Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Midweek cuckoos: adventures with Gumtree

Another improper post - the other piece to be dragged across from my Facebook.


Like many things on the internet, Gumtree is an impressive combination of incredible usefulness and spectacular silliness. It's as if somebody asked Father Dougal to design a train service, and somehow it ended up working. Anyway, a few months ago I spent a while glued to Gumtree (Ha. See what I did there?), staring at adverts asking for people to come and live with them. Most of the adverts can be safely divided into a number of categories:

- Moments of horror: 'come live wiv 3 cool/fun-loving/debauched guys who love to party'.

Who would do such a thing? This is more or less equivalent to being offered a mattress made entirely out of empty beer cans, and the opportunity to use a stack of pizza boxes as a table. Also, see Black Books for wanton and irresponsible use of 'party' as a verb.

- The slightly unconvincing: 'a cosy room ...' accompanied by pictures of what looks suspiciously like an airing cupboard. Still, can't blame a fellow for trying, what?

- The unreasonably sexist. A frustrating number of tempting descriptions of rooms finish with 'sorry boys, women only.' I can clean! I don't think chairs are an appropriate substitute for wardrobes! Why can't I live there? Grr. There's also a lot of the more ominous 'female gender wanted', which sounds like a desperate plea for a slightly scary kind of surgeon.

- The ineptly criminal: 'my flat is very cheap but you must show me that you are serious about living there by going through an elaborate and entirely unconvincing series of wire transfers'.

It does seem that a large number of the world's less successful felons have been bought broadband connections, presumably in an effort to keep them off the streets. While one can't fault their sense of enterprise and ambition, most of them fail at the first hurdle by demonstrating such a degree of illiteracy that they think a comma is what their mate Gary slipped into after popping too many pills. It's a reasonable assumption that somebody who couldn't spell their own name with their passport wedged beneath their eyelids isn't going to 'be a gud lawyer who just wants somebody nice to look after their big hous'.

- The chronologically unhinged: 'ten minutes to the centre of London', accompanied by a map of somewhere in a zone they had to name after a letter because they'd run out of numbers. Rickmansworth, for instance. Or Scarborough.

- The sadly misguided: '... in a lovely area of Peckham.' Possibly with a cheerful view of burning cars.

and, finally:

- The terrifyingly creepy. 'Are you a gorgeous girl?' is always a sure-fire way to make your advert sound like it was written by the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but there are a genuinely horrifying number of people who think that even buying a bride on the internet is just too much like hard work. Sadly I lost the exact advert so I can't quote it exactly, but there was one that surpassed sinister and strayed into outright sex slavery. It was too frightening to be a joke. It included the following:

'the accommodation I am offering is worth £2,000 a month. It is yours for free if you are willing to share my bed (you know what I mean by this)'.

Oh, that's alright then - as long as the flat's really classy you're not soliciting. You're just saving time. The slightly embarrassed metaphor just adds to the sleaze. Don't worry, it's not prostitution, it's just 'sharing my bed'. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

But don't worry, the young rake had an explanation:

'I am a stockbroker and do not have much time to meet people.'

I want to make a sarcastic comment at this point, but there's better to come:

'Besides, I wanted to meet somebody different.'

What, somebody with morals so loose you could use them as a tent? Or just somebody who didn't run in terror when you offered to fund their drugs habit in exchange for carnal favours?

Anyway, this lot aside, there are a small number of useful, sane adverts by pleasant people with attractive rooms to let (after all, I did end up living somewhere). However, in approximately equal numbers, there are also some fantastic moments of complete madness that I felt compelled to share.

These ones are genuine, literal quotations, though, admittedly, they may not be entirely in context.

- Girls wanted ASAP

You'd probably get along with the chap above...

- 'Ravenscourt Park Station, Available Now'

Is it? Gosh. Can I sleep on any platform I like? If I buy three others, can I charge people more to visit?

- 'Eat-in kitchen and bathroom'

I'm actually quite taken with this idea. In today's busy modern world, you have to be able to multi-task, and surely having dinner and a shower at the same time is the paragon of efficiency?

- 'Balcony with washing machine'

Again, potentially sane: they're noisy, so whack 'em outside on the balcony. However, every washing machine I've ever had has managed to shift itself at least a foot forward with every cycle. Plonk it on the balcony and you're going to have the people on the ground floor asking why there's a broken washing machine in their garden, and if anybody's seen their cat, which was out there on the patio a moment ago.

- 'double room ,girl only own floor internet tv window ,long and seperet kitchen and bathr garden near all amunities 3 munites to hammersmith station near sainsbury post office video renting chops and busses and park'

There's a lot to get through here, and I had to translate it word by word, but cripes it was worth it. 'Floor internet TV window' isn't a description, it's just a load of words that happen to be standing next to each other. Calling that a sentence is like calling the queue for a bus a family. This same literary style is continued, finishing in a torrent of over-excited noun-listing that climaxes with 'video renting chops'. I wonder what sort of films chops like. Soylent Green?

- 'u got tv + free internet guarden in the house'

I'm reasonably sure that The Internet Garden is a chapter from a JG Ballard novel. If it isn't, it should be. But besides that, it's 'in the house'. What? How? Like Ali G? I hate to generalise, but gardens have things like soil and plants. Houses have things like floorboards and foundations. They don't get along.


I dig gender-neutral language and all that jazz, but I'm still slightly scared by the thought of somebody only 'mostly' female. It's the uncertainty I'd find distressing: which bits were, and which bits weren't? A wise friend of mine suggested that this was, perhaps, a simple typo for 'MANLY FEMALE AUSSIES'.

Anyway, this same advert rapidly spiralled out of control:


Suddenly a flat in Putney sounds like a mercenary base near the Gaza Strip, offering a peaceful enclave near the action, with a free grenade if you move in before Tuesday.

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