Culture

Bernie Bell: The Viewers

Reading Carl Mullins piece about moving to Orkney, reminded me of when we were trying to sell our house in Suffolk,  all the stories of the folk who came to ‘view’.


The Viewers

A set of six, vaguely comedic dramas.

1) Free-flying Budgies

2) London Man

3) Madam

4) Knock on Door

5) Mixed Reactions

6) Gets Real

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Free-flying Budgies

Sound of telephone “Ring Ring, Ring Ring”

Woman answers ‘phone in hallway of small, old cottage.  

Female voice on other end of ‘phone   “Hello, Strongs Estate Agents here.  We have a couple who would like to view your house – if possible on Wednesday 23rd February at 2 o’clock?”

Woman   “Yes, that’s fine; could I have their names please?”

Female voice   “Certainly, Mr Lorn and Miss Teal”

Owner   “Thanks”

Female voice   “Thank-you”

Scenes of woman madly cleaning, a bit cursory, best she can do in the time

allowed, and shoving things into cupboards to ‘tidy’.

Scene of husband setting out with dog as they’ve got a mad Jack Russell which would bite strangers.

Knock on door, woman opens door to reveal a couple, early 40’s, he in leather biker jacket, hair receding, long at back. Her, ‘that’ look – a bit like Cher in ‘Dead ringer for love’ video – or that’s how she sees it anyway – hair a bit too black.  They come in, woman starts showing them round the house.  They love it – then conversation

Man   “Thing is, I have to sell my house first.  I suppose that means I’ll have to do something about the budgies”.

Woman (who I’ll refer to as Owner from now on) “Budgies?”

Man “I have free-flying budgies in my house”

Owner “But don’t they poo everywhere?”

Man “Yes, but I clean it up.  They particularly like sitting on the top of the doors and pooing down the back”.

Stunned silence.

Owner “I think maybe if you want to sell your house, you’d better put the budgies in cages and thoroughly clean up, or it just won’t sell”

Man “Yeh – suppose so”.

Carries on showing them round, they really love it.  Are in love with the idea of a ‘Country Cottage’.  Then, sitting at kitchen table

Man “Are you leaving any of your stuff?”

Owner “Stuff?”

Man “Yeh – your things”

Owner “No” (in mind, realises they want the whole thing – the whole package, she’s thinking, they don’t want to buy a house, they want to buy a home.  They like what they see here, and want to buy it, but it doesn’t work that way).  “We’ll need all this ourselves.  If you want to make a home, you have to make it yourselves, with your own stuff, that’s for you to do”.

The couple settle in, chatting, looking out of the window.  The Owner makes them a cup of tea, and eventually just about has to evict them. Gets a picture of what they’re looking for, why they want this house.  He desperately needs security, they are a couple, but have separate houses; this is going to be their first ‘home’ together.  The bigger picture of why people are looking for a house to buy.

Owner shows them out.  Then rings husband on mobile ‘phone to say that the coast’s clear and he can come back.

Scene is husband and dog standing disconsolately on a muddy field in the gathering gloom.  Answers mobile ‘phone.

Husband “Oh, good, I can come home now”.

Somehow give feeling of how what the Viewers were after, is what the owners have, domestic life, working together.


London Man

Ring Ring etc.

“Mr & Mrs Fowler”

Knock on door.  Middle-aged very average couple.  They come in.  They’re from London.  He’s about to retire, are looking to move to a “cottage in the country”.

Man is very ‘pushy’.  As they look round, he’s pushy to the point of rudeness.  However, it’s going quite well until they go into the garden.

Note- the garden backs onto a field which belongs to a detached bungalow at the end of the row of cottages.  It’s a field, but it’s kept mown.

London Man  “We’ve got a dog, a boxer, would he have access to that?”

Owner  “Well, no, that’s Melvin’s field, though it’s a field, it is part of his garden.”

London Man  “We could put a gate in the end here, then he’d have access”

Owner  “ No, it’s not a matter of physical accessibility, it’s his field, we don’t have access any more than he has access to our garden.”

London Man  “So, would he get mad if the dog went on there?”

Owner  “Well, he wouldn’t be too pleased, he’s a nice man and would be reasonable about it, but he’d probably get annoyed if it happened often.”

Owner suddenly realises something and thinks – “Oh my god! he thinks it’s a park.  He’s from London, he thinks that any stretch of mown grass is a park, to which he demands access as his right.”  She explains the fact that this is, in fact, someone’s garden, very decidedly.

They carry on looking round the garden.

London Man  “It says in the details that there’s a septic tank system – what does that mean?”

