Saturday, 11 December 2010

Feeling the benefit...

Feeling the benefit…

This past weekend has definitely been colder than the week that preceded it, but somehow I felt it less. I’ve always wondered how, with no prospect of respite, the snow-bound peoples of the planet cope. I once saw a film about a Norwegian choir, who went out into the tundra to sing Nordic hymns, their voices howling around with the frozen wind. How could they think, let alone sing, in that climate? Since their winter is a permanent one, why not just fly south and stay there? Now I realise it’s a question of adaptability, and context.

It’s hardly an original idea – the concept of getting things for free being probably only marginally older than that of paying for them – but this week I had my first experiences with Freecycle. I’ve been aware of it for a while but only ever renting furnished flats has meant I’ve never needed it. Now my room is a cold and empty 8x5m space that needs to be filled; I’ve been sleeping on an air bed for the past three weeks and my clothes are still in the bag which I brought them in, or else strewn around the floor.

Freecycling turns out to be one of those things where if you know, you know. From the outside I could appreciate that it is a jolly good idea, but it’s only once you’ve made the connection and walked away from someone’s home with an item saved from an early grave that you really feel it. Altruistically inclined anyway, the people I’ve met have been utterly delighted when I turned up to dispose of their detritus, to rescue their rubbish; cups of tea have been offered, and no small amount of lyrical waxing has taken place.

I thought that the best approach was to join the freecycle groups of the good and the great: Hampstead, Kensington and Chelsea, Notting Hill. The rich just have the best stuff, and they’re always replacing it with bigger and better stuff. This tactic paid dividends on Monday when I picked up a beautiful brass standard lamp from Maida Vale. My housemates were a bit shocked that I’d lugged it all the way back, that the time invested wasn’t more valuable to me. But a month ago a Monday evening might have been spent watching some shit or other on the television. I felt I’d made a net-gain: I could return the lamp I’d borrowed from Eva, and have my own source of illumination.

Every up has its down. Some time after the revolution, Castro and the new Cuban government made public transport free; shortly after this they introduced a very small charge, because people were using it frivolously. This is the danger with free stuff. My former place of residence was the flat above the five-years disused Tabby Cat Lounge in Hampstead, and the owners had allowed me to take some of the sofas and tables which were still inside. I promptly hired a Streetvan, drove north and filled it with old club-furnishings.

I say promptly, but it actually took me about 6hours in all. Stuck in traffic in the Saturday-night-sparkling West End (every time a traffic light turned red costing me 20p), I began to feel a bit silly and a lot greedy. My room is much fuller now, but it also looks like a pretentious Hampstead nightspot. No cash has changed hands but I seem to be buying-in none the less.

Lesson learned: temperance in all things applies regardless of the price tag, or lack of. And, despite feeling a bit finkish, the initial joy of nesting for nothing has, in fact, removed some of winter’s sting. I also have a mattress, on which I now lay curled up; luxuriating, blowing out breath like smoke rings and letting the cold wash over me…

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