BY A COUNTRY AGENT
I was fresh out of University and whilst I have no doubt that nerves were there I do remember that I was as keen as mustard to get stuck into the first day into my first “proper” job. I had previously worked as an agent in my spare time whilst I was studying. That was an exciting, forward-thinking agency in a fast-paced city environment, but only occasionally. This was destined to be something different and how right I would be proven to be!
I had studied hard and had proudly obtained a property-related degree that meant that I could one day be a qualified member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors if I carried on working hard for a reputable firm.
Pomp & Bluster Ltd was based in The Estate Office, a barn conversion which was a part of the Senior Partner’s larger property which included some 80 acres and his large Manor House he referred to as “The Pit”. Located in the most beautiful country setting and surrounded by endlessly pretty villages with large houses owned by people with even larger bank accounts, it was prime hunting ground for high end corporates agents who were used to being kings of the market and looked down their long noses on smaller independent practices.
An old-fashioned firm, P&B had old fashioned partners, old employees, questionable morals and somewhat limited ethics and standards. Little did I know at the time, but it would turn out to be an absolute joy to be a part of a firm such as this.
My first day with the company was one to remember; I arrived at the required time and walked into the reception. The very empty reception;
“Hello?” I called nervously, the only answer came from the antique grandmother clock ticking away confidently as it had done for decades. It tinged nine times; I was right on time… where was everyone else? In my previous role in an estate agents they were all making calls by 8am, all fired up and ready to go. There was not a soul to be seen.
I walked down the corridor to the back of the reception, musty air filling my lungs with more than a hint of stale cigar smoke. The faded green carpet lined with beige walls and oak beams brought me to an office belonging to Henry Bluster, the Senior Partner.
I poked my head hesitantly around the door, “Knock, knock!”
There laying on the imposing mahogany and leather desk were two recently shot pheasants and a particularly angry looking border terrier.
Pip, his name as I was eventually to find out, was a somewhat unkept animal and this added to the sense of intimidation pouring out of the animal whilst he held my gaze. He began making noises that made several things about my person clench tightly; the ornately framed painting of him behind the desk did not reflect the levels of anger this dog clearly felt towards me at that particular moment, clearly eager to defend his master’s property. I stopped dead in my tracks and backed out of the room, just as he shot off the desk in pursuit with a vicious “yap”. I carefully pulled the door shut behind me.
I’ll just go and wait in reception, I thought to myself as I walked back down the corridor letting the snarling and yapping get quieter as I walked away. I took a seat on one of the antique chairs in the office when the main entrance door flew open and in strode a short but determined lady with scraped back hair, terrible makeup and a tweed suit, her arms full of the morning’s newspapers.
She glanced down her nose and through her half-rimmed spectacles as she walked past.
“Oh, who are you?” she bellowed confrontationally.
“Hello. I’m Rupert, I’m the new boy.” I blustered nervously like a teenager, my confidence melting away as she pushed past me throwing the papers on the desk and pressing the button on the ancient answerphone which kicked into life: “you have 8 new messages.”
As the messages began to play the woman strode over to the second desk in the reception area, throwing her coat over the chair.
“Message one, left yesterday at…” She clearly had no intention of taking notes of any of them.
“Right, well that’s done. Let me look at you,” her glasses perched on the end of her nose meaning that she had to tilt her head back so far that I had to the unpleasant experience of looking up her nostrils.
“I’m Lizzie, Henry’s PA,” she announced with a little more pride than was normal. “He’ll either be in his office or in the cellar, why don’t you go and say hello?”
“I’ve checked the office, it’s only an angry terrier and some pheasants!” I said, a little too enthusiastically.
“Oh blimey, you met ‘Cujo’ then?”
“Yes, that’s what we call him, vicious little bugger.”
“He’s cleaning his gun in the cellar”.
I jumped, a new voice. I turned to see a second woman dressed almost the same as Lizzie walking down the corridor towards us. “I’m Jennie, welcome to the family.” She said, not giving me any eye contact at all and not even acknowledging Lizzie.
“You best go down and see him before I give you the guided tour and introduce you to everyone else,” Lizzie’s thin lips resembled a smile as she pointed towards what must have been the door to the cellar without looking.
I drew myself to my full height and walked down the steps and into the cavernous cellar. Reaching the bottom I found the source of the cigar smoke as there was Henry, shotgun in one hand, an oily rag in the other, dressed in cords, checked shirt and woven tie. He barely looked up.
