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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

These Manor House maids played their roles flawlessly.

WALES - Bridgend, Brecon (1 week)
Week 25 of World Tour

1. Chipmunks, Ewes and Wales

I was in Wales, or more specifically, I was in Viki’s hardware and pet store in the poor Pontycymmer district, where houses could be purchased for as little as 16,000 pounds. But nobody wants to live in Pontycymmer. There’s no work there since they closed down the coal mines, and the buildings are in need of major renovations, if they can be salvaged at all.

So there I was, watching a chipmunk doing backflips in his cage and wondering why Viki had put a Not For Sale sign on this animal which could’ve sold for a small fortune.

It’s an unusual combination to mix pets with hardware, but Viki is not your average Welsh lady. She’s only pint sized but she’s a bundle of energy and the backbone of LETS Garw (pronounced Garoo) which has only been going since September this year.

Vicki (left) and Lita battle it out for the Best Dressed Sheep contest.

Later that night, Viki attended the LETS event dressed as a sheep (yes, a sheep!) in an effort to win the ‘Best dressed sheep award’ which she’d thought up and was determined to win. Lita, my host in nearby Bridgend gave her some competition when she came dressed as a black sheep, but failed to win against the little white lamb. The relevance of the sheep was name of their group’s currency, called ewes. And they had a bit of fun with it, writing ‘I owe ewe’ on the covers of their LETS Garw cheque books.

This LETS event was being held in the Ffaldau Pub and started off with my LETS presentation. This was well received by everyone present, and immediately followed by a LETS Silent Auction. Even I was tempted to place a bid on a couple of small items. All items for sale were donated by LETS members (to raise cash for the group funds) and the hottest bidding was for a set of 6 miniature bottles of Liquor. Viki was the first to bid on it and the one to make the final and winning bid. A total of 92 pounds was raised on the night, and everyone left with some great bargains under their arms.

The next day, Lita and her son Dave (15), took me on a tour of their area.

“Where would you like to go?” Lita asked.

“What about that town with 58 letters in it’s name?” I asked.

“You mean, “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch” she said. “Well, that’s about a 6 hour drive from here, and there’s nothing interesting there at all.”

“OK,” I said, “then what about Tom Jones’ house?”.

“We could got there”, she said, “but he doesn’t live there any more. There’s just a small sign saying this is where he used to live.”

“No point in doing that,” I said. “Where else can we go?”

“I thought you might enjoy going to the Museum of Welsh Life.”

A thatched house at the Museum of Welsh Life.

The museums in Wales are all free to the public. And, not willing to be outdone by their smaller and poorer neighbour, England soon followed suit with this generous offer to the public.

The Museum of Welsh Life is a large property displaying historical buildings which have been collected and transported from all over the country. So in the space of a couple of hours, visitors can get a realistic view of what life was like in Wales throughout the ages. It was a cold day, and every building we entered had an open fireplace going. Unfortunately, the air-circulation wasn’t the best in some of them, so we only stayed inside for short periods at a time. But even more unfortunate were the building attendants who had to endure the smoke-filled buildings in order to answer all the visitors inquisitive questions.

Two buildings made a particularly lasting impression.

First of all was the building of the future, which included many energy saving features and used many recycled materials in it’s construction. So it was cheap to build and cheap to run, as well as being very pleasing to the eye.

And the other memory was seeing a long table in the city hall building, something like a cross between a pool table and 3-ball billiards table. It had only 2 pockets and several concave holes in it. One end was straight and the other end was sem-circular.

“What’s that?” I asked the young girl attendant.

“I think it’s called a Bagatelle”, she said uncertainly.

Then as I walked into an adjacent room, I realized that it was a library with lots of old books in it. And one of the books was a set of old Encyclopaedia Britannica. Surely it would tell me what it was. So after getting permission from the attendant to look it up (I think she was just as interested as me), I found it very quickly. Under “Bagatelle Pool Table” was a drawing of the table and a description of how the game was played. You can always rely on EB, I said to myself, recalling the days I worked for this amazing company back in the early 80’s.

