Cards on the table, this is a rant, the tirade of a prospective homebuyer.
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of... Well,
you choose. It's the same story all over. All over Britain, at least.
But where to start? Let's spare you the agonies of getting a mortgage
- all that business with interest rates, APR (which will never mean
Spring to me again), insuring the insurance on the insurance on your
mortgage etc. Let's move straight to a real treat: The Estate Agent.
They, I feel, merit capitals - as in punishment. With the possible exception
of lawyers, Estate Agents are the most unpopular people in the country,
probably the world. Hardly surprising. Being an estate agent isn't a
vocation, it's a vacation. And you're the one paying for their summer
holidays and winter breaks. Your first contact will probably be by telephone.
'Could you send me details of properties between X and Y thousand pounds
You'll receive a long list of everything but. But, don't despair, there
are plenty of agencies to choose from. (So why is it always Carol-How-May-I-Help-You
who answers the phone?) Eventually, one of these plush agencies manages
to scare up something that vaguely resembles what youre after.
It's more expensive, has fewer rooms, and is not quite in the geographical
area. But close. Actually, in this case, up a close in Partick, Glasgow.
'Can I see it on Saturday?'
'Sorry sir, we don't work Saturdays.'
'One evening this week then?'
'I'm afraid the power's been cut off at number ten - daytime viewing
'But I work!' (Have to, to qualify for this bloody mortgage.)
'We all work, sir.'
So, you manage to blag an hour off from your job, race across the city,
and wait on the street in the freezing cold. Beating your arms about
your body helps a little, but it would have been better to have brought
a coat. Eventually, you have your first close (sic) encounter with a
being from outer space.
Ah yes, Mr Sucker, it hisses, sliding from its luxury German
flying saucer and fixing you with cobra eyes fixed in a Klingon face.
'Come to view the property? The name's Bland, James Bland, licensed
to con... Sorry I'm a few minute late...' (HALF AN HOUR!) '...detained
by a client in Easy Street. Brass monkeys out, eh?'
Inside the building, your eyes accustom themselves to the Stygian gloom
and penitentiary ambience of the hallway of a 'traditional blond sandstone
What happened to peroxide blond sandstone dwellings, by the way?
Bland smiles, an unenigmatic smile: Weve got a right one here.
Myriad flights of grey concrete stairs later, as you try to catch whats
left of your breath, glad just to have survived the physical, you reach
number T/2 A. Its identified by a plate hanging off the door which
has been recently assailed by a madman with an axe.
'Feel free to look around, Mr Sucker. You have a schedule? No? Sorry,
I'm right out, myself. Contact the office, they'll be pleased to send
'The office already promised to send one - last week. This room's not
too bad. Pity about the black wallpaper, though. May I see the rest?'
'But where would one sleep?'
'I believe the last occupier had a bed-settee.'
More likely hung by the feet in a wardrobe during the hours of daylight,
judging by the decor.
'Whose responsible for the roof repairs?' By this time you've realised
the Niagara Falls mural is moving.
'I'm afraid I can't tell you that, Mr Sucker. Actually, I only do this
part-time. I'm a heating engineer really. So, if you need central heating
installed, I'm your man.'
'What is the heating in this place?'
'I think there's a candle under the sink.'
Obviously, this has to be taken more seriously. A few days off work,
see as many places as possible, try to get the feel of what's on the
market. The days you pick happen to coincide with the start of the Arctic-Monsoon
season. (Incidentally, heres a hypothesis, the Bijou Hypothesis,
that Estate Agents all that hot-air - are the principal cause
of global warming.) Sodden and shivering, you drag yourself from cardboard
box to air-raid shelter to death-row cell - all masquerading as 'ideal
One day, thirty-three dreary domiciles later, you're so wet and disillusioned
you try to catch a bus. (Why are all properties 'conveniently placed
for rail services' actually only served biannually by the Trans-Siberian
Express?) The bus driver indicates, via incoherent mumbles, invective
and elementary sign language, that unless you have the correct change,
there's no chance of a ride. Dumbly you stand proffering your five-pound
note, entreating mercy with your eyes. But there is none. You're thrown
back into the street, into a puddle of Dead Sea proportions. Angry too
late - as ever - you yell after the departing bus.
'You should have been a bloody Estate Agent, pal!'
As you go down for the third time, you courageously hold your fiver
above water. After all, it's not really yours; you're just keeping it
safe for a Surveyor. Oh look, there's one swimming in the same puddle
- you can tell by the fin. Head for the shore!
Using a combination of wading and breaststroke, you reach the Estate
Agent's office number 666. It's so warm and dry in there that
tears start to mix with raindrops, blurring your vision of the creature
behind the desk. In the depths of winter her flesh is orange, iridescent
turquoise skin surrounds her eyes. Oh, oh, another alien. At first,
she is unaware of your presence. She continues happily filing her nails
and talking on the telephone, which is clamped between rouged cheek
and padded shoulder. Judging by the giggles and pleasurable squirming,
she's not talking to a client. You wonder how much per minute her boyfriend
pays for calls from Mars. Finally she notices you.
'I have to go now, Gordon, there's a fish on the carpet. Good Morning,
You'd have recognised those silky tones anywhere. Resisting the temptation
to say, Take me to your leader, you introduce yourself.
'Mr Sucker?' - Blank smile - 'Come to pick up the keys for number one-O-one
'Of course, we were expecting you earlier.' We? You twitch, looking
warily around. Are there beings here you can't perceive - are some estate
aliens invisible? She reaches in a drawer for a medieval bunch of keys.
Perhaps this property actually is a gaol cell?
'There's a fifty-pound deposit or you can leave your credit cards, the
family silver or your mother.'
Producing your cheque cards - on which you notice the signature has
washed off - you reach out to hand them over and take the keys. Great
drops of water drip from your nylon anorak onto Carol's copy of Cosmopolitan.
Her make-up cracks across one cheek as she forces herself to maintain
'I didn't realise it was raining,' she says, without parting her teeth.
'Subsidence Road is just around the corner. The key to the security
entry doesn't seem to be working, but there's usually someone in one
of the other flats to let you in.'
You set out. Six months later, you set up base camp at the foot of Subsidence
Road and make mental notes in your diary: Poised for final ascent. Considering
hiring Sherpa. Wish I'd brought me brolly.
There's no one in at One-O-One. You ring all the buzzers but the intercom
remains stubbornly mute. It does, though, appear to be smirking at you.
You scowl back at it, but the action causes a torrent of cold water
to cascade off your hat and run down the back of your neck. Only one
thing to do, slump down on the step, contemplate suicide. Or renting?
Same financial difference. If you had the energy, you'd toss a coin.
'Come to look at the flat, dear?'
An old lady - proverbially sweet looking - is beaming down on you. There's
compassion in her eyes! She must be human, compassion is a human emotion.
You nod your bowed head, aware that you have a plaintive, spaniel look.
'They're always doing that - sending people along with no keys. You're
the third live one I've found this week. Come on in.'
The flat's on the ground floor. A burglar is just leaving as you enter,
but he smiles and greets you in a friendly enough sort of way. You open
the door to let him out. Well, he does have his hands full. Though bare,
the flat is dry. You'll take it! A wise and balanced decision. You study
your noble estate. Of course, there's still a survey to have done, an
offer to make, a lawyer to deal with, moving in to arrange... But those
are other sagas. Fairy tales or hammered house of horror stories? Youll
have to wait and see. For now, it's enough just to be out of the rain.
And no more Estate Aliens.