At 12.03 pm BST on Thursday June 1st 2012 Jupiter was aligned with Uranus and Mars dropped in for a cup of tea. No one knows why it happened but it’s as good an explanation as any. What we do know is that every single member of the human race exchanged a talent with another member of the human race at precisely that moment.
The exchange of talents was as unpredictable as it was random. A boy who could juggle three oranges with scarce ever a drop could suddenly cook the most delicious mashed potato. His middle aged neighbour became the new juggling queen of the district. For as long as he practiced thereafter he could never juggle again and people would ask before accepting a dinner invitation if mashed potato was on the menu.
The talents never travelled far but they could not be regained.
The chaos that hit the world at the moment of exchange was dramatic. Some pilots at their controls suddenly had no clue as to how to fly a plane. A passenger, in some happy instances, would leap from their seat and rush to take over. Some rescued the flight as it nosedived to earth, but even some of these met their fate on attempting to land as a collection of baggage staff, cleaners and bar workers tried to wrestle suddenly clueless Air Traffic Controllers from their consoles.
Cars, lorries and vans piled into each other. Only a few lost the art of driving but they were sufficient to create carnage.
It took some people a while to realise what they had lost but almost everyone knew what they had gained. It suddenly popped into their heads. ‘I can tap dance, I can sing, I can solve the rubix cube, I can pole vault’. Some gained in the exchange and others lost out. If, for example, you forgot how to read but learned how to knit then things could get difficult. Many people had to change their working lives. Bankers who could no longer add up or understand figures, despite remarks to the contrary, were of little use. Journalists who couldn’t type, electricians who couldn’t tell a fuse wire from a circuit board or actors with no sense of timing all lost their jobs.
What was particularly galling was that you would almost always be able to find the person to whom your skill had gone. The chef would get his favourite meals from the woman down the street. She couldn’t (and almost certainly didn’t want to) take his job though as she wouldn’t have a clue as to how a restaurant was run, where to order ingredients or how to curse the staff. In some happy instances jobs were shared and life became more balanced. But as there were no instances of direct swaps of skills the chain became longer and longer as people strove to bring some kind of normality to their lives. You would call on the woman down the road to eat the food you loved but would have to leave half way through to take your tap dancing class, just as the taxi driver who took you there would rush off to his old accountancy firm to sign off the books although he hadn’t a clue what was written upon them. It was his name on the certificate and he had to sign for it.
The economies of the West, just beginning to recover from the turmoil of the late noughties, went into freefall. Some people had to take lower paid positions and lost their homes, their marriages and their minds. Others moved swiftly up the social scale but found that their previous partners couldn’t keep pace with them. More than 40% of marriages broke up in the year after the exchange and the divorce lawyers that survived made a killing. Laws just weren’t suited to the circumstances. Politicians who remembered how to politic couldn’t find ways to re-adjust everything to fit. The situation descended into anarchy, countries fell, starvation, death and panic resulted until new leaders emerged. These people preached love and reconciliation – a return to decency and understanding, an appeal for fair play and common sense and, by and large, the people responded. New businesses were set up. People made use of their new skills and found the new level at which they could operate. They established new partnerships and child care became more communal.
The one person who was the happiest in the world at the exchange was Frank Clayton. He was a 36 year old plumber in Manchester who happened to be doing some work in the Altrincham district at the MOE ( The Moment of Exchange). The house in which he was working was a modest one, the home of a butler and his housekeeper wife, no less. But these people were the butler and housekeeper to Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank inherited his skills. Poor Cristiano became a very good topiarist in exchange and would cut hedges into models of the Titanic, chickens or hearts for the rest of his life. Frank bamboozled defences, spat, scored in every sense of the word and fell over at will. He became the oldest international debutant for England and took over the mantle of chief playmaker for Manchester United until they went bust in 2017.
Not everyone was so lucky. The woman who told fortunes on Brighton Pier lost the ability to see into the future, the child prodigy could no longer play the piano and Paris Hilton forgot the art of gaining publicity. Others, sadly, gained these skills but the Essex girl who read your palm, the arthritic 81 year old pianist and 19 stone George Grayson were never quite the same as the originals.
As for me? Well, life certainly changed. I was a rich man, a very rich man. I had the art of wheeling and dealing. I could spot a deal at a million miles. People would ask me what I did and I would reply: ‘a little of this and little of that’. But very swiftly this became: ‘a lot of this and a lot of that’. I bought and sold commodities, companies and people. I made my margin on every deal. I knew the price of everything and the way to get it. I even knew what others perceived to be the value of everything and knew just what they would pay to get it. That was my art – and I loved it.
But at the MOE I lost it. I was in the middle of the biggest deal of my life. I took over a chain of companies with a clear plan of what I was going to do on acquisition. The deal was in train and I had too much to lose to get out. Of course, when it was completed I hadn’t a clue. I sold them for far less than I had paid and I was no longer a rich man.
We used to live in a mansion. We had servants: gardeners, housemaids, a chauffeur and a butler. They all went. My wife loved bling. She loved Dubai. She loved me for what I gave her. She, along with the money grubbing children, left very quickly. I last heard of them in the Middle East but that was some time ago. I dare say they’ll turn up again when they have nothing left but as long as I don’t hear from them I assume that all is well.
What did I gain? Before the MOE I could scarcely string two words together on paper. My skills were those of the sharp market trader writ large. But I found that I could write. And it hasn’t made me a penny – and do you know what? I don’t care.