed in the Beijing Olympics, you know.”

“All right,” I concluded. “Leave it here. I’m sure we’ll get it swapped somehow.”

“You mean leave her here?”

I made a You & We post that night, asking if anyone could swap us for something beginning with Z. One more push, just one more, and I would have completed the alphabet. We waited a whole week for something suitable.

Zurich holiday

A local travel firm called Sea the World came to our rescue, offering a holiday for two to Zurich. We checked it out, and it was genuine enough. They wouldn’t take the Yngling off my hands, but their staff had been following my swaps, and I was prepared to treat it as one.

With no further swaps scheduled, only one question remained: who would use it? Daniel and his bratty other half threw a strop when they found out they weren’t getting it. Mum and Dad hadn’t taken a holiday for years, yet wouldn’t consider it. I asked Kelly but she’d used up her annual leave until after the voucher’s expiry date.

I turned to You & We. I wrote a summary of how this whole project had started with a few apples, then blackberries, then carrots, and so on, and now we were stuck at stalemate with our Z.

I received an urgent reply from the dealer who had tried to swap me for the iPhone. He told me to come down to his shop at the double, and he would, “complete the circle.”

He looked at the value of the voucher, ran some figures through a calculator and I arrived home with my final swap.

Apples

Last year, we ended up with too many apples. This year, we ended up with two Apple iPads.

<<<>>>

The usual angst and introspection returns next week.

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An Abundance of Apples (Part 4 of 5).

For the five Mondays in June, I’m taking a break from my usual analysis to make one of my stories available free online. We’re now up to part four of An Abundance of Apples.

In part one, we meet an orchard owner who trades apples for other items, each one letter higher in the alphabet than the last. Part two sees him trade four more items beginning with F, G, H and I, while in part three, he trades a jigsaw. Now he has a power supply unit. Who will take it, and in exchange for what?

Qantas air tickets

“Well, mate,” said one of the DJs, “if you send us your power unit we’ll send you two hundred dollars’ worth of Quantas air tickets. What do you say to that?”
I had no idea what that equated to in pounds, but I stutteringly agreed. When our exchange ended, I checked the postal rates to the other side of the world.
You don’t expect the police to come and question you when you don’t know you’ve done something wrong, but I sharply learnt that it’s against the law to send certain types of battery though the post.

I told them that the Post Office assistant asked me what the package contained, wrote it on the Customs label, then sent it, no further questions asked. Fortunately, I’d kept the proof of postage and the receipt because the radio station promised to reimburse me for the cost of sending it.

The police accepted I’d posted it in good faith and returned the unit to me, but warned me, “Don’t do that again, son.”
I immediately informed the radio station. They arranged for me to go on air the following morning, when the DJ apologised for not realising the legal implications, and agreed to give me the Quantas tickets–actually a discount code to be used on their website–on condition that I gave the power supply to someone, “deserving.” I found a charity shop that accepted electrical goods, and the station sent me the code.

The publicity had generated dozens upon dozens of e-mails. Naturally, most of them originated from Down Under, but a few arrived from Britain and the rest of the world. I had my pick of the next item.

Rum

Kelly and I looked down the list of offers: a rowing boat, tickets to Riverdance, roast beef dinners for a year, even a rabbit hutch and occupant. But the case of vintage rum caught my attention.
I found out that 200 Australian dollars is about £118, and its value exceeded that of the Qantas tickets. Also, I reckoned it would be an easy thing to swap.
About the same time, I received an invitation to appear on the late-night Jerry Jakobson Show in New York. Not via video link; they wanted to fly me over there. They had a intriguing proposition for me. Naturally, I discussed it with my family before making any decisions.

It caused an argument. Mum encouraged me to go, while Dad said he needed me in the orchard. Daniel, meanwhile, went into another huff as he wasn’t going. Kelly gave me a shopping list of designer labels to buy in New York.

I went.

I had a hairy moment at Customs, when they kept me waiting to check it was all right to bring the case of rum into the country. Those two hours gave me the chance to contemplate how many people would be watching me. I got the jitters speaking to half a million Australians; the prospect of speaking to 4.2 million Americans made me want to step on a flight home.

