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.
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.
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.
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.
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.