May 2009 [cont…]
So the third and last payment from the church had arrived.
Having lived fourteen years in a vicarage in a parish technically classed as Inner City, we knew every con in the book.
One we had witnessed a number of times went as follows:
Can I have some quids to bury my granny / reach my dying child in Penzance / fill up the car I’ll bring it back tomorrow without fail here look I’ll leave you this nicked and broken phone as proof that I’ll come back / whatever.
I’m sorry: we never, ever give money. We’ll willingly feed you / ring the embassy / help find you a hostel / whatever.
After a tedious amount of this so-tedious negotiation, the request will suddenly shift ground.
Can I use your toilet / take my shoes off in your porch / have a glass of water / whatever.
The point being that no con man worth his salt will ever willingly go away with nothing. It ain’t professional. He has to save face somehow. Even though this means having to ask for something completely pointless.
Thus it was now.
£500? What was the point of withholding £500? The point was to save face.
Wearily, I rang the church office again. Another oversight. You’ve made a slight mistake: £500 short.
Ah, she said. Yes. That’s because you didn’t leave the cottage clean.
Now, we had spent several hundred pounds on a cleaning firm to go over that cottage for two days when we moved out. Not because we had to. Not because it was in the agreement. But because, all said and done, we wanted to leave on an amicable note. We could afford it. Now.
We even had to ask the cleaners to come before we left rather than after, because when we suggested having the place cleaned at our expense afterwards, when it would be completely empty and much easier to clean, we were told we had to be out by that day, the date was specified in the agreement, and even though there were no plans for the cottage for the foreseeable, that included our cleaners.
So we’d watched them work and knew they’d done a thorough job.
Indeed, when the vicar collected the key, he even said, Gosh it’s very clean!
Besides which, keeping any of the money back, for any reason, had very much not been in the agreement, was a breach of contract and was therefore illegal. They might as well have paid us nothing.
I asked the hapless church secretary what exactly hadn’t been clean?
The oven, she said.
The oven. The cleaners had overlooked the inside of the oven.
I rang Mark Jones: £500 to clean an oven.
Are they planning to get a lawyer to clean this oven? our solicitor asked.
Please will you write a letter demanding the payment of the final £500?
You realise, Mark said, it could cost you a lot more than £500 to recover this £500?
And I suddenly realised I didn’t care.
It was nothing to do with money. Just as it wasn’t, for the church. They didn’t need £500. They needed to win. Even if it was only a tiny, pointless, childish little token win, they needed that glass of water as much as the con man at the door.
And it was nothing to do with money for me, either.
It was because, for the last eight weeks since the agreement had been signed, I had slept. Like a baby. Through the night. (Unlike most babies you and I know, but like the proverbial baby anyway.) Till dawn. Not half way through the dark. For the first time in four and a half years.
And now I wasn’t again.
And that was worth a lot more to me than £500.
If it’s not in our account by five o’clock this afternoon, I told the vicar, you’ll be hearing from our solicitor.
The next morning I rang him again and told him a letter was on its way.
It will be there in a moment, he said. Now, please leave me alone. Please, don’t ring me again.
(Ah. So now you know what it’s like? To feel hounded and bullied. Not to sleep at night. To lose your peace of mind?
You’ve experience it overnight: we, for nearly five years.)
The best of it all was, few months later I received a bill for £400.
I, not Shaun. Even though he was the employee and the legal agreement was with him. (Obviously, you can’t bill a man for not cleaning an oven. It’s not a man’s fault if an oven isn’t clean, is it?)
I wanted to frame that invoice. £400 for not cleaning an oven. In the end I did something much better with it.
I lost it.
Instead of my peace of mind.