Behind Closed Doors

It is quite common for potential buyers to ask an estate agent the reason for the property being on the market. If an agent knows certain information which could cause a potential buyer to change their mind about putting in an offer, then it would be a case of ethics as to whether or not anything negative was disclosed.

On this particular day, the agent, Matthew, was delighted to find a young couple who raved about all the unusual features of the property, which had been on the market for several months and needed quite a lot of fixing up. It had belonged to an old man who had failed to maintain it due to his age as well as failing health. The agent had heard some very disturbing rumours from colleagues as well as from some of the neighbours, who had nosily come over to see the inside of the house when it was on show one Sunday afternoon.

The young couple were having a second viewing of the home after having visited the previous Sunday’s Show house. They had gone home after the first visit to do some sums to find out whether they could afford the transfer costs, even though they knew that they qualified for a mortgage for almost the full asking price of the property. The agent felt very confident that he would have a signed offer very soon due to the enthusiastic comments which both the husband and wife had been making whilst taking their time to wander from room to room. They could see the potential for doing some minor alterations and were able to visualise the house once it had been given a fresh coat of paint and the tiles in the kitchen and both bathrooms replaced. They were not worried about the olde worlde look of some of the features as they were keen on collecting antiques and this house would suit them and their taste in décor very well.

Then the moment the agent always dreaded arrived and Liz, the wife asked, “We love it, but is there anything we should know about the house’s history?” The agent looked down at the notes on his clipboard and silently debated as to just how much of the gossip he had heard could safely be revealed without jeopardising a possible sale. He was not willing to say more than was absolutely  necessary. “The house has been in the same family since it was built just after the Second World War. The current owner is the son of the original owner and the only reason he is selling is so that he could move closer to his son and his wife. His health is poor and they were worried that something might happen to him if he carried on living here on his own. His own wife died about 20 years ago and he should perhaps have considered moving before he became ill. Unfortunately people often try to hang on as long as possible before they admit to the fact that they are slowing down as they get older.”

After the agent had finished talking to both Liz and her husband Greg, they wandered outside again to have another look at the garden which, in its heyday had been the pride and joy of the owner’s late wife. Sadly, it now looked rather overgrown and neglected, but the upside was the many and varied trees, bushes and flower beds which, once neatened up, would save a new buyer a fortune.

Just as Matthew had predicted, the couple were very keen to put in an offer on the house, and even though it was quite a lot lower than the asking price, he knew that with a bit of negotiation on his part, the seller would accept it. Being very experienced in his field, he had asked all the relevant questions and was satisfied that there was an excellent chance of this couple being able to afford the house, as well as having savings to cover all the legal costs. Once the paperwork was completed, he shook hands with both the husband and his wife, and promised to present the offer before the end of the day. He would phone them as soon as he had an answer for them and would try to encourage the seller to accept their offer, due to the length of time that the house had been on the market and currently standing empty.  He shook hands with them and promised to give them the best possible service until the house was transferred into their names.

As the couple drove away Matthew felt a slight discomfort when he thought about the rumours which he had overheard from the neighbours, regarding the present owner’s wife having been found hanging by her dressing gown cord from one of the cross beams in the lounge. Apparently no foul play had been suspected but, there were those who believed that she had been driven to taking her own life due to her husband having forced her to make extra money by having to entertain a variety of male visitors in the back bedroom every evening for many years whilst the children were away at boarding school, and later at university.  It was all rumours, but the neighbours had been rather quick to mention all the different cars which arrived at the house every evening on the hour every hour, Monday to Friday, from 7pm to midnight all those years ago.

No-one ever  proved that any of the above was in fact true after the poor woman committed suicide, but it was said that she was extremely quiet, never chatted to any of the neighbours, and always looked physically exhausted despite being made up to the nines whenever anyone caught a glimpse of her. Oh well, some rumours are exactly that – just rumours.

Matthew shrugged off any feelings of guilt that he might have harboured for not having disclosed the suicide to the couple. None of the neighbours had actually repeated any of the gossip to him personally.  He had just happened to overhear a few of them chatting amongst themselves when they had been nosey enough to pop in when the house had been on show. So, nothing having been discussed with him, he could say in all honesty that he had no knowledge about this at all. Now, off to the local pub to have that well-earned pint. Oh, hang on – not a clever idea at all! He took out his mobile phone and immediately made the call to tell the seller’s son that he would like to come over straight away as he finally had a very good offer on his father’s house. The celebratory pint in the pub would have to wait until the deal was signed and sealed!

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
– Theodore Roosevelt (American President)

Update and Comments: 29 October 2019

Could someone possibly tell me what has caused this year to be only half as long as previous years? It seems just the other day that I was decorating my Christmas tree in time for the 2018 festive season, and now it’s almost that time yet again. I am beginning to think that there is an invisible and very devious time thief lurking out there, conniving and scheming to steal that very precious commodity from those of us who really could use a few extra months each year just to catch up on ourselves!

When a year begins with huge amounts of heavy rain resulting in a lounge having its own version of Niagara Falls, then I suppose it stands to reason that the rest of the year could be somewhat challenging. Roof and ceiling repairs, replacing a door, then small appliances deciding to give up the ghost, all played their part this year. Then last week my faithful laptop just made up its mind to go AWOL. No indication that it was suffering from stress, was overworked and under paid, and generally feeling frustrated and needing a long holiday. It just bit the dust, so to speak. It might have been a sign of loyalty if I had been given some kind of warning – but, no! Just a blank, non- responding screen.