“Ahh Rupert, there you are,” he muttered, trying not to spit out the cigar which was held tightly between his lips, “nice and early I see, that’s what I like!”
“Good morning Henry, how are you?”
He turned and smiled at me with grand paternal warmth, I noticed there was a slight twinkle in his eye, I liked the old chap instantly, although bizarrely he showed more than just a passing resemblance to his PA. He allowed an air of blusteriness that almost certainly camouflaged his razor sharp intellect and wit.
Of average height but well above average proportions around his middle and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a glow about his person that comes from years of indulgence. This was a man that knew what it was to have gout for sure.
“Glad to have you on board finally, let me just finish this and I’ll show you around. Wine?” he gestured over to the splendid antique table with the gun, the cleaning paraphernalia, an exceptionally fine bottle of St Emilion and a glass that was clearly being used.
“I do, but it’s a bit early for me thanks Henry.” It was now 9.30am.
“That’ll change, don’t tell Lizzie you saw me with that whatever you do.” he scoffed.
“Grab an unopened bottle and enjoy it with the Mrs tonight…” he got up from the table and looked at me square in the face. “You have got a Mrs haven’t you?”. This felt like a loaded question from the mid 1900’s, he was an old boy from a different era, he clearly wouldn’t be able to trust a singleton.
“Yes, she loves wine too.” I said a little more confidently than I would have done normally.
“Sounds like a keeper, come on take a bottle and let’s go and meet the gang.” He threw the oily rag in an old wooden wine box.
“I’ve met your PA, Elizabeth.” I said chirpily.
Henry scoffed again, “Lizzie? Yes, she likes to call herself that,” He started up the steps. “probably makes her feel better…” he continued to mutter under his breath as he climbed the steps, I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
I followed the rotund frame back up the stairs to meet the team who I would get to know rather well over the next few years.
They were a fascinating bunch, faithful to the last, honest as the day is long and mostly as old as time itself; each of them had their own story. For example, Elizabeth was an appalling PA, but it turned out that Henry simply couldn’t bring himself to fire his only sister, their 100-year old mother wouldn’t let him.
Dickie was the young land agent who was content with the quiet life. In his thirties at the time and very good at his job. Nobody ever really knew where he was but his invoicing was good so no one asked!
Arthur was Henry’s “junior” business partner. In his mere sixties, Arthur (or Artorius as he used to call himself – the ladies in the office called him Atrocious, but that’s a story for another time), was a heavy smoker, a heavy drinker and was forever late. He had a weak bladder which caused embarrassment on more than one occasion when we went on appointments together; he used to proudly say that he had christened nearly every tree in the county. His secretary, Jennie whom you met earlier, was more of a mother to him than an assistant; there were many questions as to how close they had become over the years.
Wendy was the receptionist, a mousy and pleasant thing. In her fifties she was the youngest administrator in the company. She was utterly terrified of illnesses, viruses and Lizzie. She wiped everything down every morning and prided herself in her job.
Thomas was the Head of Residential Sales, a short waspy man he was thoroughly disliked by everyone in the office, especially the girls. The feeling was mutual. It was said that he would leave his personality in his car boot when he came into the office. He was one of the finest estates agents in the county and would have been exceptional apart from his hatred of all mankind and his refusal to deal with anyone he would consider to be a “cretin”.
The team were from a time when flip-cards were the new piece of tech in the office. Henry steadfastly refused to have a computer insisting that he didn’t need one and he was quite right. Every time there was a power cut, which was on average three times a week, he took great pleasure in telling us how many deals he was doing whilst we were all stood around complaining.
This was no Estate Agency in the traditional sense, though. Of course, deals were indeed done, but on many occasions there was plenty which left me utterly bewildered, nevertheless I was set the challenge of working with Thomas to build up the department.
In my first week I returned from an appointment to overhear Lizzie on the phone to an applicant:
“Are you absolutely certain you want to have a look at it? It’s got a terribly small garden.”
This really was going to be a challenge.
Rupert Devonshire is “A Country Agent”. A married father of two in his mid-fifties, Rupert has worked in the rural property market, selling some of the North of England’s finest country properties, for the past 30 years. Writing as “A Country Agent”, Rupert shares with us some of the amusing highs, and indeed lows, of his career to date. Whether he being is attacked by a swan, propositioned by a cougar or watching an ostrich chase a surveyor, there is usually a hysterical undertone. If you have read any of his tales, you will appreciate that Rupert Devonshire is probably not his real name.