As I speak, I hear the distant sounds of the Penton Fete which I opened an hour ago. This event happens every other year, and it provides an opportunity for a harmless and time-honoured tradition, whereby the village moves bottles of wine from one house to another.
This is done via the Fete Bottle Stall, to which we are all invited to donate in order to raise funds to keep the church upright, the tennis court free of weeds and the village hall warm in winter. Our cellars are evacuated, with only the choicest vintages being retained for private consumption. The rest are displayed on the bottle stall, at which we buy tickets. Sometimes we win our own bottles back, but often we find we are providing accommodation for whatever our neighbours failed to drink in the preceding 24 months. And, having failed the potability test once, the bottles may fail again and be put on display in 2012. (Though, in fairness to my neighbours, many have generously donated some high quality products)
In addition to bottles from sundry fetes, I have also acquired over time a voucher for lunch for four (not on a week-end and without wine) at a restaurant in the constituency. I bought it in 1997, and it remains uncashed. In the same pile are other vouchers I have bid for or won. A free hair cut has diminished in value as the quantity of hair needing that service diminishes by the year. A trip in a hot air balloon has been vetoed by the Whips and my wife.
Many years ago, my party decided to hold a ball to raise funds for the seats in Hampshire. A key attraction was a “Restaurant Tree”. The MP’s and candidates contacted hostelries in their constituencies deemed to be sympathetic to the cause, asking for a voucher for a meal for four. These vouchers were put in an envelope and hung on the tree. For a given sum of money, you bought an envelope, with a guaranteed meal for four. This replenished at the same time the party’s coffers for the next General Election, and the rumens of the faithful.
I bought my envelope, hoping for some five star restaurant in Winchester, or a gastro pub nearer home. But I had won lunch for four in the House of Commons, hosted by one of my Parliamentary neighbours.
I then created what, in the City, is called a secondary market. Lunch in the Strangers Restaurant with an Honourable Friend was something I could enjoy every day of the Parliamentary year. Other envelope owners were less privileged but had a voucher for a local hostelry, where they could go every day. So, thanks to the magic of the market, a deal was arranged which maximised both our preferences.