Monday, mid-February 2009
It was before ten o’clock the next morning (after we sent our letter and appendix – refuting all the allegations against Shaun, and countering with several pages of our own – to all the Parochial Parish Council, bishop, vicar, Uncle Tom Cobley and virtually everyone we could think of bar the Daily Mail) when Pinky and Perky, the two cheerleaders, asked if we could meet up.
A bite, by Jove!
What a surprise…
They suggested two o’clock so I said not before three. For absolutely no reason whatsoever. Except, I could.
I then rang Lawyer Number Two. Could he get to Oxford by three, to negotiate please? Long before he said he’d never get there in time I realised that he was the last person we wanted in the room.
He’d never been in such a situation, had no idea how to read it, couldn’t even begin to guess what sort of sum to suggest.
I, however, had often been in such a situation, albeit in a mini-mini-micro kind of way...
Will you do this radio programme for a fiver?
How about twenty-five? And a puncture allowance because I’ll be biking to the studio.
Ten is the most we ever pay. But we’ll send a car for you.
Twenty. And bike mileage.
I really don’t know... I’ll have to refer it up. We never pay that much, usually.
I’ve been a freelance all my working life. I sacked a top agent, when I realised I was negotiating higher fees myself while the office was shut down over Christmas.
(It’s not even the money, per se. It’s the fact that they pay Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand three mill to abuse Andrew Sachs, and then can’t afford to pay the rest of us...)
“Right,” I instructed Shaun. “There may come a point when I have to leave the room. I am absolutely definitely never ever ever signing any confidentiality agreement whatsoever,” (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this, would I?) “so there may be details I don’t want to know.
“But as soon as we get onto money,” I said, “keep your mouth shut! I’ve been negotiating fees since ever, ok?”
“Ok,” he said.
Apart from anything, Shaun would give his shirt away if the rest of us let him. He’s given his best coat to a tramp, more than once. (Not the same tramp.) Which, ok, is quite a pleasant characteristic in a clergyman... under usual circs.
“So don’t say a word, when it comes to money. Got that? Oh, and no tea, coffee, any of that palaver. This is business.”
Just before three. Dring.
I showed them into the little sitting-room.
Tiny though the cottage was, it was divided by its staircase, so the sitting-room was one end and kitchen and other gubbins, the other.
Shaun must know they were here. Every room was a few seconds’ reach from the doorbell.
Good, I thought. Not like Shaun at all. Keeping them waiting...
Rosie hovered in the doorway. Eventually, “Can you tell Daddy they’re here?”
Seventeen minutes past, Shaun showed up.
Right, I said. This clause here. Confidentiality. Rest of the family can’t sign that.
Ok, they said.
Eh? I thought. That was a bit too easy.
And this clause here, about the cottage. Not appropriate for a clergyman.
No, they said.
Coo, I thought.
And we can’t possibly move out next week. How about... (I mused into the middle distance)... 18th April? (We had just, that morning, succeeded in bringing forward Shaun’s new job by a term... to 20th April. We could slum it for a day in between.)
Fair enough, they said.
So it’s just down to the horsetrading, I said.
Indeed, they said. And laughed a little nervously.
Well now, I said, and took a long breath. We’ve been advised that it would be absolutely and completely absurd even to consider anything under n figures, I said.
And waited for the bark of hollow laughter and the suggestion that we get real.
It never came.
I see, said one.
Which end of n figures would that be? said the other.
They must be absolutely terrified.
(Our letter and its appendix was quite good, then…?)
It was at this point that I completely lost my nerve. We’d never owned n figures. We’d never even imagined n figures. I didn’t know what n figures looked like. I’d only said that as a joke. Like, you know, when you’re in the bazaar in Istanbul and you say you’ll buy a priceless handmade silk rug for two and six. And then realise you’ve just starved a family of ten for a year.
If I’d spent a few seconds anticipating n figures for real, my answer would have been very different. I didn’t have time to think, I was so shocked.
The lower end, I said. Of course.
Right, they said. And breathed out.
And that would have been that. n figures. Crikey. Beyond our wildest dreams.
Except muggins on the sofa, my husband, saw fit at this moment to shove his oar in.
After all, we’ll need moving costs, he said.
(Eh? Keep quiet, Shaun. We’re done now.)
(No we won’t. Only one day’s rent!)
And something to live off...
(You’ll be on a salary, you twerp.)
And... you see, we wouldn’t be able to stay with friends for more than a few weeks...
The figure was rapidly plummeting from n figures to n-1 figures before my eyes. I jumped in quickly, shut him up and closed the deal. The last thirty seconds had just lost us a very great deal of money.
“What on earth were you doing?” I said after we showed them out. “They were just about to give us n figures, till you chipped in. I told you not to say a word when it came to the bartering.”
Bear in mind, reader dear, that my darling husband was still recovering from a very debilitating breakdown.
“Oh, is that what you said? I couldn’t for the life of me remember. Only that it was very important. That’s why I waited so long in the kitchen, hoping you’d come and get me so I could ask you.”
What am I married to?
Why not tell Rose to fetch me? Why not pop your noddle round the door and ask if I could come out for a private word?
Because my darling husband, for all his brilliance, never thinks of the simplest things.
I can’t ring my mother: I don’t know her number. So ring your sister, you muppet, and ask her!
Never thinks of it.
You’re three hours later than you said.
Yes, sorry. Didn’t have my ’phone.
So... why not borrow one? Like the barman’s, for instance?
Oh! (Astonished.) I didn’t think of that.
(Even though I’ve been suggesting it for several decades.)
We laughed for the rest of the afternoon. And again that night. And all the following week.
What a twit! And yet so clever… when it comes to Kierkegaard.
It still makes me laugh, now.
A very, very expensive joke.
Worth every penny.