Bartering in the 21st Century

We’re a nation of shopkeepers in Britain so we’re told.  The corner shop missed by so many in rural areas presented a huge opportunity for immigrants to establish a thriving business with the whole family piling in to keep the shelves stocked and the shop open late into the night.  How we’ve all benefited.


My, how the shopping landscape has changed.  We have no village shop – it closed years ago, no post office here.  Nothing.  A car ride to the local town for all supplies on a daily basis is a reality for us.  A change from living with a supermarket at the end of the road for 30 years.  It didn’t matter if I forgot to buy milk or ran out of eggs. And unlike the corner shop no-one in the supermarket knows who I am or anything about me.  Just a face with a store card of info about my shopping habits recorded, and I get a free coffee.

Online shopping has become the norm for many.  In fact we go out looking for something specific in the knowledge that if the shop doesn’t have it we’ll “look online for it”.  Today, rather depressingly I soaped my hands and managed to struggle my wedding ring over my gnarled arthritic-ey finger and found myself looking for an”expanding wedding ring”.  Do you know such a thing does exist?  I thought I might have to resort to an elastic band. Its not very attractive and i don’t think I’ll bother. But whatever you want is out there…somewhere.

There’s a new way of shopping too which involves being savvy, and spending time scouring websites for the best deals even for fundamental items like a mobile phone contract and car insurance.  There used to be an insurance broker who reassured you he’d done the legwork for you and was offering you the best deal.  Nowadays, almost routinely every year I go through the tiresome exercise of the insurance policy trade off.   I receive the policy renewal which, surprise surprise has increased due to so many people making fraudulent claims apparently.  I check two different online price comparison sites, reading the small print in an effort to compare apples and apples and not apples and kiwi fruit.

Having done that several more minutes of my time are wasted listening to someone at Tadah’s Motor Policies Ltd reading from a script, where he/she or I don’t really communicate, or care but I answer all the questions as honestly as I can and reach a compromise on price by pointing out I now live in a rural area, my car does not have low profile rims, and no, i’ve not added an airhorn.


Oh and my penalty period for my speeding offence expired a year ago.  Wouldn’t it be great if they just gave me their best price to start with?

In the same vein of ‘buyer beware’ is my friend whose just found out that although the crude oil prices were slashed this year it wasn’t reflected in the price she paid for heating oil.  So she’s been paying well over the odds because she didn’t realise it was a bartering exercise.  Apparently the game is they tell you a price, you laugh and walk away, they offer it cheaper.  They say it was quite legitimate because she “accepted the price”.  Apparently there’s no obligation for them to mention that the price went down or offer you the best deal.  You’re gullible, we’ll con you.

I wonder how many over 60’s in the UK, who aren’t computer literate get ripped off because they don’t use the web to check prices and find the best bargains.  I gather getting your SKY subscription reduced is as easy as taking candy from a baby.  I’m off to try it. I’ve honed my skills and I’m partial to a lolly.



Well its true….got our SKY subscription reduced from £99 per month to £66 by changing our package, removing stuff we don’t need and by telling them I’m old and I understand people are getting reduced tariffs left right and centre and we’ve never asked for anything.  I get to re-negotiate it again in October.  Downwards…

In the new dawn of 21st century bartering Martin Lewis is my new best friend. He of who has a brain like a micro processor, and a rate of delivery to match it, has opened my eyes to endless possibilities. He is a superhero. Currently his beef is parking fines, but in the past he’s saved us money on currency exchange rates when on holiday, tax benefits for married people,  how to get the best price for car insurance and for daughter number one a rebate of £400 by mentioning the mis-selling of Sentinel Gold Insurance. Oh and I’m positively salivating at the prospect of renegotiating my tariff with Vodafone…”do your homework, threaten to leave”.

You can follow his nuggets of wisdom quietly and calmly on his website, and I guarantee you’ll find something you can use to your advantage.  So armed with my newly found bartering skills I’ll find the courage at the next car boot sale to try some hard core bartering…”will you take 50p?”  Sorted.

Grow one share one.

My Dad was a gardener of regimented lupins, stripes from the mower in the grass, neatly pruned roses and co-ordinated bedding plants.  My Mum loved flower arranging and the more blousy and floppy things were in the garden the better she loved it.  A tricky compromise every year.  There was a pond to fall in. I did, and perennials to flatten falling off my bike into.   I did that too.  And a cherry tree with the sourest fruits known to man. We learned flower names, Mum’s favourites and picked up a few tips. And every year in mid May she’d find just a few Lily of the Valley hiding away in the shade for my sister’s birthday.  Neither of them grew anything from seed though.


For thirty years Nick and I had our own family garden with sandpit, water play, a few vegetables now and then, some spectacular raspberries, weeds, plant casualties and some successes.  It was a play garden and so it didn’t matter.  Now we have a grown up garden with a small greenhouse and a big need for plants.  So I’m learning to grow from seed. Nothing is more satisfying that successfully growing a seedling and waiting for it to grow its first proper little leaves so you can ‘pot it on’. Nothing so frustrating as growing a batch of seedlings and stupidly putting them outside to get some air and them getting wind burn instead.


Or not getting the heat/water/light combination right and growing leggy seedlings all straining for the light like microfilaments hardly strong enough to support their own weight. But, when you succeed you get fresh veg ready to pick when you want them, and a few flowers for a jug on the table.  All well and good if you’ve got space and time, and lots of us haven’t.  So its good to have learned some short cuts.

Anyone, really anyone can grow broad beans.  Tip some compost into a loo roll cardboard centre, pop in a seed, water and wait.  Very, very soon a huge seedling will sprout and when they look strong and healthy you can plant them out still in their tube in the garden or in a pot on your balcony.


A courgette plant will grow in a 18″ pot or plastic dump bin.  Water it well and it will give you courgettes all summer.  If you want pots of geraniums for your window sill buy them when they’re small, nurture them and as they grow pot them into a bigger pot before eventually putting them in a window box.  Our garden centre recycles flower pots of all sizes for free.  The market and nurseries sell small vegetable plants you can take home and just care a little for.  You can grow chillis in a pot, tomatoes in a bucket and potatoes in a sack.

A packet of seeds gives you dozens of plants.  Usually too many. So share and swop.  Save whatever seed you can at the end of the summer and that’s free plants right there.


Calendula is a great example of exaggerated brightness, perfect for cutting and cheap as chips.  The seeds are like goblin toe nail clippings – really.

Today I experienced micro greens for the first time.   Little snips of vegetation bursting with unexpectedly zingy flavour.  They’re highly nutritious and will grow on a window sill, ready to be snipped as you want them.  Have them in a sandwich, or sprinkled over a leafy salad. Fine dining when you want it.  I’m going to have a go myself.


If you want to read all about them

Meanwhile the pigeons have chopped the head off one of my baby lettuce plants and I can hear the slugs marching towards the Hostas.  I shall arm myself with netting and scissors and take my revenge.  Gotta love gardening. x