Jerry helped me feel at ease off-air, then interviewed me on air for five minutes about the project, before pulling out the envelopes and explaining his proposition.

“We’re going to swap you for something beginning with S. One of these envelopes gets you a bespoke suit courtesy of one of New York’s finest tailors. A pretty good prize, huh? But one of them contains a subway ticket and the other one wins you a steak sandwich. I’m going to get a member of our audience to mix them up.”

I tried to keep my calm. A suit, a subway ticket, or a sandwich. Jerry held them out in front of me. “All right, buddy. Your choice.”

Suit

A camp man with a tape measure took every one of my measurements over the course of a morning, while a camera crew captured his comments, around the general theme of, “fabulous.”

Jerry had opened the other envelopes on camera. I genuinely could have walked away with a subway ticket. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have another Dolce & Gabbana suit again, and it disappointed me that I’d eventually have to swap it.

But I’d officially gone stratospheric. I threw myself into my orchard work by day, but Kelly became my unofficial agent by night, ruthlessly sifting through my scores and scores of e-mails.

Listening to the TV one night, I found my story had even made it into a sketch show.

You can’t hurry quality tailoring. I waited weeks for it to be delivered, but I had enough time to arrange not just the next swap but to plan for the next three exchanges.

Thunderbird

Stage one involved the wealthy-looking man, who got back to me with a classic Ford Thunderbird.

Underground carriage

When Transport For London said they would give me an old Underground train carriage, I asked how I would take it home with me.

But the deal they had in mind for stage two wouldn’t involve it physically moving. If I could take the car to their depot, they would swap me for the paperwork to the carriage. I would then give that back to the Thunderbird owner.

Volkswagen Beetle

At stage three, I swapped the Underground paperwork for a Volkswagen Beetle.

I tried asking him some friendly but probing questions about how he could swap the Grand Prix programme, the film stills, and now two cars, all so casually. But he wouldn’t say anything, other than they were both rusting and needed a lot of work.

 

Next week: West Hollywood Hotel.

An Abundance of Apples (Part 3 of 5).

For the five Mondays in June, I’m taking a break from my own angst and introspection to make one of my stories available free online. We’re now up to part three of An Abundance of Apples.

In part one, we meet an orchard owner who starts off with too many apples, and begins to trade them for other items, each one letter higher in the alphabet than the last. Part two sees him trade four more items beginning with F, G, H and I, while his bratty younger brother constantly stands in his way. In part three, below, he’s now in possession of a jigsaw.

Jigsaw

The publicity generated by the paper showed little sign of slowing down, so in quick succession, I received a jigsaw from another well-wisher.

Not a jigsaw puzzle, an actual saw that’s used to cut the pieces.

King Kong stills

The wealthy-looking man who offered me the Grand Prix programme wrote back, offering to swap the jigsaw for some rare stills from the classic film King Kong.

I decided to start photographing the items, starting with the saw, as they were becoming more interesting.

Around the same time, a woman called Kelly, around my age, requested to be mutual friends on You & We. We had three people in common and I recognised her face, although I couldn’t remember where I’d last seen it.

Laserdisc player and discs

The things people keep in their attic. Someone swapped me the King Kong stills for an obsolete laserdisc player and four Jean-Claude Van Damme films on discs the size of bicycle wheels. What’s more, it still worked, and we spent the evening watching Universal Soldier.

For the first time since being in the paper, I had a little trouble finding a trade. My inbox still filled up daily, but only with offers of cheap items, including a map, a family bag of M&Ms, and half-a-dozen marbles.

Mink coat

I finally traded my retro technology for a mink coat. A fake one, of course.

I stood back and took stock. I’d come so far in less than a month, and all after an off-the-cuff observation. All my life, I’d been a trader in one sense or another, and I still saw it as an achievable challenge.

The national British newspapers ignored me, except one rag who reported that Margaret Jeffrey had given me the idea. Then I received an e-mail from a researcher at an Australian radio station asking me to contact them. They wanted to speak to me live on air when I reached the letter P.

