Monday, September 03, 2018

Community Couldn't Care - Monday

'Here comes the village idiot.’ Announces assistant manager T, moving from his vigil at the office window and scuttling back to his desk.
‘Do you want to narrow it down a bit?’ Says loose lettings lush B, shaking her head.
‘Technically it’s the town nutter, rather than a village loonie.’ Adds fat finance man M, en-route to the kitchen.
‘You lot are so nasty,’ say negotiator S with a more alluring shake than B managed. ‘Most of these people are just lonely.’

S is preternaturally optimistic, an admirable trait given our profession, but it can’t last. We get far too many disappointments and setbacks to remain that upbeat for ever.

I move towards the window to see which particular loony tunes is heading towards our office. Ever since the local authority cut funding for the old unstable and lost, then called that lack of funding and compassion, care in the community, the trickle of muttering nut-jobs has become a torrent. And with all the local libraries shutting they often head for any shop or office without one of those security guards, the up-market jewellers have on the door.

‘It’s old mother Tucker.’ I say glumly. It’s not her real name obviously, but it stuck after T bestowed the moniker on the sad old crone after her third visit in a week, wanting to find a bungalow to suit her infirm husband. He’s been dead five years now, but just like the fact that she won’t find a single-storey dwelling to suit on her budget, it doesn’t seem to register.

‘What is it with these people, don’t they have homes to go to?’ Questions trainee F.
‘Only empty ones.’ Answers S, with the sort of compassion that means she can be the one to talk to Mrs Tucker for the next twenty minutes.

‘My theory remains true.’ I say, wistfully.
‘What theory is that?’ Asks M waddling back from the kitchen with a mug of tea, three sugars, and nothing for anyone else.
‘The eighty/twenty rule.’ I tell him hesitantly, starting to realise this might not go well. Even with my maths the office numbers mean some offence will be taken.

‘Eighty/twenty rule?’ Quizzes S, with a pretty pout.
‘He means eighty percent of the people you meet are idiots, charlatans or time-wasters.’ Enlightens T.
‘I’d say higher than that.’ Adds B.
‘But,’ begins F hesitantly, looking round the office. ‘Doesn’t that mean……’
‘Too small a sample to provide a reliable survey.’ I tell him hurriedly, as the door opens and in stumbles Mrs Tucker.

I know it’s sad. I know these people are damaged and chronically lonely, but if I wanted to help the community that much I’d have become a social worker. Talking to oddballs and the emotionally unstable is only an option if they have a home to sell, or rent. Failing that they can push their empty pram somewhere else. It doesn’t pay my bills. 

What? People don’t like estate agents anyway,  I’m never going to win a popularity contest.

‘So you want something with no stairs, then your husband can live and sleep on one level?’’ Says S patiently.
He won’t be living anywhere. And his only level is six foot under - or the mantelpiece depending on how they dispatched him.
‘And he likes to be able to look out at a garden.’ Adds MrsTucker, with a faraway, gummy smile.
The mantelpiece then.

‘You will post me details if something comes along, won’t you?’ Pleads the sad old woman, as S gently ushers her to the door. This is the last generation without email and internet.
‘I have your contact information.’ Answers S, slightly disingenuously. It’ll be in the bin before Mrs Tucker is through the door of our rivals.

‘Or you could ring me.’ Suggests MrsTucker hopefully. ‘Only I don’t always have my hearing aide in on account of the battery running down.’ Perfect.

‘God save us from the mentalists.’ Says T, after the old woman has gone.
‘Don’t judge, that could be you one day.’ Chides S.
‘Only if he has the operation.’ Says B, with a laugh before adding. ‘And it’s becoming very topical, you could probably get a grant.’

Man - I feel like a woman.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Happy Daze - Tuesday

I'm early and the car park is fairly empty. They’ve tried to drive commuters in cars out of town with an expensive park and ride scheme, funded by local taxpayers, but guess what? If people have cars, they want to drive them.

I tried the park and ride once, but apart from being too far out of town I then had to wait fifteen minutes for a bus that didn’t take me to where I wanted to be. It’s not as if you can have a couple of pints after work either, because the bus times are sparser still and you still have to drive home.