Unfortunately, when one is totally dependent upon one’s computer, a quick decision needs to be made, and time is of the essence. Therefore, I am now getting my head around a new laptop with a more up to date version of Windows, and I hope that I haven’t lost too much of my writing due to the changeover. From now on, I think that the Cloud needs to become my new best friend. Cannot bear the thought of hours of work disappearing into thin air ever again!

All the above chit chat is just a way of letting you know that I am still here, in body if not always in mind, and back to bashing away on my brand new keyboard.

Until next time, it’s my hope that none of you are spooked out this Halloween!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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A Secret Admirer

Working on the 9th floor of a very modern, 12 storey office block in the centre of the city, it’s not unusual to know very few of the people who actually work in the same building. I have been a PA for one of the directors of my marketing company for the past 5 years. I am single (by choice, mind you!), live alone with a cat for company, am an avid crime story reader, gym 3 times a week and love to travel. Nothing unusual about that I would say!

Anyway at the beginning of this year a strange event occurred which, at the time, was puzzling although not altogether unpleasant. It began when I arrived at work, went into the kitchen to make my morning cup of coffee and, when I took it back to my desk I found a delicious looking chocolate cupcake on a paper plate in front of my computer. I had absolutely no idea where it had come from or who had put it there. I always get into work earlier than most of my colleagues, and that day there was only a junior clerk, Janine, as well as Portia who worked for the MD (and her office was right at the end of the corridor from my office) already at their desks. Janine was shy and spent any free moment checking her messages on her mobile phone, and had never spoken more than the odd word with me since she had started at the company 6 months previously.

Anyway, I asked both Janine and Portia whether they had given me the cupcake and neither of them had, and also denied seeing anyone else on our floor, while I was making my coffee. Well, the cupcake looked very enticing and I couldn’t resist eating it immediately. It was as moist and delicious as it looked and somehow it made me feel happy and relaxed about the day ahead. I was incredibly busy and totally forgot about the cake once I was immersed in the day to day correspondence, booking hotels and flights for my boss for his forthcoming trip to Argentina as well as trying to sort out a problem with our internet provider. I normally am a typical A type personality and get very up tight if things are overly stressful, but this day I felt very relaxed. A nice change, I must admit.

The following day, having quite forgotten about my freebie of the previous day, I was once again surprised when I brought my coffee cup back to my desk. This time it was a choc chip cookie that was left in front of my computer. I really was sure that it must have been placed by either Portia or Janine, as I hadn’t seen any other staff members when I came down the passage from the lift. They denied knowing anything about the cookie and, somewhat perplexed, I still decided that the best thing to do (as I had missed breakfast once again) was to eat it. Whoever was baking these sweet delights was doing a very good job of it. The chocolate chips just melted in my mouth and also resulted in a feeling of total relaxation!

This strange ritual carried on for at least another 2 months with an amazing variety of cupcakes,  muffins and biscuits of varying shapes and sizes appearing on my desk each morning.  Although I kept on mentioning it to all my colleagues, everyone denied any knowledge of the cookies  although several of them mentioned the fact that I definitely seemed to be very much more relaxed these days than in the past . Did I have a new man in my life? Certainly not, but I did admit to feeling more in control of my emotions than I had done for quite a while.

One morning, about 8 or 9 weeks since the first cookie had appeared on my desk, I arrived at work to find a small package wrapped in brown paper together with a typed note attached – no cookie today. I was rather hesitant to read the note as now I would surely have some idea as to the person who had been leaving the treats for me over the past few months.  Before I read it, I ripped off the wrapping on the parcel and found a thin, paperback book entitled “The joys of marijuana – 30 tried and tested baking treats”. I nearly collapsed, and then looked at the note which had been attached to the parcel. “You have been an absolute pleasure to work with these past few months – glad you liked the cookies” and it was signed “Your secret admirer!”  To this day I have never been able to find out who was responsible for me being as high as a kite every day at work for all those months. I have never bothered to try out any of the recipes and, for better or worse, have decided that to take a few drops of Rescue homeopathic medication daily is possibly a more acceptable way of coping with work related stress.

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Too Late for Regrets

It was probably the most memorable Valentine’s Day in my life and, thinking back now after all those years, I feel quite embarrassed by my behaviour that day. In hindsight one always knows just what should have been said or done, but that doesn’t change things once they have occurred.

Valentine’s Day that year just happened to fall on a Saturday and I had a full agenda which included taking my 4 year old twins to a birthday party in the afternoon. The morning was taken up with grocery shopping as well as choosing a gift for the birthday boy. In fact, as I was taking two children to the party, it was only right that I purchased two gifts for the child. I left my two terrors at home with their father, and headed for the local shopping mall. It was a battle to find a parking spot, but finally I succeeded and made my way, first of all to the supermarket.

It took me ages to get all the items on my shopping list and then it was a case of packing them in the boot of my car before aiming for the toy shop.  I had a good idea of what I was going to buy for  Chad, who was having the party. He loved Lego, so I had already decided to buy two smallish, but very acceptable Lego models for him. I was, and still am, always on a budget so I felt that these toys would fit the bill very well indeed and wouldn’t make me look mean.

I found the items I was looking for and looked around to see where I could pay. I froze. In front of me and staring straight at me was a face I had hoped never to see again. I felt my cheeks burn in embarrassment and didn’t know which way to turn. “Fancy seeing you here, Shelley!”  I looked at the man who I had believed would be my husband one day and mumbled, “Hi John”.  I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me as I had a flashback of our last meeting, 8 years before.

