Friday, September 15, 2017

Alive Still Kicking - Friday

‘Don’t get old will you.’ States the grey-haired man rhetorically as I sigh internally. If I’ve heard that statement once, from an elderly owner, I’ve heard it a thousand times. But you have to humour potential vendors if you want their business - particularly if you’d like to sign-up a sole agency before the complications of probate and bickering beneficiaries. 

‘I just don’t know where the time has gone.’ Ruminates the old fella, as I glance at the overgrown garden and think; well you didn't spend it cutting the shrubbery back.

‘I sometimes forget how ancient I’ve become.’ Continues the man, eyes focused in the middle-distance. Yes, yes. Here we go.
‘And then I look in the mirror and hardly recognise the old fool looking back at me,’
That I can relate to, granddad. 

Ageing and the housing needs of the baby boomers who are suddenly becoming unsteady on their feet, is a massive demographic ticking-time bomb. I don’t think over-priced, shrunken-square footage, sheltered homes are the answer. Particularly with onerous leases, unfair clauses for re-sales and spiralling service charges just when the owners are running out of funds. 

‘The family keep telling me I can’t cope with this place.’ Continues the man waving his hand towards the overgrown garden. ‘But I've had the best times of my life here. I don’t want to go and live in a box that smells of cabbage, where old women play whist all afternoon with daytime television on at volumes even I can hear.’

I’m warming to this sparky pensioner, something I try to avoid. Liking your client is dangerous. Particularly if you are tempted to tell them to stay put and get a home help in three times a week - until you fall over on the nightly piss run, too often. I’ll always do my utmost to get a good result for a vendor, it’s a matter of professional pride, but becoming fond of them is a luxury I can’t afford.

‘I told you Patricia is in one of those ghastly care homes, didn’t I?’ Says the old man. ‘Only I’m becoming forgetful.’
He did and I don’t blame him for trying to forget it. His wife is apparently totally unaware when he visits, being kept alive for no real hope or reason, and it’s costing this poor old man £1500 a week.

‘Two years she’s been in there, young man, God alone knows what its cost me.’
£1444,000. And it’s the reason the family think he needs to downsize. If he’d been profligate and not bought his own house and had savings of less than about £23,000 the local taxpayer would be funding his wife’s care. Its a funny old world.

I pitch a price and my fee and he becomes sharper than before.
‘My son says I can get it done for just an up-front fee with one of those inter-web things.’ He means an on-line agent - or call-centre, as professional agents name them.
I start to counter this argument, with cautionary tales of impersonal, non-local service, dearth of industry knowledge and a lack of motivation to see the deal through, if you’ve been paid irrespective of result.

‘Oh you don’t need to tell me that.’ Says the man decisively. ‘ I’ve been around long enough to know you get what you pay for.’
Care homes, excluded, I think fleetingly.
‘I don’t want some kid in shorts dealing with my property.’
That’s the stuff, sir..
‘I want someone a bit long in the tooth - like yourself.’
Not so flattering….

‘What do you think about those sanitised boxes, with the pull cords and a communal lounge?’ Asks the man as my pen hovers, in his trembly hands, over the sole agency agreement. I hate them with a passion, they rip-off vulnerable old folk and are often worth less than the dead parents paid for them, when the grieving family come to sell.

I feel a bit sick as I leave. I’ve indulged in more fudge and had an unwelcome glimpse into my future.

Still, a sole agency and a For Sale board can’t be bad.


Friday, September 01, 2017

Drying Ink - Friday

‘So you’re sure we can’t wear short-sleeve shirts?’ Presses assistant manager T, as the uncharacteristically warm weather continues. 
‘You can wear them.’ I tell him ‘ You’ll just look like some plonker who belongs in a fast food outlet.’

‘But they can wear short-sleeve blouses.’ Whines T, gesturing towards the women.
‘Yes,’ agrees trainee F. ‘Doesn’t it seem a bit…’
Please don’t say it.
He said it.

I have a file full of memos - yes, I still print them off - detailing crimes, real, or thought, that the women in Human Resources have flagged-up, most ending in “ism”. Now there’s an industry that is actually growing. They don’t actually produce anything useful, but if you were a careers advisor you’d surely be telling young girls to get some HR qualifications.

‘You just don’t look the part.’ I say wearily. ‘People will mistake you for a McDonald’s employee, or a Hawaiian on holiday.’
‘You’re just exaggerating boss.’ Says F.
Well that’s what I do, particularly when giving people a price on their home. Honesty gets you nowhere, particularly with all the shitesters out there.

