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GDP or GNH?

One key difference between town and country is shops. As I walk around our area on my daily walks, I pass four retail outlets fairly regularly. If I lived in a town, I would probably have ready access to a few more close by. But it's the nature of these shops that fundamentally differ.

To get to the first, I only have to pass three other houses. That means they are about half a mile away. Its presence is signalled by a sign held in place by two drawing pins on the gatepost which says "Eggs for sale - £1.60 for 12". This emporium is a small shed about 10 feet away.

Down the hill on the outskirts of Cornhill, about four kilometres away, is a rather larger emporium by the roadside. Their range of comestibles on offer is twice the size - eggs and vegetables. A ready trade is quite visible with my rarely passing this hut without seeing someone drop by to make a purchase.

When it's a really long walk, I 've done 12 miles one day; there's a farm shop sign about six kilometres away. Finally, and I've only passed this once because it's quite a long way away, there is Rowater who sell venison, belted galloway beef, ostrich eggs, emu eggs, among other things.

So there's quite a lot goes on in country-retail. But more importantly, there's quite a lot of mutual aid and barter. Mark came in with his spanner to disconnect our empty gas cylinder. I borrowed it again a couple of days later to screw the new one in place. Neighbourliness is on the up all over the country. But it's always been there in the country.

Barter is so informal that half the time people don't know they're doing it. A favour done, a favour remembered. Might be years, but the reward will come eventually.

Probably the last country in the world to move from a barter economy to a monetary one was Bhutan. It's a country about the size of Switzerland with a population of three-quarters of a million. It sits to the east of Nepal. All but about ten square kilometres is above 7,000 feet. Until the 1980s it was virtually impossible to visit except as a non-paying guest of someone who lived there. Essentially, you could not use money to buy anything.

When we visited the country in October 1986, one of only 3,000 people allowed in that year for any purpose, their currency, the Ngultrum, had only been in regular use for a few years.

Money aside, it was a fascinating place. The climate was quite familiar, very like late spring in Scotland. Pleasantly warm with damp morning dews. Apples and tomatoes grew everywhere, much like at home. A few sheep and quite a lot of buffalo provided meat.

The local dress code would also have been familiar to Scots 300 hundred years ago. They wore a one-piece garment which was a woollen sheet wrapped around them and secured with a belt. We would have known it as the fèileadh mòr (big kilt).

Below it, knee-high knitted socks and leather shoes completed the ensemble. Even the pattern of the cloth was not dissimilar to a small tartan design.

What was very different from our Highlands was the national sport.

We were in the capital, Thimpu, then a population of about 15,000, now substantially more, and "on the wander". It was the weekend, and we spotted a bit of a crowd in a park. The noise of laughter, the occasional cheer, the general happiness drew us in.

Mind you; the Bhutanese constitution places great emphasis as an indicator of the success of the country on the measurement of "Gross National Happiness". So happiness was there, and so there should have been.

The crowd might have been about 100 or so and they were gathered around a board about 18 inches wide, three feet high, and which stuck out of the ground. One person was leaning on it. An enthusiastic debate was going on, and various sweeping gestures were being made.

We pressed forward to the front of the crowd to see what the issue was. As we did so, a great cheer went up, even some jumping off the ground in excitement. Finally, we spotted the source of their happiness. An arrow had just hit the board. About four feet away from us. And others were much closer.

Initially, that was a bit puzzling. No archer was visible. Until we turned our head to look along the apparent line of flight of the arrow and realised there were a couple of people standing at the other end of the park, minimum 100 metres away. One held a bow a bit taller than he was, and was shielding his eyes. He was obviously shooting directly into the sun. And we were standing in the crowd closely clustered around his target.

This wasn't as alarming as it might now read. Because the outcome of his sending a flight in our direction so clearly had a benign outcome in terms of personal injury, absence of. And everyone around us was behaving so normally.

It turned out that this was the semi-final of the national inter-team archery championships. There was a target at each end of the field. The teams took it, in turn, to fire from one end to the other. And at "half-time" to swap ends. We were in the presence of Bhutanese sporting royalty.

Clearly, accuracy was the norm. Why else would one stand next to the target that a man 100 metres away, peering into the sun, was shooting at?

Now whether this sport, their national sport, was professional or not, I did not think to ask. I'm sure it predated their currency. But as the only foreigner present, and a clear foot taller than any of the competitors, they thought they should be hospitable and allow me a shot. Surprisingly, nobody left the vicinity of the target.

As I attempted to pull back the bowstring, and uttered failed to move it at all, their laughter rang in my ears. And their decision to stay put was entirely justified. I lacked both the strength and the technique to participate.

So I guess one lesson we take from Bhutan is that money is not the only source of happiness. Certainly, the lack of it can cause misery and worse.

As we build a new norm for the post-pandemic world, we might just think about relationships as the basis of it.

Look for own kind of Gross National Happiness.

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