Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ice Ice Baby - Wednesday

I pull slowly into the council car park, the only one I can still use without punitive charges that chase local businesses out of town, even as clueless councillors wonder why there are so many charity shops in the high street?

My wheels spin on the un-gritted surface. For a moment I think the company car is going to slide  rather gracefully into one of the disabled spaces that are always annoyingly free, while I circle endlessly for a space, post appointment. The doctor on call sign doesn’t fool the Nazi wardens who patrol here with zestful malice, as long as it’s not raining, so I might have to lift one of those Blue Disabled parking badges if we get to another deceased estate property before the distant relatives have stripped it.

‘Morning.’ Calls a familiar voice as I step gingerly onto the glistening tarmac, having found a free bay and placed the legitimate taxable-benefit permit in the window. I look up to see the disillusioned banker with the dodgy hips, parked opposite me. Great, now I’ll have to talk to him all the way across the park and on to the office. His job title is only one letter swap away from the truth….

‘Slippery.’ Says the banker as he shuffles towards me and I hope for some black ice and a tumble. The new implant can’t be that well bedded in yet, so a dislocation and a trip to A & E can only be a misplaced foot away.

‘Don’t know why they can’t put salt on the surface.’ I say to the banker, as we slip-slide in some ghastly approximation of Dancing On Ice, towards the exit.
‘Cutbacks.’ He answers, spreading his hands for balance like a cheap tightrope-walker. ‘Same at the bank nowadays, bean counters looking to cut corners, irrespective of the consequences.’

He has a point, my boss is a figure-fiddler par-excellence and to think we used to pinch the sandwiches from that geeky kid who excelled at maths, each school lunchtime. Last I heard he was running some multinational outfit who specialise in buy-ins and turnarounds. Shorthand for asset-stripping, a shed load of redundancies and a pension pot deficit. 

Our musings on middle-aged underachievement are cut short by a pitiful scream and a dull thud. We spin in unison and I make an unseemly grab at the banker's sleeve as my inappropriate brogues, with the leather soles, momentarily betray me. We steady each other like a pair of over-sized fawns on a frozen lake, to see another old person has taken a tumble.

We get several fallers a year outside the office and I always give out cups of tea and the meagre dressing our impoverished First Aid box will allow us to stock, now the health and safety bitches from head office have removed all the drugs and the scissors. I look at it as more of an investment than compassion that might alter the public perception of estate agents. If they croak in the ambulance, the family might find my business card in a handbag and give me the probate sale.

‘Are you alright?’ Asks the banker pointlessly, as we approach the old lady whose head is already bleeding alarmingly. She has a crimson stain spreading through her blue rinse and we can see her thermal underwear, with her legs at such an an ungainly angle. I’m no paramedic, but I’m guessing not.

‘I don’t want to get old.’ Says the banker wistfully, once the ambulance has gone and we resume our journey. It’s the same comment I get several times a week from ancient people contemplating selling the family home for something more manageable, with emergency pull cords in the bathroom. Pointing out the alternative is much less palatable, is always futile.

The park is as treacherous as the car park and I wonder why the council can’t supply those children’s Penguins, you see on ice rinks for stability, as people slide towards work. Probably spent the budget on a drop in centre for trans-gender giraffes with height issues.

‘You’re late.’ Taunts assistant manager T, at the office before me for once.

I let it slide.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Waste Disposal - Wednesday

I’m early to the office again. Sleep patterns seem to become more erratic with age, either that or the stress of ever-climbing sales targets finally upset the bio-rhythms.

‘Morning.’ Says the man sweeping up the takeaway detritus from the previous night’s leisure activities. He just beats two overfed pigeons to the remains of a Kentucky Fried Chicken box. Not sure if that would qualify as some sort of avian cannibalism, but as the mad bag lady who keeps feeding them doesn’t seem to grasp, pigeons are basically flying rats.