‘It does seem a bit unfair on the boys.’ Says negotiator S, leaning forward and nearly spilling out of her over-cantilevered top.
‘She has a point.’ Suggests T.
Two quite prominent ones as it happens.
‘People just expect you to look the part.’ I say, dragging myself back on topic.

‘Not sure they do any more.’ Counters T. ‘Only the old ones.’
‘They’re the ones with the money and the property.’ I remind him . ‘That’s why you shouldn’t have a beard, or tattoos and should polish your shoes daily.’
‘God, not that old chestnut.’ Yawns T. ‘Nobody cares.’
They do.

Now I know I’m getting long in the tooth - it’s why that painful extraction took so long at the dentist recently - but some truisms remain in sales. People judge you quickly when you arrive at their home to pitch for the business. And if you are at a disadvantage straight away, because of your grubby shoes, dodgy tie, or badly-inked tattoos, you’re on a hiding to nothing.

‘Yeh, but you’ve got an obsession with tattoos.’ Says T, as the conversation meanders on.
‘He is right.’ Contributes loose lettings lush B, from her desk. ‘Nearly everyone has one nowadays.’
Yes, and in her case it makes her look even more like a desperate middle-aged slapper, trying too hard.

‘But you’re saddled with them for life.’ I say, to a communal groan. ‘Why not just get a temporary one? Then when you grow up you won’t look like some itinerant fairground worker.’
‘Some of them are works of art, actually.’ Snipes B.
Not the miss-spelt ones, or the cretinous on the face graffiti - and don't even start me on why some knucklehead needs left and right, or love and hate, actually on their knuckles.

I know times change. My mother used to warn me of dire consequences if I ate food in the street. Informing me I’d end up looking like a lorry driver, if I masticated in public. The same fate was predicted if I didn’t pay attention at school. As it happens driving an articulated rig looks a reasonable career choice now. Freedom of the open road, in charge of your own destiny and plenty of room for tax-free cash if you can squeeze a few economic migrants behind the pumpkin pallets. 

‘The point I’m making.’ I labour.
‘Is you’re old-fashioned and prejudiced.’ Interjects T, with a sly wink towards S.
Am I? God, I might have to check the HR file to see if I need to file a self-disclosure report.
‘Just don’t wear a short-sleeve shirt,’ I snap, as morbidly obese mortgage man M waddles in.
‘Or people will tell you they want to go large.’
There’s an awkward silence.

‘What?’ demands M, clutching - disappointingly - a Burger King bag.
‘Fascists and fashion crimes.’ Says T, obliquely.
M shrugs and wobbles away.

‘Look, I could cut off a mullet, ditch the suit with the turn-up trousers and shave a mistaken moustache. But you’re stuck with a this way up arrow on your arse forever.’ I conclude.

And I thought hissing was confined to the pantomime.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Alternative Angle - Tuesday

‘You’ve got a late valuation this evening.’ Says negotiator S, with an apologetic smile. She knows I don’t like working after 6.00pm. I’ve invariably been at the office since 8.15am, and rarely stop for lunch.

‘I think she’s serious.’ Adds S, hurriedly. ‘Not a time-waster.’
‘They’re all time-wasters.’ Says assistant manager T, with a scowl. I look at him quizzically and wonder why he hasn’t taken the after hours appointment? He knows, and says.
‘Thought you’d be best placed to win the business, boss. She’s a bit of a weirdo.’ It just gets better.

‘They weren’t weird, just a little new age.’ Says S, defensively.
‘So there’s a husband?’ I say hopefully. Always a better chance of winning the instruction if both parties are present.
‘No, she’s on her own.’ Says S.
‘Err, you said, they.’ I press.
‘Yep, she had three kids with her.’ Answers S.
There must have been some male involvement, I think wearily. Even if it was just to provide a sample and buy the turkey baster.

‘That’s typical of a man.’ Snipes B, from her lettings’ desk.
I spread my hands, questioningly.
‘You just think a woman needs a man for everything.’
Traditionally it helps to create children. Although the world isn’t the same one I entered in the last century.

‘I just need to know if there’s a joint-owner involved.’ I say.
‘She looks like she’s done a spliff, or two.’ Says T chuckling.
‘God, you are so judgemental.’ Says S, angrily.
‘Told you, typical man,’ say B. ‘ The world would be a lot better without them.’ She’s obviously had anther long run of left-swipes, on her Tinder profile.