Before I could recover, my ex-lover decided to start a conversation with me. “What are you doing in a toy shop, Shelley? You, who always swore that you couldn’t stand children and wanted nothing to do with them.  Perhaps you are shopping on behalf of your sister?” I was mortified. John knew just how maternal my sister, Lily, had always been and obviously assumed that she had the brood of children that she had always wanted.  I didn’t know what to say to him, and then blurted out, “No, they are for my twins to take to a party this afternoon”.

The look of shock which I got from John is one which I will never forget. We had dated for years and he was longing to settle down and start a family, but I had other plans in those days.  My job as a journalist with a large newspaper was taking off in a big way, and children were certainly not part of my long term plan at all. I will never forget the day he gave me the ultimatum. If I refused to get engaged and to set a date for our wedding, with the proviso that we would think of having children within two years of the wedding, then he was calling an end to our relationship. I had been shattered, but not enough to change my mind about putting my career first.

How foolish can one be when it comes to losing perspective. If only one could see into the future then the decisions one made would be quite different. John was devastated by our breakup, but that didn’t stop him finding a gorgeous blonde architect and getting married within a year of leaving me. I saw the wedding photo in the social section of the newspaper where I worked, and felt very sad at my loss. It was a wake-up call and forced me to look at my life, especially as my job suddenly was no longer as appealing as it had seemed when I had lost John.

 

I managed to pull myself together and forced myself to ask him about his life. He told me that he and his wife were in the process of moving overseas as he had a very good job offer and his wife would have no problem getting a good position as well. They had been unable to have children, sadly, due to his wife having had an infertility problem, but they enjoyed a comfortable life doing a great deal of travelling, a lot of scuba diving as well as hiking.

He asked me who I had married, and was surprised to hear that it was an ex -colleague at the newspaper where I had worked– a man quite a lot older than me, who had been married previously but had no children.  The paper had retrenched many of the staff members before closing down totally, so we were forced to pull in our belts.  Martin had taken a job with a lower salary and I was writing some part-time articles for a women’s magazine, which didn’t pay too generously but we were happy.

I didn’t take up John’s offer to join him for a cup of coffee as I was already later than I had hoped and needed to get home to prepare the twins for the birthday party. I really felt very uncomfortable seeing John again and remembering the way I had treated him. Would things have been more exciting if I had made a different decision at the time, and he had not become the one I always referred as “The One That Got Away”? I would never know and it was better not to dwell on what might have been. I was sad that he had never been able to have the pleasure of being a father, and this in itself made me feel very guilty.

I wished him all the best for the future, and never did find out why he was in the toyshop.  I knew he had always been very generous with his friend’s children and maybe he was buying for nephews and nieces. I have since regretted not even bothering to find out.  His parting comment was to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day! What a way to make me feel even worse than before.

I paid for the Lego and was relieved when I arrived at my car and was able to try my best to focus on getting home safely and with time to spare.

 

A Slip of the Finger

I will never forget, if I live to be a hundred, one of the most mortifying experiences of my life. It took place on the morning when I turned 40. The day had started as a normal Tuesday work day; although I had already received a number of phone calls from close friends as well as the usual bundle of Facebook messages, which I had checked during a tea break. What no-one knew, and not even my long-term fiancé, Jake, was that I had also received a call from my gynaecologist whom I had seen the previous day. It was this call which resulted in my extremely embarrassing experience – even thinking about it several years later, I feel quite sick to my stomach!

By nature I am a very private person, and although I do have friends at work, none of them are so close that I would discuss my personal life with them. Some facts are only ever disclosed to one or two friends whom I have had since school and university days.  Jake is the total opposite to me and is very social and has a huge amount of friends. We used to work for the same company, and the only reason that he was still a fiancé and not a husband at that time was due to the fact that his hard- nosed ex-wife was still making it financially impossible for him to finalise their divorce.  We were struggling to get her to understand that, as there were no children in the marriage, she had no right to demand all the things she felt entitled to after 10 years of being with Jake. Well, that was something we were trying to sort out, but in the meantime, to all intents and purposes, Jake and I were committed to being a lifelong couple.

To get back to my 40th birthday and the phone call which caused me such embarrassment. Jake and I were keen to start a family when we first met and, although we were both very fit and healthy nothing had happened. We were not prepared to undergo any fertility treatments and run the risk of a multiple birth. We had already decided that if we were not going to be able to have children then we would concentrate on the two of us and do as much travelling as possible and enjoy being parents to our four legged fur babies.

Anyway, I am waffling and I need to get back to the day in question when I had received the call from my doctor.  I had been feeling really down for the past few weeks and always tired and my cycle was all upside down and seemed to have disappeared altogether. I was very worried that, Iike my mother, I was already starting early menopause. I had both blood and urine samples taken but before he could give me any information, the doctor’s mobile phone rang and he had to race to the local hospital where one of his patients was in labour.

When I heard his voice on the end of the phone the following day, I was very nervous as I just did not know what I was going to hear. “Hello Kate, this is Dr Jacobs. Firstly, I must apologise for having to rush away yesterday, but babies have a way of making their own arrangements. Anyway, I hope you are sitting down as I have some news which might be rather unexpected.  You are in fact pregnant and that’s why you have been feeling the way you have. From what you told me yesterday, you are probably around 8 weeks already. Congratulations, and I remember you saying that today is your 40th birthday, so double congratulations are in order.  You need to make another appointment for us to do a scan and then we will be able to see if all is progressing the way it should.  I am sure that, with your usual level of good health, there is nothing to worry about at all.”