Necklace

Just as I celebrated reaching the halfway mark, the mysterious Kelly wanted to see the coat, and offered a sterling silver necklace in return. After a few minutes’ online conversation, I realised her true identity: Irene’s daughter.

I asked why she wished to get rid of the necklace. She told me her father had given it to her one birthday. I didn’t ask directly, but I came away with the distinct impression that she and Irene wanted nothing more to do with the man.

I couldn’t stay angry at Daniel forever and I brought him along when I went round to complete the exchange. She tried on the coat and it fitted her neatly. We chatted for ten minutes, which turned into an hour, which turned into a very bored little brother.

I’d driven nearly all the way home when he said from nowhere, “Did she ask you out?”

“No,” I replied.

“But she asked you if you wanted to have dinner with her some time.”

I’d dismissed it as a rhetorical question, but thinking back, I realised she’d been serious. For a selfish brat, he could be astoundingly perceptive. I rang up to accept when I got in the house.

I thought a necklace would be snapped up, especially as it bore a hallmark, but I hit a wall. The effect of the newspaper article had almost worn off. I began to doubt my ability to reach O, never mind Z.

Obsidian pig

It took nearly a week, but I arranged to swap it for a decorative pig made from obsidian.

The snag? Kelly and I had already booked a table at a popular restaurant for 6:30pm, but the swapper could only meet me at 7pm. Kelly understood the magnitude of my project, but the other diners thought I’d run out on her.

Another week passed, and another date, but nothing to swap for this pig. I sat down and wrote a plea on You & We. I read it back the next day, and it sounded quite desperate, but Kelly had passed it onto her friends.

Power supply unit

In less than six hours, a hire shop in town swapped my obsidian pig for an ex-rental industrial battery, designed to provide emergency power in the event of an electricity failure.

“That’s my mum’s birthday present sorted,” commented the manager, examining the pig.

I immediately notified the Australian radio station, who arranged to make a voice call to me over the Internet as it would be higher quality than a normal phone, and free of charge. Daniel set it all up the previous evening, and bored me stiff with the technical details.

Evening drive-time in New South Wales is breakfast time in Britain. I’m accustomed to getting up at that time, in fact I’d kept working in the orchard all through the project, but I was not accustomed to having my voice broadcast to half a million listeners from my kitchen.

I honestly can’t remember a large chunk of our conversation, and wouldn’t let anyone play me the recording, but I gave out the You & We address and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

 

Next week: Qantas air tickets.

An Abundance of Apples (Part 2 of 5).

For the five Mondays in June, I’m taking a break from discussing and analysing the world of writing, and make one of my stories available free online. This one is called An Abundance of Apples.

Last week in part one, we met an orchard owner who started off with too many apples apples, traded them for blackberries, and the blackberries for carrots, and he wants to continue up the alphabet in this manner. In part two, below, he is in possession of a flask.

Flask

I checked You & We the next day. More people had shared the link, and I found an e-mail waiting for me. Tom Jeffreys offered to swap my egg cup for a flask. If I wanted it, I only needed to go around there at my convenience.

I must’ve spoken to him on the porch for less than two minutes. During this brief time, Margaret didn’t say a single word to me, but continued her dusting in the hallway behind him, sighing at least twice and making sure she saw me checking her watch.

Golf club

It took further days and a couple of online updates before I could trade again. This time, a friend of a friend offered me a golf club she’d been left in a divorce settlement.

It turned out to be a large, expensive driver, and I asked Irene several times if she felt sure about this, as I could only offer her a flask that held barely a cup of coffee.

“I’ve no use for it. Neither did he, that’s why he didn’t take it.”

I thanked her, and spent the rest of the evening at the driving range before advertising it for swaps.

Throughout this time, I’d still been working in the orchard all day, but instead of reading at night, I would update my Web presence. I decided to merge all my activities from the home-made Web page onto You & We as I seemed to get a lot more reaction there.

Unknown to me, another user had tipped off the local press. I received an e-mail from a journalist who wanted to interview me and arrange another swap.