‘Well come on,’ says T. ‘The two boys with her both needed a good hair cut and the little girl had junior Dr Marten boots on.’
‘They were just exploring an alternative world and lifestyle.’ Says S, pouting attractively.
‘Not the real world then,’ I say. ‘ So how can they even afford the house they are thinking of selling. Has it got negative equity?’ I do a lot of fool’s errands but I prefer them to be in working hours, if I’m just being used for insurance purposes.

‘She inherited money from her parents and owns the house, actually.’ Answers S.
‘Reason for thinking of selling?’ I press.
‘They want to travel and self-school for a while.’

‘Hah.’ Bellows fat mortgage man M, who unbeknown to me has been listening from the sidelines. Not sure how I missed him, as he’s almost the size of a starter home, now.
‘Those sort of wastrels piss the inheritance up the wall, travel to Thailand to find themselves, then come back and kick up a stink because they can’t get to the top of the council house waiting list.’
‘You don’t know that.’ Snaps S. ‘You are just jealous, it would be educational for the little ones, travel broadens the mind.’
Don’t think M, needs to be any broader.
‘So don’t the kids have to start in school?’ Asks trainee F, with a frown. Not sure why he’s interested in educational attainment. His mother wasted tens of thousand on his schooling. But you can’t make a silk purse…. from ……a complete arse.

‘They are already screwed.’ Says T, mockingly. ‘The two oldest ones, the boys with the mullet hair cuts and highlights, have been at that oddballs school by the woods.’
‘Which one is that?’ Asks F.
‘The one named after a salad, or something.’
‘Waldorf.’ Says S, with a shake of her head.

‘It’s alternative learning.’ I enlighten F. ‘Sometimes called Steiner schools, I think. Anyway they learn holistic stuff, encourage kids to use imagination and artistic skills.’ I’m on the edge of my knowledge here.
‘So they come out unemployable, with no real qualifications and a vegan habit.’ Sneers M.
‘And if you asked them to work in sales,’ says T giggling. ‘They’d cry the first time someone shafted them, need whale music, counselling and a bowl of quinoa, then prefer to weave something out of wicker than work the printer.’

It’s going to be a long night.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Gardener's World - Monday

‘Got a valuation for you after lunch.’ Announces assistant manager T, as I come back to the office. I raise an inquisitive eyebrow.
‘What?’ Asks T.
‘You didn’t want to do it yourself?’
‘More your age demographic.’ Answers T. ‘Thought you’d have things in common, form a bond, get the business, that sort of thing.’

It’s a theory. I do try and send the right person for the right job wherever possible, matching the younger punters to our fresher-faced staff, the older clients who want experience and a few grey hairs to myself and the gay couples to the prettiest staff member of the same sex. Only, I can’t help feeling T is just being lazy again. You could put a sloth in a tractor and it would have more drive than T.

‘Where’s the valuation form?’ I ask.
‘On your desk.’ Says T.
‘Any chance of a cuppa?’ I say, heading for the aforementioned paperwork. There’s a silence that becomes uncomfortable as people find renewed interest in their computer screens. I pick up the valuation form, then head for the kitchen.

‘Anyone else?’ I shout, as I fill the kettle, while reading the detail T has garnered. A chorus of yes pleases echoes back at me. Terrific. When I first started in this job the junior did all the refreshment making, photocopying and envelope filling. My man of the people, don’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do schtick, is possibly being taken for granted.

‘I think I know this house.’ I announce, with the valuation form tucked under my arm, as I bring back a tray of steaming teas and coffees.’
‘They said they thought they might know you.’ Says T, grabbing his personalised mug.
‘They were about your age group.’ Adds negotiator S, taking her coffee, with a disarming smile.
‘Ageing well, like George Clooney?’ I ask hopefully.
‘Nah, just old.’ Says trainee F, with a chortle.
Leaflet drop for him later.

‘Think it’s the house on the corner, with the pampas grass outside.’ I muse, out loud, as I scan the form.
‘Hah!’ Exclaims, loose lettings lush B, from her desk. ‘You know what that means.’
‘What?’ Asks T, as I grimace.
‘That they’re a pair of swingers.’ Says B, with authority - and she should know.
‘Golfers?’ Quizzes F, with a frown.
‘Not exactly love,’ says B. ‘Although they do like a good bunker-up.’

