Lessons in market economy
Four weeks into the summer break, yet only now do I begin to feel as if I have been able to unwind after the pressures of last term. Perhaps it's because we haven't been able to afford a summer holiday this year: our impending house-move and future mortgage payments have put paid to that, so Gail and I have had to make do with the occasional day out. This week's excitement will involve a trip to the shops for Margaret's first school uniform, followed by the cinema for a good old-fashioned family film. Big deal.
Meanwhile, our house remains on the market. All manner of viewers have promised all manner of interest to our faces, only to tell the estate agent something completely different when confronted with the suggestion that they might like to engage the services of a professional surveyor. Fortunately, the builders of our new abode have altered the completion date for the third time and consequently there is less pressure on us.
Actually, I don't see how they can even hope to meet the revised date of late September, given the state of progress. Gail and I had planned to take photographs so that we could record the building throughout its various stages of construction in June and July. So far, all we've got to show for our efforts is a desultory set of views portraying a range of concrete foundations and some channels for the sewage pipes.
A house viewer tonight, the first for nine days. Alas, Mr Williams appeared disdainful throughout and made little or no comment about anything he saw, other than that there seemed to be "a hell of a lot of noisy kids playing in the street". I assured him it was quieter in the school term, whereupon he shrugged his shoulders and said he'd think about it.
Gail thought he had looked interested, but I dashed her hopes as quickly as I could.
"No chance, Gail," I assured her. "What kind of man comes to view a house without his wife in tow?" "S'ppose so," she conceded. "But I'm getting worried, Morris. I just wish somebody would make us an offer. Even a tiny one."
In retrospect, perhaps I should have warned her about tempting fate.
Wednesday We have received an offer for the house. My initial delight knew no bounds, until I heard the figure - pound;2,000 below the asking price - and the conditions attached: acceptance before noon tomorrow or the offer to be withdrawn.
"No way!" I confronted Mike Miller, our oily estate agent, when he telephoned. "You told me the market was very buoyant and was crying out for properties like ours."
"Yes, yes, Mr Simpson," he assuaged my anger. "But what it comes down to is this: we've tested the market and the market has said it's not ready for your house at the price we all wanted. And with an entry date exactly in line with your new moving out date, I just don't think we'll get a better offer than the one we've got from Mr and Mrs Williams."
Mr and Mrs Williams?" I queried. "But it's only Mr Williams who's seen the house. We didn't ever see a I" "Mrs Williams viewed the house in week one," Mr Simpson, he explained patiently. "She didn't indicate an interest then, I know, but potential buyers often play their cards close to their chests. And she's obviously I" "She's obviously waited her time to see if it'll sell," I finished for him, "and then come in with a cut-price offer in the hope we'll accept it. Well, we won't!" I assured him angrily, and suddenly recalled the viewer he meant. "That was the woman who spent her whole time criticising everything she could, from the bedroom wallpaper to the colour of the toilet paper! Well, there's no way I'd sell my house to that pair, let me assure you."
I slammed the phone down. If only Gail could have been there to witness my masterly behaviour.
On mature reflection, and after some concentrated discussion with Gail, the offer from Mr and Mrs Williams doesn't sound as bad as it did on first hearing. We'll certainly save a lot on further advertising, and the entry date suits us perfectly.
So I telephoned Mr Miller this morning and reversed my decision.
"That's a very wise course of action, Mr Simpson," he assured me. "Just let me put you on hold while I get your file out."
Unfortunately, he failed to press his mute button, because I distinctly heard him whisper excitedly: "He's gone for it, Lorraine. That means we've made end-of-month targets with two days to spare. Get the champagne out, will you?" I remained icily silent as he came back with the tidings that we could expect his bill in the next week or so. And then I decided to wipe the matter from my mind and enjoy our family day out tomorrow.
Alas, our day out proved something of an eventual disappointment as well.
Margaret certainly enjoyed getting her first school uniform and can hardly contain her excitement at the prospect of joining "all the big boys and girls at school" next month. But then it went downhill.
I confess it has been a long time since I was at the cinema, but I was completely taken aback by the whole multiplex experience. Initially, of course, I was completely unprepared for the enormous financial outlay required, over and above the purchase price of our admission tickets.
As Gail nipped off to the ladies' toilet, I succumbed to Margaret's request for a selection of pick 'n' mix sweets from a bewildering array of clear perspex hanging bowls. It was with fond memories of sixpenny mixtures from my youth that I watched her place her bag of blue marshmallow tubes and garish pink and purple jawcrackers on the scales. But my jaw dropped as if Margaret had just thrust one of the selfsame gobstoppers in my mouth when the assistant told me the price, a sum that would have kept me in sixpenny mixtures for most of my school career!
Then there was the popcorn (alas, I elected for salted instead of sweet in a sudden moment of consumer choice for which I was sadly ill-prepared), and that was followed by a selection of three enormous drinks containing a mixture of ice, fizzy water and cola solution (in that order), whose prices represented yet another example of blatant and rapacious capitalist extortion.
"Morris!" hissed Gail, as she returned to witness my bulging arms and emptied wallet. "What d'you think you're doing? I've got three cans and some fruit pastilles in my handbag. You should never buy the cinema sweets if you want to pay the mortgage at the end of the month!" I shook a forlorn apology at her and we entered the darkened portals of the cinema itself.
I looked in vain for an usherette to guide us to our seats and ended up four rows from the front: at least it was light enough to see where we were going, but it did mean a rather uncomfortable viewing position for Shrek, an entrancing (if slightly startling) film about a princess who turns into an ogress at night.
Not that we could do much viewing. The entire audience seemed to consist of restless children and adolescents, all of them intent upon munching noisily through their assorted collections of popcorn and sweets or slurping rudely at their drinks and then belching loudly. Not content with such minor disturbances, many of them contrived to carry on conversations over and above the soundtrack level.
The final straw, for me at any rate, concerned the use of mobile telephones. I was mildly irritated to hear the frequent bleep-bleep sounds that indicated someone to be in receipt of a text message. However, my fury knew no bounds when, three rows behind us, a ring tone rang out the tinny refrains of the hit tune "It's Raining Men" and the screeching female who answered it - who turned out to be an ogress all of our own, one Kylie Paterson from last year's third year - didn't even switch it off! Instead, she answered the ruddy thing!
"Yo! Wassup?" her enquiry sounded out across the auditorium. "Naw, that's cool. Couldny make it tae Brian's," she continued loudly. "Ah'm at a fillum the now instead. It's a loadashite. Fancy comin over fur some tabs later oan?" I'd had enough. I turned around and asked her to be quiet so that my family and I could enjoy the film.
"Ah shut it, y'old fart!" she momentarily interrupted his conversation. "Away an stick yer heid doona toilet.
"Hey!" she suddenly continued in recognition. "It's Simpy!" I drew a sharp breath, looked at Gail and stood up to leave.
Another voice echoed loudly from behind. "Sit down, ya manky bastard! We canny see the fillum."
The irony of the complaint would have been lost on them all, I suspect.
It was a sad end to Margaret's holiday treat and she did seem a little upset by it all as we went to Mr Rashim's to rent a video for the evening instead.
"Daddy," she asked plaintively. "Will there be boys and girls like that at my school?" "Probably not, darling," I assured her. "Probably not."
Luckily, she couldn't see the crossed fingers I was holding behind my back.