With Prof Edgar Cahn, founder of Time Dollars.

2. Time Banks and LETS Auctions

John Rogers, my host in Brecon, Wales, was working for the Wales Institute for Community Currencies (WICC). Fortunately I was visiting him during the same week Dr. Edgar Cahn, founder of Time Dollars, was invited to participate in a Time Banks seminar for WICC.

I was always curious about the difference between LETS and Time Banks, and today that difference became very obvious.

Time Banks are favoured by non-profit organisations who traditionally use volunteers to carry out their work. Time Banks give these organisations a way of rewarding their volunteers with Time Dollars which can be spent at participating businesses which accept part payment of purchases in Time Dollars. Time Banks are reliant on government funding to employ a Time Banks co-ordinator to oversee the running of a Time Bank System. When they can get the funding, Time Banks works very well for all those involved.

But LETS, or Local Exchange Trading Systems, is a group of people in a small community all agreeing to exchange goods and services with each other without the need for cash. This can be achieved with or without government funding, and with or without a hosting organisation.

The following night, after giving my LETS Favours presentation to my hosting group, South Poweys LETS, I was asked to act as auctioneer for their LETS Auction. I’d never done this before, but I was keen to try. John Rogers, the group’s regular auctioneer, started it off superbly, and soon he was checking to see if I still wanted to give it a go. I sure did.

And seeing I got a few laughs and almost everything sold, I guess I did pretty well for a beginner.

If you’ve never had a LETS Auction in your group, I can strongly recommend it. Members are asked to bring things from home to be auctioned off for LETS currency. Some of the more expensive items have a reserve price which needs to be met before a sale is finally accepted, but most of the items have no reserve at all, and are sold for whatever bid can be obtained. This is a great way for members to clear out unwanted items from their homes, and it’s an excellent way for members to pick up unbelievable bargains without paying any cash. And when you combine it with some food and drinks brought in by the members, it becomes a very enjoyable and social evening as well.

3. Rugby and Snickers

Wales has only got 3 million of UK’s 60 million population, and one third of the Welsh people speak Welsh. In fact, it’s almost like driving through a foreign country with all road signs written in both English and Welsh!

But the tension this week wasn’t between the English and Welsh. It was between the English and Australians! Yes, I was in Wales on Saturday, November 22, when Australia and England fought it out for the World Cup Rugby Final. I was due to leave for London that afternoon, so I’d packed my bags and accompanied my host, Geoff, to the Walkabout Hotel in Newport, near the English border. All the Welsh were cheering for the Australians because England had eliminated them from the finals in an earlier qualifying round. And as you may already know, England won the World Cup in an exciting finish. By the final siren, both teams were tied, so another 2 quarters of 10 minutes each had to be played to find an outright winner. And the winning goal was kicked by England only seconds before the end of the second time on period.

But that disappointment wasn’t the only thing which went wrong for me that day. Because of the time-on periods, I missed my bus going back to England. And because my ticket was bought on the internet, it was non-refundable, and I had to buy another ticket out of my own pocket to get back.

There was an extra 2 hours to wait before the next bus at 3.00pm, so I bought a couple of Snickers bars (at 47 cents each) to snack on in the meantime. But I had to make a couple of phone calls to notify my hosts about the change in my arrival time, so I needed two 20 cent pieces.

“Can you change this pound?” I asked, politely handing over a one pound coin.

“Sorry, but we don’t give change,” the girl replied. “We’d run out of change if we did that.”

This surprised me because I was a paying customer. Surely I deserved some special attention. And I desperately needed to make those phone calls. So how could I get two 20 cent pieces?

“Then I don’t want the second Snickers bar,” I said, pushing one of the Snickers bars back towards her.

So she obliged and gave me 47 cents back, including two 20 cent pieces. Mission accomplished … almost.

As soon as I pocketed my change, I took out another pound and said, “I’ll have another Snickers bar please.”

She took my pound and gave me 53 cents change.

“Thank you”, I said, happy to have my 2 Snickers bars again as well as a couple of 20 cent pieces.

Well, wouldn’t you do the same?

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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