When the call was concluded I felt totally shocked! I had almost given up the idea of our ever having our own child and, now being 40, had felt that it was highly unlikely that it would ever happen. Once I had recovered I decided that, rather than phoning Jake who I knew had a very busy schedule that day, I would just write him an e-mail and send it directly to his desk. I quickly wrote him a note saying that I had just received the best possible 40th birthday present and started it off with  “Congratulations you Sexy Hunk – your sperm has done the job” and added a grinning emoji and a picture of two clinking champagne glasses, just for good measure. Then I pressed the send button.

It was just a few minutes later that my boss, George Jones, popped his head around my office door waving a piece of paper in his hand with a huge grin on his face. “I think you sent this to the wrong sperm donor Kate!”  I nearly died when I realised what had happened! I had sent it to George instead of Jake and now I was sure that the entire office would hear the news even before my poor fiancé.  What on earth could I do to rectify this most embarrassing of situations! Just bite the bullet, pretend to see the funny side of things and go straight over to Jake’s office to tell him the news in person instead of touching the wretched computer again! Technology? Only good when the person using it concentrates at all times- even when they are suffering from emotional challenges!

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Direct Sales – Chapter 5

How to project a professional image to your customers.
Your Appearance does matter !

Now that you have embarked upon your new career, you need to feel confident and in control. This may take quite a bit of time and practice, especially if your background has not necessitated your meeting new people on a regular basis. It can be rather daunting to wake up in the morning knowing that you are going to have to make a serious effort to generate some business in order to start making money.

One of the most important tips which I was given very early in my sales career was to make sure that you are dressed and ready for the day before you start getting in touch with anyone in connection with your job. You cannot focus on projecting a business-like manner on the phone if you are still dressed in last night’s pyjamas.

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Dress for Success is the motto you should try to keep in your mind at all times. Get up, get showered, have a bite to eat and then dress in a presentable manner, especially if you are going out to meet clients. Even if you are planning on spending the day at your desk doing phone calling, it is not a good idea to wear scruffy old gardening clothes. Obviously you don’t dress in the same way as when you go out, but you still need to feel business-like.

Whenever you leave the home, remember that you never know whom you are going to bump into whether at the shops, outside your children’s school or in the doctor’s waiting room etc. Try to get into the habit of always looking neat and presentable, and wear that identifying badge of yours at all times. You will be surprised at how often people will ask you about your line of business, purely because they have seen your name badge.

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Can you imagine how embarrassing it could be if you rushed out to buy a loaf of bread at lunchtime, wearing a scruffy, paint splattered tee shirt and shabby shorts, only to bump into a new customer of yours who has just spent a large amount of money purchasing some of your products? Not a good image to project at all! I am not saying that you have to wear business clothes when you are at the coast on a family vacation, but in the normal scheme of things, think before you leave home and ask yourself whether you are looking  neat enough for any eventuality.

Another tip which I found useful was to make a note of the clothes which you wear when you go to a customer’s home, either for a product demonstration for her friends, or a one on one advice session.   Even on a rather limited budget, you should be able to mix and match just a few attractive items of clothing, so you don’t appear to be wearing a monotonous uniform.  Of course, it could well be that the company you represent has a designated dress code in a specific style and colour which you are expected to wear.  Otherwise, it’s wise to try to look as though you have a varied selection of business clothes.

Personal hygiene is critical, and one should always be aware of the fact that last night’s garlic loaded dinner is not conducive to comfortable interactions with anyone the following day, let alone customers.  If you happen to be a smoker then this can also become a problem when dealing with the public. Nothing is worse for a non-smoker than to have the smell of tobacco wafting into your space from either a cigarette or a smoker’s clothing. Being vigilant regarding one’s total appearance as well as one’s breath are all part and parcel of being able to feel confident in one’s job. Having breath fresheners, deodorant as well as touch up make-up products with you at all times, especially when you are expecting to be away from home for several hours, all help you to feel more relaxed and confident in your dealings with the public.

Communication

You may not be very comfortable with using your telephone to conduct your business but, practice can make perfect!  There is nothing more irritating than phoning someone and that person answers with “hello”. The correct manner for answering a call should be to identify either yourself or the company for which you work.  “Jane Smith speaking. How can I help you” or “Brown’s Engineering, Jane speaking”, is so much more professional and the caller then knows they have contacted the right person or company. Working for yourself in direct sales, it will be your name which you use when phoning out or answering a call.

Never assume that the person you are calling will remember you. It is far better to identify yourself to the person on the other end of the phone, for example in this way: “hello Mary, this is Jane Smith, your representative for …….”. They will in time recognise your voice, but it is presumptuous to expect people to instantly know who you are especially if it is some time since you last spoke to them.

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Another good tip is to “put a smile in your voice” when either dialling out or answering an incoming call. Nothing is more off-putting than a gruff or decidedly unfriendly voice on the other end of the line. I personally have known a woman for many years and, if I didn’t know her as well as I do, I would immediately put down the phone without speaking to her. She answers with a very rude and unfriendly “hello!” and only mellows once she knows who she is speaking to. She is most definitely not a candidate for dealing with the public in general!

