I'm lying on the beach in Florida thinking back a couple of weeks ago, and grateful that I'm wearing my baggy swimming shorts rather than my preferred Speedos.
"John, got a minute?"
Always a bad sign. "John, get in here NOW" means get ready with a defence, the customer don't like somefink. "John, got a job for you" means you'll get paid rather than laid off. But this? This means he wants something. It's Friday, I'm off next week. I can guess already. I want me holiday. It's only fair innit?
"'ave a seat son" It must be serious "Coffee?" Oh my God! The last time e offered to make me a cup of coffee was the interview 5 years ago. It's Lidl's bargain brand, not something to die for, but heh! this won't happen again until hell freezes over"
"Cheers Mike, white, three sugars". What? I 'ave a sweet tooth. "What's up?"
He waits until the coffee is made and delivered. "Got a job, has to start next week. I KNOW you've got next week off, I KNOW I shouldn't ask, but I also know you aren't going anywhere"
"I'm decorating my pad, busman's 'oliday aint it"
"Look John, I wouldn't ask but this is big. I'll pay you time and a half"
I sense a negotiating position and look blank, like the extra money means nuffin.
"Okay, okay, I'll pay you double time"
I smile, this is starting to look interesting.
"It's some photoshoot place, they just rung up like, no negotiating, just offered oodles of cash. Even paying you double I'm making a good profit"
That was a mistake. I sense room for more manoeuvre here.
"Why not get a couple of the young'uns to do it? They'd be cheaper and probably work harder"
"But not better. They stressed it has to be right! No mistakes, no rework. You can work whatever hours you like to get it done in the week. They've just got the contract with some new customer and the whole place has to be in the corporate colours by the time the executive team arrive to check out photo shoots. I need the best, a reliable pair of hands I can leave to get on with it. You're the best"
"You do a good job of buttering me up" I smiled "the trouble is" I lied "my old mum is coming to visit next weekend and I want the place to look sparkling"
"I thought your Mum died in a car crash two years ago. Didn't you take a week off for the funeral an'all?"
Damn he had a good memory. Brazen it out.
"Nah, that weren't me mum. But you can see I've got a problem"
"'ow about if Ned and Tim go round and do your gaff? I know they're young and inexperienced but they are keen. Be a good test for them to 'ave a job all to themselves"
Result! I looked doubtful and then nodded slowly.
"Okay, I suppose. I could take me week off a couple of weeks later"
"Great! I'll let 'm know you'll be there Monday morning after you've collected the paint. 'eres the order"
"I'll get it Saturday, then I can 'it the ground running first thing Monday morning"
"That's why you're the best, you go the extra mile my son"
He was already edging me to the door, my coffee half drunk, One crisis solved, next to deal with. Mike was a wheeler-dealer, he'd sell his sister to an arab for the right money, or his brother come to that. I really liked 'im.
"I'd 'ave done it for time and a half Mike, you must really want this contract"
"I'd 'ave paid you a bonus on top John, I DO really want this contract. It's not just the money they're paying for this one,.There's more to come out of this, I can feel it in me water"
Monday morning I arrive at 143 Gretsham Street. Photenterprise Inc. doesn't tell you much as a name. They do corporate photoshoot jobs (I looked them up over the weekend). A tall, leggy blond with no tits 'greeted' me. That is to say she barely looked up, waved a vague arm to towards the toilets.
"It's the third sink, it's dripping"
"I ain't the plumber darlin' guess again"
She looked up "Well what do you want" (subtext was "you 'orrible little oik, you're ruining my latte and croissant")
"I'm the tax inspector ain I? That's why me van parked outside says 'Decorator' on the side"
"Tax inspector? We aren't expecting you are we?" Tall, leggy, blond and thick. Some people just can't avoid meeting expectations.
"Nah luv. Only joking, I'm the decorator you booked for a rush job"
Her face cleared, she even managed a smile and ushered me into the boss's office. Clearly this really was a big deal if miss fancy pants could manage to totter from her reception desk all the way to an office that was as big as my flat! Nice arse though. In a skirt that my old Dad would have described as 'a belt' and I would call very satisfactory.
