Friday, December 15, 2017

Little By Little - Thursday

Back in the supermarket on another unwanted errand. This time it’s the German lot that are growing faster then Japanese knotweed. Funny, you win a couple of wars and the losers destroy your car industry, then your high street.

Not that I don’t shop there, obviously, or drive a foreign car. I gave British Leyland enough chances. I finally realised that breaking down at the side of the road in a dated car, poorly bolted together by some bolshie Brummies - while some smug bastard in a cheaper, better, Datsun drove past - had to stop. Like the Austin Allegro, as it happens…

‘See what’s in the middle at Lidl.’ Said my wife gleefully, over the phone. When I first started in this profession I couldn’t be reached, by office or spouse. Still not sure smartphone is the right term, for being on call 24/7/. Seems pretty dumb to me. Now I can get instructions to pick up some item I don’t need, any time.

‘Can’t beat the Germans can you?’ Says a hirsute bloke next to me in the centre aisle. Well you can actually beardy, I think, just not since 1945 - and that one time when Michael Owen scored a hat-trick in Munich. 

‘Pretty good value.’ I admit grudgingly as I rummage through cycling tops that appear to be a quarter of the price of one I bought a few weeks ago, and just as thermally efficient, with the same wicking properties. Bloody Krauts. 

‘I reckon before long our towns will be full of German discount supermarkets.’ Says the man, chuckling.
‘And coffee shops.’ I add, with jocularity.
‘Or f•••ing estate agents shops.’  Says the man laughing. I frown at him and he looks, as if for the first time, at my business suit.
‘Err, you’re not…..’
Yep I am you whiskery twat and they are offices not shops. A2 planning use for an office, A3 for a restaurant and A1 for retail, you shaggy-haired track-suit bottomed-wearing, ignoramus. 

Opportunity to make another friend I don’t want spurned, I move on to collect the items I was told to get. My phone throbs twice in my suit jacket  but I ignore it. Do something old school, like leave a message - or write a postcard.

‘Oh no.’ I mutter when I head for the tills and realise only one is manned. This is where the cost-cutting is. Of course they have the dreaded self-scan tills, my personal bete noire. I look in desperation for a staff member who might open one of the other tills, all with a red lane light illuminated. Nothing. And the three women ahead of me in the queue for green-lit lane two all have vast trollies overspilling with enough goods to support a Calais migrant camp for a fortnight. No wonder they are so fat they need to wear voluminous sports wear. Not that they’ll be jogging anywhere. 

‘Unexpected item in bagging area.’ Trills the automated voice, as I can’t decide which side are the scales and which side you put your pre-scanned shopping. Then the two items I’ve been send to collect - of course - refuse to have their barcodes read. Now I’m getting flustered and angry. And needless to say the PA system announces lane two will shortly be opening, just as the red mist descends.

The spotty oik I finally manage to attract, comes across and puts in an over-ride key. Then smugly taps in the barcode manually, the numbers are so small I can’t even read them. Then pleasingly, in a perverse way, he too fails to get the items recognised.

‘I’ll get something else to the same value.’ Says the lad. disappearing. ‘Leave them in the trolley and scan the other items.’

‘There you go.’ Says the employee, having fooled the machine with a citrus-flavoured toilet cleaning product. ‘Just hand this back to me when you go.’ He instructs, leaving me with an oversize lime and lemon polo mint on a backing card, before going to rescue someone else. Flustered I do as instructed as I exit the shop.

It’s only when I get back to the office, that I realise with horror, I walked out without paying.

I’m thinking Aldi, next time.


Friday, December 01, 2017

Close Shave - Friday

Back to the traditional barber’s shop for my four-weekly cut. You can’t afford to look scruffy with the amount of competition in our town. On-line agents with their call-centre set-ups might be able to look like extras from The Walking Dead, if all they do is take an up-front fee over the phone, pop a listing on a website, and get back to trawling Tinder. But at the cutting edge of property sales, they have to like you - and the look of you.

