Wednesday, September 17, 2014
The early appointment was a waste of time, so I’m not in the best of moods as I hurry across the park, back to the office.
I’m guessing when the Victorians designated this green space they probably hoped it would become a haven for busy workers and perhaps somewhere to stroll hand in hand with a loved one on a summer’s evening. Instead, despite the local authority’s best efforts in the horticultural department, it’s frequented by the sort of homeless and hopeless people even I can’t help.
I spot the litter-strewn area from a distance, but I need to walk past. The gaggle of drunks are already garrulous with cheap super-strength cider, despite the clock not having reached mid-morning coffee time. I can feel a Daily Mail moment coming even before I have to circumnavigate the discarded bottles and food wrappers tossed into the nearby flowerbed. Dumped with total distain for the minimum wage gardeners who hoe out used condoms and spent needles in between the hardy weeds.
‘Spare some change for a cuppa mate?’ Demands one of the red-faced winos. It’s more an order than a request. His motley crew all turn toward me, eyes glazed, lips curled. One of them, I’m pretty certain was in the office a few months back, asking B our loose lettings lady if we rented to people on benefits. No wonder she drinks so heavily. Not so sure about the casual sex, but then maybe she gets better offers than I do….
‘Come on pal.’ Calls a second unshaven man, teeth like a yellowed piano keyboard. ‘Help out some people worse off than you.’ I could stop and have a chat, reason with the group that I give, in private, to the charities of my choice - the sort of line I used to give to the chuggers in day-glow jacket who try to get people to sign a direct debit order, when all they want is a sandwich and fifteen minutes away from jangling phones. I could.
‘Aw he’s not going to help you out.’ Spits a third piss-head. ‘Tosser in a suit, no chance.’ He’s right - on all three counts. I’ve been up well before the sun and I’m unlikely to start drinking inappropriately before six pm on a Friday. Why should I subsidise this bunch of anti-social low-lifes any more than I already do through my taxes? And yet…
‘Sorry lads. can’t stop. No change.’ I mutter hurriedly.
‘No change there then.’ Mocks a throaty female voice. I almost spin to double-check, but it’s true. One of the raggedy group belongs - or did at one stage - to the fairer sex. I shudder to think what the sleeping arrangement are on that park bench, particularly as they lock the public toilets now after dusk. Fact is you couldn’t see anything in there anyway. The ultra violet lighting that was supposed to make it difficult for you to shoot up, but just made it hard to hit those pineapple chunk fresheners they put in the urinals.
As I exit the park, a motorised council cart arrives with two downtrodden staff members inside. In the back are an assortment of gardening implements. I just hope they have sturdy puncture-proof gloves. Like some of those repossessions that have squatters in them, they’ll need to be careful what they pick up.
‘Dodge the aggressive beggars in the park did you?’ Asks assistant manager T, when I get to the office.
‘Bloody dirtbags.’ Voices B from her lettings enclave. ‘Why should we work fifty hours a week and be expected to give them more money?’
‘You don’t know what has happened to them.’ States negotiator S indignantly.
‘Bunch of losers.’ Counters B. ‘Try working in lettings and you’ll soon stop sympathising with scum like that. You should see the state the flat in the High street was left in, after the eviction.’
‘I just hope you never need to ask for help from social services.’ Says S. Eyes blazing. She’s magnificent when roused, at least I like to imagine so…
‘What do you think, boss?’ Asks trainee F with an unexpected curve ball.
There are two sides to every story.
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Monday, September 08, 2014
We go, with friends, to a late summer festival in a field. Now there was a time, when the prospect of loud music, loose women and not washing for several days held an allure. Reading 1977 with a porous tent springs to mind. A weekend of mud, mayhem and a ruptured ear drum seemed an adventure at the time. Now my hearing is buzzing naturally, and if I want to have a shower I favour the en-suite, rather that a leaky fly-sheet giving a constant dripping even my bean counter boss can’t match.
‘It’ll be fun, stop moaning.’ Says my wife as we bump the car through a rutted field and the clouds darken, even as I swipe madly at her wretched smart phone I still can’t master, endeavouring to get the latest BBC weather forecast.
