Ebay it!

Make no bones about it money’s tight at the moment! It’s what comes of being part of “The Squeezed Middle”. But in these times of state imposed austerity where would we be without Ebay?

I discovered it in 2009 after my first son was born. Maternity pay had come to an end. A conversation with a coffee swigging, dopey looking nursery nurse about how she’d record my son’s first word in a tatty lever arch file put the kibosh on me returning to work full-time. Nevertheless bills needed to be paid and the thought of not having any cash of my own made my blood run cold.

So I found ebay…My first sale was a pair of unused red sequinned nipple tassles bought for me by a Director I worked with on a documentary in Manchester just before I got married. Inappropriate? At the time that was exactly what I was thinking as I opened it in full view of the office but that’s tv for you, dahling! However, with their Agent Provocateur packaging still in tact they went for £25 – air kisses all round! Suddenly, clutter became cash in disguise.

I’ve often thought ebay is missing a trick by not doing a timeline for sales and purchases like Facebook. Mine would tell my life story – from those carefree days of tassled pasties to the BabyDan sling in vgc to maternity clothes bundle after baby number 2, armfuls of recycled toys and now salvaged bath taps after our bathroom refurb (19 hours to go and 32 watchers).

My highs have included managing to sell a used breast pump; turning a profit of £30 on a second hand chair I bought for £45 and making a quick £13 on a Bumbo seat I bought for a song at a charity shop (the Portas effect is yet to reach the Samaritans in Willesden Green).

Thankfully, I’ve only had a few bad experiences in my 4 years of ebay buying and selling. Most farcical was a John Lewis mirrored chest of drawers which arrived (eventually) smashed to smithereens in a courier’s van worthy of a bank job that ran out of petrol 300 yards from my front door.

The seller refused to help me get compensation and instead started sending me abusive emails claiming that I led a “charmed life”. After doing a bit of research I discovered she ran a hydroponics shop and I learnt the valuable lesson of checking feedback on sellers before hitting the “confirm bid” button.

I think there comes a point in every ebay user’s life where shopping habits are influenced by a purchase’s resale value. My kids are constantly asking if I’m going to ebay this or that and it has been used as an effective threat to curb bad behaviour!

Next time you’re tempted to read one of those “How to make money in your lunch hour” articles use the time more productively to research the completed listings on ebay and sell your unwanted stuff.

I find the item that went for the most and figure out why…what was the starting bid, how long did the auction run for, when did it end, what does the description say. Another tip is never underestimate the postage. If you can’t stand the idea of queuing in your local Post Office use a courier like myHermes. They’ll pick up from you direct and they often work out cheaper.

It never fails to surprise me what sells from used perfume bottles to this season’s Primark must have…the possibilities are endless. So get selling everything, including the kitchen sink!

Plucking Ukulele

My attempts at playing this four stringed instrument would have George Formby turning in his grave! I may be northern but being born on the other side of the Pennines means I must have missed out on George’s innate sense of rhythm.

uke pic

I’ve always been a sucker for a new fad and for the past few years the “uke”, as it is affectionately known, has been growing in popularity. So when my eldest son was given one for Christmas and I stumbled across Lorraine Bow’s Learn to Uke website I hastily signed myself up for the beginners course.

Four Tuesdays in a pub learning how to strum a few pop classics and the chance to make new friends to jam with along the way. What could be more fun?

To break the ice our teacher Lorraine came up with a novel way for us to introduce ourselves. We simply had to come up with an adjective to describe ourselves beginning with the same first letter as our names. So my first lesson began in the company of “Menopausal Mona”, “Patient Peter” and a French man dubbed “Juicy Julian” by my neighbour (hoping to get)”Lucky Louise”!

I found myself in a mental abyss fighting to find a fitting prefix to Rachel. In the end I settled on “Raring to go” which was the best I could do under pressure. Also infinitely better than “Raunchy” or “Ravishing”, which after my tube journey and with the smell of the kids’ tea clinging to my scruffy outfit I was anything but.

That first dalliance with the uke was exciting and great fun. I learnt how to hold it, tune it and strum with it. In no time at all – with the help of some coloured stickers on the fretboard – we were playing “Every breath you take” and “With or Without You”.

All week, as suggested, I dutifully practised for fifteen minutes every day. I even felt quite smug when asked at the second session who had done their homework.

However, it soon became clear my efforts fell short as the second lesson went at a pace I struggled to keep up with. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the banter and “Dunkirk spirit” of the less able in the group.

In the week that followed my enthusiasm began to wane. After that “second date” with the uke, I found myself thinking of reasons it wouldn’t work in the long run. I realised this was the first course I’d been on which wasn’t going to pay for itself. This time I wasn’t honing my writing skills or recording an oral history interview. There was no way I could see myself ever busking.

By lesson 3 I was being taught the chords for “I Will Survive” but I was floundering. A competitive edge had developed in the group and I felt I had been planted for comedy value in the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

So my final lesson came as something of a relief. I went along with being filmed with the group for a You Tube video bluffing my way through a rendition of “Iko Iko” but little did I know worst humiliation was round the corner. Breaking with the format, Lorraine decided to teach us Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” without the “aide memoire” of the printed sheet.

I knew I was in trouble from the get go. I’m short sighted and wear glasses only in extreme emergencies. I find my myopic world far more bearable. This proved a huge handicap as from my seat in the corner I just couldn’t make out the position of her fingers.

Seeing my ineptitude, Lorraine strongly suggested I sit next to her and then to add insult to injury she expected me to remember four chords in a row!

No amount of repetition made this task any easier for me…At one point Lorraine remarked, “I teach kids with really severe learning difficulties and they can manage this”.

I left with my uke firmly between my legs so to speak! I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I received an email the other day advertising a “slower course”. Whether its remedial enough for me is another matter…