As I walk in, everyone turns as if a complete cowboy has entered a saloon bar. Admittedly there are plenty of cowboys in this, under-regulated  business of mine, but I’m not one of them. Although by the look of distaste on the assembled blokes waiting their turn for a trim, a few might have clocked me for an estate agent. Who else, other than an undertaker, wears a suit and tie in this day and age?

Reluctantly everyone shuffles along the bench seat to let me sit. All the barbers’ chairs are occupied and more worryingly there’s no sign of my usual man, the one who knows for sure what I do and is usually discreet enough to whisper when he inevitably asks about the property market. I can feel the looks of dislike on the back of my neck, if he does let people hear what I do, and with the mirror I can see them too. They don’t like estate agents but they sure like to know how much their home is worth.

‘He not in today?’ I say to one of the ladies, as she looks my way. She’s cut my hair before and in truth does it better than my missing mate.
‘On the golf course.’ Replies the trimmer , brushing hair from her top and unfolding the lethal-looking razors they use to trim your nape. 
The last thing you need when a barber has one of those in their hands, is to have a heated discussion about the vagaries of the UK housing market. Its a cut-throat business.

Golf is one of the few sports that leaves me cold. Probably, because after a lifetime in sales, I’ve never been able to justify half a day spent looking for a lost ball in some tic-infested undergrowth, while my competitors are signing up deals I am missing.

I nod and settle in to read the free newspapers. The choice isn’t great, just The Sun or The Daily Mail. One features radical opinions and scare stories penned by complete tits - the other….

‘Who’s next?’ Says a woman I’ve not seen before. She has the only spare chair available and I’m in a dilemma. If I say I’d rather wait for her colleague who I know can cut my hair well, it looks like I’m being impolite, or judgmental, or maybe even sexist. It was a lot simpler when I was a lad and the old bloke who operated out of his garage, only did clipper-cuts and favoured young boys, was the only choice. Come to think of it he disappeared in a hurry one day. Nowadays he’d be on some sort of register and I could sue for unwanted follicle-fondling, but at the time that sort of thing was brushed under the carpet.

‘How do you like it?’ Asks the woman, after I’ve reluctantly settled in to the chair. I seem to remember the old pervert in the garage had a similar line, and that’s before his tired old gag, about something for the weekend and a nod to his dusty display case of condoms and unsettling-looking lubricants.

I tell her the preferred grade, with a scissors on top finish and hope she doesn’t screw it up. A month of ridicule in the office and at sales’ meetings I can do without. Plus, I’m not sure I can afford the weekly cost of that Regaine hair restorer, if too much is removed. 

And then it comes, just as she starts long sweeps of the clippers.
‘So what do you do?’

It’ll grow back.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Complete Rubbish - Sunday

‘Oh deep joy.’ I say, visibly drooping.
‘What?’  Questions my wife. ‘It’s only a bit of gardening. It will make a change for you to do some hands-on work.’

I’ve been press-ganged into shrubbery cutting on my weekend off. Working alternate Saturdays for a lifetime, hasn’t been my greatest love but it does mean I’ve often managed to swerve some of those traditional manly jobs involving wrenches, power tools and remembering whether it is righty-tighty, lefty-loosey - or the other way round.

‘Anyway I do a lot of hands-on.’ I grumble.
‘Not that I’ve noticed.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Let’s just get cutting.’ Says my wife. ‘We can do a couple of trips to the tip over the weekend, then.’

And that’s why I was complaining. Now I’m all for penguins not choking on plastic bottle tops and I’m right there with the next man in ensuring Polar Bears don’t run out of ice - as long as they remain on someone else’s continent. But the misery of a trip to the Municipal Tip is unsurpassed. Overnight, when people began to recycle and separate rubbish into different colour-coded bins, the staff at the local tip became neo-Nazis. I believe the French call the town dump a dechetterie, which seems about right, as it’s a shitty experience.

I see the little Hitlers, in hi-viz jackets watching me even as I open the car tailgate. They also watch little old ladies struggling with bin bags bigger than they are, but never move a muscle to help. I’m guessing health and safety - or bone idleness.

