Rhiannon Harries: The secret code of the house-share ad

Urban Notebook
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The Independent Online

Moving in with strangers is always a gamble. It could open your horizons and bring you into contact with a whole new group of fantastically interesting and fun individuals who you'd never have otherwise met. Or it could nurture a new-found hatred of humanity as you discover that some people have moral objections to things like washing up or buying their own milk.

Having to make that decision on the basis of a meagre paragraph and five-minute recce often seems no better than a shot in the dark. And so, with the lease on my flat almost up and my housemates off to pastures new, it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I recently immersed myself in the Babel-like world of Gumtree house-share adverts.

Thankfully, I've come on a lot since previous attempts at decoding the formulae to identify like-minded people, and through some careful textual analysis set about eliminating incompatible groups. The first lot to go were the cutie pies – people who pepper their ads with smiley faces and include hamsters in the housemate count. Yes, it's harsh, but if you're over 12, thinking an emoticon will favourably convey your personality is unforgivable.

Next were the OCD-ish neat freaks, who betray themselves with the use of the word "respectful" 17 times per paragraph and elaborate cleaning rota explanations. Conversely, a high instance of "laid-back" and "chilled" generally translates to "we live like animals".

Then I ruled out the hard-line vegans, who didn't want any non-vegan food in the house, "and that includes canned tuna" (vegans, fine; incredibly patronising vegans, not fine). And the even harder-line all-female household that wouldn't tolerate "smoking, substances, parties or sleepovers".

Finally, I crossed off the people whose ad opened with a declaration that "electronic music is a big part of life in the house".

Which left me with ... no one. Clearly one can become too good at this, which is why I'm moving in with my sister. Although frankly, if she had placed an ad on Gumtree, I'm really not sure she would have made the cut either.

Cider is so last year

You spend ages mastering one fashion, and suddenly everyone has moved on to the next. No, I'm not talking about harem pants, but the obscure forces that dictate what makes a modish choice at the bar.

I'd only just learnt to appreciate proper cider when suddenly all my trendier friends began carting boxes of real ale to festivals this summer and refusing to frequent non-Camra (Campaign for Real Ale) pubs. I'm told local allegiances bring greater credibility, so I've been cutting my teeth on the unexpectedly pleasant offerings of Wickwar Brewery in my native Gloucestershire. I suspect, however, that only being able to manage a half pint might be offsetting my cachet somewhat.