‘What?’ Quizzes my wife, sensing my hesitation with the sort of laser-guided female insight that makes the wise husband keep everything pink and pasty inside his clothing – except arms apparently. Now I have a dilemma. Spurning an ironed shirt is likely to result in cross words at best and creased shirts or worse. Going to work with your top looking as though you’ve slept in it, shouts divorcee, loser, sad twat who lives on his own in a studio flat and can’t afford those “non-iron” shirts that in truth don’t really work.
‘I’ve told you before there’s nothing wrong with short sleeves.’ Presses my wife, as I sense an argument brewing. One that touches on feminism and men ironing their own clothes if they want to be picky about what’s hanging immaculately pressed, in the wardrobe. But then I need to pitch to punters all day long, and the slightest thing can cost you the business: hair too long, ill-advised jewellery, shoes scuffed can all mean the difference between winning or losing. Looking like some Antipodean realtor who’s escaped from an episode of Neighbours isn’t going to help me. She’ll be expecting me to wear shorts next.
‘I’d rather a long-sleeve,’ I venture gently. ‘I’ve an important meeting later.’ It’s a white lie, but I’m hoping it will defuse the situation. I don’t want to lose the laundered shirts, or her – and particularly the house. Best to circumnavigate the issue.
‘You’ll just roll the sleeves up.’ Suggests my wife accurately.
‘No I won’t.’
‘You will,’ she continues. ‘And then you might as well have worn short sleeves.’
She’s wrong. But I’m not about to tell her. The linen basket is overflowing and the launderette is no place for a flabby middle-aged man to be stripping down to his boxer shorts any longer.
‘Morning.’ Chirrups negotiator S as she breezes through the door serenely. Her blouse doesn’t even have sleeves but the rest of the material is working hard at keeping everything encased. She looks cool and fragrant and I’m already overheating. Cuff links were a mistake. Now, B our lettings lush, comes in. She too, is in a light-weight blouse, it looks suspiciously like the one she had on yesterday and as the chances are she hasn’t been in her own bed last night I might be right. She still looks more comfortable than I feel.
‘Wow it’s baking out there already.’ Gasps assistant manager T as he enters, jacket nowhere to be seen, but sleeves of the long variety, tie loosened at the neck. He’s followed by idiot trainee F, in odd lightweight-looking trousers and some sort of synthetic shirt that probably wicks away moisture like a cycling top. He looks like a div. Then in waddles fat mortgage man M, already puce in the face as he wheezes through the door. Dark stains under his armpits. He’ll stink before we’ve had our mid-morning coffee.
‘Can you turn the air conditioning up?’ gasps M as he sits at a customer’s chair and mops his brow with an off-white handkerchief. The air-con is a blessing when we do get a brief taste of summer, but it costs a fortune to run. As the man responsible for the profit and loss account, I surreptitiously turn it back a notch or two during the day and as soon as I go out, the others wind it back to frosty setting.
‘Alright mate?’ Questions an estuary English voice as I puff towards the car, brief case in one hand. It’s a rival agent, from the trendily decorated office with an espresso machine and sofas. The lad has an open necked shirt, short sleeves and chinos with deck shoes.
‘How’s business?’ he asks as we pass.
‘Hot to trot.’ I lie effortlessly.