‘What you got there?’ Demands a particularly ratty-looking operative, as I struggle with a defunct set of full-length blinds we no longer need. Yes, my wife has decided that as we are going to the dump, not only are we going to dispose of the thorny-cuttings that have made my arms look like I’ve gone twelve rounds with a tetchy tiger, but we can ditch all the other detritus clogging up the garage that never houses a car.

‘Metal.’ I say, heading for the appropriate giant bin. I’ve identified it as the most likely deposit-point, as its not general waste, green biodegradable garden mater, paper, cardboard, or approved plastic suitable for processing (check local providers for re-cycling suitability).

‘Nah mate.’ Says the camp guard, holding up his hand like a scruffy traffic policeman. ‘That’s got fabric.’
Yes it has. Well done Sherlock. Those are the bits that keep the sunlight out and helped the product  get its name.
‘So, general waste?’ I say, not entirely confidently.
He looks at me as if I’m the one smelling of rotting fish.
‘Not with metal on it.’ Counters captain Haddock disdainfully.

‘So you had to detach each fabric panel before you could dump them separately’ Laughs my wife as I tell the tale. ‘Maybe he just realised you were an estate agent, saw the sticker in the car window.'
‘I took that out.’ I tell her grumpily.
‘Probably just as well.’ She says giggling. ‘Nobody loves an estate agent - oh, apart from me.’ She adds hurriedly, and not entirely convincingly.
‘It’s not funny.’ I snipe. ‘They were even checking the green bags to see what sort of cuttings I was ditching.’
‘You’ll know what do to tomorrow then.’ She says slyly. ‘There’s two more big bags of garden waste to go.’

There’s a queue right out to the road on Sunday and I can feel my temperature rising. After ten minutes of gridlock I decide to sweep into a space outside the gates and walk the bags in.

‘No mate.’ Calls an angry voice as I unload. Well he’s wrong already, I’m no mate of his.
‘Can’t do that,’ says the SS trainee. ‘Got to drive in.’
‘You’re not serious?’ I spit back angrily. And the jobsworth points to a camera on a pole. ‘We’re watching you. Evidence.’

After the event, I think of a vitriol-laced diatribe demanding if I now have to sort deciduous, from evergreen before using the appropriate garden waste bin. But in actuality, I do a three-point turn and rejoin the queue. At the back.

You can see why people fly-tip.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Gone But Not Forgotten - Friday

To the supermarket, during my lunch hour, on a wife-inspired errand. Only it’s not a lunch hour of course, nobody on commission takes a full sixty minutes. Some other leaner - definitely leaner - and hungrier salesperson will take your business if you dawdle too long in Greggs, the baker.

‘Is it really necessary?’ I’d questioned, when she rang me with the request.
‘They’ll all be gone, if I wait until I can get to the shops.’ She’d replied, following up with the unwanted logic of: ‘In any case you’re just there in town and it will only take ten minutes.’

‘Ten f***ing minutes.’ I mutter as I grab a basket and belatedly realise I haven’t brought my own bags.
‘What’s that love?’ Asks an old lady, looking hopefully in my direction.
Now, I know I’m probably the first person she’s spoken to all day and if I get behind her in the checkout queue she’s going to dawdle for five excruciating minutes chatting to the till girl, while I seethe and rack up more expensive dental work, but I don’t want to engage - not unless she has a house to sell.

‘Just mentioned it’s a nice day, that’s all.’ I say dismissively.
She doesn’t get the body language, or hear very well.
‘Say again my dear, I haven’t got my hearing aide turned on.’ And she taps her ears.

Of course you haven’t. Why waste the batteries when you can annoy the hell out of everyone who you do eventually get to speak to, by asking the same thing three times, while they try to pay for a slimline sandwich meal deal and collect two ridiculous pot plants that their wife wanted and could have bought at the weekend, when she spotted them the first frigging time?

‘Nice day.’ I repeat, upping the volume substantially and pointing outside for dramatic effect.
‘No, still not coming through’ The old duck says with a gummy grin. ‘I turn the batteries off to save them.’ She tells me conspiratorially. ‘They’re so expensive.’
Not as pricey as cracked molars, I think uncharitably. 