Back aching, brief case heavy, I pass the pay and display machine and see the price has gone up again and then see a planning notice. I always read planning notices, there’s a possible lead for future sales with every one. This one isn’t too helpful though, the local authority are giving notice of intentions to close the car park and sell it off, so some pension fund can build student flats. Not even sensibly-priced homes for first time buyers, just a dash for cash with no joined-up thinking. No wonder town centre retail is dying.

‘Hold-up there mate.’ Calls a familiar voice as I head for the park. It’s not a phrase I want to hear. At my age and dealing with annoying people every day, the last thing I need is new friends - or as in this case an old acquaintance thinking he is one. It’s the banker with the dodgy hips.

‘Thought you didn’t hear me for a moment.’ Wheezes the money-lender, as he catches me up with a lop-sided hobble. I pretended not to.
‘Long time no see.’ He says with a yellowy-toothed grin. I know he’s about my vintage and I don’t need any further demoralising reminders of the ageing process. The shaving mirror has that covered.

‘How’s tricks?’ I reply, thinking most of your deceptions have been rumbled Shylock, since the PPI miss-selling fiasco. Not to mention discredited accident sickness and redundancy policies that didn’t pay out - unless you tripped over a Smallpox sufferer and lost your job in the civil service….

‘Crap.’ Says the banker flatly. Terrific. If I wanted manic depressive I could have stayed in my car.
‘Not shifting many mortgages then?’ I ask, wishing the walk across the park away, even if it means opening the office post and finding a solicitor’s letter telling me a buyer has pulled-out and not had the balls to tell me.

‘It’s all about sales and add-on policies.’ Bemoans the banker, with a familiar diatribe. ‘It’s not the same bank I joined from school.’
Too right it isn’t bucko. You’ve shut half your outlets and I can’t find a single teller position open, when I try to pay cheques in at lunch time. Solicitors still send them and will be one of the last professions to embrace on-line banking.

‘And did I tell you my new boss is only just out of university?’ Says the man, puffy face turning florid. He did.
‘And she’s a woman.’ He adds, unnecessarily. The she prefix gave that away.
‘Better get used to that.’ I tell him. 
‘She’ll be pregnant and on maternity before long.’ Says the banker, with a look of distain. So, not his love child then.

‘All they want to do is cut costs, sell over-priced product and flog expensive accounts with monthly charges.’ Continues the banker. He’s struggling to keep up with me and doesn’t seem to have noticed I’ve picked up the pace by fifty percent.

‘I thought you were going to take redundancy and finish early?’ I say, as we swerve an early-morning beggar, with a can of super-strength lager in his hand.
‘Have a nice day anyway, gents.’ Says the rough-looking man, slurred voice heavy with sarcasm. You’ll probably have a better one I think, at least you’ll be pissed by lunchtime.

‘I reckon the whole economy could go belly-up, with all this financial uncertainty and this Brexit shambles.’ Concludes the banker, before adding. ‘Have a good day.’

It’s unlikely.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Chain Chain Chain - Tuesday

‘Mrs Waterman has been on the phone crying again.’ Says assistant manager T, when I return to the office. I sigh heavily and wonder if her husband realised the irony of his new wife being a serial-blubberer, when she took his name.

It’s not news that home moving is a stressful business, so I don’t know why I’m still surprised when the whole fractured process reduces people to tears. I just try to leave my crying until all the staff have gone home - although the office cleaner has stumbled in on a few awkward, soggy-tissue, moments….

‘What is it this time?’ I ask, shrugging off my jacket and wondering if I can spin the suit’s use out for another week before it has to go to the dry cleaner again. Nothing worse than a whiffy estate agent. It won’t win you any business if you arrive at someone’s home reeking of stale sweat and disappointment, even if their house stinks of pampered pets.

‘The first-time buyers at the bottom of the chain are pulling out.’ Answers T, with a shake of his head.
‘Does it matter, they live on the other side of the country, so we can’t help.’ Says T, wearily.
‘Probably not.’ I reply. ‘But you need to try every angle.’
‘You told her to go with the other bidder,’ says negotiator S joining the conversation. ‘It’s her fault for being greedy.’

