Drinks On The House

London Newspaper Group — CN/WPN 05-10-1979

Long Look

By Christopher Long

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Drinks on the house

Life in the Long household is not one of complete calm and tranquillity these days. The household, which consists of me and my dog Springer is in fact in total disarray.

The reason for this uneasy state of affairs centres largely on the fact that the house is up for sale – if the word 'house' is not too grand a way of describing the combination of bricks, timber and slates which look as if they have only formed themselves into a vaguely house-like form by random chance. Those who wonder why we feel so disconsolate about it all have clearly never been through the harrowing business of selling a house; we envy them.

It all starts with happy reassurances from people saying how buoyant the market is in the borough these days, how there will be just hundreds of willing buyers, how enchanting the house is. Which is consoling and, more to the point, very diplomatic of them. The next stage is the arrival of an estate agent who, having sounded very enthusiastic as you described the place over the phone, soon changes his expression to one of almost funereal condolence when he comes to measure it up, as if it were a coffin.

Eyeing the place up and down from the crumbling foundations to the tottering chimneys (the only bit owned by me and not the building society) he suggests a price which calls for a medicinal scotch, and a commission rate that calls for another.

"It's a bad time... just not the buyers around these days... needs a buyer with imagination... foreign buyers in Kensington and Chelsea really want more for their money... but let's try by all means," says the agent brightly.

Then come the 'buyers' – and the agony.

Jet-set Chelseans drive up, take a look and drive away again just as you open the door (taking care to see it doesn't fall off its hinges).

A divorcee from Sloane Street and her girl friend arrive and, after theoretically demolished and rebuilt the house in their own minds, then dissolve into a distressing diatribe on the cruelty and callousness of men in general and erring husbands in particular. (Springer comes in for a good deal of attention at this stage, while I get none.)

Time and again you tidy the place frantically, hide the dirty washing, camouflage the holes in the floor with judiciously placed furniture and pray that it won't rain through the missing slates when the next buyers are due.

Time and again you are told that it's lovely "but not quite what I had in mind... not really Kensington or Chelsea, is it, really... I'm sure it would suit someone... I say, is that the sky I can see through the roof... do you mind if I move that bit of furniture?"

A middle-eastern gentleman shows interest – providing he can buy all the nine other houses on each side as well.

Somebody would have been interested – if it weren't that she'd have to remove all those bits over there. All 'those bits' being the very bits I've laboriously built myself.

Many of those who come round have decided that a spot of house hunting can be far more entertaining than a visit to the cinema.

Springer has a suitably hang dog look about him just now. My bottle of scotch is nearly dry and we both are getting used to sitting around on packing cases, waiting for that one buyer who is looking for a house with 'a special character all of its own'.

The worst of all is the agent's excuses for it not selling. "The pound's too strong for the foreign buyers, you know... the market's levelling off... falling... collapsed... and your particular sort of property just isn't moving... (You want to bet, I think to myself.)

"But," say the agents, "we do have a very interesting selection of houses for you to look at..."

Good, I'm looking forward to being on the other side for once, admiring the sky through their roofs, inspecting the holes in their floors – and commiserating with them as I see them polish off the last drops from their bottle of scotch.

Christopher Long

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