‘Don’t I know you?’ Presses the tenacious grandmother. I don’t need this. Despite my low, on-line profile, I’m pretty well known in my town. I’ve been in most of the streets and many of the houses and you can see me in the office window, lit up like a poor man’s Madame Tussauds dummy, for most of the winter once the clocks change.

I tell her. Chances are she’s been in the office many a time, she might even have fallen over on the uneven paving slab we keep reporting to the council. If we’ve picked up one bruised pensioner and administered plasters and hot tea until the ambulance arrives, we’ve done a dozen.

‘Well you probably knew my husband before he died.’ She says, eyes lighting up. I certainly haven’t met him since you cremated him, I think sourly, eying the checkout line and seeing it grow. I cock my head, in seeming interest, you never know when the house will become too much for her. And she tells me.

That sour-faced bastard, I think angrily, trying to keep my feelings from my face. She’s just named one of the most cantankerous, pedantic and destructive chartered surveyors I’ve come across in my entire career. The old sod delighted in picking holes in properties, down-valuing the sale agreed price and putting deal-wrecking retention’s on the proposed mortgage the borrower wanted. If he turned up to collect the keys on a sale you could effectively take down the sold subject to contract board and start all over again.

‘Nice chap.’ I mouth as convincingly as I can. ‘The town has never been the same since he passed away.’ Well fifty percent accurate, I think. The fact that when we heard he’d croaked, it was one of the few times on a Friday night that all the estate agents in the pub, spoke to each other and smiled, is something she doesn’t need to know.

I really am a nice guy.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lambs And Slaughter - Thursday

‘Lambs to the slaughter.’ Says assistant manager T, as the first batch of bright-eyed, naive punters start to arrive.

A gaggle of fresh-faces have been peering nervously through the office window, waiting for the appointed start time of our First Time Buyers’ Evening. In truth they could come in anytime, we’re really quite welcoming - obviously we soon stopped the free coffee machine after the deadbeats and vagrants started turned up for a warming drink, on us. Bad enough they sleep in the office doorway, without providing gratis hot beverages. Don’t want to encourage them - unless the come in to a big legacy from an ancient aunt.

‘Welcome, come on in.’ Encourages negotiator S, ushering in several couples, some even heterosexual ones. Very old school.

I’ve placed S on the door as she’s the most photogenic and with her d├ęcolletage she appeals to all but the gay men. Trainee F is on standby in the kitchen, to cater for that market. We welcome all persuasions, casts and creeds, as long as they can leverage a big mortgage, or have inherited cash.

‘Going well.’ Comments T, as the office fills with eager, want-to-be buyers. We’ve brought in a couple of local, user-friendly solicitors, to give a quick legal consultation. If they get the conveyancing business, they can put some probate work our way if we get a nice cold winter.

T is right. The office hasn’t been this busy, since we sold off some ex-MOD houses at knock-down prices. Pretty sure the Government undersold those, but as with the Help-To-Buy scheme, propping up unsustainable new homes’ prices, big business will always run rings around career politicians who’ve never had a proper job.

‘Keep them coming.’ Slavers obese mortgage man M, as he takes a quick waddle to the kitchen. He’s had a stream of bushy-tailed youngsters, funnelled to his desk for free financial advice, but of course nothing comes for free. I still abide by the old-fashioned Caveat Emptor motto, but luckily not many schools round here teach Latin. Just hope he hasn’t started mis-selling again, those commission claw-backs are a bastard…

‘Some of this lot aren’t exactly in the first flash of youth.’ Comments lettings lush B, as she sulks at the back of the office. She’d rather people stay locked in to renting, but it’s dead money and you can’t easily remove generations of yearning to own your own home - although ten incompetent UK Housing ministers in a decade, tried.

‘Some of this lot must be forty, plus.’ Continues B, with obvious distain. It’s partly the market, and sky-high prices driven by lack of construction and a burgeoning population. And partly over-indulgent parents, who feed, cloth and iron for giant-sized children, well into their fourth decade. Change the locks or move to a one bed flat, folks. If your daughter is fat and frigid and your son bald and still playing an Xbox, it’s time to be cruel to be kind.