I’ve known for some time, the rumour that those who plant pampas grass in their front garden might be swingers, I can only imagine the confusion it can cause with less well-informed gardeners, who keep getting unwanted callers offering services other than window cleaning and tree-trimming. 

‘So what is a swinger?’ Presses F, as the others giggle.
‘Well it’s nothing to do with those children’s play-things at the park.’ Says T, before adding with a frown. ‘At least I hope not.’

‘Wife swappers.’ Enlightens fat finance man M, joining the conversation.
‘Only not like your missus.’ Says T unhelpfully. ‘She just traded you in for a younger, thinner model.’
‘F••k off.’ Spits M. 
Think I’ll let him off the swear box for that one.

‘So not like the old TV programme on Channel Four?’ Asks F. 
‘That was more about exchanging lifestyles, love.’ Says S.
‘Not fluids.’ Adds T, with a smirk.

‘Yuck.’ Announces F, when he finally realises the implications. ‘But they were like my mother's age. People don’t still shag then do they?’
There’s a long, awkward silence, until F realises what he's said.
‘Umm, I didn’t mean like you boss,’ he stutters. ‘Anyway you are probably well past all that sort of thing anyway - didn’t you say you had National Trust membership?’

Once T and F have been dispatched on a leaflet drop round the crappiest part of town, the conversation continues.

‘It’s probably just a ridiculous rumour.’ I say, as I prepare for the appointment.
‘No. It’s true.’ Says B, authoritatively. 
‘I’m sure they are just regular nice people, who go to garden events and book clubs.’ I hypothesise.
‘Yeh, bush-trimming and Fifty Shades Of Grey.’ Says M, with an unpleasant chuckle.

If I do get the business, perhaps I’ll suggest an open house event….


Friday, July 21, 2017

Biting Back The Tears - Thursday

‘Wish me luck.’ I say to my wife as she leans in for the traditional peck on the cheek, pre work departure.
‘Expecting problems today?’ She asks. She’s clearly not been paying attention for a couple of decades. I’m an estate agent, problems come with the job.

‘The dentist.’ I tell her, pointing to the lost filling.
‘Oh don’t be such a softy.’ She chides. ‘Maybe they’ll give you a lollipop, if you’re a good boy.’
That’s kind of how the problems started, as it happens. 

Obviously my parents’ generation all had false teeth by the time they were in their forties, my generation had endless fillings before we reached senior school and the current bunch squeal if they need treatment before they get their driving licence. I still think that ghastly old dentist I had as a child was some sort of pervert who got off on children’s screams, drilling teeth without anaesthetic.

‘You on any drugs of any kind?’ Asks the bored-looking receptionist, when I arrive. Only alcohol, which I self medicate after bad days - most days. I answer in the negative, don’t think they cross-check with the local Majestic wholesaler.

‘There’s a form to fill out.’ Says the girl yawning and displaying a mouth devoid of amalgam. Of course there is.
‘And they’ll buzz you when there are ready.’ It turns out, much to my surprise, the Polish lady is still practicing dentistry in the UK - she still doesn’t have any vowels in her name though. I’m hoping she doesn’t feel too alienated by the political climate, as the ability to inflict pain is very much in her hands.

‘Are you still the estate agent?’ She asks, when I’m prone in the chair, light in my eyes. I’m an estate agent, I want to correct, but appropriately, I bite my tongue. Pedantry and dentistry are probably not a good mix. It should be fairly obvious I’m selling something anyway, as nobody else is daft enough to wear a suit and tie in this weather.

‘Hmm.’ Mutters the woman as her assistant peers into my open mouth and mimics her boss. I know it’s not a pretty sight, but I do a lot of grinding.
‘This might hurt.’ Says the dentist, prodding with a steel implement. My yelp of distress comes out at least an octave higher than I’d have liked.

‘Two options.’ Concludes the black widow of Gdansk.
‘The nerve is exposed, so I can’t fill it in case you get a serious infection. So I recommend extraction.’
Surely that’s one option. I press.
‘Well I could do a temporary filling but it will come out again.’
Still one option.

‘Can you do it now?’ I say, not sure which answer I want.
‘Yes, but it’s a wisdom tooth, they can be difficult. If it doesn’t come cleanly, I’ll have to refer you to hospital.’
F**k. The only thing I hate more than the dentist, is A & E.
‘Crack on.’ I instruct, with as it turns out, unfortunate prescience.

