Adventures with Gumtree

Everyone who knows me knows that I have a deep affection for Gumtree, and it's led to many wild adventures and brought about many great things in my life. However, I've also had a few dodgy but formative experiences too. So here are my adventures with Gumtree with some tips thrown in. 

1. The best and the worst flats 

When I was studying Law, one of the cases we learnt was about a family who moved into a house only to see it featured on a TV show about murder houses (while sitting in their own lounge). Turns out estate agents have no obligation to tell you gristly details like that unless you ask them directly, 'to your knowledge, has this property ever been the scene of a murder?'. The lesson here is to always ask the important questions!

This is definitely not something we did enough of when we went to look round a suspiciously cheap flat bang smack in the middle of Camden that we'd seen on Gumtree in '13 (not a good year). As result, after about one minute inside the flat, we put in an offer to live there. Now, at the end of the day, it wasn't really the noise that did it in the end (we had to sign a big waiver clause in capital letters at the top of the contract stating that we didn't mind the sound of the club we lived above); it was more the fact that there wasn't any heating so we froze in winter, the window only opened 2 inches so we also roasted to death in summer, it was moulding, and it seemed that the flat was under a satanic curse: our rent ended in 666, our landlord's phone number also ended in 666 and there were nocturnal millipedes in the flat. We moved out after 5 months after I almost had a meltdown and I took a solemn vow never to live in the Borough of Camden again. Trusty Gumtree also enabled us to quickly shift all the cheap furniture we'd had to acquire when we moved in.

Now, I've lived in 7 flats in London over the last decade (which might sound like a lot but is probably pretty standard for a twenty something, especially as I went to uni in London too). Of these 7, I've found 2 through uni and friends, 3 through estate agents and 2 through Gumtree. Of the 2 Gumtree flats, the first was the worst of all 7, and the second - where I live now - is the best. There are some absolute gems and lovely landlords out there, you just need to have faith and be careful!

2. Bikes and guitars 

I bought a bike off Gumtree from a guy who was shifting it for his mother-in-law as it had been a gift from her husband that she never used. After a shaky start when the chain fell off on the way home, everything was golden - I cycled everywhere on that beut and nothing made me prouder than when I installed the basket myself in Victoria Embankment Gardens. I even got featured in a blog about cycling in London when I was attending Critical Mass, a massive monthly gathering of cyclists. Well, come to think of it, it was actually the second bike I bought off Gumtree - I bought the first off some dodgy kids down in Penge, but it got nicked within 8 hours of me leaving it outside my flat in London Bridge. Karma I suppose, or an early example of the circular economy in action. Lesson number two: if you're locking your bike up outside, use the biggest D lock you can find, not a cable. 

I also bought a lovely Tanglewood guitar from a lady in Crouch End, though it was tipping down with rain so when I arrived I was drenched from head to toe that she asked if I wanted a towel in a rather pointed way before letting me cross the threshold. I also missed out on a few too first - if you see something you want on Gumtree, get on it there and then or it'll go.  

3. Seeing what the universe has to offer 

Three random adverts I responded to: the first led to me becoming a writer for a sadly short lived satirical website called The Ten Minute Mag, which was great fun while it lasted. The second led to me organising possibly the worst evening of stand up comedy in history in a very up-market pub in the City. Several of the performers I'd found were atrocious, the audience was tiny, mutinous and at many points it felt like we were holding them hostage. The headliner was late so we had to provide a minute-by-minute update about his location as he hared through traffic, though mercifully he was very good when he got there. Miraculously, we somehow managed to make over £100 in ticket sales, though we didn't do a second event, much to everyone's relief. The third advert led to me having an exhibition of my photos of London in an amazing little cafe in Green Lanes called the Snug Art Cafe (it's currently on if you want to go see!). Another valuable lesson is be open to opportunity: a lot of the time it will be something great, and don't worry about the times that it's not! 

4. The Gathering 

One of the most exciting results of using Gumtree was that for several years I became a committed member of a little band of itinerant artists called the Gathering. I'd just moved into a tiny student flat in London Bridge in the summer of '09 and was browsing Gumtree with the fanciful notion that I could get my paws on a free piano when I saw an ad for 'The Gathering of the Artists'. The ad said it was a chance for artists of all disciplines to get together and share their work, and everyone would get together on the lawn outside the Tate Modern, a quick stroll from my new flat, and it was happening that very evening. My interest was piqued and I headed over with my guitar (well, I was a student at this point with a head full of butterflies).

What ensued was an extremely pleasant evening spent with a few dozen eccentric and diverse people who I got to know over a few glasses of wine as the sun slipped down over the Tate. A few people read their work and shared their paintings, and we all had a singalong. After that, we'd meet in a different outdoor location somewhere round London one Friday night a month, usually with the same core group of people and a mixture of new faces each time, and we'd occasionally bring curious friends along. There'd always been amazing conversations, singalongs, wine and a stunning backdrop - we met at Three Mills Creek in Bow, Ally Pally and Tower Bridge among other places. We met rain or shine - we once had a Christmas Gathering in the bandstand on Clapham Common at midnight in the snow.

It was an amazing few years and it introduced me to an incredible range of creative people and new areas of London, and after the momentum of the initial Gatherings had wound down, I remained friends with a small core group of very special people (and to this day, I count the original organiser as one of my best friends). My favourite memory was an amazing night spent with the gang at beautiful Three Mills Creek, followed by an epic walk with our little band down the A12 wearing a poncho with a guitar slung over my back, followed by a final bus journey down through the City in the small hours. The next day incidentally I had a very fateful gig....

5. The band, and an unexpected encounter

Now, a lot of things involving music I've done in London tends to stem from Gumtree, which is always chockablock with opportunities for musicians, whether it be solo gigs as a signer songwriter or new collaborations. I've met, gigged and recorded with some lovely musicians this way, and one memorable experience led me to be serenaded with Be My Baby by a very sweet but very intoxicated young man as we strolled down Borough High Street, guitars in hand, to jam on the Southbank due to the lack of having a lounge in my flat. I always smile when I hear that song.

But the other most enduring collaboration I entered into was when I responded to an ad by a band looking for a violinist, and after I added a violin part to one of their demos, they invited me to start working with them more regularly. I ended up writing and recording the string parts for their album and ended up playing a few gigs with them, including most memorably at a place called La Maroquinerie in Paris in 2012, where the lead singer had moved to for work. 

However, a few years before that, one gig led me to Brockwell Park on 5th June 2010, where the band had been invited to play at an Alice in Wonderland themed event in the park. It was a beautiful warm day, it was a lovely event, and I got chatting to a charming guy who was playing the Mad Hatter in a play version of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. Eight years later, and the Mad Hatter and I live together in the best flat I found on Gumtree. 


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