S has a point, two very prominent ones, as it happens. When two parties were jostling for the Waterman’s home, I managed to negotiate a higher offer from both, without resorting to the unprofessional and ultimately destructive practice of revealing the other sides offer to each bidder, in a clumsy Dutch auction.

‘Give me your best offer and I’ll put it to my clients.’
‘But we need to know how much they’ve bid.’
You don’t. It’s a private treaty. And if you did, you’d only top it by a few pounds, in a spoiler bid. I’m here to get then the best possible price from the best possible bidder.
Turns out I only managed half of that equation.

‘I’d probably advise to go with the slightly lower offer, having looked at their position.’ I’d said to the Watermans.
‘You would say that wouldn’t you.’ Retorted Mr W. ‘It’s not your money.’
And it wont be yours either, if the chain of seven breaks somewhere along the protracted process, I’d thought. A chain of three, with no mortgage needed on two of the participants, was the better bet. You can tell people, but the won’t always listen when the pound signs are flashing in their head.

‘It doesn’t pay the bills by being right.’ I say to S and she looks at me gloomily.
‘People are complete f***ers.’ She replies, throwing her arms open and looking at the swear box.
An inappropriate response spools though my brain, but then I’m on to more pressing matters. How to save this deal.

Several phone calls later, I’ve discovered the first time buyers are splitting up, so short of a three hundred mile drive, some more tissues and a relationship counselling session, we’re looking for a new buyer. Needless to say the underbidder has found something else. It is worth a quick call, to try and ruin another agent’s day but I suspect the couple will tell the Waterman’s to twist. They do.

‘Why is this happening to us?’ Snuffles Mrs Waterman when I’m sat in her lounge, later.
Because you don’t listen to professional advice, I ache to say.
‘Look at the state of this place.’ She whines, waving at the removal firm's  boxes strewn everywhere. Yes, I told her not to start packing until contracts were exchanged - but once again….

‘I’m starting to think we just call the whole thing off.’ Says Mr Waterman.
Noooo, don’t do that fella.I’ve spent score of hours on this, not to mention the adverting, staff and viewing costs. You wouldn’t get this level of commitment from the on-line call-centre cowboys. They take the money up front then have no vested interest in whether you stay or go.

Late accompanied viewing tonight. Wish me luck.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Work Experience - Friday

‘The guy from the local comprehensive school wants to come and see you later.’ Says assistant manager T, as I re-enter the office.
‘Been hanging around the gates again?’ Asks bloated mortgage man M, with an unpleasant chuckle.
‘That’s not even funny.’ Snaps negotiator S, leaping to my defence. ‘There’s enough weirdos out there without you making tasteless jokes about them.’

S still hasn’t got over that oddball who made her uncomfortable on a viewing last week. He was probably harmless, but you can’t be too careful. We’ve lost good people before and we always know where our female staff are, and they have rigid emergency procedures for tricky situations. The blokes can just fend for themselves….

‘He doesn’t want me to do another talk on careers does he?’ I ask T, ignoring M who waddles back to his office, trouser material chaffing audibly.
‘Unlikely after the last effort.’ Says lettings’ lush B, with a laugh. ‘ How many turned up?’
‘Enough.’ I reply, grouchily.
‘Yes but how many?’
‘This really isn’t relevant.’ I say.
‘Double figures?’

The problem is people really don’t warm to estate agents and I can’’t even blame them. I don’t like 90% of my profession - or trade to be more accurate. The standard response to revealing your job, is at best a groan of derision and on one occasion for me a threat of imminent violence. Just recently I watched one of those television dating programmes and the poor girl who reluctantly revealed her role to the potential suitor, actually put her hands over her face and said, ‘please don’t hate me.’

‘No, not a careers talk this time.’ Continues T. ‘He is trying to place some year eleven pupils on work experience but each employer needs to be vetted.’
‘Year eleven?’ I ask, still bewildered.
‘You used to call them fifth-formers.’ Answers T, with a shake of his head. And I understand they’ve just changed all the grades for GCSEs. I’m a man out of time.

‘Good luck getting a green light on vetting in this place.’ Says B, nodding towards M’s office.
‘He wouldn’t molest a child.’ I say abruptly.
‘He might eat one though.’ Says T, laughing.

