It all started in the usual fashion; the pilot light blown out for reasons unknown, a manly scream of shock at the flow of cold shower water and a frantic telephone call to the landlord.
‘Oh dear’, he had replied, in his best tone of mock concern. ‘That is bad. I’ll get back to you’.
The three of them, being a hundred percent English, were stoic in their response. They also had the bonus of having showered together many times following games of rugby and were comfortable at being naked within the sight of one another.
While one heated water on the four ring gas stove in the kitchen, the second filled jugs containing the heated water and cold water from the bathroom tap, and the third, standing naked in the shower and concealed with nothing more than a bar of soap, gratefully received these jugs of prepared liquid warmth.
This lasted a week.
‘Oh I would have gotten back in contact, but my phone’s been playing up this week’.
Greg, the only candidate for spokesperson of the house, an easy talker and recruitment specialist, was not impressed.
‘Both your mobiles? And your house phone as well?’
The Chinese would have been impressed with the great wall of silence that greeted his questions. The landlord plotted a new course.
‘Well, anyway, I’ve booked the appointment for Tuesday next. A man will come to look at it then’.
Greg stared in disbelief at the phone, and as he told the rest of the house later that day, he thought that the landlord could at least have tried to come up with a better excuse. It gave dissembling a bad name.
Tuesday arrived and so did the man to look at the boiler, who turned out to be a woman. This was much to Alan’s delight, who thought he had a way with the ladies. Of course there was no proof of this, only off duty drunken ideas while with his colleagues in the Met.
While the young lady of good proportion and physique set to work checking out the boiler, Alan set to work checking out her backside and regaling her with jokes that were considered witty three decades ago but were now more likely to have you up before the equality board.
After ten minutes she turned around and gave him a half smile.
‘Now before I switch this back on again I want to make one thing clear. No puns referring to flames, fires, being switched on, turned on, hotting up or anything in that family. Got it?’
The strength of her west-country voice and the steel of the dark blue eyes immediately reminded Alan of his Sergeant, who he would never consider disobeying.
‘Otherwise you’ll be in very hot water’, she continued, simultaneously flipping a switch, and adding with a grin ‘Which you now have by the way.’
Alan followed her to the door like a scolded puppy.
‘Here’s my card, you can call me if you like. But first read up a little on equality won’t you, oh and’, she sniffed a couple of times; ‘take a shower sweetie.’
With that she let herself out, while Alan was left holding the door in one hand and a small piece of card in the other, desperately trying not to grin and wondering how soon he could get to the women’s rights section of the library.
Meanwhile, Pete the accountant was sitting in front of his boss’ desk being given a lecture on why it was wrong for him to have left a whoopee cushion on his chair. By now these weekly discussions on why drawing pins being left on the toilet seat and joke tins of peanuts could not only cause serious injury, but also generate a lack of discipline within the office were getting a bit dull, and Pete’s mind was elsewhere. He was thinking back to Greg’s monologue the week before.
‘We must teach him a lesson’, Greg had said, pacing the small living room. ‘It’s one thing for things to break down and for a landlord to take ages to fix it. It’s expected. It comes with the territory of renting. The ruling classes all think that anyone who doesn’t own a property does so out of choice because either they can’t be bothered to buy somewhere, don’t want the responsibility of buying somewhere, or can afford it because they can’t be bothered to work or don’t want the responsibility of work.
‘They therefore don’t see why they should take the responsibility to look after a rental property. It’s the same the world over and has been for centuries and everyone knows where they stand. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it. I’m no socialist; I don’t want to live in a kibbutz or have to share my washing machine with those who buy their cheap sliced from Iceland. I’m not trying to save the world here.’
Pete reflected that Greg did like to drone on a little, and at that point remembered he and Alan sharing a glance while Greg was walking away from them, and missing the beginning of the next sentence.
‘...is the least he could have done. He could have blamed the engineer for not getting back to him, or even that he had been told it was fixed and since he’d heard no more from us, he thought it was the case. That would have been something, but he’s not even made the effort to show that he’s making no effort. Now that’s serious.’
Pete and Alan waited for more, but it was obvious that Greg had burned himself out by the way he slumped into, what between them they knew was his armchair, the one facing the kitchen, so he could talk at you while you cooked. But it seemed that Greg was not burned out after all, if anything he was more thoughtful, more centred.
‘Now, consider recruitment companies’, he began again. ‘They exist because no one really wants to do the hard work anymore. Businesses don’t want to go through the rigmarole of a clear job description, then paying for advertising and interviewing and deciding. It’s hard work and takes you away from the joys of money making.
‘Then consider the workers. They can’t be bothered to trawl through newspapers and websites, write out personal statements and covering letters. They just want to knock out a quick CV, and get someone else to do the searching for them. And as for us, well we even ask people what job they want, who they want it with and see if we’ve got it.
‘If we don’t we send them away and tell them we’ll be in touch, sending them automatic emails twice a day to make it seem as if we’re doing something. We talk to people occasionally if we have to, but otherwise we just sit back and relax. Right?’
Pete had been recruited straight out of University at one of those evening fairs that provided free food and alcohol, so he had no experience of recruitment firms. The company thought he was the keenest based on the fact that he’d stayed the longest, but that had only been due to his capacity for drinking beer and the fact that he had spiked the non-alcoholic drinks with a laxative.
Alan on the other hand had drifted through a few of the gift shops and bars of his hometown, hitting on the young tourist girls and incurring the wrath of their undersexed and drunk boyfriends, before his father sent off an application form for the Met on his behalf. He later told him that with his propensity for starting fights it made him a perfect candidate.
Both of them shrugged under Greg’s gaze.
‘Wrong!’ Greg replied, in the mistaken belief of some sort of triumph. ‘It’s true that the bunch of us are too lazy to do anything really, but we don’t make it obvious. For instance, employers come up with fancy names for jobs, “Health and Sanitation Assistant”, instead of “Toilet Cleaner”.
‘Employees creatively expand their CV’s by stating that their gap year provided them with experience of self-reliance, and teaching them how to cope with change, when in reality all it taught them was the Spanish for “I love you”, and how to drink ten tequila’s in a row without throwing up.
‘And we’ve got our websites and emails, and fancy chat, of which I am a master by the way, to decorate our facade. That’s how the whole world works. We’re all actually working hard to make it look as if we’re working hard, but in fact none of us is doing anything. It’s all pretend. But’.
And here Greg leaned forward, with one finger pointed in the air as if taking inspiration from the creator himself for his learned words.
‘But, our landlord is not even bothering to pretend. That is wrong, it goes against everything that this country stands for, and for that he must be taught a lesson.’
Greg sat back with a pleased and relaxed smile on his face, handing the floor to the other two. But within a couple of minutes the television was on amid a complete lack of ideas and inspiration.
Now though Pete’s mind was hit with a spark of an idea, here where he was king of the practical jokes, and later that evening he told the others of his plan.
‘We’ll need to use an untraceable phone of course’, he outlined. ‘They track the numbers that call and so we don’t what it coming back to us.’
‘There’s a public phone box we can use that’s perfect for this’, Alan suggested, thinking of the place where the Met always made their leaks from. ‘But as I public servant I don’t think I should be making the call’.
‘Agreed’, said Greg. ‘I think I should do it actually. I’m good at talking’.
Pete felt a mixture of relief and disappointment. It would be the biggest joke of his life so far and he wanted to be part of it, but on the other hand he knew that he would have been incredibly nervous. He still felt the need to make it his show however.
‘I’ll write you the script’, Pete said, ‘to give it a greater ring of authenticity. And I think we should do it Saturday next’.
The other’s nodded their assent, and so it began.