Wednesday 19 September 2012 at 6.15pm at St Nicholas Market in Bristol city centre, I had a kind of revelatory moment. It was the moment that I first held a Bristol Pound. First thing I spotted was 'The People of Bristol' written on the note and I thought that sounded so much better than 'The Bank of England'.
My city, the fine city of Bristol, launched its own currency, apply named the Bristol Pound. The currency is in 20s, 10s, 5s and my favourite, the oner. How nice to have a proper pound note in my wallet once more.
The idea is simply to keep the money in the city. You sign up as an individual or a business. If you're a business you appear on a map at bristolpound.org. It supports local traders, and not a single £B1 will ever end up in Barclays or Lloyds or HSBC or NatWest.
I haven't counted the number of independent local traders who have signed up but it must be in the hundreds by week two. And so I wondered how easy it would be to get by, just on the Bristol Pound.
My plan then was to go a week in the city not spending a pound, indeed a penny, of the 'old' money. None in my pocket. So, no carrying notes with the Queen on, no Mrs Windsor for me, nothing with property of the Bank of England printed. Instead, beautiful designed notes with the words 'people of Bristol' on them, and some lovely images of our city. What could be better.
And here is how it went.
I empty my wallet of the 'old' and not required currency. I have already been to one of the eight 'exchange' centres – the Gallimaufry, a bar on the Gloucester Road – where I change £50 of 'old money' on Saturday night. A bar, now that's my kind of bank.
I have a few notes to begin, a twenty, two tens and a oner (the one from the change of my tea purchase on Wednesday).
Monday morning, I check the map of users once more. My local organic supermarket, The Better Food Company, is signed up, so I know that I can buy supper and the basic stuff to get by.
I share a space at Spike Island, a community of artists on the river close to the centre of the city. Spike is marked on the map but only a faint blue, which means 'signed up but not confirmed yet'. This means they should accept the notes. But after buying a coffee, I'm told there is a bit of a hold up, and they haven't quite worked out how the notes will fit into their accounting system. So I start a tab and hope that towards the end of the week, it'll be sorted and I can pay up with the new local currency. This also means I resort to my emergency packed lunch.
Later in the day, I ride home and confidently nip over the road to Better Food and buy stuff to cook supper. £12.80, I pay £B15 and get two oners back, the 20p (old money) going into the Helicopter Rescue Fund pot by the till. There was a little moment where they couldn't find the Bristol Pounds in the till. They are all together under the 'old school' £20.
So far so good. Tomorrow I plan to find new shops and top up my funds.
I get up early with the intention of riding to the far reaches of Kingswood just to get a newspaper. However, I ring Toveys News (in the Bristol Pound directory, but not on the map), just to check. It doesn't bode well, as Mr Tovey is wavering and not accepting them yet.
Instead, Laurence (my son) and I go out for a run, and afterwards retreat to the Better Food Co, where they have mastered the 'extra money in the till' thing for coffee and chocolate croissants (free with coffee until eleven). I do a little shopping and the cost a reasonable £B11.
Then a ride down the hill to Stokes Croft and a visit to the Bristol Credit Union where I am imagining I can get fresh oners out (the note of choice) from my account. It proves a little tricky at first, but once I reset my pass number we're all set. The process is a little odd, as I text Chris across the counter, both our mobile phones on the counter, he gets the text and I get a text to say he has got the text. He can then give me the sparkly new Bristol Pounds. Thirty oners (lovely), two fivers and a tenner (which has Hannah More on one side: poet, playwright and anti-slavery campaigner).
The oners though are great and a bit exotic, make you feel like you're in New York without leaving Stokes Croft.
I head down to visit Brett at sHop on the Christmas Steps. sHop sells lovely used stuff and is always a good visit. There is generally a cup of tea on the go, with jam tarts and a lounge with record player etc. Brett (a man of wisdom) is a Bristol Pound trader and tells me he is worried that all the oners will get collected by geeky types who collect one pound notes in crisp new condition (as happened in Brixton apparently).
I leave with four very fine 10x8 inch glossy film star photos, cost £B4. Brett is quite excited as I am his first £B customer and he now has some precious oners (I'm a little concerned he might be keeping them).
Start off with coffee and free croissant at Better Food (over the road), £B4.12 (they let me off the 12p).
Later in the day I head south of the river to drop some books off for binding at Bristol Bound (no relation to Bristol Pound) and a discussion on the virtues of local currency with Rachel and a lady from an ad agency over the road takes place. Then I pop into Tobacco Factory to buy a coffee. I try and do a text payment, but didn't work. I suspect I haven't learnt my pass number properly yet. I bump into Fran and Suzie, who are doing some Italian translation for me. I've discovered a nice side product of spending a local currency with a local trader is that you bump into friends more often.
I try and buy tickets for a talk at the Arnolfini (a talk about book jacket design in a few weeks), they are very apologetic and say they're not quite there yet with taking Bristol Pounds, though the cafe is up and running.
I decide to head down to Stokes Croft early. There are a few coffee places that are 'dealing' the new currency and I go to Poco which is a Spanish bar and cafe opposite the Canteen (also a £B taker), it is bathed in light and a lovely place to sit and drink an Americano (chosen because it is exactly £B2. I bump into another friend, the illustrator and thoroughly nice bloke, Bjorn Lie.
On the way out, I nip into the excellent Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft shop, where they have printed some amazing celebratory Bristol Pound mugs. I buy the last two £B1 mugs for £B12 each.
