Well… I boobed there.
If you recall one of my previous posts about taking on a new customer, well, I forgot my initial meeting with John as I was totally distracted because Mr E (Ed) took me for a spin in his helicopter. Thankfully John was very gracious. After I’d recovered from my whirlwind trip with Ed to Glasgow, I rang John and we rescheduled for Monday evening.
It’s dark as I drive so I use my sat nav to locate John’s house, which is near Bramley Park.
If I’m honest, the area looks a bit rough. Most of the properties are a hotchpotch of stone and red brick terraced houses. The stone brick has a dark, coal like tarnish, harking back to when the area was more industrial.
Don’t pre-judge Carla, don’t pre-judge.
– You have arrived at your destination, the sat nav says.
‘Thank you,’ I say. I often speak to the sat nav – it’s one of the side effects of working alone. I scan the house doors looking for John’s house number. I’m pleased to find myself right outside and, there’s a parking space, which is always a bonus.
As I get out of my car and lock the door, I notice the street is quiet which I find reassuring. There are no hoards of teens looking for mischief.
The house is red brick, mid terrace with brown upvc windows and front door.
And remember – don’t pre-judge… don’t pre-judge.
I ring the doorbell listening to see if I can hear it ringing inside the house. Don’t you just hate it when you’re waiting for ages on a doorstep because the doorbell doesn’t work!
I can’t hear it so I rap on the door using the tip of my car key. A light comes on and I hear muffled footsteps and a key turning in the lock. The door opens revealing a smart looking man in his late twenties, possibly early thirties .
‘Carla?’ He asks warmly?
‘That’s me,’ I say.
‘Come in,’ he says. ‘Come in.’ He stands back to let me pass.
The door opens straight into the lounge which immediately tells me this isn’t a big house. The first thing that hits me is the smell. It’s like someone used air freshener to hide another smell, but not very well. The smell of marijuana and cigarette smoke hangs heavy behind the thick smell of orange air freshener.
‘Wow!’ I say. ‘Big TV.’ He’s got one of those massive TVs, attached to the wall above the fireplace. Eastenders is on. Not having a TV I have no idea which character is currently giving another character an angry talking to, but to me it doesn’t look like the programme has changed much over the years.
A straggly collection of wires hang down from the back of the TV leading to a unit on the corner with a digital TV box of some kind and what looks like a couple of games consoles. I’m not au fait with consoles so I really have no idea what I’m seeing.
An old leather two seater sofa faces the TV, and in front of it is a glass coffee table that looks like it doubles as a foot rest and a stand for empty pizza boxes and mugs. Behind me in the window area, is an armchair with rather threadbare arms. It doesn’t match the sofa. And nothing in the room matches the, what once was a light brown, plain carpet.
‘Let me turn that off,’ he says, reaching over the back of the sofa for the remote and clicking the TV off. ‘Can I get you a drink?’
‘A cup of tea would be lovely,’ I say realising that I am really quite thirsty. It’s been a busy day. I’ve cleaned Harry’s, Ed & Lucy’s and Clive’s (which reminds me, I really must tell you about Clive one day.) I’ve only snacked throughout the day so I’ll be glad to get finished here and get home for something to eat.
‘Coming right up,’ he says. ‘Why don’t you have a look round and see what you think, while I make the tea. Milk and sugar?’
‘Just milk please, thanks. Is it okay if I start upstairs?’
‘That’s fine, go right ahead. The stairs are through here in the kitchen.’
I follow him through the lounge door into the kitchen and he waves me towards the corner of the room. The staircase is walled with a fixed wooden handrail painted white leading to the top. I say it’s painted white, but it’s more of grimy looking than white
What a waste of good wood.
The carpet is dark green and whilst it looks old it doesn’t look in bad condition. At the top bearing right there’s a small landing, and to there’s a door on either side.
‘My room is the one to your right,’ John calls up the stairs. ‘At the back of the house.’
Okay then, I’ll check that first.
The smell of weed hits me like an assault on my senses.
