You may think you want to be a racing driver when you grow up, but you've probably not thought too hard about the damage those champagne bottles can do to your wrists, let alone the cost of keeping your girlfriend in highlights. The problem with most of the "safe" professions - the law, accountancy, the City - is the high level of boredom. No one ever admits to this, and of course earning obscene amounts of money goes some way to making up for it, but why do you think people on dealing floors spend their lives shouting things like "slip me a hard one, big boy" at each other?
Air stewardesses have perpetually swollen ankles, and bruises from the drunks in business class. Salesmen have to be nice to men in toupees. Entrepreneurs have jail terms to face. Secretaries are shouted at by illiterate bosses for having corrected their grammar. Everybody hates tax inspectors. Teachers and nurses live on the brink of poverty. Housewives have to feign interest in Make-Up Barbie and Postman Pat. The Princess of Wales has to go to the gym every day. There isn't a job in the world that doesn't have sour moments.
There is always one, though, that seems a cushy option, and that is being an estate agent. All it seems to involve is sitting in a picture window with a phone strapped to your ear so passers-by can see how attractive you are, slinging lists into envelopes, saying things like "loads of storage space", then buying champagne for other estate agents in wine bars. Of course, these days it's a bit more complicated - there's the question of hard-selling the independent financial adviser who pays most commission to your firm, and there've been some lean years - but it still strikes me as one of the jobs with the fewest bad bits.
Anyway, there is a fly in the realty ointment, and it's a big, hairy bluebottle. It was revealed to me by Chrissie (the essential qualification for female estate agents and temp controllers seems to be a name ending in "ie"), who was the only person in when I called at her brother's house to return his spanner, which I'd borrowed to hit the video with in a last-ditch attempt to mend it. She was sitting in the living room with the curtains drawn, drinking whisky, her navy blue Chanel power jacket draped over a chair arm. She'd had a bad day, she said.
I quite like Chrissie, who by all accounts is good at her job. She works the Knightsbridge beat, selling rentals to expats, the only people who can afford them. She's usually got a nice rant stored up: her world is full of American philanderers who expect her to come up with little extras to earn her commission, and she has to cope with missing ornaments, and Australians living 12 to a bedroom. The experience she had just had, however, was one she was not trained for.
She had spent the week looking at three-bed flats with a Canadian oil couple. Among the contenders was one in a heavy, red-brick mansion block near the Albert Hall. It was currently tenanted by an actor who worked nights. On Saturday, in mid-afternoon, they paid their first visit. Chrissie was mildly irritated to find the kitchen still filled with dirty dishes and the drawing room showing evidence of late-night excess, but reckoned that, as she hadn't rung beforehand, it was fair enough. In the master bedroom, the curtains were drawn and a figure lay in the bed, only the top of his head peeping out from beneath the covers. They tiptoed around him, had a quick look at the cupboards, and left.
On Monday, the Canadian wife asked to see the flat again. They called in the morning. Kitchen and drawing room seemed to have been untouched over the weekend. The tenant was, once again, in bed. "Gaad," whispered the client in the hall, "I guess this guy's a bit of a slaab." "Well," said Chrissie, "I don't think he gets in from work until about two in the morning." They left a note on the hall table and let themselves out.
On Tuesday afternoon, having left a message on the answering machine, they went round for a last look. The place was swarming with police and body bags. The cleaning lady had investigated when she'd brought the actor a cup of tea that morning. He had, it seemed, had some kind of a seizure in bed on the Friday night.
Chrissie returned to the office. "How did it go?" asked the boss. "Oh God, Marcus. I've spent the weekend showing these people a flat with a corpse in it." He listened sympathetically. "Hmm. Did I ever tell you about the time I was showing a flat in Mayfair? I opened the airing cupboard and a man with a knife in his chest fell out. He'd been there a week. The people I was showing it to were Arabs and superstitious as hell. There was no way I was making a sale.
"I don't suppose," he asked hopefully, "you managed to get an offer, did you?"Reuse content