Two injections later and wielding the sort of medieval instruments the Spanish Inquisition would have been familiar with, I’m in squirming agony. I can hear the tooth moving and ripping at the base, inside my head. And with a gut-wrenching crunch, it breaks off at the gum. Not much wisdom left, I think, grimly. But as it turns out the root is still keen to hang in there.

‘Not good.’ Says the dentist, and her assistant agrees as she enthusiastically vacuums out blood like a vampire at an abattoir.
‘One more try and it’s the hospital.’ She says, leaning in. Now I’m sure there’s a website out there for those who favour eastern European women in uniform, squatting on their chest. But I just want my credit card details back.

With one final wrench, I can still hear and feel now, the shattered tooth comes free.
‘Are you a vegetarian or vegan?’ Enquires the dentist. And my head spins. What the f**k?
‘I have gelatine to stop the bleeding, but it has animal product.’
Stick a whole leg of lamb in there, wool and all. Just stop me from drowning in my own plasma, lady.

‘Good day?’  Asks my wife.

I’ve had better.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Heart Of Glass - Friday

‘Have you seen the cut-price cowboy’s window?’ Asks assistant manager T, when I arrive back from another bitch-fest of a managers’ meeting. He’s caught me unawares, as usually I’m the first in and take advantage of the early hour to check out the oppositions’ window displays. It’s old-fashioned I know, as most people snoop via the internet, but old habits die hard.

‘Surprised you’ve actually looked.’ I say, a little churlishly. T can be more laid back than an ex-pats sun-bed, but perhaps he’s finally showing a flicker of ambition.
‘Couldn’t miss it.’ Replies T. Perhaps not.
‘There’s a big board across the main window, looks like someone took a disliking to them and smashed it.’

‘Is that why you are late in?’ Asks loose lettings-lush B with a smirk.
‘He had a managers’ meeting.’ Says negotiator S, supportively and she knows all about support.
‘He could have bricked it last night.’ Suggests T, with a chuckle.
I did brick it last night, but that was only when preparing my figures for the breakfast meeting grilling. Financial services sales were way below target for the month and I knew I’d be in for flack from the bean-counter boss. Once a figure-fiddler, always one.

‘Probably a disgruntled buyer.’ Says S.
‘Or seller.’ Offers T.
‘Or pissed off tenant.’ Says B.
Everyone looks expectantly at morbidly obsess fiancĂ© man M. ‘ What?’ he demands defensively.
‘Well you were responsible for PPI sales to a shed-load of people who weren’t eligible for a pay-out.’ presses, S.
‘That was an admin error.’ Says M.
‘Like endowment mortgages and accident sickness and redundancy policies for the self-employed.’ I say, with a chortle.

‘Oops.’ I say as the door trembles in it’s frame.’ M has stormed off, narrowly failing to shatter our front window. Fortunately, in this business I have a glazier on speed-dial.
‘You pissed him off.’ Says S, with a winning smile.
‘Where do you think he’s going?’ Asks trainee F.
‘To ring the bean-counter, probably.’ I say wearily.
‘I was thinking McDonald’s and some comfort eating.’ Says T.
Either way, I’m expecting a bit of a stink later.

‘What is it with people and estate agents’ windows?’ Asks S, after we’ve all settled with a mug of tea and the phones have gone quiet.
‘Easy target.’ Says T.
‘Well, moving is the one of the top three most stressful events in someone’s life.’ I say, reminding them of the well-quoted statistic. ‘And if it all goes pear-shaped….’
‘…And one in three deals do.’ Chorus S and T in unison, prompting congratulatory high-fives.
‘…well then, you can see why people get angry and the first person they blame is the estate agent.’ I conclude.

‘I reckon it’s just as likely to be another estate agent who stuffed a paving slab through that bunch of shitesters window.’ Suggests T. ‘They undercut me on commission twice last week.’
Everyone looks quizzically at T.
‘No, I didn’t do it.’ He clarifies, hurriedly.
Inside I’m a little disappointed, but then I have been for years.

‘That’s the problem with the on-line operators.’ Says S. 
‘Call centres you mean.’ States T.
‘Yes, there’s no physical presence, nowhere to go in to for help and advice, no human face.’
‘No window to break.’ Says T, shaking his head ruefully.
He still didn’t do it. Sadly.