‘I see enough people living in squalor at work.’ I tell her cussedly. ‘If I want drug addicts lying in their own filth I’ll just go on the next Letting Department’s eviction.’
‘Is he always this negative?’ Asks my wife’s friend from Fat Club - or keep fit as they like to call it.
‘He didn’t used to be.’ Replies my wife, slightly morosely.
Possibly not, but when I was wearing straight jeans with a 32 inch waist and Graham Parker and The Rumour, Thin Lizzy plus Aerosmith, nearly deafened me, I hadn’t been flogging homes for coming up for three decades. Somewhere along the line the fun went out of it.
‘Thank God we’re not staying overnight.’ I tell our motley crew - pretty sure they hadn't been formed in ’77’ and it’s a different spelling entirely - as we pass the tented village. A rainbow coloured forest of cheap nylon, and fluorescent guide ropes, flutter in the gathering breeze as I spot the schoolboy error many have made by pitching at the bottom of a dip. Waterside views might fetch a premium in the housing market but when it’s flushing through your sleeping bag with turds bobbing past your head, I’m suspecting the surveyor’s damp meter might not be the only thing to blow a fuse.
We erect our collapsable chairs towards the back. I’m not repeating the mistake I made at the Oasis concert that time. Not much worse than aching for a piss, unable to move backwards or forwards, while a bunch of neo-Nazis try to start fights while opposing groups lob plastic bottle full of urine at each others' heads. Liam wasn’t happy - but then he never is.
‘See, this is fine,’ says my wife soothingly, as she opens out the picnic blanket and unfurls a coolbox full of Marks and Spencer ready foods which probably cost more than my entire 1977 weekend did. ’It won’t be too loud and we can watch the bands on the big screen.’ She smiles and starts chatting aimlessly to her friend. I look at her partner, a man I barely know. He’s something big in the City.
‘Beer tent?’ I ask him. ‘I’m more of a wine man.’ He replies. Of course you are.
Several pints in, stodgy portion of couscous consumed and I’m fighting the bladder alarm. The ruddy-cheeked man is joining in with the ladies’ conversations having decided he really has nothing in common with beer-swilling estate agents - except when he wants notice of a cheap investment property to add to his portfolio. I’ve taken a stomach churning dislike to the man which might, in truth, be partially as a result of the durum wheat rehydrating in my guts courtesy of two quarts of London Pride, but also because he’s basically another odious bean counter.
Finally I break the seal, realising I’m condemning myself to regular bog-trots between now and the headliner’s first engineered encore. The row of regimented portable toilets look like shit attempts at low-cost first-time buyers’ properties. Appropriately enough, queues of mostly young women are lined-up outside them. Sitting room only.
‘Eh-up, it’s the estate agent!’ Slurs a familiar-looking man as I stand at the rank-smelling urinals. Gentle heat haze rising from the gurgling gutter. My heart sinks.
Time to face the music.
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Monday, September 01, 2014
‘I need a man to come with me.’ Announces loose lettings lush B to an awkward silence. I stifle my inappropriate reply and by an act of immense projected will - and a warning scowl - manage to ensure that nobody else taps in the open goal.
‘Difficult appointment?’ I eventually offer after running several potential answers through my head as a precautionary measure. I don’t need a sexual discrimination claim, no matter how spurious. With the amount of booby-trapped legislation swirling round employing people I really should have paid more attention at school and studied to become a lawyer. On reflection, I’m glad I didn’t say booby-trapped out loud, too.
‘I’ve got to do an eviction for a landlord at eleven o’clock.’ States B, shaking her head. ‘And there’s no way I’m going there alone.’ Momentarily a mischievous inner self wonders if the fact she’s asking for a man to come with her isn’t a tiny bit sexist, but laws often work on the pendulum principle. Correct one injustice and the over-compensation creates another one. I’ve see enough matrimonial home sales to know that.
‘Are you expecting trouble?’ Asks assistant manager T warily. He’s already manoeuvring not to go with B. Those designer glasses and his penchant for expensive suits don’t lend themselves to a filthy flat and a punch to the face.