John the decorator, that's me. Also willing to fulfil all the expectations of the middle class by being a lusty, lustful, Neanderthal that you wouldn't leave your teenage daughters alone by the house swimming pool with. Said teenage daughters do (I can promise you) occasionally like 'a bit of rough' to season the boring list of hooray Henrys, chinless Clives, and boring Boris-s that they normal bed.
The boss looked a bit of a dragon. No sexism intended, if she was a bloke I might have said bastard. But, well, I guess you need to be to get to the top of even a littul tree, Mike certainly could be, no, usually was.
She looked up "You gay?"
"Nah, course I'm bleedin' not" Nuffin against gays you understand. Some of my best friends are gay. No, really! My cousin is; he's okay. He taught me a lot about dressin' better and stuff; and he's good to 'ave around with girls, they feel safer with 'im along. I'm just sayin'; that's the way it is. But I'M not one okay? I just like me hair well-groomed, I like cravats, always have; and I like to smell nice. Why the 'ell not?
She looked down again "Pity"
That kind of threw me. But, takes all sorts.
"Yes Miss Bridger?" A slim girl appeared, not in 'igh 'eels, in Gucci loafers, stretch jeans and an untucked shirt with one too few buttons undone at the top. Enough to give you an idea wivvout the full view. Nice view, what I could see though.
"This is Sam, she'll be your Girl Friday while you are here. You want coffee? Sam will get it, Sam will ask you what you want from the sandwich van. And if you end up working late (and I hope you do), she'll get you something; we have accounts with Yo Sushi, oh and I think a Pizza place" she looked at me "You look more of a Pizza bloke". She pronounced bloke in a mock East End accent.
Now, as it 'appens I do like a pizza, but I weren't gonna be talked down to by this posh slapper. I just stared at her, straight into her eyes, even ignored her artificially enhanced boobs (with difficulty) until she looked away. Just like a dog, stare 'em out. Later I found me self thinking of her as a dog again, on all fours with me pumping 'er like a good 'un. Like I say, I'm a red-blooded male. If it walks and wears a skirt I'll give it a go.
Sam was really Samantha (course she was) and doing work experience, so, what? 15, 16? Nah, I'm not a cradle snatching pervert, so definitely off the menu. Still, nice eye candy even if it wasn't for touching.
We talked about the job, boss-bitch was obviously shitting herself; it had to be complete by next Monday. Bloody 'ell this was gonna be 'ard work. Not difficult, just painting all the walls in this specific tint of mauve that the customer liked. I could do it asleep. Might 'ave to to get it done on time. Hence the 'elp to keep me at it.
Three photo shoot rooms, four offices, long corridor and reception; plus toilets and a couple of other undefined rooms.
"It'll need two coats to hide the beige" I said. I was pretty sure this wasn't true, but always good to get the customer expecting the worst in case it was.
"You'd better get started then!" she barked.
"Alright Luv, keep yur knickers on!" I replied, knowing now I'd 'ave to be really obnoxious before she'd dare get rid of me. I wouldn't normally talk to a customer like that, but she was asking for it. Respect should be two ways, I was a professional at me job.
I opted to start on an empty office. I figured boss-bitch could move in there while I did her (did her office I mean!). See, like I said, professional, whatever the customer is like; an' I didn't know if this contract was payable on successful, on-time, completion. I figured not, Mike was too canny for that, but boss-bitch might have his number; I reckoned they could be evenly matched.
So I've just layed out the dust sheets and started to paint when blow me! A posh bird (you could tell by the way she walked) in a lacy wrap and little else walked down the corridor! I nearly fell off me stepstool! Sam came back with me coffee; first of many.
"Did you see that?" I said
Five girls in bikinis went back the other way!
"Look!" Apparently my face looked like a cross between the cat that got the cream and a cat waking up inside a kennel. Wow! Brilliant! Oh! Shit! But brilliant! You'll cock this up you spanner!
She was giggling now. "You do know what this place is don't you?"
"What's that? Oh, no, it's a photographic agency, They've just got the contract to do the next El Bamba catalogue. El Bamba? I bet your girlfriend has one of their catalogues, and I bet you've drooled over the pictures"
Cheeky cow! Probably true, but still, cheeky cow! By now she was well-nigh peeing herself she was laughing so much, At this precise moment Tiff, that's Tiffany really, came in.
"Hello? Just seeing if there's anything you need. You seem to have a good audience?"
.... There is more of this story ...