If you are unsure of how you sound on the phone, then record yourself speaking and play it back. This way you can change your tone and, if it helps, look in a mirror while you smile and talk on the phone. The way in which you are able to communicate comfortably with your customers is also a reflection of your professionalism.  Once again, old adage applies: Practice makes perfect!

Remember to record a voice message on your telephones, the landline as well as your mobile and regularly check your messages. It is so bad mannered to ignore a message and people never cease to be surprised when you actually call them back! This world we are living in has forgotten what it is to be polite and if your break the mould by being courteous it will pay dividends in the long run. You will be known as being reliable and polite and, above all, professional.

We all need to feel special

I may have mentioned in a previous chapter the importance of keeping notes regarding your customers. Either by using the old style index filing system or utilising your smart phone, you can have many snippets of information about people who buy from you which is sure to impress them when you refer to them. Things such as birthdays, anniversaries, a child’s illness, a husband having some sort of crisis – all these facts can be mentioned in a caring way when next you speak to the customer. They will often be amazed that you have bothered to remember what they told you, and that you  are not only interested in them buying more products from you but that you value them as people and not just customers.

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A small gift at Christmas with a note thanking a customer for their loyalty during the year will not only be well received but will usually cement the relationship with them, and they are likely to recommend you to their friends and relatives in the future. Sometimes it helps to actually use an old style desk diary each year in order to jot down memory joggers such as the customer’s birthday and also to remind you at Christmastime of the small gift you gave them the previous year. You don’t want to be perceived as the kind of salesperson who gives a gift as an afterthought with no memory of having given the identical item the previous year! Suddenly your professionalism could take a nasty knock!

Punctuality is also critical in making people feel that they are valued. If you make an appointment with a customer make sure that you are organized and get to your destination on time. If you are delayed by a crisis, then it is critical that you let the other person know that you have a problem and how you plan to remedy it. Time is important to everyone and when someone makes a habit of arriving late, it is a sign of disrespect and shows that you are not professional in your field.  Curved balls are a part of everyday life, and no-one will be angry with you if you get your car out of the garage and realise that you have a flat tyre. As long as you contact the person you are scheduled to see, then you have done the right thing. If you just arrive an hour late without any indication that you have been delayed, and expect to be well received, the truth is that you will have burnt your bridges as far as building trust and being perceived as a reliable sales representative.

One last thing in this chapter which I would like to mention is the importance of keeping your word. Nothing is worse than insincerity and making false promises. Think before you commit and make sure that you have noted down (in your desk diary or on your phone) what it is you have promised to do – and do it! There is just way too much insincerity in the world today, and when people go back on their word it is very easy for the person who was promised something to feel rejected and unworthy.  After all, these tips are all about remembering that we all like to feel special.

“What I adore is supreme professionalism. I’m bored
by writers who can write only when it’s raining.

– Noel Coward

The Unexpected

PART 1.

The advert had read: “2 bed-roomed flat in well maintained complex. Sea view. Within walking distance of shops and other amenities. Immediate occupation.” Just what she was looking for, provided the rental was within her budget.

As it turned out, the price had been right and here she was, two weeks later, surrounded by boxes and feeling on the verge of hysteria. Gill had been thrilled when she’d viewed the place, but that had been in the evening when the lighting had been dim and cosy. Now, in full mid-morning sunlight she had the feeling that she might just have made a very big mistake. How could she have signed a 12 month lease for a dump like this! She felt the tears springing to her eyes, and struggled to pull herself together. A cup of coffee might help to improve her mood, but in her current frame of mind, maybe something a lot stronger might be more to the point!

Standing on the balcony, sipping the steaming mug of coffee (wine would have to wait until much later!) she tried to relax. Yes, she could see the sea way over there in the distance, and the flat was within walking distance of the shops and a large medical centre and was on a bus route. The problem was the flat itself. The paintwork was filthy, the carpets a grubby nondescript colour and, judging by the state of the bathroom, the building was at least 50 years old. The landlord had told her that she was free to decorate if she felt inclined, as he himself had no intention of ever moving into the flat as he now lived in another city.

Having finished her coffee, Gill braced herself before re-entering the living room. The furniture had been plonked down by the removal men and, apart from the heavy items such as the fridge, needed to be re-arranged. Where to start, that was the question. Why had she refused everyone’s offer of help? Sometimes her insistence on being self-sufficient was to her own detriment.  She had been determined to show everyone that she could cope very well on her own, and now she was already regretting being so hard headed. Her best friend, Margie, had often told her that she shouldn’t be so stubborn, and that people deserved the opportunity to help their friends. Gill knew she was right, but at 29 she felt it necessary to be as independent as possible.

Next birthday would herald in the 30’s and that was a very sobering thought. Some of Gill’s friends were already married for the second time, and yet she was still alone and rapidly heading for a place on the proverbial shelf. She had never been short of male company and on several occasions she had honestly believed that she had met Mr. Right.  Luckily for her, she had discovered on each occasion, before any plans were made for that trip down the aisle, that Mr. Right was in fact Mr. very Wrong indeed.

The decision to move from her sister and brother-in-law’s garden cottage had been made for many reasons. Firstly, moving into town meant far less time spent travelling to and from the office. Then there was the chaos which prevailed at her sister’s home. With 4 children all under the age of 8, 5 dogs, numerous cats as well as an African Grey parrot which all day long alternated between barking like a dog, imitating the car alarms and occasionally letting rip with some very choice profanities, life was far from relaxing. The cottage was attached to the main house so there was very little privacy at all. Yes, it was most definitely time to move out before she got taken away kicking and screaming by men in white coats!