‘It might be a bit pungent,’ he calls up. ‘I like a smoke before bed. You know how it is.’
‘Of course,’ I shout back, having no idea ‘how it is’ at all.
The room is dark and all I can see is a shard of light cutting through the closed curtains. It’s getting dark outside so there must be light in the alley behind the house. I reach my hand into the room, fumbling along the wall feeling for a light switch.
‘Ah, there you are you little bugger,’ I mutter to myself as my fingers find and click the switch. The light reveals something resembling a clothes bomb explosion. The room itself is looks quite large, or should I say it would do if you could see it properly. There are literally clothes strewn everywhere, some worn and looking like they need washing, some still new with tags on.
There are clothes on the floor, on the chair in the corner of the room, on the drawer unit and scattered all over the floor. Only the double bed has escaped, and the bedside table, and judging by the large baggie on the bedside table that’s where the smell of weed is coming from.
If TK Maxx did jumble sales, this is what it would look like…
‘I’m afraid it’s a bit messy,’ he calls up.
I hear one of my mantras going off in my head like a triggered alert. It always reminds me of Patrick Sawyze in the film Roadhouse where he’s training bouncers.
Be polite… always be polite. Honest; but always be polite.
‘Yeah, it could do with a bit of a tidy,’ I call back. ‘Is that something you’d be wanting me to do?’
‘I think so, yes.’
Fuck! I was hoping he’d say he’d do it.
I flick the light switch off and close the door. I’ve seen enough. Dare I look in the other room? I take a deep breath.
Well, in for a penny…
I open the opposite door on the landing. The curtains are open and the last hints of daylight are streaking through the window. I find the light switch easier this time and it casts a glow on a much tidier room.
John can clearly hear my movements. ‘That room isn’t so bad,’ he calls up, and he’s right. It’s the only room I’ve seen so far that fills me with a sense of relief. Mind you, I haven’t really looked around the kitchen, or seen the bathroom yet! Nevertheless this room is tidier. There’s another double bed, a couple of guitars on stands and guitar cases stacked against the far wall. There’s also a small table and a couple of chairs. It’s dusty in here, but otherwise it doesn’t look too bad. Having switched the light off and closed the door I head back downstairs, taking in the kitchen as I descend into it.
There are all the tell tale signs of this being home to someone who doesn’t do a lot of cooking. Salt and pepper shakers, HP Sauce, ketchup and a couple of bottles of mustard are the only visible foodstuffs.
I bet that oven has only ever seen frozen pizzas.
A kettle and a 4 slice toaster are the only visible surface appliances.
‘Tea’s ready,’ says John. ‘But if you want to check the bathroom first, it’s through there,’ he says, pointing to the door to my right.
‘I’ll have a quick look.’
On entering I immediately wish I hadn’t.
What a shit hole!
The inside of the toilet has clearly never been introduced to Mr Toilet Brush. There’s a limescale marked bath with an overhead shower unit and a low scum line suggesting the water drainage is poor. The pale blue shower curtain is black with mould from the bottom to about halfway up. And don’t get me started on the hand basin.
I don’t want to do this.
To say John looks quite smart in his clean looking jeans and t-shirt, it’s quite incongruous with the rest of the place.
Something’s just not right here.
I can’t put my finger on why I have that feeling, nevertheless I decide I’m going to try and politely put him off using me.
‘I’ve got your mug,’ he says as I re-enter the kitchen. ‘Let’s go and sit down.’
He leads the way into the lounge, parks himself on the sofa leaving me the armchair with threadbare arms. I sit on the edge of the seat, trying to let as little of me as possible make contact with it. His place makes me feel dirty.
I’m definitely putting him off.
‘What do you think?’ he asks handing me my tea.
The mug has runs on it from a previous drink. I shuffle it round in my hands casually looking for part of the rim that doesn’t look like it’s been used. Satisfied I’ve found a bit, I take a sip and nod my thanks at him. My inner voice starts chanting my mantra again.
Be polite… always be polite. Honest; but always polite.
