‘What is this, please?’ I said to the estate agent, as he showed me into the building site he was calling a house.
‘This,’ he said beaming, ‘is the kitchen and breakfast room area.’ I picked my way over the rubble and stood in the dark, pokey room with its walls of hideous grey breezeblock.
‘I thought I asked you not to show me anything without a second fix, Sedrick.’
‘Well, yes, but,’ said Sedrick, one of those perky young estate agents you can’t keep down, ‘you just need to use a bit of imagination. If you stand over here you can really get a feel for it. The space, I mean. You can get a sense of what it will be like when…’
‘Stop!’ I said, clutching at my chest, ‘I’m having a panic attack. I thought I was very clear on the phone. I don’t want to look at places that need work and I can’t begin to contemplate anything with cables and pipes hanging out of the walls.’
‘Yes, but with some imagination…’
‘I don’t have imagination. I’m all out of it. I used my last bit of imagination last Wednesday.’
‘Yes, but it gives you an idea…’
‘It gives me no idea. It gives me hives. I see bare bricks and I start hyperventilating. I don’t want to look at this. I would rather not know what a house looks like underneath. It’s like staring into the heart of darkness. I want to leave now and try to forget that I’ve seen any of this.’
Poor Sedrick looked a little put out. ‘If you just come and look in the hallway…’
But in the hallway it got worse. ‘Agh! There aren’t any stairs! It’s just a hole going upwards. Oh, dear god. I need to get out.’
Sedrick agreed to take me into another house that was more finished. We stumbled over rubble and mud and across an invisible boundary into the building plot next door.
He did the same ta-dah face as we walked through another half-built patio door into another half-built kitchen. This one did have some fixtures and fittings but was still hideously scary.
‘This gives you some idea of the quality of the surfaces. Isn’t this worktop a great colour?’
It was beige. And not an exciting shade of beige. If it had a posh name it was called Beigely Beige. It looked like the colour of boredom itself. I imagined myself standing at this worktop preparing a beige-coloured supper — mashed potatoes and plaice, or perhaps macaroni cheese with garlic bread — and I could bear it no longer.
‘This isn’t grabbing me,’ I told Sedrick. And because you’ve got to tell these estate agents straight or they bombard you with follow-up calls until you’re ready to fake your own death, I added: ‘I’ve got to be completely honest. I hate it. I hate this house and I hate the other house. I don’t ever want to live here. I’m sorry to have wasted your time.’
We stood on the front drive — well, the front rubble-strewn building plot — and Sedrick had another try: ‘I had to show you it now because the one next door already has an offer on it and this will sell too very soon.’
‘That’s good. I’m glad. I wish them well. Poor sods.’
‘It’s a very nice house in a very sought-after area.’
I looked around me. On the one hand I couldn’t be bothered to argue about how of all the roads in Cobham I had managed to make an appointment to view a property on the only one that could be used as a location for Shameless, but on the other hand I thought, hell, I’ve wasted an hour of my time coming down here I may as well go for it. So I said: ‘Have you seen the wonky St George’s flag in the upstairs window of that house over there?’
‘It’s not the only one either. I counted three of them as I drove down this road.’
‘It’s the World Cup,’ said Sedrick, bravely.
‘It’s annoying. The flags aren’t hanging straight.’
You had to hand it to him, he had pluck. He gave it one last whirl.
‘What sort of house are you looking for?’
‘A finished one,’ I said. ‘But also, one not in an area of outstanding nationalism. I don’t mind a bit of light football patriotism. And I wouldn’t protest if a neighbour stuck a Ukip poster up come election day. This is Surrey, after all. I would just prefer they were tastefully displayed.’
‘Number of bedrooms?’
‘Not many. I don’t want people staying over.’
Sedrick gave me a look that said: ‘I’ll let you know if anything suitable for a miserable killjoy comes up.’