Janet, Gill’s sister, was made for domesticity and the noise which prevailed constantly in her home seemed to go totally unnoticed. How Peter, her husband, could also remain so calm and collected surrounded by such total mayhem had always puzzled Gill. Different strokes for different folks!

Finally, Janet was always making rather snide remarks regarding Gill’s single life-style. It could have been a case of sour grapes due to Gill having only herself to consider and being able to afford trips abroad every couple of years. Sibling rivalry had always played its role when the girls were younger, with Gill being the prettier of the two and far more academically inclined than her sister. It seemed sad that this should have continued into adulthood but it was what it was. Gill had always been a very willing aunt to the children and was ready to look after the entire menagerie for days at a time to allow Janet and Peter to have the odd break.  Although it was appreciated, Gill still got the feeling that there was a great deal of envy where her single life was concerned. On her part, she would have been very happy to tie the knot if the right person had come along. If it happened then so be it, but at this moment in time, moving into her own flat was the most important thing.

PART 2.

Dragging her thoughts back to the present, Gill armed herself with a bucket of hot, soapy water and a scrubbing brush. There was no way on earth that she could consider unpacking anything without first cleaning the grimy paintwork on the doors and walls. Somewhere around lunchtime she was startled by the ringing of her doorbell. She wasn’t expecting anyone to call in today so she peered through the spy hole to see who was outside.  Standing there was a dark-haired man carrying a florist’s bouquet. She opened the door in surprise – it wasn’t her birthday and her friends didn’t even know the number of her new flat. So, who could be sending her flowers? The man smiled at her and thrust the beautiful colourful arrangement into her arms. “Enjoy your day ma’am” he said before turning and hurrying back the way he had come.

“Excuse me, but….”, too late! He had already disappeared around the corner leaving a bewildered Gill holding the flowers and feeling totally confused. She went back inside, closing the front door behind her before opening the greeting card attached to the flowers. Funny, but didn’t one usually have to sign for receiving flowers? The message on the card didn’t make any sense to Gill either. “Couldn’t believe my eyes. Welcome to Hilton Heights. D”. She would have thought the flowers were meant for someone else, except for the fact that she had just moved into Hilton Heights that very day. Who on earth was “D”?

She watered the arrangement and placed it on the dining room table in amongst boxes of books and crockery. How on earth would she ever find out who had sent her the flowers? Oh, well, better get back to work. She switched on her small (rather out of date, but still very functional) portable radio for company, and carried on with the cleaning and sorting out. This continued for the rest of the day and by the time the furniture in the flat was relatively liveable Gill was absolutely exhausted. She would leave hanging the curtains until tomorrow as no-one could see into her apartment and she was way too tired to carry on any longer.

The thought of going out to eat supper was out of the question and she was about to hunt for a tin of something in her box of groceries which she could heat up in the microwave, when the doorbell rang once again. This time it was a teenager from a local pizza takeaway branch. When she said she hadn’t ordered anything he told her that it had already been paid for and no, it wasn’t a mistake. The address which he had been given was definitely flat No. 21. He wasn’t able to tell her who had placed the order, just that there was nothing to pay. Gill composed herself enough to give the youngster a generous tip before collapsing onto the couch to enjoy the unexpected and very welcome meal. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before and she could be forgiven for starting to think that she was hallucinating from overwork and low blood sugar level. She made a mental note to phone some of her friends when she had a spare moment to see whether anyone had any idea as to what was going on. Could the landlord be feeling guilty about the state of his flat and be trying to clear his conscience by sending her some moving-in gifts?

PART 3.

The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully, and it was with a sense of relief that Gill arrived at the office on Monday morning. She was tired of cleaning and unpacking but the flat was slowly beginning to feel like home. She felt more optimistic about its potential now that her furniture was in place and her new curtains had been hung up. Altogether, it really looked very attractive and even the carpets weren’t as bad as at first sight. Once her trendy scatter rugs were in place you really didn’t notice their condition at all. She was determined to spend the next few weekends armed with a paintbrush and adding some subtle colour to the walls and doorframes.

No-one admitted responsibility for the flowers or the pizza, and her friends and colleagues teased her about her secret admirer. She wasn’t convinced though and suspected that her friend, Margie in accounts, had something to do with it all. Nothing unexpected happened all day, but her boss was ever more exasperating than normal. He was due to fly to Singapore the following week, so had mountains of correspondence for Gill to handle. He was a man who tended to become excitable and impatient every time he needed to go overseas on business. Gill suspected that he would be happier pottering around his garden at home rather than sitting around a boardroom table. He had once divulged the fact that he had been forced by circumstances to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and become a third generation accountant, but would have loved to have studied horticulture.

Margie popped her head around the door of Gill’s office to remind her about the dinner party she had planned for Friday evening. She said that it wasn’t necessary for Gill to bring a partner with her as there was a friend she wanted to introduce her to.  This happened on a regular basis and Gill found this whole “let’s find you a husband” routine to be getting rather tedious. However, the offer to help with any future painting and the promise of a phone number of a reliable and affordable carpet cleaning company was very well received. Gill was aching all over from the weekend’s labours and this time was only too willing to accept the offer of help. The sooner the flat was completely the way she wanted it, the sooner she could start inviting her friends to come over for drinks.

