The virtual lives of Ecobear, Mogg and Skintfella are worthy of the soapiest drama, but there’s far more to the Freecycle show, as David Newnham discovers.
My inbox contains three new emails, but I can tell you what they say without even looking. “You wanna attract every chick at the club?” asks the first. “Try Ultra Allure Pheronnones!” The second assumes that the “chicks” are now mine, but that feelings of inadequacy impede further progress.
“Be confident in your body with Penis Enlarge Patch,” it advises. “Our male enhancement product is Doctor Approved.” Finally, there is good old Prestige Replica Store, entreating me again to buy a luxurious Cartiere watch at a silly price.
No sooner have I trashed the spam, however, than a fourth message appears. But this one is not trying to make a sale. Rather, it is offering something for nothing. Admittedly, the item in question is a set of bathtaps for which I have no use whatever, but it’s the thought that counts.
And the donor, a stranger by the name of Ecobear, explains his thinking thus: “The taps came with the bath I bought and wasn’t expecting to get, which is why I bought some anyway,” he says (I assume Ecobear is a bloke — it doesn’t sound like Mummybear talking, does it?)
Precisely how one buys a bath unexpectedly is beyond me, unless Ecobear suffers from a kind of retail Tourette’s syndrome. But before I can wrestle with this, Mogg mails with an urgent appeal. Her parents, have broken their bed and are in desperate need of a new one (double). And Mogg can collect.
Around lunchtime, Mogg mails again to say that Ditsychic has kindly donated a bed (kingsize!) for which she no longer has any use, and I read later that Mogg slipped Ditsychic some lovely mesembryanthemums by way of a thank you.
It is hard to escape the feeling that everyone using my local branch of Freecycle have been exchanging faded baby bouncers, broken washing machines (“mechanically it’s perfectly OK, but the programme’s stuck on rinse/spin”) for years before the arrival of Mr D Newbie.
This is unlikely, of course, since the idea of using the internet to pass on unwanted items of household junk that would otherwise go into landfill was invented in Tucson, Arizona, in 2003, and given the time it takes new ideas to reach these parts, I figure that Freecycle must be a recent arrival.
Nevertheless, it was clearly an idea just itching to be had, and if someone hadn’t thought of it, and blessed it with the mission statement “Changing the world one gift at a time”, it would probably have thought of itself. After all, half the country now divides its leisure time between driving to the tip (be warned: they’re now asking for at least two forms of identity at the gate) and buying other people’s junk from charity shops, car boot sales or eBay. Freecycle is the logical marrying of these opposing urges.
Which is maybe why it has all the timelessness of a long-running TV soap whose characters have been bickering and bartering since the days of analogue. Mogg’s garden overflows with surplus plants that she has grown from seed or propagated through some ritual involving mare’s urine. How long, I wonder, before Mogg hooks up with Misterfixit, whose DIY projects invariably leave him with an assortment of leftovers — e.g. four polystyrene ceiling tiles, 0.6 metre of coving and a quarter-full sack of Portland cement (“has been kept fairly dry”)?
Ruthy2’s tiny cottage so bulges with the paraphernalia of pregnancy and parenthood that I have her down as a human testbed for several new forms of fertility treatment. But what chance of fulfilment has Hubman, whose posts are so clearly designed to advertise his digital lifestyle that I suspect him of actually buying all those “assorted motherboards and hard drives” as props for his self-image?
My advice to the scriptwriters would be to get Hubman involved with Ditsychic at the earliest opportunity. After all, you don’t need a whole bundle of software to decode that wistful reference to a kingsize bed, and as for her recent offer of “an elderly female racing bike — a little rusty, but should respond to some TLC”…
Let’s face it, she’d be better off with the geeky Hubman than the cheeky Skintfella, who always seems to have a “new gaff” in need of furnishing (“Anything considered, but chrome/ leather preferred”).
But I guess if Freecycle didn’t have characters like Skintfella, punters would simply unsubscribe and watch Big Brother instead. Before we knew it, we’d all be wearing Ultra Allure Pheronnones and 1uxuri0us rep1ica w4tches and spending every Sunday afternoon at the tip. And the planet — well, the planet would be, quite literally, STUFFED.
• Originally published in GreenerLiving magazine in April 2009