A man has come round to give me a quote for some work and every time he says something, he begins by announcing what he’s going to say, and how he’s going to say it.
For example, I’ll say, “How much will it cost?”
And he’ll sigh, as though it’s a very difficult question, and then say, “What I’m going to do is split the question into two, then answer both parts. Is that OK?”
And then he’ll start talking, but I won’t really be listening because I’ll be thinking, “Why does he have to tell me everything he’s about to do? Why doesn’t he just do it?
Why doesn’t he just say, ‘It’ll be a hundred quid’?”
Does he think he’s going to take me by surprise and I’ll be stunned into hospitalisation, yelling, “He split the question in two then answered both parts of it! He didn’t even warn me!”?
Anyway, he doesn’t actually end by telling me how much it’s going to cost, so I have to say, “And have you got, like, a rough estimate for how much that’ll be?”
And he sighs, and says, “With your permission, what I’d like to do is go into some of the options one by one. I’ll do that now.”
Each time he does this I know there’s a two-minute monologue to come. I won’t be allowed to interrupt, because he has announced this monologue, like a very boring one-man show no one would ever pay to see.
It must be exhausting, being this man’s wife.
“What are we going to have for tea, Simon?”
“First of all what I’d like to do is explore the concept of ‘tea’ and what it means to us both, to establish a set of ground rules and make sure we’re on the same page. Is that OK, Laura?”
That’s if he’s married.
“Do you, Simon, take Laura to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
“What I’d just like to take a second to do, vicar, is give you a little bit of background on some of the services I’ll be providing to Laura once we’ve begun the process, so we’re singing from the same hymn sheet. I’ll do that now.”
Just get on with it! I want to shout. Not everything is supposed to be speeches. You’re not opening a model village. I am not in danger of misunderstanding the words you’re using or the concepts you’re raising, you don’t need to warm me up for them.
Eventually I give up on asking him how much it’ll be and say, “And if we went ahead, what sort of timescale are we looking at?”
He sighs and I know exactly what’s coming.
“What I’m going to do now is lay out a series of timescale options ranging from immediate to delayed and then I’ll take you through them one by one. Is that OK?”
YES FINE OK but you could just tell me!
He’s talking to me as though I’m simple or in shock, or I’ve woken up and found myself at the wheel of a 747 and only I can land it. This sense of, “Please stay calm and listen to the words, Danny. It’s all going to be OK; I am with you.”
But there is no peril here. We’re just two men standing in a doorway talking about drains.
I also start to realise he’s talking to me a bit like a psychic would. I’ve seen those cold readers, laying out their statements, hedging their bets, looking for clues. Maybe that’s what he’s doing: he’s trying to see how much I’ll pay before quoting me.
I must remain stony-faced, vigilant and mute!
But at the end of our time together I realise I still don’t know how much it’s going to cost nor how long it’ll take. Everything’s just a long series of variables.
“So how does that sound?” he says. “Does that all make sense, so to speak?”
“Perfect sense!” I say, because I really don’t want there to be a Q&A session at the end.
“So would you be happy to go ahead on that basis?” he says, looking hopeful.
So I nod, and I say, “What I’m going to do is go inside, make a cup of tea, sit down, drink it and have a think about everything. Does that sound OK?”
The man looks absolutely delighted. I’m speaking his language! I’m being perfectly clear with him, laying out my honest intentions, step by step, and giving him a framework he understands. Perhaps this is the first time it has happened to him. And I realise he is probably being this thorough because he cares. He wants to do a good job.
In some ways, it is absolutely heartwarming that there are people out there who will give up so much of their time – and take up so much of mine – just to be clear.
So I bid him farewell, and he says, “Enjoy your tea!”, and off he goes.
Inside, I make that cup of tea, sit down, drink it and then phone another company entirely. They quote me a hundred quid. I go with them.
Read the Danny Wallace archive here
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