You may have heard the saying "carrying coals to Newcastle", an expression sometimes used to describe a futile endeavour.
The phrase came about in the 16th century because the economy of Newcastle upon Tyne in north-east England was based on the mining and selling of coal.
Local supply and demand was such that attempts to sell coal to Newcastle were seen as being doomed to failure.
On a similar note, last year my London-based, Anglo-American parents – victims of the 1970s craze for fondue parties in Britain and the US – kindly asked me if I would like to take off of their hands one of the five fondue sets that they had amassed over the years.
I politely declined their offer as I live in Switzerland, the home of fondue.
But it got me asking myself what real-life examples exist of those people with a bit of initiative who have figuratively managed to "carry coals to Newcastle".
It actually turns out that the good people of Newcastle have themselves pulled off the unlikely trick of selling Champagne to the French.
Admittedly, it"s not Newcastle-cultivated Champers – the Tyneside climate isn"t exactly conducive to that.
Nevertheless, the Newcastle business Lovely Bubbly – set up in 2006 to give British drinkers access to quality Champagnes from independent French producers – struck a deal to supply Champagne to the French Consul in Edinburgh.
Perhaps even better is Fracino. Don't be fooled by their Italian-sounding name as the
award-winning Italian-style coffee machines manufacture is actually based in Birmingham, England, and was founded in the 1960s by the very un-Italian sounding Frank Maxwell, who was inspired by a coffee machine bought while holidaying in Italy with his family.
The small yet innovative manufacturer is not only the UK"s only coffee-machine maker, but it also now exports its cappuccino and espresso machines to over 25 countries – including Italy, the land of coffee connoisseurs if ever there was one.
Following Fracino"s lead is Scottish pizza kitchen Cosmo who, you"ve guessed it, sell their gluten-free varieties to Italy. The next thing you know, the Italians will be exporting haggis to the Scots.
It should be pointed out that Cosmo are slightly helped by the fact founder and chairman Cosmo Tamburro is an Italian himself, having emigrated to Edinburgh in 1958.
Meanwhile, the Central Australian Camel Industry Association have succeeded in selling 119 camels to none other than Saudi Arabia.
Australia has a sizeable population of camels – around 500,000 – the direct descendants of the 20,000 brought over in the 19th century from India and the Canary Islands, animals which were left in the wild once their use for exploration had finished.
Beside a means of transport, camels have often been an integral part of the traditional Muslim diet. Thousands are annually slaughtered during Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca.
The Saudis have traditionally got their camels from North Africa, but disease, drought and political instability have seen them turn to the Aussies for some hump-backed help.
Along very similar lines, Perth-based GMA Garnet managed to get the Saudis to buy Australian sand. The special alluvial sand is suited for sandblasting because it is free of silica, which creates dust that can cause lung cancer and silicosis in workers.
So the next time you hear 'Coals to Newcastle', don't laugh, it may just be an excellent business opportunity!