‘How come the grammar school never wants to place pupils in estate agents’ offices?’ Asks S.
‘Because only the comp thickos, who don’t have any qualifications think they can do your job.’ Announces M, back from his lair and possibly irked at overhearing our conversation. He never misses a chance to remind everyone he has passed quite onerous financial services exams. I voluntarily sat my estate agency exams years ago, but apart from the depth of industry knowledge it gave me, nobody has ever asked me for them.

‘Are we going to get one to play with?’ Asks trainee F, sensing a chance for someone junior to him joining us.
‘You don’t play with them.’ Chides S. ‘And you lot better not think you are having some naive girly in a short skirt to letch over.’
‘That won’t be happening. ‘ I say seriously.
‘I wouldn’t mind a young boy to boss around.’ Says B, completely undermining any feminist solidarity with S.

Stern lecture on the correct way to respect others in the workplace issued, albeit somewhat half-heartedly, I retire to my office. I’m really not sure I can be arsed with all the paperwork that comes with a work placement. And some self-entitled snowflake who balks at answering the phone or photocopying and thinks they get to drive a flash car and have the keys to homes they’ll never live in, is more than I need. Particularly if they burst in to tears at the first harsh word from a punter, like the last one.

‘Not sure it’s worth the aggravation.’ I say later, once I’ve studied the email from the school and the list of health, safety and insurance questions to be satisfied, before some delicate flower with acne and an attitude is allowed through our door.

‘Oh go on boss, it will be fun.’ Presses F.
It won’t.

‘It will give a young person valuable experience.’ Suggests S, with a warm smile.
It might.

‘You’ll probably find nobody wants to come anyway.’ Says T. ‘People really dislike us.’

They do.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Pint-Sized Problems - Thursday

‘What are you drinking?’ Asks H, my vertically-challenged, rival manager.

We’re in the pub that sits between our two office areas’ boundaries and I’m already regretting the meeting. Hearing him crow about how well his office is doing, isn’t going to lift my mood and if he wants a therapist to unload on, I’d rather he pay for the privilege. Still, he has enquired about my alcohol requirements….

‘I’d like a pint of best.’ I tell him, wondering if I have actually misjudged the little squirt.
‘Great.’ He says, heading towards a table. ‘ I’ll have the same.’
Nope. Haven’t misjudged him at all.

‘How far off your target are you? Asks H, quaffing a surprisingly big slurp of beer for such a short-arse. He knows. We see the electronic stats every week.
‘It’s recoverable.’ I say, weakly, parroting the same line I give my, equally odious, bean-counter boss every time he asks the same question.

‘We’re at the mercy of the market, those clueless arseholes in government and the bank rate.’ Says H sweepingly.
Plus, if you have the best office location in the group, a town with full employment and hardly any crappy leasehold flats with greedy freeholders rinsing the elderly lessees it helps, I want to say.

‘And now they’ll be giving all the wastrel junkies and single mothers longer tenancy agreements and fixed rents, if the left-wing loonies get more power.’ Continues H. ‘An investor landlord will become an endangered species at this rate.’
H won’t feature on any Labour party candidate long-list, in a hurry.

‘And how do you reckon you’ll do by year end?’ I ask reluctantly, after H has blown himself out ranting about those less-fortunate than himself - except in the height department.
‘Cream it, as usual.’ Says H, with a smug grin. He was just itching to tell me what I already knew. Bastard.

‘You can’t keep talent down, no matter how may ill-advised politicians meddle with the market.’ Says H, warming to his theme and getting towards the end of his pint. I begin to hear just white noise and start wondering if he’ll put his short hand into those deep pockets and actually buy me a drink, before we head our respective ways.

H is so self-satisfied and sure of himself; born of years selling in a boom town, with high demand, a shortage of properties and decent competition, coupled with easy lending. I sometimes wish I could be shallow enough to exude such unshakable myopic believe in my own ability - but then show me a person lacking self-doubt and I’ll show you a psychopath, or a simpleton.