I’ve had great success with first time buyers’ evening over the years. Back in the early nineties it was a terrific vehicle for gaining fresh stock, ahead of the event, then flogging endowment policies and dodgy payment protection schemes, along with the homes. I was never comfortable with the insurance and finance side of the deal, too many conflicts of interests. But needs must, and I had a big mortgage too - not an endowment one, mind….

‘That went pretty well,’ Says T as the last couple leave and we say goodbye to the tame lawyers, with a reminder that they owe us some reciprocal business, once the icy pavements arrive.
‘More than well,’ gushes M. ‘I’ve signed-up over ten couples, with a another dozen to follow up. Got to love a naive first timer.’ He really has no redeeming characteristics.

‘How about a last-time buyer event next?’ Says T with a grin. ‘Shift some of those vacant retirement flats with the piss-stained carpets.’  
‘You’re horrible.’ Says S, with a pout.
‘We could do a bog-off double-deal tie-in with the local undertaker.’ Continues T, laughing.

Burn one, get one free.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Fly Me To The Moon - Friday

‘Much happening?’ I ask trainee F, as I return to the office. It’s a double-edged question. I want the good news, but there’s an equal amount of unwanted tidings in property. The worst being a sale falling through. I’m guessing on-line agents aren’t that bothered if a deal collapses as they get paid irrespective of result. But the traditional, full-service-agent, gets diddly-squat, nada, zip, if a sale doesn’t proceed to completion.

‘Drone salesman called in to see you.’ Announces F, with a soppy smile.
‘What was he selling?’ I ask frowning.
‘I told you.’
‘You told me he was boring, and talked too much.’ I answer shirtily. ‘But then I’ve said before, selling isn’t telling. You remember the two ears, one mouth rule?’

F looks at me bemused. He has the attention span of a cerebrally-challenged goldfish, so I realise he may not remember the old sales’ adage that you must listen twice as much as you speak. As ever negotiator S comes to the rescue.

‘He meant a salesman that sells drones. Those hovering things that you mount a camera on.’ She enlightens, gently.
Now I realise it’s me who is the fool, it’s not a new phenomenon but it smarts every time.

‘You told him I’m not interested.’ I say to F.
‘Not exactly…..’
‘Tell me he’s not coming back?’ I ask groaning.
‘Well he was in town anyway, seeing one of our competitors.’
‘He wasn’t.’
‘He said he was.’
‘How many times, have I told you?’ I demand wearily. ‘Don’t believe most of what a salesman tells you. He’s on commission.’

Reprimand issued, mostly to cover my embarrassment at misunderstanding a drone salesman, I head for the message book to see what fresh hell has been inked in there for me. The salesman is, having a coffee, somewhere up the high street and will be back shortly. The truth is I can’t make purchasing decisions any more. It’s all been re-allocated to head office, where some jobsworth constantly renegotiates our supplier contracts, presumably for free lunches and crap branded pens that break in your pocket and leak ink over your suit. Invariably, we end up with a more complicated purchasing system and a national supplier who is half as efficient as the local business that preceded them, was.

‘I think it would be great.’ Says F gushingly, as I return to a spare desk and nurse a cup of tea, no sugar - I’m on a diet again.
‘Don’t you need a special licence to fly them?’ I ask flatly. ‘To stop people taking out an Airbus on final approach.’
‘They take the footage for you, I think.’ Says F. ‘Or maybe there’s a training course?’
Terrific. Another patronising teacher who tells because they can’t sell, is all I need. And sending F, as the youngest, supposedly most tech-savvy staff member isn't going to work. He still hasn’t mastered the colour printer. The clown causes more jams than a broken-down lorry on the by-pass.

Many of these, drop-in as they are passing salesman, have vanished as more and more business is awarded centrally. Others have died a death, as their product suffers the law of Darwin, rendering them extinct. Time was, I was plagued by map salesman trying to flog you overpriced handouts for lost punters, which they’d lifted - sometimes with dubious legality - from a Ordnance survey sheet. If you showed interest, they wanted names and numbers of all your local business contacts, to try and flog them advertising space in the margins of the expensive street plan. Google maps finished that, thankfully.

