Gathered in a crescent shape around the spread newsprint are assistant manager T, negotiator S and over-sized mortgage man M. M is grazing bovine-like on something crumbly, T is staring rather prissily over the top of his designer glasses, and S is tilted forward, her impressive décolletage seemingly pointing, like the late twin-towers, towards the article.
All three look up guiltily as they see me enter. And trainee F, who has apparently been reading the story upside-down, although whether he’s noticed is a moot point, turns to join them. They know I hate people reading my paper. It’s a form of illegal downloading, inevitable in an age where everyone expects content for free, but it doesn’t stop me disliking it. Particularly when I find telltale sugar granules and jam stains on the editorial, when I read it for the first time.
‘You won’t believe this latest nonsense.’ Begins T earnestly, waving his hand towards the newsprint. It’s a sales tactic, aimed at diverting me from my nascent grumble about staff sullying my virginal paper. Then speaking of soiled goods, B our lettings tramp clumps through the door, and seeing the grouping clip-clops in ill-advised heels to join us. I can sense, and will see later, the pockmark indentations she’s leaving in the cheap laminated flooring.
‘Someone died?’ Asks B in a waft of freshly applied perfume, with undertones of gin and juniper.
‘Someone’s always died.’ Opines M with a shrug that spills more secondary food matter across my exposed pages.
‘No,’ hurries T, sensing my antipathy. ‘It’s about property.’
Distracted, as was no doubt T’s intention, I ask wearily. ‘What’s it about this time?’
Now people love to talk about property, it’s why spurious television programmes about relocators, auction baiters and masturbators, have burgeoned in the last ten years. And editors in need of copy seem more than happy to join the bandwagon by dispatching Sloaney journalists named Daisy, Poppy or Pansy, to view something over-priced or unusual. As long as it can be reached via the Tube network.
‘Do they make these statistics up?’ Asks S innocently, waving at the story before her. ‘Only it seems they are in a completely different market to us.’
‘They just grab the nearest lenders’ press release,’ I tell S suppressing a sigh. ‘Then ring a few agents at random from the London phonebook, for a quote.’
‘They just invent the rest I reckon.’ Adds T saliently.
‘They never ring me.’ Says F with a pout and everyone laughs.
‘Perhaps they should.’ I tell the fool. ‘It would be about as believable.’
Back in the sanctuary of my office I scan the article, suppressing huffs and groans only partially successfully. It’s never been any different. The central London market bearing about as much resemblance to activity in Southampton, or Sunderland, as Simon Cowell’s life does to simple-Simon the slightly retarded pie-man, who sells M his breakfast pasty every morning.
I could write stuff more relevant than this, I think, as I push the article aside disdainfully. Well obviously I do, only I don’t get paid for it, which only serves to irritate me further. I see enough quirky property in a week to pen half a dozen leader columns. And I could certainly be sniffy and patronising about people’s décor, if I could claim travel expenses and a boozy lunch for telling the tale.
After my airline pilot dream foundered on funding and an inability to grasp basic maths, and the rock star fantasy failed for want of a guitar and the requisite manual dexterity, I harboured – still do – the writers delusion. To date, the lack of a journalism degree, a girlie name, together with a limited grasp of possessive apostrophes and past participles, have kept me flogging homes. But there’s always hope.
‘Call for you on line two.’ Trills S, a hint of a giggle in her voice, before adding incongruously. ‘Says her name is Buttercup.’
For a moment I dream it’s a commissioning editor with money to burn.
Turns out, it’s that silly cow from Acacia Gardens again.