‘Single Mum, two kids by different Dads, aggressive men friend visitors and a viscous looking dog.’ States B taking up a whole days news content for The Daily Mail.
‘She’s had notice of eviction I assume?’ I ask, knowing already I’ll have to go with B. Some things you just can’t delegate - unless you’re my spineless bean counter boss.
‘Of course.’ Replies B dismissively. ‘But she is holding on to be formally kicked out so she can get re-housed by the Council.’ There was a time when I felt sorry for everyone losing their home, but after seeing some of the deliberately wrecked properties and the way some people abuse societies' safety net, my liberal left leanings have become a bit tarnished.
‘This has to be it.’ I state rhetorically to B as I pull up in the car, at 10.45am. We are nearly opposite an unloved terraced house in the “cheaper” part of town. The windows are peeling, a gutter is at a crazy angle and an overflow pipe is pumping water on to the crowded forecourt. Most of the neighbouring homes have cars squeezed on to what was once a small front garden before boundary walls were demolished. All except the property we are visiting. It has an array of rusting white goods dumped outside and a small mountain of overspilling bin nags. I’m starting to itch already.
‘You got rubber bands?’ Asks B, ferreting in her handbag, past the pepper spray and the rape alarm. I sigh heavily and shake my head. Schoolboy error. ‘Too bad.’ Says B leaning down and fixing a pair of those thick red rubber bands the postman sheds, around her trousers. Now I know why she didn’t wear her usual short skirt and jacket combo. I can almost sense the fleas sensing me, and the itching returns twofold.
‘Is she going to be difficult?’ Asks the bailiff when we are all at the front door bang on 11.00am. The court official has the look of a nightclub bouncer, head shaven and gym-pumped frame straining to escape his clothing. I take a half-step back. He’s the one being paid to take the hits, I think, as the muscled man bangs the door loudly then stoops and yells through the letterbox. A dog starts barking rabidly and I bump into B awkwardly, as she too positions herself behind the bailiff.
‘Wasn’t too bad.’ Says B once the woman, dog and two kids have gone straight to the Town Hall,without any resistance.
‘More than I can say for this place.’ I answer as we survey the spitefully trashed house, detritus everywhere, walls crayoned over in a juvenile hand.
‘I’ve seen worse.’ Replies B with a heavy sigh. ‘You start to hate these people after a while.’ Before I can disagree something bites my ankle sharply.
Sadly, you do.
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Thursday, August 21, 2014
Negotiator S appears prettily in my peripheral vision and for a moment I think it’s another of those awkward dreams. Finally, I register she’s really there and the screen that had almost hypnotised me is the stark reality of my office profit and loss accounts - not one of those dodgy sites now blocked by the main server…
‘Got lovely old Mr and Mrs Lockwood in the office.’ Begins S with a winning smile. I try to surreptitiously glance round her to see the office sales area, but she’s standing sideways and it’s a big ask without appearing pervy, or dislocating a couple of neck vertebrae.
‘Err, just remind me…’ I say pathetically. I can remember just about every home I’ve ever sold but the names are too much data to keep, with my ageing hard drive.
‘From The Avenue.’ Prompts S. ‘We’ve got a sale arranged on their house but they haven’t found anything to to go to to yet.’ Of course I remember. A sweet old couple who have wracked up some of those more obscure wedding anniversaries between the precious metal milestones. I need them to find somewhere or my potential commission will be stalled forever in the sales pipeline, with no chance of converting to hard cash.
‘Great news.’ I say to S, before hesitating. ‘So…why do they need to see me?’
S sighs and smiles again. God, she’s so hot she should carry an over 18s only, certificate. ‘They like you,’ she continues. ‘They want your advice on the flat they’ve seen.’
Now I want my vendors to like me. I positively crave their affection when I’m pitching for the business against several other estate agents. But, like a serial shagger, once I’ve consummated the deed - and bagged a signed sole agency - I’m keen to move on to pastures and punters new.
I sense a dilemma looming. I’m not a big fan of shared communal space living and with the leasehold laws in the UK as they are I wouldn’t want a flat without a peppercorn ground rent, a share in the freehold and an in-house management company. At the very least.