‘Busy night again.’ I say to the street cleaner, nodding at the collection of franchised food outlet boxes, he is retrieving. I used to be a punk rocker, and railed agains society for a while, until I needed somewhere to live and a mortgage offer. But the sort of scumbags who can’t even be bothered to find a bin to dispose of their unwanted artery-clogging foodstuff, bring out the angry from middle-England man in me. Obviously, I would never buy the Daily Mail though…

‘They’re a bunch of animals.’ Says the unshaven council employee, with vigour. He’s technically accurate: pig, chicken and a beefy-looking kebab carcass, all in plain sight. The vegetarian take-away doesn’t open late, clearly when you get the boozed-up munchies you want something that used to have a heartbeat to satiate yourself. In any case, the veggies always use the bins, or take their containers home with them. You could almost forgive Linda McCartney for singing on Band On The Run.…

‘What’s the country coming to?’ I ask rhetorically, hoping to move on and get the office opened and the post too.
‘I’d shoot the bastards.’ Suggests the cleaner vehemently. Little extreme. I’m sensing a Brexiteer with a dislike of foreigners and their food. Next time I’ll not engage in platitudes and walk straight past him, like most commuters do. If he dislikes me, I’ll just show him a business card. Nobody loves an estate agent.

‘You are going to have to move mate.’ I say to the prone figure, swathed in cardboard who is slumped in the office doorway.
‘I’m homeless pal, have  a heart.’ Pleads the whiskery man, a waft of cheap alcohol rising from him like cider-laced steam.

‘Sorry, I need to open up the office.’ I tell the vagrant, patience thinner than a supermodel. I sometimes toy with putting some of those anti-tramp spikes in the doorway to solve the rough sleeper problem, but my industry’s image is already poor enough and knowing my luck I’d just impale one of our elderly clients. They hang around the office long enough, without being stuck in the doorway, pinned to the floor and shuffling unsuccessfully like an crumbly extra from The Walking Dead.

‘You lot are part of the problem.’ Says the man, as I finally get him to gather up his meagre belongings and shamble towards one of the charity shop doorways. They won’t open for a while and it’s an amusing test of their benevolence to see if they’ll move him on.

We’re not part of the problem actually, I think, as I pick up the post and feel a stinging pain run down my leg. F**k, bend your knees you idiot. How many times do you need to be told?

‘We just reflect the market.’ I say to the empty office, my voice bouncing round the void. The talking to myself is becoming an issue. ‘It’s supply, demand and the availability of finance.’ I continue, as I fill the kettle and line up everyone’s mug. I’m probably the biggest one. I don’t know why I’m still here, and I don’t know what to do about it.

Glancing at the office diary, my mood sinks a little further. Selling isn’t for the faint-hearted. You need the resilience of any rough sleeper, you just get screwed over in a warmer environment.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m sat on my own, tea cooling, morning meeting notes prepared. I glance at the clock, they’re all cutting it fine today. That recurring fear that everyone will ring in sick on the same day rises.

It’s rubbish.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Number Theory - Tuesday

The rain continues to fall as I stand under a dripping entrance canopy to a 1970s built, block of flats. The decade was almost entirely devoid of architectural merit and the building is showing signs of wear. I need to be positive when the viewers arrive, not easy with a burgeoning maintenance bill, sinking fund with a hole the size of the Channel tunnel and a tired lease with onerous ground rent terms.

I’m five minutes early for the viewing but don’t want to go inside to the relative comfort of the dated flat. Parking here is notoriously difficult, with draconian signs threatening clamping and towing screwed to the walls at the back, beside the scant number of parking spaces. A potential buyer having their car removed while assessing the friendliness of the neighbourhood won’t hasten a sale, so I’m ready to guide the viewers to a safe spot where the absent owners are allowed to park. My car is in a slightly riskier space, but the trusty Doctor On Call badge has been dusted off again. So far, so good…

‘Who are you?’ Asks a frail voice that appears to have materialised out of nowhere. Momentarily I think a ghost has accosted me. It’s fairly well known at least two residents have fallen from the upper floors of this block - not that I’m about to broadcast it. One supposedly jumped in her dressing gown and another was rumoured to have tumbled while cleaning a set of those early tilt-and-turn windows, before they added the safety bars.