Owner  “Ah, yes the septic tank.  The waste water comes from the house.  That is, the rainwater off the roof, the water from the bathroom, the washing-up water etc.  It all flows along through the rodding point into the first tank where the solids gather, then the fluids carry on into the second tank and disperse out into the land.  If the rodding point gets blocked, you just rod it through to unblock it.  If that doesn’t work, it means it needs emptying.”

London Man  (absolutely aghast)  “What! You mean you’ve got a pit full of poo under your garden, and there’s a place where it might get blocked, and then you push a stick through it to unblock it?  That’s bloody disgusting.  What if one of the covers gave way and you fell into it?  What if there were kiddies in the garden, our grandchildren, and they fell into it?  It’s bloody disgusting, that’s what it is.  Come on, Mary.”

Marches off.

Owner telephones husband to let him know the coast’s clear.  It’s a bit lighter this time, to show time’s passing.


Madam

Ring Ring etc

“Miss Pitt” etc

Husband sets off with dog again.

Knock on door, owner opens door to reveal a short, overweight woman and her boyfriend, a thin, eager-to-please- looking person.

They come in.  She has a strange way of speaking, sort-of a pretend baby-talk – she generally gives Owner the creeps.  Owner thinking “It might work on your boyfriend, but it don’t work on me”.  Owner shows them round.  The woman is totally obnoxious, opening cupboards, generally prying unnecessarily, criticising all the time, all in the sugary baby-talk which makes it worse.  Opens a cupboard and a pair of very disreputable pants falls on her head.  (That refers back to part 1 with the owner shoving things in cupboards).

When they come downstairs and into the Living room, ‘Madam’ is still in the hall –

Madam  “Is there damp in here?  there are lumps in the plaster”.

Owner  “It isn’t damp.  I don’t know why there are lumps, they’ve been there as long as we’ve lived here.  Probably just bad plastering”.

They go into the kitchen.

Owner  (She’s well and truly sick of this woman by now, just wants her to go away and get out of her house).

“ The only place in this house which is damp is this cupboard by the old fireplace.  We asked a builder for his opinion, he says all it needs is an air-brick which should have been done when the fireplace was blocked up.”

‘Madam’ goes over, feels the wall

Madam  “There is damp here” – as though she’s caught the Owner out.

Owner is furious, thinks “How dare she, I’ve just told her about it, then she’s acting like she’s caught me out!”

She just wants ‘Madam’ to bugger off, doesn’t want her to buy her house anyway.  Realises that they love their little house and don’t want someone like her to live in it, which shows how you feel when you love your house.  Enormous relief when Madam leaves.  Calls husband on mobile, as she sits down to call him, sees big holes in the plaster where ‘Madam’ has poked holes where the lumps were, says to her husband when he answers the ‘phone

Owner  “I don’t believe it, she’s only gone and poked holes in the plaster!”  (A la Victor Meldrew).


Knock on Door

Husband is re-plastering holes made by ‘Madam’.  Jack Russell is asleep on chair.  Suddenly, Jack Russell goes MAD, barking, teeth out, leaping round the room – as Jack Russells do.

Husband shuts Jack Russell in living room, answers door to find a Middle-aged man who says that he was passing and saw the ‘For Sale’ sign.  He asks to look round the house.

Husbandslightly out of breath – “My wife usually does this; she’s gone to town for the day”.

So, husband has to deal with switching the dog from room to room whilst showing the man round.  Grabs it, puts it under his arm

Husband   “He’s lovely really.  He’s great with people he knows; he’s just not good with strangers”.

The viewer is looking very worried.  Husband shows him round

Husband  “This is the, er, the sitting room”

They gaze for a moment at the sofa, slightly dejectedly.  They move on.

Husband  “This is the kitchen……erm….cooker,…..sink” (apologetically) “We usually wash the dishes before someone comes”.

They go from room to room, the sales patter continues.  The Jack Russell is shifted about as necessary, but produces a lot of ‘noises off’ – barking, thumping, (as of small dog hurling itself against a door), pitiful howling to try to get sympathy, which always works, as viewer says

Viewer  “I’m sure he’d be alright with me, I love dogs”

Husband knows that this doesn’t matter at all; strangers are ‘the enemy’.

They move on, out into the garden, where a semblance of peace descends.  They stand side by side looking into the pond – a rather muddy pool, with an abundance of emergent greenery.

Viewer  “Is that a Water Plantain?”

Husband  “Yes, a Lesser Water Plantain, a native.  Are you interested in that sort of thing?”

They brighten, and start talking enthusiastically about water plants, natural history and the local marshes.

Viewer  “ It’s really for my sister, she’s retiring soon and wants to move to be nearer to her family.  I think it would just suit her”.

They part on very good terms, each thinking of the other, “what a nice chap”.

On her return, the wife hears the story and wonders aloud whether the man will actually be able to tell his sister anything about the interior of the house.