‘Where have they found?’ I quiz S, frantically thinking of the blocks in my area that don’t have greedy freeholder issues, diminished lease terms and huge holes in their sinking funds. S tells me the name of a well known retirement home builder and I grimace.
‘Really?’ I say rhetorically.
‘Really.’ She answers unnecessarily, adding. ‘They really like it. It’s the security and the companionship.’
And the rip-off prices, I think sourly. Hoping, not for the first time, that if I make it to the Lockwood’s advanced years I won’t be too senile to remember why I hate the shrunken square footage and overpriced warrens the elderly are wont to move to.
‘So what do you think?’ Urges Mr Lockwood in his reedy voice once S has sat them in front of me with two mugs of tea, and I’ve greeted them like long lost friends. I have a sneaking feeling Mr L is not long for this world . Like many ailing partners, he’s probably trying to manoeuvre his wife into a home that will suit her once he’s gone - there’s certainly not enough room for two people for too long.
Well, he’s paying too much. The ground rent goes up regularly at punitive levels. The lease is a paltry 99 years - fine when you are looking at twenty max to live but not so great for re-sales and disappointed beneficiaries - and the service charges are a licence to print money. And yet, it gives them something they think you can’t always put a price on. Peace of mind.
If it were my parents I’m not sure what I’d advise, but that decision is no longer one to trouble me. The truth is I might change my opinion if I make it as far as the Lockwoods. Through rheumy eyes the world might look a different - scarier - place.
‘They seem pleased.’ Says S after I’ve seen the old couple to the door. ‘What did you tell them?’
‘What I thought they wanted to hear.’
It’s the bottom line.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
‘That’s marvellous,’ I say gushingly, using an adjective I tend to reserve for those over pensionable age. ‘I just need to do the tedious bit now.’ I continue. ‘The paperwork.’
‘What’s he saying?’ Questions the elderly husband who is slumped in a worn armchair staring at me with those rheumy eyes that indicate a light slowly dwindling. The wife. a grey haired, slight but formidable lady, turns towards her ancient husband, ex Royal Navy, and ups the decibels several notches.
‘He needs to put everything in writing.’ She hollers, as the old boy fiddles with his hearing aid again.
I’m in a dated but well-proportioned 1930s built semi-detached house on the outskirts of the original town. The sort of strip development that filled fields pre-war as the population recovered after the Great War, before being decimated again by Mr Hitler and his henchmen. Doubtless, as now, people grumbled about new housing being built in their back yard. nothing much changes - other than the asking prices.
We’ve agreed the asking price for this home moments earlier, it’s bullish but reflects the market and the potential the house offers. It’s rife for modernisation and boasts the sort of garden no current day developer would leave behind. Maximise price, minimise square footage being the accountant-driven mantra of today’s builders.
I engage in neutral chit-chat while I try to complete as much of the paperwork as I can while the old man’s hearing aid whistles and chatters in the manner of a land line when it picks up an incoming mobile phone signal.
Price and vendors’ full names and the address completed I re-iterate, hesitantly, the agreed fee.
‘Oh don’t give me percentages dear,’ says the wife briskly. ‘How much in pounds and pennies?’ Shit. No agent ever likes to articulate the exact amount. Reluctantly I tell her.
‘Ooh, that’s not much less than we paid for the house.’ Says the woman wincing. ‘And I’m afraid it’s plus VAT.’ I say trying not to visibly cringe.
‘How much more is that?” Quizzes the woman, turning frostier by the moment.
‘Twenty percent.’I whisper
‘In English.’ Demands the wife. I tell her.
‘Stone the crows.’ She gasps. It’s an option…
‘I can’t hear what the lad is saying.’ Grumbles the old fella at ornament-rattling volume.
‘He says it’s going to be bloody expensive Arthur.’ Replies his wife loudly. No point reminding them it is No Sale No Fee at this juncture, or that those who move subsidise all the time-wasters who don’t.