‘Why would I want aerial views of half the shite-holes we are trying to flog?’ I ask sourly. ‘It’s not going to help unload an ex-council house someone bought at a knock-down price with right-to-buy, by showing they have a load of spent white goods in the back garden and haven't cut the lawn for three months.’ 

Then in he comes, with a bad suit, sickly grin and an over-sized briefcase.
‘Have I got something you are really going to want.’ He begins gushingly.

You haven’t.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Better The Devil You Know - Tuesday

‘Thought you might like to do a viewing later, boss.’ Says trainee F, with more artfulness than he usually employs.

I probably won’t enjoy it, as it happens. Despite what many think, the hard sell in estate agency is winning the property instruction in the first place. That’s where the competition is and the dark arts deployed. You can’t hard sell a viewing and subsequent purchase. And if you do, the potential buyer has eight weeks or more to change their mind, once lawyers, surveyors and lenders get involved.

‘And why did you think I might like to do that?’ I ask F.
He looks uncertain.
‘Tell him.’ Urges assistant manager T, with a mischievous grin.
‘Well… you know you say match staff to similar people for appointments.’ Says F, hesitantly.
‘Don’t worry it’s not a pair of poofters.’ Interjects mortgage man M, unpleasantly.
‘God you’re such a neanderthal throwback.’ Says negotiator S, scowling at M and tossing her hair back, distractingly.

I’m deflected from F, as I now need to point out to everyone that legislation, rightly, insists we don’t discriminate against people on race, religious, disability or sexuality grounds. Rather stuffy lecture delivered, I pause.

‘Yeh, yeh.’ Says M stalking back to his office and his copy of The Daily Mail. ‘But it doesn’t mean I have to like them, or those weirdos who want everyone to use the same toilets just because they can’t decide if it’s a dick between their legs, or not.’

Quite a lot of work to do on M. I wonder if I should apply to send him on that minority awareness course I went on? He probably could do with sitting in a circle of chairs empathising within a gender-neutral environment and sticking yellow post-it notes up whenever he thinks of a situation when his dated pre-dispositions and ingrained masculine prejudices, come to mind. He’d paper a whole, f***ing wall.

‘So why me?’ I continue, looking at F.
‘Similar age profile.’ Answers F.
‘Similar grey hair.’ Interjects B from her lettings’ desk.
‘Similar dress sense.’ Says S, with a laugh.
‘And similarly grumpy.’ Says T, completing my character assassination. 

As I walk up to the cheaply converted, once proud, Victorian house, I can see what they meant. The man I’m meeting looks like a tubbier version of me. Cheap crumpled suit, badly-knotted tie, wrinkled forehead and hair that I like to think of as, the stately silver fox look, but on this guy just looks like surrender.

‘You the estate agent?’ Asks the man warily. Yep, the man with a set of keys, a clipboard and a base model company car. You’ve got me, Sherlock. I eventually answer in the affirmative.

‘I was expecting someone younger.’ The man says flatly. Yes, and I was expecting someone looking a bit more like George Clooney, bucko. 
‘No offence.’ He continues. Plenty taken. ‘Only most of your lot are barely out of puberty, kids and shitesters most of them.’ He pauses and looks at my car. ‘And with flashier motors.’
‘God this is grim.’ Remarks the man, when we’ve both wheezed our way to the top floor penthouse. I make a mental note to change the description to attic flat, even before we start ducking to avoid the sloping roofline.

‘Why does everywhere smell of cabbage?’ He asks as we take a cursory look round the grotty studio flat, dodging stale takeaway cartons and trying not to make eye contact with the ladies’ underwear on the radiators.

‘I can’t live in somewhere like this.’ States the man wearily, over the monotonous drip of a leaking kitchen tap.
Should have thought of that before you shagged you secretary, I say internally. This guy is on the wrong end of divorce proceeding and the wife will be getting the family house. He better hope the younger woman likes three flights of stairs, dodging prams and bikes on poorly lit landings and listening to other people having more sex than she’ll be getting, through paper-thin walls.

‘Good day?’ Ask my wife, when I finally get home smelling stale and disappointed.

‘Love you.’ I tell her,  causing a momentary frown.

I can’t be doing with starting again.