Stories from the villages of the world on market days II

I admired some pieces by leatherworker Paul Lowry and, both humble artisans looking for a folkier lifestyle, we got to talking about the ways of the world. (Most notably, about how money is created and the trouble caused by its mechanisms; I am way out of my depth redrafting and redrafting and redrafting a post on this potentially world-changing and totally mind-boggling matter that just a minority understand.) Says he of his half-made ‘Hardback Rucksatchel’ that sounds like just the sort of practical, stylish, laptop-friendly, bike-friendly, eco-friendly bag that I have been imagining for a few years: ‘making something you don’t like is hard – laptops, commerce, uuuurgh…’

Well, here is what my laptop means to me:

It is small, light, sleek, beautiful, fast and reliable (I do like good machines).

Its vaults hoard stockpiles of incredible music. In these vaults I have met incredible people, and seen glimpses of the self I will be.

It seizes a fleeting melody, helps me shape it into rhythm, rhyme and structure.

It tells me what I know, and versions that I didn’t know.

It turns words into stories, and gives them wings to fly around the world.

It turns pictures from dull to vivid; offers bas-relief and alternative frames.

It turns numbers into plans, rationales, justifications, currency.

It reveals a Book of Faces, known and not-yet-known, who share whims, furies, follies and family anecdotes.

It makes short bridges between countries, continents, hemispheres.

It conducts lightning ideas from brilliant brain to brilliant brain around the world and back again.

It grows my most lucid thoughts, and tabulates the muddled ones.

The office

And I’m sure I’m only using a fraction of its capacity.

(In Brittany, that incredible guitarist performing minutely intricate stunts, so pleased with himself with a small boy’s grin: ‘he spends too much time with his guitar’ said I. She spends too much time with her laptop, say I.)

And as for my commerce: every cynical thing has its beauty –

  • Making = crafting, refining, learning
  • Trading = exchanging, learning
  • Marketing = clarifying one’s offer to the world, learning
  • Selling = valuing oneself, learning
  • Self promotion = asserting self-belief, learning
  • Networking = ally-making, learning
  • Competing = improving one’s offer to the world, learning
  • Negotiating = friendmaking, boundary-setting, learning

Oh dear, capitalism again! Next time I’ll be writing about monetary mechanisms, balanced economy, and why, in my humble opinion, Britain is better in the hands of the EU.

Barter: trade a weaving?

I mentioned a generous-spirited Canadian, Amy Newsomwhose shawl pins I admired in her online shop. She needed some photographs for developing her website, admired mine, and sent me three beautiful pins (of three-figure value) in exchange for some photos of her work offset agains my wool. Here are some of the first batch:

I was so touched by her gesture, and so struck by what good business sense it also made for us both to publicise our complementary products, that I’ve been seeking some more of these kinds of exchanges. I searched for some other jewellers whose pieces already had top-class and imaginative photography, and offered them some of my remnants in exchange for having them featured in their photos.

One Danish guy and one Italo-Californian offered to send me a pin in exchange-exchange, and here is what I received in the post today – a Viking- or Celtic-style recycled copper pennanula made by Marcella:


Barter can also be really tricky: I’ve had great and not so great experiences in the past, as it can politically embroil even more than a monetary transaction, and easily become muddier. I often use currency and time as a measure or benchmark for negotiations, but you come up against questions like how one skill is valued more highly than another by our society, and that can be hard between friends.

A few weeks ago I decided that even better than heading back to the Hebrides this summer might be staying in Devon, where I’m enjoying musicmaking in a folk scene that’s possibly as rich as any anywhere. So I put out word to try and find a pitch, and have had a great offer to park by a house on highest Dartmoor in exchange for working someone’s horse a few times a week (a proper gypsy dream!). We’ve had lengthy, thoughtful and detailed email discussions to try and pave the way for a fair and clear agreement that’s as smooth as possible – it’s been a really useful discussion, and is looking highly likely.

I’ve just created a new page on my website called ‘Barter’, listing what I’d like to swap for weavings. Current ideas for business, home and music include:

  • A place to park somewhere Celtic or Dartmoorish (this is an ongoing need, short or medium term, especially over winter)
  • A small, lightweight but adult-strong, wooden bunk bed ladder
  • A supply of organic produce/local free range meat
  • A working digital SLR camera
  • A working iPhone
  • Publicity – e.g. press articles
  • A working piano accordion
  • Singing lesson(s)
  • Recording studio/production time (not that I’m quite ready yet, but I like to float ideas as they arise)
  • Other musical favours – anyone able to make a bagpipe/melodica hybrid?! (Though you might not want a lifetime’s supply of blankets – I might just have to amass some gold for this last one sometime!)

Keep an eye on that page for updates if you’re interested (and Facebook, especially, for live feeds), and get in touch – there will be far more things than I’ve listed that I haven’t thought of.