Sensing movement and the faint smell of mothballs, I turn to see an elderly lady has exited the communal door behind me. She’s looking at me with a mixture of fear and suspicion, understandable at her age. A man in a suit is either an estate agent or an undertaker, neither of whom are that welcome.

I flash her my best smile, although I’ve ducked the hygienist for the last two visits. At that the price the Bulgarian woman is like a giggly vampire - having a laugh and drawing blood.

‘I’m the estate agent.’ I tell her, flashing my business card. She scowls at me and I get the impression she might have preferred the mortician.
‘Which flat is for sale?’ She demands aggressively. Bit of a dilemma, what with client confidentiality, but it’s best not to antagonise folk in these buildings. They have memories longer than the lease has left to run. I tell her.

‘Good.’ She says firmly. “They never really fitted in.’ Charming. I need to lose her before the potential buyers turn up or I might as well go home now.
‘How much are they selling for?’ Demands the fiesty old goat. She’s obviously not got the Internet or she’d know already. People under sixty seek out property porn with an insatiable vigour, but like actual porn, those involved at the proddy end get desensitised and slightly soiled. I tell her the asking price.

‘How much?’ She shouts angrily. ‘They’re giving it away.’ They’re not. The problems here are legion and I’m not sure any lender will advance on the place without an expensive lease extension from the greedy, intransigent, freeholder.

‘You lot are all just crooks in suits.’ Mutters the old bag as she wheels her tartan shopping trolly towards the entrance gate. We’re really not - not all of us anyway.

I glance at my watch and hope this isn’t going to be another no-show. The number of people who book viewing and then don’t arrive, remains constant throughout the year. In days gone by - pre-mobile phones - you’d just was until fifteen minutes after the appointed time, then go back to the office angry. Now I ring the office. Nobody answers and my mood darkens, just as the clouds do.

Where the hell is everyone? I ponder crossly. They should answer within three rings. I could be someone important wanting to give us business, not just an angsty middle-aged man who should have paid more attention at school.

Twenty minutes after the appointment time I go back to the office damp and dismal. The no-show viewer’s mobile phone is switched off.

Next time round, I’ll do my maths homework.


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Expletives Deleted - Wednesday

The rain is travelling horizontally into my face as I battle towards the car park. Sometimes I wish I could jettison my man of the people credentials and not be compelled to, occasionally, do the crappy unwanted jobs. A viewing with a time-waster in a monsoon didn’t get many volunteers, so magnanimously I volunteered, just to prove I’m not above these things. I’m an idiot.

‘Nice day for it.’ I say to a young girl forlornly shoving a pushchair through the puddles. She looks like she should be at school, but clearly bunked-off the lesson on contraception. And they wonder why there’s not enough affordable housing - try finishing the Girl Guides’ badges before giving birth, maybe?

The drenched teenage mum just scowls at me suspiciously. It clearly wasn’t the charm school she periodically attended.
‘I meant the rain.’ I say as she passes me, wheels on the buggy veering away from my path. I get a soggy scowl in return. Perhaps she knows I’m an estate agent? Either that or has me pinned as a weirdo, loser type - about the same now I come to think of it…

As I wait, kerbside, to cross the road to the bleak-looking park I hear an engine revving. Instinctively I step back just as a sign-written Mini, sweeps towards some standing water. The cascade of oily airborne puddle, rises like a surfer’s wave and dumps several gallons at my feet.
‘Bastard!’ I yell as the car sweeps past, a smarmy-looking face at the condensation streaked window, grinning malevolently. I’ll pull a couple of his For Sale boards down later. Probably… 

Halfway across the park I loose my footing and slide like a geriatric Bambi towards a park bench. My back wrenches audibly and a sharp stinging pain radiates down one leg. I should have pulled rank and sent trainee F.
‘F***ing shoes.’ I shout angrily, just as an old lady, bent double, shuffles in to my peripheral vision.
‘What was that love?’ She asks, rain dripping from her whiskery chin.
‘Just cursing the weather.’ I say with a sheepish grin. Fortunately she appears half deaf, so the actual curse seems to have passed her by, which is what I do before she decides to stop and talk. Thats the supermarket checkout operator’s job.