‘Okay, well… it needs some work, but you already knew that,’ I begin.
He nods. ‘As I say, my girlfriend won’t stay here.’
I can see why, you filthy bastard.
Be polite Carla… polite!
‘And,’ I continue. ‘Getting it looking acceptable is not going to happen over one or two visits, especially as you only asked for a fortnightly clean.’
‘Could you do weekly?’
I could yes, but I’ll be damned if I’m telling him that.
‘No, sorry. I’ve only got capacity to fit you in fortnightly.’
‘Okay,’ he says. ‘How much will it be?’
Damn, he seems okay with that. Here goes…
‘Fifty quid a session.’
He raises his eyebrows like he’s surprised.
‘Okay,’ he says. ‘That’s doable.’
‘Are you sure?’ I ask, giving him a chance to get out. ‘You don’t look certain.’
I’m charging him way more than my normal rate and he’s accepting it. What the fuck!
‘No, it’s okay. I can do that. So, on the phone we said Wednesdays, starting this Wednesday. Is that still okay?’
No no no no…
‘Yes, that’s fine,’ I say through a gritted smile. ‘Right, I’d better get going. I haven’t eaten much today and my belly keeps giving me grumbling reminders.’
I plonk my undrunk tea on the table and make to leave.
‘Thanks for coming Carla,’ says John. ‘I’m looking forward to getting things sorted.’
‘That’s okay,’ I say and I make for the door.
‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’ He asks.
I tap my pockets checking my car keys and phone are still there. ‘I don’t think so,’ I say.
‘You need a key.’
‘Oh yeah,’ I say with a half-hearted chuckle.
Dammit! That would have been a good excuse not to come.
There’s a lounge drawer unit at the back of the room I hadn’t noticed until now. He takes a key from it and hands it to me.
‘Thanks,’ I say.
‘How do you want paying?’ He asks.
Shit. I’m forgetting everything tonight.
‘I prefer cash for the first few sessions. If things work out and we’re both happy and you want to ultimately set up a standing order, then I’m okay with that too.’
‘Sounds good to me,’ he says. ‘I’ll leave the cash on here,’ pointing to the top of the drawers.
‘Brilliant,’ I say.
Okay… I’m out of here.
This time I know I haven’t forgotten anything and I make my escape.
‘Thanks again for coming.’
‘It’s my pleasure,’ I say, knowing full well I don’t sound sincere at all.
I wait until I am in my car and have driven to the end of the street before a massive sigh of relief escapes me.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about being there made me feel on edge and uncomfortable.
There’s something not right. But what the hell is it?
I get the car started and make an effort not to speed away too fast. Driving helps me relax and my mind starts to settle down as I head out of Bramley towards the ring road. I normally take my time with new people and have a good general chit-chat. It allows me to find out a little about them, and them a little about me. John and I never really did that, and considering it’s normally me that initiates it, it’s not surprising it didn’t happen.
I never asked what he does!
That’s right… I never asked what he does for a living. That info tells me how they can afford me and gives me some indication as to how long our working relationship might last, whether it’s likely to be long term or not.
I never asked anything about his girlfriend.
There’s something about his girlfriend story that doesn’t ring true and I can’t…
There were no traces of her.
That’s what was missing! I know he said she doesn’t like staying there, but you’d have thought there might have been some trace of her, like a photo, some underwear or some of her clothes, or a deodorant or something, anything.
There could have been some of her clothes in all that mess in his room somewhere… no one would know unless you went digging about.
And that’s when another of my mantras kicks in. Well, it’s more like a guiding philosophy really.
First impressions can be wrong.
I’ve made so many rash and wrong judgements in the past that I’m wary of my first impressions. Once when I was managing a team of cleaners and I was interviewing a chap for a vacancy, I remember thinking which village is missing their idiot, because he’s here in front of me! His name was Steven and I was desperate for staff at the time so I gave him a chance. Steven turned out to be one of the best cleaners I ever employed. Some people just don’t interview well.
First impressions can be wrong.
I sure hope they are this time.