I head over to change a £20 that I got from selling a bicycle saddle. Chris at the Credit Union remembers my name and explains about text message buying.
To my studio space at Spike to find that they have solved their worries about being a charity and using the £B. A nice moment as I handed my £B4 over at lunchtime (mozzarella and pesto toast with salad) inc 35p tip. An excellent reaction when I hand the notes over as it's their first £B customer. I get a phone call from Radio Bristol about my week with the pound, and they ask if I would nip over in the morning and tell them about it.
I'm at Radio Bristol at 8.45am to talk about my week with the Bristol Pound. I sit opposite Steve the presenter just after the local Methodist Minister does his Thought for the Day. Can't remeber too much of what I said, but I tried to get over that it wasn't a difficult thing and was turning out to be a pretty enjoyable week.
I drag my friend – the very talented bicycle builder Robin Mather – out to Sourdough cafe in St Nicholas Market for a coffee, such a nice place to sit and chat for a bit ( 2 coffees £B4 including 30p tip).
Later lunch with Wilf at Spike cafe (Cheese and tom toastie and salad £B4 inc 35p tip).
Evening, H and I go out to the lovely Gallimaufry down on the Gloucester Road. I top up my wallet with £B50 (get £50 out of cash machine, H handles cash as I've vowed not to touch it this week). Two halves (£B4 inc 20p tip). On to Poco for nice selection of tapas, carafe of wine, pudding and two coffees £B37 inc £4b tip. Great food and place, really good value.
£B26 spent at the Better Food Co, 52p in the Helicopter Rescue Fund tin. A bicycle ride out the the Really Useful Bike Co, one of the further flung Bristol Pound traders. On the way, top up my £B at the Gallimaufry on the Gloucester Road and stock up with a cheese pasty, a tuna sandwich and a jam doughnut at Joes Bakery (£B4). My Grandad used to buy his bread from Joe's. He would cycle every day until he was way past 80 from Filton just to get good fresh bread.
On then to Rob's brilliant Really Useful Bike workshop and shop on the Westerleigh Road near Yate. Rob sells lovely Dutch sit up bikes plus work and cargo bikes (bikes for carrying heavier loads), he's a real enthusiast for both cycling and the Bristol Pound, and talked about how the two seem to go together well. He will offer anyone visiting a cup of tea and a warm, knowledgeable welcome.
A day of visitors and cooking at home, so a shop at Better food (£B35 with 32p going into the helicopter rescue fund tin).
And that was it.
A week just using the mighty Bristol Pound.
Easy. I am going to carry on with my £B journey, it's been pretty easy and enjoyable, so seems a shame to stop now. I've listed a few thoughts about using the pound this week.
Some things I've learnt from the week
1. It's not difficult to get hold of.
I've exchanged 'old money' in the Gallimaufry. A brilliant cafe/bar down on Gloucester Road, I can't think of a nice place to get the Bristol Pound. I've also got some Bristol Pounds from my £B account on Stokes Croft at the Bristol Credit Union. The second time I went in, Chris, the cashier, even remembered my name. In 35 years of going into High Street banks, no one has ever remembered my name. There are now eight exchange points in the city, and I suppose more will pop up.
2. It's fun seeking out new places.
I've looked at the map at bristolpound.org a lot this week. And have sought out new places to visit when I've had time. I've discovered some brilliant new shops, cafes, bakeries, pubs and bars this week. All independent, all friendly folk and all places that will become regular visits.
3. It has 'people of Bristol' written on it.
Bristol is a proud city, I am a born and bred Bristolian (my parents and their parents were Bristolians), so it feels only natural to support its own currency. But I know that people move here and adopt the city and learn to love it equally. This currency is part of that, it stays in the city, it supports independent traders in the city. Every time I look at a note and see 'People of Bristol' written on it, I will think of that.
4. It won't ever leave the city, it supports just the city.
It won't ever disappear into a big bank and support arms buying, sub-prime loans or whatever other dodgy dealings the big banks get up to.
5. It is a little more hassle for traders.
I understand that it's a little more hassle to set up, to fill forms in to get an account, to find a place to keep the extra currency. To know how to bank it and then reuse it. But I have met a lot of traders this week and there is a real energy and will to make it work. I really hope that it will make us think about where our money goes. The 'pay-by-text' system is easy and will help with the note dealing bit. I hope that lots more people will seek out new places and the traders will benefit.
6. It's not difficult to get by on.
The week has been easy. I even left the city yesterday on my bike and took a packed lunch (bought from Joe's Bakery on the Gloucester Road). I haven't had a single moment of difficulty. I suppose I would have liked to buy a newspaper now and then, and haven't found a newsagent yet that takes the Bristol Pound (but plenty of cafes have them anyway).
7. It makes you think about where things come from.
Spending the Bristol Pound makes you more aware of buying things locally. It's easy on a high street to nip into a chain and not think twice about it. But if you only have the Bristol Pound, you really do think about where you shop and where your money goes.
8. You get 5% extra free.
When you transfer sterling into Bristol Pounds. 5% is added to your Bristol Pound account, which seems pretty good to me (can't remember that happening in any other bank).
9. You get real value from smaller traders and things of real quality.
I have been very aware this week, that small local traders really care about the quality of what they are selling, and they are really knowledgeable and have a real passion for what they do.
10. The notes
The £B notes look brilliant, all week I've been showing people the notes and if they haven't seen them before the reaction is always the same, people really love them.