Another malicious gust of wind whips up spent leaves and possibly the odd syringe, as I pass the bleak toilets block with those unhelpful ultraviolet lights that might make it difficult to find an unblown vein to shoot-up, but also guarantee you’ll miss the urinal and piss on your already soggy shoes.

I can feel the milk of human kindness curdling by the time I reach the car park and start searching vainly for where I left the motor. Water is trickling down my neck, the clipboard in one hand is as slippery as an A4 eel, and the leather soles on my favourite brogues are drawing up moisture as eagerly as a desiccated dromedary at an oasis. Then my mobile rings.

‘What the f**k now?’ I bellow into the storm clouds, another swear box penalty despatched cheaply into the ether. The office number is flashing insistently at me. If those tosspots have cancelled the viewing I might actually combust - it it wasn’t for the unfavourable ignition conditions…

I stab a damp digit at the screen and get negotiator S’s dulcet tones. My blood pressure falls slightly.
‘Are you at your car yet?’ She asks softly. I stare around the rainswept tarmac, spaces too tight together for half of the lumbering Chelsea tractors sat there, while the yummy-mummies shop. The only chance of the four-wheel drive ever being engaged on 95% of the vehicles, will be if this weather lasts for another month

‘I’m just about to find it.’ I say, irritation rising. My hand instinctively goes for my trouser pocket as I imagine another forlorn walk round the pride of Germany’s motor industry, blipping the remote angrily while trying to spot some hazard lights winking in recognition. Last time it was the wrong car park.

‘You’ll need your keys - that are in my hand.’ Says S apologetically.

F**k. F**k. F**k.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Frosty The Groanman - Thursday

‘Are you going to need to defrost the car this morning?’ Asks my wife as she arrives in her dressing gown. The kitchen lights are blazing, it’s still dark outside and I can’t really blame her for still being in nightwear. I’m just pissed off I’m in a suit, with trousers a little snugger than I remember, with a cold day ahead of me - and that’s before I try and speak to that frosty solicitor in the chain of seven, I’ve been chasing.

‘Already on it.’ I tell my wife, looking in the cupboard and wondering where she’s hidden all the sugary cereal options? She’s noticed the waistband issue too and the only Frosties now to be found seem to be hanging off my car door mirrors.

‘Do you mean you’ve been out on the drive in your pyjamas again?’ She quizzes. ‘’No, that was only once,’ I reply sniffily. ‘And nobody saw me.’
‘Just as well, or the house values would plummet faster than the temperature.’ 

Great, everybody is a property expert - except, curiously, the ones you'd hope would be. But enough about on-line call-centres masquerading as the real thing.

‘So you’ve left the car running, outside?’ Continues my wife, as I vainly shift three boxes of morning repast, herbivore food. Still nothing with any more processing than a hippy shovelling bran droppings and nuts into an eco-friendly box a four year old could have constructed, with leftover packaging from an Amazon delivery..

‘I’m hoping someone might steal it.’ I reply, giving up on the dusty scraping from a stable floor and heading to the bread bin.
‘Wasn’t there a memo about that, warning it would be a disciplinary offence?’ She asks. Nothing much gets past her.

‘It’s the only way I’ll get a new company car before this one is a collector’s item.’ I grumble, as I realise there’s no white bread in sight, just a seedy, uncut offering, that will probably shatter another filling if I munch down on it.

My rival manager, the vertically challenged H, is awaiting another new German car after hitting his year end target with three months to spare. I’m stuck with the poorly bolted together effort from what remains of Britain’s car industry. It seems even opportunist thieves round my way can’t be arsed to steal a base model Vauxhall with less extras than a sixth-former’s film project. Either that, or they are still in bed on such a chilly morning.

‘I’m not sure it’s good for the environment.’ Says my wife as I pick at the toasted granary off-cut I’ve opted for. Needless to say it’s burnt down one side and still cold on the other. I can’t cut a slice of bread straight to safe my life and my toaster purchases run in to double figures, yet I’ve still to find one that is fit for purpose. I’ve a good mind to write to James Dyson, or perhaps take a couple of slices to the local motorway services and thrust them in one of those air-blade machines - although pubic hairs on your breakfast isn’t too appetising either…

‘Not sure no longer warming my car up on the drive, so I can see where I’m going is going to, will make much difference to the ozone layer while China’s factories pour out unchecked emissions.’ I respond prissily.

