Life I've been a member of the Liverpool Freecycling Network for a few months. It's a message board at Yahoo! upon which people can list items that they don't want any more and anyone with an interest can offer to pick it up. For free. About a hundred emails pop through a day and there's a whole vast range of items -- everything from baby clothes to radios to toys to car parts to, even, computers.

Essentially when you spot something, you email the person and who then emails you back if you've been selected and you agree a time for pick up. Not driving I'm fairly selective of which 'ads' I answer -- usually only those within possible walking distance. I've answered a fair few offers but the people must be inundated, especially if its something of real value, so I've never actually had a return -- until the other night when someone agreed to let me have some paperbacks.

I emailed back and we duly agreed at time and I was given their address. It was just around the park so I popped out after tea. Let's examine this pattern of behaviour -- I was going to the house of total stranger who is going to give me some books. If I was actually doing anything wrong it would sound like the worst excuse in the world. Anyway, I followed the circumference of the park until I found the address, wondering what would happen when I got there -- what would they be like?

I rang the bell. The husband of the freecycler answered (she was out visiting relatives) and said he would come to the door. He's upstairs in the flat and I watch him through the glass frontage of the stairwell, sloping down, a tall man -- difficult to judge his age -- mid-40s? He opens the door and I smile but he says nothing and he hands me a large footlocker bag. I thank him, but before I can wish him good night, the doors closed in my face and he's back up the stairs. The cocoon had been opened just enough to pass the merchandise over.

Isn't that interesting? It's almost as though he didn't want to know where the books were going, just that they were out of the house. I was pretty bemused -- that in the way we live now, someone can commit an act of kindness -- giving something away gratis, but want to be as little aware of the person they're doing it for as possible. But perhaps that's as it should be -- I could quite possibly have been a crazy sick lunatic wanting to make friends with the person I don't know, so the reaction was entirely understandable.

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