The point is to be as self-deprecating as possible. These are real adverts that have appeared in the London Review of Books. Some of them really crack me up. Virtually complete male, 63, seeks woman with spares and shed. Box no. 7923. Bald, short, fat and ugly male, 53, seeks short-sighted woman with tremendous sexual appetite. Box no. 9612. This personal column has been poorer without me, so here I am again – hairy-backed Wiltshire troll with definite Stig of the Dump influences (M, 56, jam-jar windows, a fridge made of bike parts, and a sensitive grunt during only the most intimate moments), still searching for that special lady with no sense of touch or smell, and a capacity for overwhelming compromise in certain lifestyle choices. Box no. 3732. You were reading the BBC in-house magazine on the Jubilee line, I was coughing hot tea through my nostrils. Surely you can’t have forgotten? Write now to smitten, weak-kneed, severely burned, bumbling F (32, but normally I look younger). I’ll be quite a catch when my top lip has healed. And this brace isn’t forever. Box no. 7432. Tired of feeling patronised by the ads of this column? Then I’m not the woman for you, little man. Today you may be benighted and insignificant, tomorrow you will be more so. Now off you go. Box no. 2912. Blah, blah, whatever. Indifferent woman. Go ahead and write. Box no. 3253. Like I care. I’ve divorced better men than you. And worn more expensive shoes than these. So don’t think writing this ad is the biggest come-down I’ve ever had to make. Sensitive F, 34. Box no. 6322. Don’t let distance come between us. Or metal bars. Or restricted access. Or the magic sweeties that make the night terrors go away. Write now to bubbly (others say “Maximum Security” but what do they know?) F, 34, before the clowns tell her to do things the clowns shouldn’t do. Box no. 7635. Medication free after all these years! Join me (anxious, overweight, self-harming flautist, F, 34) for congratulatory drink (or seven) in side-ward of nation’s finest. Box no. 4425. Christmas all alone? Unwrapping presents you gave yourself? Bernard Matthews oven-ready? Your troubles are over in the form of obnoxious, drunkard uncle for hire (62). Belches the national anthem in three octaves, scratches inappropriately and is seemingly never satisfied by your very best efforts. Is dinner ready yet – and if not, why not? December will be magic again at Box no. 5610. In a certain light I look like Robert Mitchum. In a certain light you look like Kim Novak. Yes, you’re very unlucky. Now pass me the Doritos and get over it. Box no. 3917. Whatever you are looking for, you won’t find it in any of these other ads. But if you like early morning trips down the Thames, Sunday morning pastries, Saturday afternoons in Richmond Park and spur-of-the-moment trips to Scotland, then join me, sensitive, M, 48. I won’t be participating in any of these sojourns, because most of my time is spent journaling the activities of my neighbours for the daily reports I submit to the local council as part of my ongoing war against sound pollution and over-hanging conifers. But you should be made aware of the options open to you if my vigilance becomes inexplicably tiresome to you. By that point, of course, it will be too late and you’ll have become one of Them. It’s only a matter of time before you have your own paragraphs in my report. The pencil is always sharpened at Box no. 9390. Cut out the headlines from every essay in this edition of the LRB. Remove each occurrence of the letter O. Now rearrange the remaining letters into groups of vowels and consonants. Add up the nearest highest prime number to each. Divide the numbers you’re left with by the number of pages in this issue on which the word ‘station’ first appears. Write both of those numbers on separate pieces of paper, with the word ‘mesmer’ written in pencil beneath each. Now dig a hole in your garden exactly 11 feet deep and put those pieces of paper in it. Fill the hole back up and return to it at the end of June, which just happens to be the sixth month of the year. Coincidence? I think not. Box no. 6138. It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. Unless your house has very low ceilings. In which case, come and view our latest range of spacious waterfront properties. Tasteful new developments, modern décor, off road parking. Ex revolutionary, now beaten but unbroken estate agent (41). I’ve made better pitches than this, you know. And had better looking women than you. Box no. 5643. Make love to me. Or at the very least buy my car. 5 door Astra, J-reg. Good runner. 8 months MOT. 60,000 miles. One careful owner. M, 38, alcoholic, bankrupt, divorced, sleeping in the ex-wife’s Micra. £2,000 ono (sex is extra). Box no. 5342. I am an accountant. Box no. 7542. Must all the women in my life take the witness stand? Serial embezzler, gangster, fly-tipper and – crucially for the prosecution against an otherwise watertight defence – bigamist (M, 48) WLTM easy-going, dizzy fems to 50 who don’t ask too many questions (it’s a busy trip – I’ll be back on Tuesday). Box no. 3663. Your place or your other place? Woman, 32, needful of the finer things in life seeks stinking rich bloke, 80-100. Must be willing to fibrillate his ventricles when he becomes tiresome or bankrupt or both. Also interesting thirtysomethings for illicit and immoral affair to be conducted concurrently with the above. Box no. 1597. That last one is my favorite, by the way.