‘That’s not a good attitude.’ She tells me officiously, stabbing at her smartphone to see if either of our sons wants to talk to her. I could point out the irony here - her hand-held communication device was almost certainly soldered together by a small, dark-haired,oval-eyed individual, with a persistent cough and a lung complaint.

Her words ringing in my ears, the exact words I heard when I spoke to the bean counter boss last and moaned about our unachievable office targets,I slip-slide on to the drive. The car screen has cleared and the exhaust plume isn’t quite so voluminous. 

‘Lucky nobody stole that.’ Says the anally-retentive car washer next door, as he pulls his pristine motor from a garage that can actually accommodate a car.

I give him the cold shoulder.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Couples Reunited - Wednesday

‘Got another matrimonial valuation for you.’ Says negotiator S with a rueful shrug.
It’s that time of year again. Along with short-lived diets and gym memberships, couples decide it’s about time they ditched their partner along with the pies.

‘Are they serious?’ I ask flatly. Quite often these things settle down after the enforced togetherness of extended Christmas and New year breaks. Couples go back to routines of work and childcare and decide to muddle on, as the annoying habits of their other half are mitigated by time apart.

‘Well they weren’t talking to each other when they came in.’ Says S with a grimace. ‘They communicated through me.
‘Terrific.’ I mumble. ‘Children?’
‘Two.’ Answers S.
It just gets better.

No matter how many times separating couples tell themselves it will be beneficial for the children, that they’ll have quality time alternate weekends, that it’s for the offsprings’ welfare. It isn’t. Trust me I know. It’s the selfishness of adults, pure and simple. The kids would walk through fire and broken glass to avoid a broken home. Saturday sessions in the cinema and a not very happy meal at McDonalds are no replacement for the security of your own room and your own parents.

‘Are you sure they don’t want a formal valuation for court purposes?’ I probe. Often the estate agent is just a stooge giving a free valuation that will be waved in court as the couple argue over who gets what and who has to pay what. If that’s the case they’ll have to pay for a surveyor to carry out a formal appraisal, in writing, one that can be used by the lawyers. If they have no intention of selling I have no intention of wasting my time.

‘I did press them. Individually, obviously as they weren’t communicating directly.’ Says S. ‘But they are adamant they’ll be selling and splitting the proceeds.’
Maybe not once I’ve given them a reality check, I think ruefully, and almost certainly not once the lawyers get involved. Matrimonial solicitors at law LLP- misery and prolonged conflict our speciality…

‘Tell him I’m not changing my mind.’ Instructs the stony-faced woman when I’m sat in their cramped two bed flat, later. So now I know who’s been playing away. Men can be so stupid. The bloke looks suitably shame-faced and a bit beaten. Just wait until he hears what it will cost him, it would have been cheaper and less painful to to pay a Dominatrix by the hour.

‘How soon can you have it on the market?’ Presses the woman as I catch sight of a frightened face peering around the lounge door. A little boy with fear and confusion in his eyes looks at me like a startled rabbit and I’m sent tumbling back forty years.

‘Tell her we don’t know how much it will fetch yet.’ Says the man, via me. He has a point. They paid over the odds for this dark flat, the lease isn’t all it could be, the management company are a bunch of shitesters and there’s a rumoured hole in the sinking fund - and one in the flat roof.

‘We’re selling no matter what. Tell him that.’ Instructs the woman. I’m pretty sure he heard. Suddenly as I prepare myself to give them the bad news, I see another smaller figure in the door frame. A cherubic little girl is clutching her brother’s hand and a small Princess whatever-her-name-is doll, from Disney’s Frozen. It’s frostier here.

For f**ks sake just talk to each other and work it out, I want to scream. It’s a whole lot lonelier and chillier out on your own, particularly as you’ll need to find about twenty grand to pay off the mortgage company’s shortfall. This is a waste of time. They should have called a counsellor. I hit them with the price.