‘Yes, but it’s not only their window is it?’ Continues F, nodding up the high street to where our cut-fee competitors lurk. ‘You always hear about cars going through estate agents’ windows.’
‘That’s just old codgers with automatic cars, who shouldn’t be driving.’ Says B. ‘ If I upset one of my landlords they’re not about to stick their Range Rover through the display.’

F is stupid, admittedly, but he has a point, I don’t have the statistics but I’m fairly sure I’ve read a disproportionate number of reports detailing cars ploughing through property purveyors’ windows over the years. It’s as though people don’t like us….

‘There’s the glazier’s van.’ Says T later, as the well-known company drive past, huge slab of replacement plate glass mounted down one side.



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Stop Pressing - Tuesday

‘Some reporter from the local paper rang while you were out,’ says negotiator S as I bustle through the office door. ‘ Wants some quotes about the property market.’

‘It’s f••ked.’ Suggests assistant manager T, with a sneer.
‘Swear box.’ Says S, admonishingly.
‘Alright, it’s screwed.’ Continues T. ‘ Too many people, not enough houses being built, overpriced new homes when they do sling them up and a load of Nimbys complain whenever someone wants to built on a bit of crappy common land that they use to let their dogs shit on, without scooping.’

‘Wow. Who pulled your chain?’ Asks S.
‘Every tosser and time-waster that comes though the door, pretty much.’ Concludes T, heading for the kitchen. And I thought I was the cynical one.

‘Did you tell the hack I can’t give quotes without running them by head office, any more?’ I ask, S.
‘Well I wasn’t sure if you would want to speak to them.’
‘The paper, or head office?’ I ask.

To be honest I’m surprised the local rag is even printing still. When I first started they had a huge circulation and a vast property pull-out, every week. But since people started getting their news and property porn, for free on-line, the paper has been in terminal decline. As a wannabe writer I should be  saddened, but in truth they shafted me for years with over-inflated advertising rates and a virtual monopoly they rinsed relentlessly. I hoped that would all end with the rise of on-line platforms, but like a hooker who swapped pimps, I’m still getting used - just by another abuser.

‘You could tell him the rental market is still strong.’ Suggests B from her lettings desk.
‘Until the government meddle with it and start altering tenancies in favour of left-wing wasters who don’t like being evicted when they trash the property and spend the social money on fags and drugs, instead of the rent.’ Says T, popping his head round the corner. The kettle is starting to rumble but he’s already at boiling point.

‘Maybe you could suggest what the politicians could do to start solving the housing crisis.’ Says S, sweetly. She has more faith in me than I do.
‘They wouldn’t listen.’ Says fat finance man M, joining the conversation. ‘They are only interested in short-term posturing and legislating for idiots who whine when they’ve made a bad investment.’
‘Like an endowment mortgage?’ Asks S, pointedly.
‘That wasn’t my fault.’ Responds M, with a jowly pout.

‘Are you going to talk to the reporter?’ Asks T, returning to the office clutching a steaming mug. No sign of making one for anyone else.
‘What’s the point?’ I say, semi-rhetorically. ‘ By the time I’ve got a response from one of those jobsworths at head office, the paper would have gone bust. Either that, or any comments would have been so heavily redacted it will look like an affidavit from Richard Nixon.’

‘Who’s Richard Nixon?’ Asks trainee F. God I feel old, some days.
‘Like Donald Trump, only more credible.’ Says B.
‘Is that right?’ Asks F.
‘Pretty much.’

‘They could do with a few people like you on a housing committee.’ Persists S. They couldn’t. ’People with years of industry experience who could make them understand how the property market works.’
‘Those wastrels wouldn’t listen.’ Sneers T, slurping his tea loudly. ‘ And most of them are gone by the time the shit hits the fan. They are too busy fiddling with their expenses and their interns.’

‘Is there something you’re not telling me?’ I ask T. His head sinks.
‘The Richardsons’ chain broke when you were out, ‘says T flatly. ‘Bad survey, massive down-valuation and the first time-buyers at the bottom have decided to go backpacking instead.’

‘Is that a quote for the paper?’ Asks M, with a wobbly-bellied chuckle.
‘Swear box.’ Says S, nodding towards the over-used tin container.
‘Can it be saved?’ I ask desperately.
‘Old news,’ says T. ‘ Seems it happened last week and both solicitors involved neglected to tell us.’

Nobody would print the next bit.