‘You need to get your lot on individual targets, rack up the pressure on them to sell.’ Suggests H, draining his pint and looking covetously towards the bar. If he’s left his wallet in the office again, I’ll swing for the parsimonious pigmy.

‘It’s divisive.’ I say, referring to the fact that my staff pool their commission. ‘And if you ask me, the vendors get a poorer service if nobody wants to take ownership of anything other than their own deals.’
‘Figures don’t lie.’ Responds H.
It’s your lucky location, I want to shout. But unless you have access to a jump racecourse and a good knackers’ yard, flogging dead horses isn’t a sustainable plan.

‘Maybe you’ve just been doing this too long.’ Suggests H, after he’s lectured me on the benefits of treating your staff like disposable ledger entries and discarding anyone who falters, with the ruthless efficiency of fellow midget dictators. Napoleon comes to mind.

H has a point. One I’ve pondered long into many a sleepless night. But like those old footballers, before they scrapped the maximum wage and money flooded into the top-flight game, I can’t afford to retire and I’m guessing opening a sports store, or managing a pub while running to fat, isn’t going to work.

‘Won’t stop.’ Announces H abruptly. ‘Can’t drink and drive any more.’
I’d settle for a soft drink and some words of encouragement.
‘I’ll get them next time.’ Says H, as he leaves.

He won’t.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bittersweet Home - Wednesday

Fifty-odd weeks of the year, there’s a game I play when not actually visiting their homes, or being polite to them in the office, that works well when people-watching. Try it, if you like, I’ve not filed for a patent.

Take any outside situation, be it cafe, park, beach or just avoiding the crowds in Oxford Street and ask yourself as people walk towards you, would I talk to them on holiday? It might be an indictment of me or more likely the general public, but ninety-nine times out of one-hundred, as I search for fashion sense, self-awareness and a hint of intellect in the eyes, it’s a big fat, badly-dressed, overweight no. So when you do actually go on holiday, be prepared for quite a few dinners for two.

‘Look at the state of that.’ I  whisper to my wife, as another obese Brit in unsuitable swimwear waddles past me at the pool.
‘Shhh. You are so judgemental.’ My wife replies. ‘They might be nice once you get to know them.’
‘I have to deal with knobs all day long at work, I’m not going to start conversing with them voluntarily.’ I say. ‘Particularly when you can actually see their knob.’

What is it with old men and Speedos? If I wanted to see wrinkled willies thinly-encased in over-stretched lycra I’m sure there’s a specialist website, but I don’t - particularly when I’m trying to relax on a sun-bed and read my Kindle in direct sunlight. And don’t even start me on thongs. If you meet complete arses every day of the working week, there’s no need to ever see another one.

‘Don’t you despair of the human race?’ I ask my wife, as I wave for another ice cold daiquiri - a sort of slushy for adults that I’ve become rather fond of. Well, as you can no longer drink at lunchtime in a working week, there’s something pleasantly decadent about getting quietly pissed, then sleeping in the afternoon, knowing everyone in the office is stressed and sober.

‘You just don’t give people a chance.’ My wife responds, wearily. ‘I do, I just don’t really believe in them until they exchange contracts.’ I retort. ‘Until then they are just another wastrel, who’ll probably go back on their word.’ Maybe I’ve been selling homes for too long. Bad surveys, bad solicitors and bad karma have sucked the optimism from me.

‘I mean look at this meathead.’ I hiss, as a tubby lad with a wife-beater vest struts by, clutching one of those ridiculous e-cigarettes.
‘You don’t mind looking at his girlfriend.’ Responds my wife, tartly. Busted. But in truth just as much as I was checking out her toned bikini-body, I was actually thinking, no I won’t be talking to you on holiday, because your partner is punching above his considerable weight and you, girl, have made some bad boyfriend and tattoo choices.

‘Why do pretty girls ruin their bodies with awful inking?’ I ask as the pair walk by.
‘So you were looking at her.’ Retorts my wife.
‘Purely in an observational fashion.’   
‘What other kind of looking is there?’
She doesn’t need to know.    