The week flew by. She’d almost worn her fingers to stumps with all the extra typing and it was a miracle that Mr. Hyslop hadn’t been strangled and thrown out of the 9th storey window. It was late on Friday afternoon that she gave any thought to the unknown person who her friend wanted her to meet. Margie was living with her long-time fiancé, Jacques, and the wedding was being planned for December. She couldn’t bear the thought that Gill was still unattached and was always on the look-out for prospective partners for her. So far none of them had been Gill’s type at all. They belonged to two clubs – Nerds Anonymous and Divorce Survivors. She was tired of listening to discussions of The Latest developments in IT, Healthy Living, Maintenance Payments and Life Without the kids.

When Gill arrived home, she found a note pinned to her front door telling he that there was an item of mail for her at the caretaker’s flat. She had only met the caretaker and his wife on two occasions before and they could have stepped right out of the pages of a Roald Dahl book. She wouldn’t like to cross swords with either of them. Not a particularly pleasant middle-aged couple at all. They had made it quite clear that they disapproved of loud music, noisy children, and late-night partying. As she knocked on their door she made a silent resolution to throw the biggest, noisiest, mind-blowing party the night before she moved out of this building one day in the distant future. Mr. Smit opened the door and nodded when he saw Gill on the doorstep. Studying the ground in front of her, he muttered something about a parcel having been delivered for her whilst she was at work, and that he had signed for it on her behalf. He shoved it into her hand and, before she could thank him, he had already closed the door. “I’d better make sure I never lock myself out of my flat”, thought Gill, “Waking him up late at night could be a fate worse than death”. The parcel in her hand was wrapped in brown paper and was addressed in black capital letters. There was no postmark that she could see, so she had absolutely no idea from where it had come.

Once inside her flat she tore off the wrapping and found herself looking at the glossy hard cover of a book entitled, “Do it Yourself Home Decorating”. The pages seemed to be full of quick, up to the minute ideas on turning even the most depressing room into an eye-catching work of art. Just the kind of book Gill loved. She searched for some clue as to the identity of the sender. On the inside cover were the words, “Happy decorating. Best wishes, D”. Who on earth was “D”? Was it the same person who had sent her flowers, and most probably the pizza, and now this book? She’d known several Daves, a Danny and even a Dimitri over the years, but her most recent boyfriend had been Michael and the only D in his life was his regular Detoxification programme!

PART 4.

Glancing at the clock she realised that she’d have to hurry up if she were to arrive at Margie’s by 7.30p.m. She had just enough time to shower and wash and dry her hair. Fortunately, her current hairstyle was a chin-length bob which was quick and easy to style.  By 7p.m. she was looking good in a black mini dress and high heels which showed off her long, tanned legs to perfection. A quick spray of her favourite French perfume and she was ready to go. She could change her name to Speedy Gonzales at this rate!

As she arrived at the home of Margie and Jacques, she noticed a brand new red BMW parked in the driveway. Must belong to the mysterious new man, she thought. Well, at least this one had excellent taste in cars. One of Margie’s hopefuls had driven a bright yellow beach buggy covered in graffiti.

The dogs started to bark before Gill reached the front door, and Margie opened it and welcomed her with a hug.  “You look fantastic, Gill, and you smell deliciously expensive!”  As she shepherded Gill into the lounge, Jacques came across the room to kiss her on both cheeks. Trust Margie to find a charming Frenchman after all those years of French lessons and Cordon Bleu cookery classes.

The owner of the BMW had got to his feet as Gill entered the room. He was of medium height with slightly receding dark hair. “Gill, this is Chris Stewart. Chris, Gill McKenzie”. The stranger smiled at her as he shook her hand, and Gill wasn’t disappointed by his looks at all. Although he couldn’t be described as handsome as his nose was too big and his smile rather lop-sided, he was definitely attractive in a rugged way. Somehow he looked out of place in his suit and tie and Gill got the feeling that he would be happier in jeans and a sweater. It turned out that he worked with Jacques and had recently moved to Durban from Johannesburg.

It was just the four of them for dinner that evening and it turned out to be comfortable and relaxing. This in itself was a relief for Gill and she was able to unwind and be her usual witty self. She soon discovered that Chris had travelled a great deal like herself, and photography was his passion. He dreamt of starting his own photographic business one day and leaving behind the constant stress which his current job within a large pharmaceutical company created all the time.

“I’ll see you tomorrow at nine, Gill”, promised Margie as Gill prepared to leave. She popped her head through the open driver’s window to whisper in her friend’s ear, “Isn’t he gorgeous, Gill? I’m sure he’s attracted to you”. Gill ignored the comment and thanked Margie again for a wonderful evening. She waved to Jacques and Chris who were standing in the doorway, and reversed her little hatch-back down the driveway. Driving home she let her mind wander over the evening. She wondered if she would hear from Chris again. If Margie had anything to do with it, she probably would. It was odd, but she felt as though she knew him although they had never met before. He had fitted in so well with her friends that it was hard to believe that this was the first evening they had all spent together.

True to her word, Margie arrived promptly at 9a.m. the following morning. She was carrying a large plastic bag containing a pair of blue overalls which Jacques used for working on his car. After a cup of coffee the girls got to work. It was actually good fun painting together and amazing just how quickly the time went by. Before they knew it, it was mid-afternoon and they decided they had better break for a bite to eat. They took time to admire their handiwork. The bathroom was totally transformed. Amazing what a fresh coat of paint could do to the walls, pelmet and door. No more dreary grey-white walls and chipped door frames. Instead it was now lemon walls and a turquoise door and pelmet. With some new towels and a bath mat it would be perfect.

