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