The Temp: What happens to 'nice boys'?

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The Independent Culture
SO MY mother gets on the phone and has one of her periodical bouts of sighing and wondering what happened to all the nice young men I used to know when I was at school.

It's funny how quickly parental fantasy kicks in; the nice young men she remembers are her friends' sons, and boys she approved of, who lived around the village and spent their holidays playing tennis and killing small animals - rather than the ones who spent their holidays sitting on the bench at the bus stop, smoking. Once I'd got my Saturday job and had enough cash to get into town, I didn't really know boys of either sort, having discovered others who sat around in basements coming down from their exposure to the club scene the night before. But my mum longs for the Ruperts and Rolys, and has convinced herself that these were my social circle then.

So she asks what happened to them all, the implication being that I've gone down in the world; and I think about saying, "Well, Mum, they're either using the furniture-making or horticultural skills they learnt in the frightfully expensive rehab clinics they ended up in after three years at Oxford, or they're getting up at 6am and putting on suits, and are looking from companionship either with women who are on similar income levels or with ones have dedicated their lives to learning the skills that make them an ideal helpmeet. What they don't want to be doing is hanging around with chicks who spend their time filling in for other people's holidays." But I just say something palliative about how people lose touch, and let her drift off to prune the roses.

In fact, there was an occupation I missed off the list, and that's estate agency. I should have remembered it, as I'm putting in time at the moment with South Kensington's premier realtor (their words, not mine), Investment Estates, and I can honestly say that I had no idea you could fit so many plums in one mouth without choking. I know estate agents had a tough time of it in the recession, but they've bounced back now, with a vengeance.

And not surprisingly; the upper classes have, after all, to find something to do with their less gifted younger sons now that the Church doesn't deal in tied livings much any more. And besides, the sort of people who are looking for a nice house in the Pelham Street area are still generally of the make-up that has problems trusting people with an accent.

So I find myself working for four snakelike professionals whose lack of accent is so powerful that I find myself jumping out of my skin every time one of them shouts "Yah!!" These people are so accentless that most of their words run together in a big jumble because they've forgotten both to take time to breathe or to use consonants; if you remember the late Diana, Princess of Wales's pronouncement that her premarital job was looking "after a mera bay boy" you'll get the basic drift. I don't know what my mum would have to say about these young scamps, but no one really seems to do much apart from fight each other to answer the phone when it rings in case it's someone calling to offer them a weekend involving fresh air and guns, and occasionally saunter from the office twirling a set of keys round their index fingers and come back a bit later with a stack of insults about the client.

I do a bit of light typing ("Superb three-bedroom mansion flat ideally situated for the shopping amenities of Brompton Cross and close to the open spaces of Hyde Park") and a bit of light telephone-answering "Good morning, Investment Estates, can I help you?"). I think I'm in for an easy ride. There's one problem, though, and that's the name game. I can cope with Henry, Charlie and Caro, but I still have to fight the urge to giggle when anyone rings and asks for Candida. Maybe the name runs in her family, but I suspect that Candida's parents, coming from a class that calls its daughters all sorts of vogueish things, may have just thought it sounded nice. Maybe, just maybe, they called her sisters Eczema, Psoriasis and Salmonella for the same reason.