They took two fold-up stools out on to the balcony and sat munching on thick sandwiches which they had hastily prepared together in the kitchen. These were washed down with glasses of chilled white wine. Remarkable just how quickly one’s stamina could be revived with the correct kind of sustenance!

“I think you made the right decision taking this flat, Gill”, mused Margie. “It’s so nice and close to town and that sea view is very relaxing. Once the decorating’s finished you won’t want to move out”.

“After all this hard work, I’m here to stay”, replied Gill. The thought of moving again was anything but appealing. “Do you think I’ll ever hear from Chris again, Margie?”, asked Gill  rather hesitantly.

“Well, he couldn’t stop talking about you after you’d left last night”, Margie said. “He said something strange though, which has been worrying me since he left. He mentioned the fact that you lived in Hilton Heights, and neither Jacques nor I had told him. Did you mention it to him?”

“I spoke about my move, but I didn’t mention the name of the flats, as far as I can remember. Maybe he’s a bit of a mind reader!”

The question continued to puzzle the friends, but they soon forgot about it once they were again immersed in their decorating. They decided to call it a day at 6.30pm as Jacques would have returned from playing golf, and Margie thought it was time she went home. She’d had more than her fair share of brush-wielding aerobics for one day. A hot bath was needed before she expired totally!

PART 5.

Once Gill was alone again, she felt like having a relaxing evening watching some television and having a nice hot cup of coffee but suddenly realised that she had run out of milk. She decided to pop down to the café on the corner and spoil herself with a bar of well-earned chocolate as well, before showering and settling down for the night. She glanced at herself in the mirror in the bathroom before grabbing her purse. Yellow and blue speckles of paint were sprinkled in her hair as well as on her arms and face and tee shirt. She wasn’t too bothered as there was little chance of her bumping into anyone she might know, as she hadn’t met very many people in the last couple of days since moving in. She slammed the flat door shut behind her, only to realize that she’d left her keys inside. Horrors, how on earth could she get back inside? Other than spending the night curled up on the doormat, she really didn’t have much of a choice. She might as well go to the café for the milk before bracing herself to ask the indomitable caretakers to help her with their master key.

She ran down the stairs to the ground floor instead of taking the lift and as she raced out of the entrance she almost collided with someone on his way into the building. He dropped the packages he was carrying and almost over balanced. Gill, mortified, started to apologize profusely, when she looked up and realized that the person she’d almost knocked over was, in fact, Chris. She couldn’t believe it. The funny thing was that he didn’t seem at all surprised to see her. He laughed as she started to say how sorry she was for her recklessness, and helped him to pick up his packages. She told him how she’s foolishly locked herself out of her flat. He said that breaking and entering was just one of his many talents and he was pretty sure that they wouldn’t need to call on the assistance of the intimidating Smits.

The milk forgotten, Gill allowed Chris to accompany her back to her locked front door. Putting his parcels down, he looked around and spotted a small open window to the right of the front door. By reaching down and across he was able to grab hold of the keys which were still hanging in the keyhole. Carefully, he lifted them out and with an exuberant “Voila!, he gave them to her with a flourish.

Leading the way inside, Gill explained. “Please excuse the way I look, but I’ve been painting all day. Would you like a drink, Chris? Beer, wine, tea, coffee – oh heck, I forgot that I was on my way to buy some milk when I locked myself out. That’s where I was running to when I collided with you.

“A glass of wine would be great, thanks”. He smiled at Gill, “I think I’d better explain a few things Gill. Firstly last night was amazing and I was going to give you a ring early next week to try to arrange to see you again”.

“But what are you doing in this building, Chris?”, asked a very puzzled Gill.

“My brother, Mike, lives upstairs from you, and I brought him a few groceries as he’s got a bad dose of Man flu and is wife’s away on business until Wednesday.

Gill handed him a glass of wine and they sat down in the lounge. Chris suddenly blurted out, “I’ve got a confession to make Gill”, he admitted looking rather embarrassed. “Jacques showed me their engagement photos a while ago and there was one of you which interested me. He told me a bit about you and that you were unattached. He said he’d get Margie to arrange something and then, a few days later, while I was standing at Mike’s window looking down into the courtyard, I saw you coming out from speaking to the caretaker. It had to be you or an identical twin sister.

I asked Mike to find out from the caretaker whether or not you were moving in, and what your name was. He seems to get on all right with the old misery and got all the info I needed. There was no way I could just knock on your door and introduce myself – Margie had already planned the dinner anyway – so I got my brother to drop off the flowers. As for the pizza – I’d ordered one for Mike and I thought you might enjoy one after all the unpacking.”

“This is so crazy”, laughed Gill. “And I suppose Margie also told you that I’m dying to do a course in interior decorating as well, didn’t she?”

“She did let it slip”, grinned Chris, “And when I found that book on sale last week I thought you might like to have it”.

“But what does the “D” stand for, if your name really is Chris?”, mused Gill. “Determined, daft or demented – whichever you think best describes me! Actually, my first name is Damian, but I have preferred to use my middle name since leaving school”, he said with a grin.

“I’d better take these groceries up to Mike so that he can have some dinner. Poor guy is really feeling sorry for himself and never copes well when his wife has to go away. Being sick doesn’t help matters either! How about you and I going out for a quick bite to eat when I get back down from seeing him?”

Hurriedly showering, the only thought in Gill’s mind was the saying “In life expect the unexpected”!