‘Now that’s a outfit only an Italian can get away with.’ I say later, as we escape the heat of the pool and check out the local town. I’ve been drawn, like a moth to a flame, to look at the local real estate office, much to my wife’s chagrin. A stylish-looking man has just sauntered out of the office in question. The olive-skinned bastard looked effortlessly cool, in a linen ensemble, that on a sweaty-Saturday in the UK, would resemble a rumpled dish-cloth after four fruitless viewings with time-wasters from Tewksbury, who will, only put their house on the market once they find something. ‘Ours will sell really easily, you see.’ No. I don’t.

‘Have you seen the piss-poor photos these Italians take, and where are the EPC ratings?’ I ask as I look in the dull window display with far less flamboyance than the just-departed agent.
‘You are ready to go home, aren’t you?’ Asks my wife.



Friday, June 01, 2018

Time Machine - Friday

‘I’m cleaning you now, is ok?’ Enquires a heavily-accented female voice.

Startled, I look up from my desktop screen. The early-thirties, almost pretty, lady in a pink-tabard looks back at me with a cautious smile. It’s one of the contract cleaners. I probably know her name as she’s a vaguely familiar face, in a seemingly endless round of eastern European women who have access to the office, since my bean-counter boss fired the reliable old lady who used to clean and took on some cut-rate cowboys.

‘What time is it?’ I say, without thinking. It’s on the clock on my wall, my silenced phone on the desk and my computer screen, so I’m guessing Lena, or perhaps Sofia, or for an outside bet, Zuzanna thinks I’m a bit of an idiot.

The cleaner smiles and points at my wall clock. Maybe her English doesn’t stretch to quarter-past seven, or maybe she’s on a different time zone at home. Either way I’m late for supper and in a whole heap of trouble.

‘I’m sorry.’ I say with a sheepish grin. ‘Busy day, lots of paperwork.’ I point at my screen, which is where most of the paperwork resides these days, while Sofia, I’m pretty sure it’s Sofia, looks in my almost empty bin and turns her head sideways.
‘Virtual paperwork.’ I say by way of explanation, but now he’s just looking worried. She thinks I’m a weirdo.

‘Maybe start in the main office, first.’ I say pointing to the darkened expanse outside my window, all the desks clear apart from trainee F’s workspace. I’ll genuinely throttle him, if he keeps forgetting to clear his desk before leaving. People look through our office window 24/7 and they want to see attractive, affordable housing. They obviously won’t see much of that, but I’d rather they didn’t see a pile of files, a stained tea mug and a half-eaten sandwich from Subway.

‘Damn it.’ I say to the ceiling tiles, as I look at my phone to see three missed calls from my wife and an urgently-winking WhatsApp logo. Seems she’s eaten her supper and what’s left for me, will be in a choice of the oven, the fridge, or the swing-bin.

I’d been so engrossed in the latest profit and loss account that time had just slipped away and now like some poor man’s Doctor Who, I’d rather like to travel back a bit and start again - obviously I’d not regenerate as a woman, that would just be odd….

Rather than risk a full-blown argument by actually ringing home, I send an apologetic message via the family group, then realise, too late, that both my sons will also realise I’m an uncaring office slave, who doesn’t think enough about his wife. Then the phone rings.

Like some hopeless junkie, I try to resist the pull, not least because it might actually be my wife. But anyone in sales will tell you, a ringing phone is like a raging itch. You just have to scratch it.
Corporate greeting parroted, relief that it was a time-waster not my wife, is fleeting. I give the enquirer the information they want, then start to gather my things.

‘Always busy, no?’ Says the cleaner, looking up from emptying F’s bin, as I move into the main office.
Not always productively, I think, before answering in the affirmative. Out of the corner of my eye, I’ve noticed fat finance man M’s office light is still on. He’s nowhere to be seen, but as I go to switch off the fuel-during bulb, I have a vague recollection of the obese oaf waddling awards the gents’ toilets earlier, magazine under his arm.

‘Last man doing business today?’ Asks the woman, a waft of cheap perfume and stale sweat accompanying her question. I look towards the toilets at the back of the office. Possibly not. If M is still in there, straining to unload a week’s worth of compacted takeaways, she’s in for an unpleasant surprise. 

I decide to risk it and head for the exit, with a cheery goodbye.

Seems I’m not the only one with a shitty job.