Helicopter trip

The journalist introduced me to a businessman who ran experience days, and who wanted to give me a voucher for a short helicopter trip in exchange for the golf club and an article in the paper. I gladly accepted it.

When Mum and Dad read the article out, Daniel immediately danced around the room and told all his You & We contacts he would be going up in a helicopter.

Once he’d calmed down, I took great delight in reminding him I would be exchanging the the voucher for something beginning with I.

“But that’s not fair. That’s my reward for helping you.”

“Helping me? How did you help?”

“Well, I said you’d swapped apples and blackberries, then them for carrots, then that for a doorstop.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“And the egg cup. I seem to remember you couldn’t care less about that, or the flask, or the golf club. And now because it’s something you want, you expect me to hand it over to you.”

“It’s only fair.”

“All you’ve done for the last fortnight is watch football. You haven’t lifted a finger to help, so don’t expect me to give you anything.”

“But that was then and this is now.”

I ignored him. I turned to my parents, who were now re-reading the article to themselves with smiles on their faces. Before I could say anything to them, Daniel had bounded over to me and punched me in the shoulder. He hadn’t done this for years, but my reaction remained as sharp as ever. I kicked him in the shin.

“Stop it,” shouted Mum, “don’t you dare do that. Daniel, get to your room now, it’s way past your bedtime.”

“Yes, Daniel, you just get to your beddy-weddy.”

“And you stop winding him up,” she shouted at me.

“Hate you all,” stated Daniel as he slammed the door shut.

“How am I winding him up? He knows I’m going to swap it and he hasn’t done anything to earn it.”

“He’s only young,” soothed Mum, now calmed down from her shouting.

“I had more sense than that at his age.”

They both laughed.

“You were exactly the same,” said Dad.

“No I wasn’t.”

They laughed even harder.

Now the paper had published my You & We address, my one e-mail every few days became half a dozen a day. I had to sort through them.

I first deleted those who failed to grasp the concept, offering items that didn’t begin with I, such as bookshelves. I then put them in order of relative value, disregarding any below the value of the voucher, such as a model igloo. I narrowed it down to two possible items.

Italian Grand Prix programme, signed

I decided against the offered iPhone from an electronics dealer because it had been used. But after a few inquires, it seemed the signed Italian Grand Prix programme was worth more than the helicopter trip, although I’d never heard of the driver.

I arranged a meeting with the seller. He appeared smartly dressed and wealthy, and we exchanged items.

On opening the envelope containing the helicopter voucher, ripped-up pieces of paper fell out. I’d left it near the door so I wouldn’t forget it. I could only apologise to the seller, who told me he understood, and would hold the programme until I obtained a replacement.

I drove home, ignoring every speed limit sign, to find my parents watching TV while my brother played his football game. I grabbed the computer from his hands, threw it across the room and gave him an overdue beating. It would have been worse if Dad hadn’t pulled me off him.

I told Mum and Dad what he’d done, and showed them the ripped pieces of paper. They expressed disappointment with him rather than anger, while I spelled out to him exactly what it had cost me, not just in monetary terms, but wasted time.

Daniel said a pitiful, “I’m sorry.”

“You will be,” I countered.

Happily, the helicopter company saw the funny side and replaced the voucher, allowing me to swap it for the programme.

 

Next week: Jigsaw.

An Abundance of Apples (Part 1 of 5).

For the five Mondays in June, I’m going to take a break from discussing and analysing the world of writing, and make one of my stories available free online. This one is called An Abundance of Apples, and it totals 4500 words. Part one commences below.

Apples

Last year, we ended up with too many apples. We experienced just the right weather conditions, we harvested at the optimum time, and we ran out of storage space. The supermarkets would take the bulk of the crop, but as a family-run orchard, we wanted to sell as much as possible.

Blackberries

I phoned around the other farms to ask if they needed or wanted any of our surplus. Only the blackberry growers did. They said they couldn’t pay us, but offered to swap for some of their surplus. Mum agreed, so my brother and I drove there.

