‘Can’t we just have some small decorations this year?’ Pleads negotiator S persuasively. ‘Maybe something understated and classy?’ If I thought it would help flog homes, I’d sit naked draped in tinsel in the window with an illuminated todger, but my reputation is already at an all time low. Now, S, in her underwear would be a different matter, but I’m pretty sure one of the butch killjoy women in human resources would object – unless they got to unwrap her….
‘Anyway,’ I tell her in mitigation. ‘We’re not allowed anything overtly religious in case it might cause offence, so the Nativity scene is a no-no.’
‘Bloody ridiculous,’ scoffs fat mortgage man M as he waddles by, appropriately enough, scoffing. ‘This company is losing the plot.’
M is right. Like all corporations the organisation seems paralysed by fear of offending some vocal minority. We receive memo after memo forbidding actions that in the past were permissible. So it’s no pin-ups in the staff area, no jokes that might offend – none worth telling then – and no placing the horny negotiator in bra and knickers in the window. I’m pretty sure the last one would have spread goodwill to all men, but I’m old-fashioned like that.
‘Is a tree going to upset non-Christians?’ Asks trainee F gormlessly. ‘Who gives a shit if we upset them?’ Snaps M angrily. ‘Nobody likes us anyway, so we might as well go for it and whack a fairy on the top, too.’ A brief discussion about the Brighton office distracts us for five minutes until I have to shut that theme down too. Another missive warned about that after the two negotiators’ civil marriage photographs were maliciously circulated - with those added captions.
‘That new lot have got an twinkly LED light tree in their window.’ Persists S, referring to the latest agent to open in town. Positioned in a tertiary position where a gift shop and children’s clothes shop have both failed in the last three years. ‘That’s all they have that’s interesting in the window.’ I carp back, knowing the few homes they are offering are tired old time-wasters at too much money, or cheapskates who want a cheap fee. I’m hoping they have a bleak mid-winter.
‘Any volunteers for the holiday cover period?’ I ask optimistically, hoping to ride the wave of yuletide spirit. The dead zone between Christmas and New Year is always a grim time to staff the office. The bean-counter boss insists we open but he’s usually checking the statistics on his BlackBerry while on the beach somewhere hot. The atmosphere in the office has turned distinctly frosty, though.
‘It’s waste of time for me.’ Concludes M. ‘Nobody will talk about home loans with their credit cards maxed out.’ ‘I’m going away with my boyfriend.’ Announces lettings tramp B, to raised eyebrows. I didn’t even know she had another man in-tow and the chances are she can’t remember his name. I look in vain towards assistant manager T but he avoids my gaze and polishes his glasses fastidiously. I’m just about to forsake any chance of business and ask trainee F, when S speaks up. ‘I’ll come.’ She says breezily. ‘I’ll be fed up, literally and figuratively by then.’
Not sure how well my wife will take the news that I’m working on New Years Eve, but for once I’m actually looking forward to the holiday period.