——————————————————————————————————-

Mixed Reactions

A set of short vignettes:-

1)  “Tribe

Ring Ring etc.

“A Miss Heeler”

Owner opens door, expecting to see a young woman, but it’s a whole tribe!  Grand-parents, young woman – very smart, floral dress, high-heeled shoes to match – boyfriend – usual ‘chav’ gear, very baggy T-shirt and trousers, baseball cap.  Also a teenager, presumably her sister? thinks Owner.  They troop in and all round the very small cottage, each room instantly fills with them.  Owner is thinking how completely unsuitable they are, “I know what they want, they want a Persimmon starter home up near Tesco’s”.  As she shows them round, thinks this again and again.  “What are they doing?  Don’t they know what they want? Don’t they know what would suit them? Don’t they know their own minds? but, no, of course they don’t, who does?”

Finally, the young woman teeters down the garden in her high heels, sinking into the grass and exclaiming about how “pretty” everything is.

***

2)  “Style Bar People

Don’t bother with Estate Agents call, Owner just opens the door to find two perfect people standing there.  He’s tall and dark, with long hair, but not long, hippy hair, no,  it’s perfectly coiffeured black hair which must have cost a fortune to get like that, as must his leather jacket, not the tatty leather jacket of couple number 1, no, a very, very smart, russet coloured jacket made of leather like a glove.  And the woman, slim, blond, “can that actually be her skin? does any one have skin like that?” thinks the Owner.

She lets them in and shows them around, but realises that they want the image of a country cottage, not the reality.  They couldn’t exist at any distance from a ‘style bar’, a café which sells Latte not just coffee, and, of course, a good hairdresser.  Nice people, but it’s just unrealistic.  The clincher is in the garden.  It’s a breezy day, but the woman’s hair doesn’t even blow about.  It’s almost uncanny.  It’s not because it’s set rigid with hair lacquer, it’s just because it’s, she’s, so perfect.  The Owner can’t imagine either of them doing the garden, and the septic tank!  doesn’t even bear thinking about!

***

3)  “Circumstances Dictate

Owner opens door to find, a woman in her 40’s, plus a woman in her 60’s.  Both very well-groomed and well-spoken.  The Style-Bar people were style, these two are class.

Owner shows them around, they like it.  The older woman is the mother of the younger one, who is the potential buyer.  She says she’s looking for somewhere for herself and her two boys.  The Owner asks if they are local, and the younger – I can only say Lady – replies that she lives at Ashby – St – Peter.  The Owner reacts strongly to this, as this is a village along the road which is a very expensive, very ‘chocolate-box’ village – thatched roofs for God’s sake!  Owner blurts out

Owner  “If you live at Ashby – St – Peter, why do you want to move here?”

Lady  “Circumstances dictate”.

That’s the picture, marriage break-up, needing to find somewhere smaller and cheaper for herself and her boys.  Very pleasant woman too, so what happened there?

Owner calls husband.


Get’s Real

Ring  Ring

“Hello, Strongs Estate Agents speaking.  We’ve got an offer for you, from a Mr Lorn and a Miss Teal, you may remember them? Your first viewers?”

Owner  “Yes – months ago.  Blimey.  What’s the offer?”

Strongs lady  “Full asking price, Mr Lorn has successfully sold his house and is now in a position to buy yours.”

Owner  “Yes, Yes, and thrice Yes!  Yippeeeee!”

Comes off phone and tells husband.  They look at each other, because suddenly it’s real.  They had a dream of moving to Orkney, and the first step was selling their house.  Now it’s sold.  It’s suddenly real.  They’ll have to find somewhere to live, renting, not buying, as the Scottish system is different.  They’ll have to organize a removal van – how do they have removal men in the house with the mad dog? – and what about timing?  There are things which they are committed to doing here, before they go, and they’ll have to finally get round to sorting out books, ‘stuff’, what to take, what to leave, what to give away.  EEEEEEEEKKKKKKKK!

What will be, will be, and they’ll work through it.  Working together.  (This could refer back to story number 1, that’s what those people wanted).

Then they start to talk about the people they’ve had round to see the house, the viewers, wondering about what they all made of their little house and all its oddities, and wondering why those particular people chose this house to view, and the insight which that gives into people’s lives, and so, these stories were born.

——————————————————————————————————-

Note:-  It’s quite a quirky little house, e.g.  there’s a set of antlers on the kitchen wall, but no-one  mentions them.  They get some side-long glances, but no-one mentions them.  Very English behaviour.

Also, indicate time passing.  Starts in February, hence husband in gathering gloom, goes through to maybe Autumn.


moving houseBernie Bell is a regular contributor to The Orkney News, you can check out more of her articles, stories and poems using our search button.

Related stories:

From London to Flotta: A Reader’s Experience

From London to Flotta: A Reader’s Experience Part 2

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