My brother Daniel is 13. Even before I reached his age, I’d been collecting and trading items: cards, coins, books, tokens from cereal boxes, anything I could. The skills I’ve built up over the years have stood me in good stead, so I’ve tried to pass on as many as I can to the boy.

Mum looked again at the three large boxes of blackberries as we unloaded them from the car. “I can’t use all these. I thought you said they only had a few left.”

“They did. This is it. Their yield’s been good as well.”

“By the time I make jam with the first box, the rest of them’ll be rotten. You’ll have to get rid of the rest.”

“How?”

“Phone Margaret Jeffreys. See if she’ll take some off your hands.”

“Oh, not Margaret Jeffreys,” Daniel and I complained in unison. We dreaded seeing, phoning or dealing with this family friend and her gruff, short attitude.

Carrots

However, her son Tom answered the phone. He was the polar opposite of his mother, and happily agreed to pay for the berries, throwing in half a dozen misshapen carrots from his vegetable patch. Mum wouldn’t complain about vegetables.

On the way home, Daniel stared out of the window in a thoughtful manner. “Did you know we’ve gone up the alphabet?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we had too many apples, so we swapped them for blackberries. Then we had too many blackberries, so we swapped them for carrots, so we’ve gone A, B, C.”

I thought about this, “I suppose we have.”

“So what are we going to swap them for?”

“The carrots?”

“It has to be something beginning with D. A doorstop, darts, maybe even a dog.”

“You begin with D; I’ll swap you for them. No, but let’s not get too carried away.”

“But can we? It would be great if we kept swapping for bigger and bigger and bigger things and got to Z and got a zebra.”

Doorstop

Mum never got to see the carrots. As I drove Daniel into town the next day, I told him I knew a bloke who owed me a favour.

We walked into the ironmonger, where we told him about our adventures in swapping items alphabetically. He hesitated and asked us a few questions, but gave us a doorstop in exchange for the carrots, bursting Daniel’s hopes of obtaining a drill.

The shopkeeper played his part perfectly. Although we’d made a genuine exchange, I’d arranged it with him the previous evening.

Egg cup

A few days later, I received an e-mail with the subject line Offer to swap doorstop for egg cup. It couldn’t possibly be spam with such a specific heading, so I opened it. The sender made reference to a website, which I didn’t click on. The message had been sent to my address and Daniel’s, so I confronted him.

He excitedly showed me a page he had made, detailing our swaps so far and appealing for help with the next letter.

“What have you done that for? Get that down right now,” I ordered.

“But I thought you wanted help with it. It’s a great way of telling people, and they can give us all sorts of things.”

We argued about this for some time and we came to a compromise. He could keep the page up, provided he removed our details. I contacted the woman who offered the egg cup and explained the situation. As she had taken the time to write, I decided to take the time to meet her in a café and arrange a trade.

Despite his initial eagerness, Daniel’s interest faded in the space of a week, and he became engrossed in football. I didn’t share his enthusiasm for the game, so I left him to it.

I started to consider the egg cup meeting again. It felt like being a kid, when you had two identical trading cards and finally found somebody who also had duplicates. You’d work out which you could swap, and what you had to buy. It’s how youngsters learn the value of items without risking large sums of money.

I chose to make a go of it.

Daniel gladly handed over the password to the site. I rewrote his posts in adult-speak, adding an appeal for something beginning with F. I opened a fresh e-mail account that I didn’t mind getting spam into.

But after another week, I had no replies, and the hit counter hardly rose. I asked him how it had come to the attention of the woman who offered the egg-cup after 24 hours, yet I’d had nothing for seven days.

He’d posted the link to our page on an apparently massively popular website called You & We. His list contained over three hundred contacts. I hesitated to say friends because I doubt even the Pope knows that many people personally, although he insisted he did. He’d posted the link, two people had given it to their contacts, and it spread exponentially from there.

I’d never previously paid attention to these sites as I would usually be working, reading or asleep, but I joined You & We out of curiosity. Once I added Daniel, the site made suggestions based on his contacts about people I might know. In just under two hours, I’d connected with more than fifty people from real life.

Next week: Flask.