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Kelvin Mason

Kelvin tries to buy a flat!

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 in Arkadia?'
'Certainly, sir.'
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 you’re 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 only.'
'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.
'Mr... er?'
‘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 dwelling'.
‘What happened to peroxide blond sandstone dwellings, by the way?’
Bland smiles, an unenigmatic smile: We’ve got a right one here.
Myriad flights of grey concrete stairs later, as you try to catch what’s left of your breath, glad just to have survived the physical, you reach number T/2 A. It’s 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 you one.'
'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?'
'That's it.'
'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, here’s 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 starter flats'.

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, I'm Carol-How-May-I-Help-You?'
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 Subsidence Road?’
It dawns.
'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 a smile.
'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? You’ll have to wait and see. For now, it's enough just to be out of the rain. And no more Estate Aliens.

© 2001

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