My Week: Keep paying the premiums: Alan Roche receives kind words and some hard knocks selling insurance door to door

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The Independent Online
Monday - A spread-out post-war council estate. I walk up the short garden path, collection book tucked conspicuously under my arm.

'Oh, bleedin' 'ell - not you again.'

'Who's that, mother?' booms a deep masculine voice.

'Flippin' insurance man]' she yells back.

'Tell 'im to naff off.'

She invites me in and I ask them if they know how much they're covered for. They don't, so I quote a figure.

'That wouldn't bury a mouse. Better buy some more, then, ain't we.' I smile.

Tuesday - For 15 years Mrs L has been saving 50p a week from the 'pittance of an 'ousekeeping that stingy old sod gives me'.

Today I am delivering a cheque for pounds 990. Mrs L answers the door and pulls me inside. Closing the door quietly, she puts a finger to her mouth and ushers me into her living room. Furtively gesticulating with her thumb, she mouths: 'The sod wants half me money.'

She keeps one eye on the door while signing for her cheque in secret. 'You know where he's been all day?' she whispers. 'Down the CAB, filing for a divorce, if I don't give half. As if I don't earn the money with all the 'ousework and cookin'. Let 'im.'

Wednesday - I spend the morning in our smoke- choked office, balancing my collections. I leave later than I had wished, headache in tow.

I'm late for my little chat with Elsie at my 'cup-of-tea call'.

'I saw you coming up the road - kettle's boiled,' Elsie beams. 'Wait till I tell you what happened to me today. Went to the Young Vic to see Six Characters in Search of something or other . . . Anyway, we'd waited 30 minutes for the 217, just missed one, see.'

She breaks her monologue by offering me more cake. She slices it expertly, then continues.

'Then it starts raining; all the glass in the bus shelter's been smashed in, so we thought we'd phone for a taxi. So we pops up the road, hankie ready - for the smell, dear, you know . . . 999 calls only. Typical. So, we get back to the bus stop . . .'

And on it goes.

Finally she pauses and stares from her fifth-floor window across the roofs of identical blocks of flats. It is getting dark and Elsie, 79 this year, nods off.

I take her premiums, pounds 6.14 per month, from the envelope, mark her book, put my bone-china cup and saucer and dainty side plate on the draining-board and leave; closing the door quietly.

Thursday - Another late night. The collecting book weighs a ton and the loose change bulges in my pockets. I ring the bell of a smart detached house.

' 'Ello, mate - come in. Got a question for yer. Friend of mine's policy pays for carpet stains . . .'

I nod, knowing this is unlikely.

'Am I covered for that, then?'

I shake my head.

'It's just . . . (I groan silently) a couple of years ago a bottle of aftershave fell off my bathroom cabinet, bounced on the sink, then hit me in the mouth.' He pulls at his upper lip. 'Thee,' he lisps, 'juth there, courth ith's crowned now. But the stuff in the bottle stained the bathroom carpet.'

I open his premium receipt book. Now, about these arrears, I ask. He interrupts. 'Well, what about this then . . ?'

Friday - First thing in the afternoon I call on Mr and Mrs W. There's no reply, which is unusual. As I turn to go, a neighbour opens her door, her eyes red. 'They took old Mr W off this morning; he passed over during the night.'

I ask her to pass on my condolences to Mrs W and to offer her any help she may need with her claim.

The neighbour smiles sadly. 'Expect she'll need the insurance now, won't she?' she says.

Yes, I reply, I expect she will.