‘What?’ F finally asks.
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ I snap back, as everybody else in the office finds a renewed interest in their overnight e-mails. This isn’t bullying. I call it an education. Something the minor public school F’s mother paid countless thousands she couldn’t afford to, palpably failed to provide.
I notice negotiator S making surreptitious hand gestures towards F. She’s far too nice for this game. F looks back at her bemused, a puppy-dog pleading in his eyes as he follows her mime of knotting something for his neck - sadly not a noose.
I crack first.
‘Tie!’ I yell slightly feverishly, reaching into the desk drawer for one of a few neutral spares I keep for unforeseen baby sick, leaking pens and food spillages. Or in this case a cretin with the fashion sense of an Orang-Utan. And amazingly, he asks what’s wrong with the over-wide slice of synthetics he’s sporting.
‘Comedy ties are not funny.’ I inform him curtly. What might just work, briefly, on a Christmas morning, won’t last beyond the first outside appointment in the real world. No cartoon characters – not even The Simpsons – no jaunty messages, and definitely nothing that requires batteries.
‘I thought it might get a few chuckles.’ Counters F doggedly. ‘Provoke a conversation or two.’
‘Only with the Job Centre.’ I tell the buffoon abruptly, before tossing him the tie I least want back. I confess the paisley period pieces from the 1980s are still somewhere in my wardrobe, but then everyone looked like a joke back then. Thank God I couldn’t grow a proper moustache.
‘Couple of valuations for you.’ Announces S when I hobble back from my lunchtime lope to the paper shop. She doesn’t wear a tie and a fleeting vision of giving her a novelty necklace is swiftly curtailed by my overriding interest in potential business. I check out the two addresses and groan, slightly too loud.
‘What?’ Asks S defensively. She’s probably battled hard to make the appointments so my ungrateful response isn’t any more welcome than the pearls idea would be.
One address has sparked my interest, a road I’ve never been to. Even now there are a few left.
The excitement of visiting a new home, even after all this time working the same patch, is akin to that shivery thrill you get when you open the darkened drapes at the holiday room you booked nine months ago. Invariably the anticipation proves greater than the reality – like a lot of things in life – and you end up looking at a dusty car park and some overspill bins from the kitchen, shortly before the column of hungry ants start marching towards the boiled sweets sweating enticingly in your flight bag.
‘The first one looks interesting.’ I tell her, remembering the almost orgasmic joy landing a new instruction that you just know will sell, brings. Then the negativity drenches me like a sudden downpour. ‘It’s just the other place is such a crap location.’
‘Everyone has to live somewhere.’ Argues S with just the hint of a pout. Quite a beguiling one as it happens.
She’s right. I’m still learning. And there’s plenty I’d like her to teach me. Only most of it doesn’t include a run-down 1960s-built slew of concrete construction skyscrapers - it’s the wrong sort of erection all together.
I paste on an apologetic smile and thank her for the valuations. After all I visit plenty of places I’d love to live but can’t afford to, so I should remember not to be too picky about semi-slums where I wouldn’t leave my company car, let alone my family.
I’ll try and tie them both in for sixteen weeks. There’s no accounting for taste.