‘Now I just need some proof of identity and address.’ I say flatly. Seems the Government has contracted out of just about every state function to the lowest, and often, least effective bidder. Or in my case a dupe who is made to provide the function for free. Estate agents are now quasi Border Control and Income Tax administrators as I need to ensure these ancient crumblies haven’t just crawled out from under the Lidl delivery lorry, or are masterminding an illicit drugs cartel from their tumbledown greenhouse.
‘What’s he saying?’ Bellows the old man in frustration as his hearing aid whistles like an asthmatic kettle. If I articulate any louder the next door neighbour will be able to join in.
‘He needs our passports and a utility bill.’ Soothes his wife.
‘Eh? What the devil for?’
‘What for love?’ Quizzes the wife with a wry smile.
‘Border Control and Money Laundering.’ I tell her apologetically. She repeats the phrase at what I imagine is the mythical number eleven on an amplifier.
The old boy looks at me with distain.
‘Eh?’ He snarls angrily. ‘He wants the border and my lawn doing? Tell him we have a gardner Liz, and if they don’t like us as we are they can lump us.’
Slight confusion over, unpaid civil servant role reluctantly carried out, I get towards the finishing line, feeling as lost and worn out as the ancient mariner.
‘We don’t want a For Sale board do we Arthur?’ Shouts the wife. The bean counter boss has been riding me weekly - not a pleasant picture - over my board rate penetration. My plea falls on deaf ears.
Low key, high volume marketing then.
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Thursday, August 07, 2014
‘Not a chance.’ Mumbles a sleepy voice.
‘Not literally.’ I tell my wife, before adding. ‘Are you awake then?’ Which on sleepy reflection wasn’t the smartest response.
‘I am now.’ She replies sourly.
‘What time is it?’ I ask wearily. I have a good idea, as I’ve woken at the same time three night’s running.
‘It’s nearly half-past two and you have your own watch.’ Comes the testy reply. ‘Now go back to sleep.’
Not a hope in hell, I think, as I sigh and clamber out of bed to the sort of feminine groan that used to signal slightly more success than waking your partner, before making a solitary cup of tea.
If I wanted to be picky, I think drowsily as I stumble down the stairs, I’d have pointed out to my wife that her time check was a tad inaccurate. The moment I woke up, praying it was after 6.30am, was 2.22am precisely. Like one of those endless Paranormal Activity movies I’ve been pinging awake at exactly the same time for several days now, but the only levitation around tends to involve lifting inappropriate nighttime snacks from the fridge. Needless to say the suggestion of a fixed camera in the bedroom received a frosty response.
Despite loony ladies’ claims to have ghosts residing in their home - still not a great sale clincher - the only poltergeist I have found is the malicious one in my head. A spectre that has me fretting over sales figures and management accounts at sparrow-fart o’clock. Paradoxically, the more you crave sleep the more elusive it becomes, no matter how dog tired you are.
Tossing and turning doesn’t work for me - particularly the tossing as my wife is a light sleeper - so I inevitably end up sloping downstairs for a piss and a cup of tea. Sadly the bladder seems to be weakening along with the mind.
At first, with the thrill of smoking a brand new car and visiting luxury homes I could aspire to if I hit my targets year-on-year, the thrill of house sales kept me running on adrenalin. No matter how hard I worked, I slept like a log. But slowly, insidiously, like water eroding a rock, the pressure of ever increasing targets and ever increasing responsibility began to take its toll. Now I wake up head spinning like an elderly hard drive. I have a feeling I’ve reached capacity.
‘Open you bastard.’ I mutter, as the ancient PC spins and splutters to life, while my cup of tea cools alongside me. The house is silent as a grave now my two sons have left for university and unless my wife starts snoring it’s going to remain that way - other than the tip-tap of a keyboard - until the radio alarm goes off.
Dilemma. Do I look at my office sales figures and the management accounts, the reason I was cattle-prodded awake at 2.22am, or do I write a blog entry and Tweet a few times to fellow insomnia sufferers? I might even have an anonymous exchange with my fellow realtors around the world. Intriguing, but not likely to pay the mortgage. I open the management accounts - eventually.