The small boy laughs and his sister puts a hand to her mouth.
‘Umm, mummy said a bad word.’ Says the boy gleefully.

‘We’re not giving it away.’ Sing the pair in unison.

I like to think I’m doing my bit for society.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Nearly New - Tuesday

The company car has been running on the drive for a good ten minutes. It’s probably de-frosted by now and the bag of nails rattling sound indicates nobody has stolen it, so I guess it’s time to go.

‘Good luck.’ Mutters my wife with a chilly peck on the cheek.
‘For today? In general? Or for the year?’ I fire back icily.
She raises her eyes to the ceiling. ‘Whatever you want it to be.’ She eventually offers, with a slight shrug. I’m in fourth gear and just about able to see out through the misty screen, by the time I realise I’ve been a complete arse again. But then as an estate agent you do have certain stereotypes to live down to….

Sales people hate the new week, month, quarter and most of all year. It’s when the targets are at their most distant and your progress towards them zero. As another year begins I can’t help that overwhelming wave of melancholy.  It’s so much more than just post-Christmas regret at the excess of sweets and mince pies, and the forthcoming dispiriting trip to Marks and Spencer to queue at the returns counter, after all the mis-judged purchases were either inappropriate or the wrong size.

One year I came in to the office, already depressed by the fact the week was short and my sales on nought, to find two deals had fallen through over the Bank Holiday. So I began the mountainous climb, on minus two. Think I comfort ate all the remaining Bounty bars in the office tub.

On the grid-locked dual carriageway, I once again see the same blank faces, slightly chubbier around the jowls maybe, but empty in every other way. The only people exceeding their sales targets this week will be the impossibly trim and cheery waifs flogging gym membership at the health clubs and fitness centres. Come March they won’t be so unstintingly upbeat.

My mobile rings insistently and I realise I haven’t connected the wretched Bluetooth headset I can’t abide. As the traffic has stopped again, I risk a quick glance at the screen and see trainee F’s number flashing. If he’s calling in sick because he’s drunk too many pints of Jagermeister, or whatever vile un-naturally coloured alcohol he sinks, I’ll finally bite the bullet and start the torturous dismissal procedure.

‘Yes?’ I demand, having swiped to answer.
‘Happy New year boss.’ Says the imbecile, with an discernible croak to his voice. Unless it’s terminal, I’m not going to be happy.

‘Don’t tell me you are calling in sick.’ I say bluntly. There’s a long pause and some sort of hand over mouth muttering. It sounds like his flaky on-off girlfriend is in the room. I don’t even want to imagine if she’s on, or off. 

‘Well?’ I demand, as the traffic starts to move and I get a disapproving look from a woman in a four-by-four. At least I’m not killing polar bears lady, I want to scream - until I remember my lengthy de-icing period while my car chugged fumes into the atmosphere and I chugged  Cornflakes with too much sugar.

‘Err, no.’ Answers F unconvincingly. ‘I just wanted to be the first to wish you a Happy New Year.’
‘You didn’t - and you’re not the first.’ I reply uncharitably.
‘…and to say I might be a bit late,’ continues F. ‘It’s not my fault though.’ He volunteers, in the now time-honoured default position of anyone under thirty. ‘The car is iced up.’

My cold blast of sarcasm vented, I punch the call to a close and we’re off again. Stop-starting all the way in to town where I find the car parking charges have gone up again. This clueless council won’t be happy until the whole town consists only of coffee shops, charity units and whichever estate agents make if through the inevitable freeze.

‘Spare some change for a cuppa?’ Pleads one of the park bench winos, as I slip-slide towards the office. Any money extorted won’t be for tea and as I’m doing Dry January you can too, I think as I step gingerly on. Not sure what he and his pisshead mates will do when everyone is using contactless payment, probably get a card reader and a decent 4G signal.

The office window looks as I left it, except one of the timers for the lights seems to have failed again and at least one bulb in the working side is out. I could leave it until February and I doubt anyone else in my office would notice. Instead I make a mental note to order some new halogen units before they stop making them, those things eat power.

The office feels cold and unwelcoming as I hurry inside.

And so it begins.