Having inherited the leftovers of 60 years of family life from my parents, I’ve decided that the time has come to put sentimentality aside and ditch everything that is not strictly necessary, beautiful or useful.
Smaller items can be sold using online auction houses, of course. but the larger stuff — like furniture – is awfully tricky to wrap, takes entirely too many first class stamps to send and makes the local Post Mistress very cross indeed. For that reason, I’ve been using a local ‘Buy, Sell and Swap’ site to shift the bulkier heirlooms, and I’m here to tell you that there’s a whole undiscovered sub-culture out there, sitting in an eerie blue glow as they reel though ‘Dirt Cheap/Buyer Collects/Needs Gone Today’ listings for stuff they never even knew they wanted.
There are several rules governing behaviour on such sites that the newcomer needs to be aware of, so as a sort of Public Service, I’ve been taking notes:
1. ‘Reasonable offers considered’ will be interpreted as ‘75% less than the asking price’.
2. If you pitch your prices accordingly, and add 75% to the asking price, all you’re likely to get is abuse.
3. Really good quality items listed at sensible prices will either be ignored or the 75% rule will come into effect, whereas there’ll be a stampede for a job lot of half-used tins of paint and emulsion.
4. People will be terribly interested in something, promise to come along bearing money, ask you to reserve it for them while they find somebody with a van and then you’ll never hear from them again. In the meantime, of course, you’ve been turning down offers because ‘I’ve already promised it to someone else’.
5. Once you’ve made a sale and the buyer has appeared to cough up the money and collect the goods, their eyes will start roaming around your property and they’ll try to buy anything that doesn’t seem to be nailed down. Someone who came to buy a strimmer from me spent an inordinate amount of time making offers for my (brand new) planters, the water butts, the deep freeze and my folding bicycle – none of which they could have got into their car anyway. Which leads me to …
6. A person’s desire to buy something is inversely proportional to their ability to transport it.
I had a small larder fridge which was surplus to requirements, and advertised it ludicrously cheaply because:
(a) I wanted to get rid of it and
(b) It was secondhand when I got it, and I couldn’t guarantee how much longer it would keep working.
A terribly nice but rather portly gentleman turned up to collect it in a very old, leather-upholstered Rover saloon. He rolled up at the gate sort of bug-eyed and pale-faced, having never strayed so far from street lights and dual carriageways before.
‘I never even knew this place existed.’ were his first words.
With the pleasantries out of the way, we fell to examining the fridge, and after a cursory inspection (along lines of ‘Does the light come on when you open the door?’) he pronounced himself happy. We then turned to look at his car.
‘I think I’m going to have to take the child seat out of the back …’ he said after a moment of silence.
‘I’d say so.’ I replied, doing a quick visual to-and-fro between the fridge and the car. ‘Because you aren’t going to get it in anywhere else.’
I stood for a while watching him struggling with the child seat before deciding that if I wanted my life back I’d better go and lend a hand.
‘It’s my neighbour’s,’ he explained. ‘I took her and her little ‘un to the station. I know nothing about child seats.’
‘Well that makes two of us, but how hard can it be?’
Eventually, and completely by accident after many minutes of fruitless pushing and shoving, I found a release lever under the front of the seat … which only left us with the problem of fitting the fridge in the car.
‘You do know they’re supposed to be transported upright, don’t you?’ I observed wheezily as we crowbarred it onto his back seat, face down.
‘Are they?’ he said, leaning heavily against it to give it a final shove. ‘Why?’
‘Oil in the refrigeration system. Gums up the works.’
‘But if you let it stand for 24 hours before you plug it back in, it’ll probably be fine.’
‘I’ll do that. Thank you.’
If it worked at all when he got it home, I’d be very, VERY surprised …
All of that, however, pales into insignificance against the saga of the metal bedstead.
A local lady put dibs on it for her brother, whose marriage had just collapsed, necessitating his move into a council flat. He had nothing at all in the way of domestic items, so she was scouring the local selling sites for cheap furniture and household goods for him. When she explained the problem, I said I had a lot of bedding and general household bits and bobs that he could have for a song, if it helped, and she accepted gratefully and arranged a time for her brother and their dad to come around and see what I had that he could use.
The two of them duly turned up dead on time. The father was a lovely bloke all bouncy and smiley and in his early 70s. The son was tall, lugubrious and a bit taciturn, but I told myself that he was going through a rough time and probably didn’t feel terribly sociable.
They looked at the bed and agreed to buy it, said they’d take all the the bedding and towels (although a degree of self-control was required when the son said,’Don’t you have anything that matches?’) and also put dibs on a chair, a box of glasses and mugs and small coffee table.
‘Great,’ I said. ‘When can you come and take them away?’
They looked at me as if I was crazy.
‘We’ll take them now,’ said the son, in the tone of one who thought he was dealing with an idiot. ‘That’s why we came.’
I looked at them. Then I looked at their car.
It was one of those super-minis … you know – the teeny-tiny cars with no back-ends, just a hatch where the rest of the car should be.
‘You think you can get a bed and a mattress into THAT?’
‘Aye,’ said the father, shuffling off gamely.’I’ll just put the back seats down.’
The strangest part was where they put the six-foot base in the back of the car and were genuinely surprised that three feet of it were sticking out the end.
Volunteering rags for the sticky-out bits, plus ropes to tie the back down, I went off to fetch them while father and son just stood there, scratching their heads in puzzlement, still apparently convinced that there must be some way of getting the whole thing in and closing the hatch. After all, they’d put the seats down and everything …
I came back with the necessary, plus a big sheet of polythene for the mattress, which was plainly going to be sticking out the end as well. Again I got the uncomprehending stare.
‘The mattress will get wet if it rains,’ I said, looking up meaningfully at the leaden skies.
‘We can get the mattress in,’ said the son, and went off to fetch it.
I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anyone fold a pocket-sprung mattress in half before, let alone stood and watched them trying to shove it into the back of a very small car.
Part way through the process, the father mildly suggested that they should take it out and try again from a slightly different angle because it seemed to have got stuck on something (you know, like the front seats …) at which point the son went absolutely and completely ballistic. I should think they heard him in the next village. He ranted. He raved. He said that his father always did the same thing and why couldn’t he effing this and effing that and he could effing … well, you get the picture.
His father dropped everything and wandered off to safe distance down the lane, leaving me standing beside the human volcano, holding onto the mattress in the hope of preventing it from springing out of the back of the car with the force of a cannonball and fracturing my skull, while vaguely telling myself that now I knew why his marriage had collapsed. ‘Anger management problems’ I said to myself sagely.
And then, as suddenly as he had erupted, he subsided again. His father wandered back and we carried on as if nothing untoward had happened. We took the mattress out, stuffed it back in, and even found room for the bedding, towels, glasses and mugs. Regretfully, however, they had to pass on the chair and the coffee table. Money changed hands. They left. I locked all the doors. I gibbered for a while.
There’s really nothing I like better than a little walk on the weird side.