I’ve always had the gift of the gab, it’s the reason good sales people are often born performers, but mathematics has remained a foreign language to me. If the calculator hadn’t been invented I’m sure I’d be stacking shelves in a supermarket store somewhere, with the prospect of ending up like one of those grey-haired old men collecting snaking lines of trollies in the car park, when they should be lunchtime drinking and reminiscing.
Whatever the numerical equivalent of dyslexia is, I think I have it. My bean counter boss is a figure-fiddler par-excellence but couldn’t flog a life-raft to a drowning man. They say the meek shall inherit the earth, well they’ll be dull, with halitosis and an accountancy qualification.
My mind rapidly becomes snow-blinded by the blizzard of figures. My ailing computer spews out columns and lines but I’m running a drowsy Windows 2000 in my head.
It just doesn’t add up.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2014
‘Looks like it’s going to be another warm one.’ Says my wife, tugging back the curtains to let an unaccustomed cascade of light into the bedroom. I wince at the brightness and in preparation for the long-running dispute that I can sense is about to recommence.
After decades of selling homes, in all markets and all weathers, I still can’t quite get use to the few short months when the bedside alarm ushers in the local radio retards, in daylight. Incidentally, it’s probably just me, but it seems you need to have some sort of speech impediment to get into broadcasting now - and a name with no vowels in it.
‘What are you wearing today?’ Asks my wife. This would seem like a perfectly innocent question to a bystander - although why anyone would be standing in my bedroom unannounced I can’t imagine. Move along, nothing to see here. But I know there’s a barely hidden agenda.
‘I’m not going through that again.’ I tell her as I stumble towards the shower.
‘I’ve ironed a couple.’ Counters my wife artfully.
‘I’ve told you a hundred times,’ I say wearily. ‘I’d look like an Australian bank manger in a short-sleeve shirt.’
‘I’m not suggesting you wear the shorts and knee-length socks.’ Counters my wife, eyes heavenwards.
She just doesn’t get it.
The UK weather doesn’t present too many occasions for this sort of marital dispute, but over the course of my stubborn career I’ve had this running argument, every few days our summer doesn’t resemble an Indian rainy season.
‘You’ll be much more comfortable.’ Says my wife as I arrive back five minutes later, soggy and still groggy. She’s holding up a flimsy piece of clothing enticingly, but not in a good way. Short-sleeves just don’t look professional in my opinion. I strive for that Barack Obama level of cool, roll up the long sleeves if you have to, but don’t resemble a barman in a Spanish cocktail bar. The item she’s presenting was an unwise purchase for a Greek holiday and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even wear it then. Although after several glasses of post-prandial Ouzo I can barely remember my own name, let alone which dodgy Marks and Spencer summer shirt I was wearing when I danced on the table.
‘Are you even doing anything?’ I shout at my car dashboard, as the traffic slows and I try to calculate if I’ll still be the first in the office - almost certainly. My arms are warming like a couple of kebabs on a barbecue, and I’m more hot under the collar than usual. I spin the dial on the fan and all I get is more noise and a higher velocity of warm air. The air conditioning in my ageing company car, needs topping up again. I just can’t face the customer service hell hole the local main dealer provides. There are only so many molten-plastic-laced cups of vending machine coffee you can endure, only to be told: ‘The parts for that ain’t in stock mate. You’ll have to come back next wednesday.’
‘Morning.’ Says negotiator S warmly, as she breezes through the door and I sit at the main desk, sweat dripping down my back unpleasantly. S looks hot too, but in a much less sweaty way - although….
I watch as she walks to the kitchen area, puts the kettle on then returns to her desk. Demure just about covers it. She’s in a skirt and sleeveless blouse combo. The top must be man made, as the fibres are under almost as much pressure as I am.
Then the door opens again and the contrast couldn’t be more dramatic. B our loose lettings lush click-clacks in on those vertiginous heels. She’s rocking the slutty teacher look. Skirt shorter than S’s by a good three inches, dark lacy bra showing conspicuously through a white top. More make-up than a circus act. And stockings.
Finally M, the man-mountain mortgage peddler arrives. He’s perspiring like a cook at a Chinese take-away. Deep damp patches under his arms and a moist line down his dark blue shirt, tracing his vertebrae. No sign of a jacket.
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