Sunday, 16 August 2009

“A miss,” bawled Wanda.

Originally offered to one of those freebie magazines, given away outside London Underground stations.

Once upon a time, I received some junk mail informing me that I'd had been selected at random (subject to status) to attend an exclusive Fab Holidayhomeshare Presentation. in the Centre of London. Enticed by the embossed possibility of a £1,000 prize in cash, I rang up and confirmed my appointment. I even convinced a friend of mine to tag along as a temporary fiancée - the best kind to have.

Duly assembled on the day, each couple was assigned their individual sales guide and we were all whipped into a gentle frenzy by a slideshow and a cheering session. They were simpler times.

Later, segregated from all other couples and any contact with the outside world, we got down to the finer details with our personal guide - the meek and unassuming Wanda. After a minute of polite conversation, Wanda had ascertained our financial circumstances and confirmed that we qualified for the deal of a lifetime. She'd also mentioned her struggle to bring up her young son, solo, on the strength of her commission.

Without warning, she struck an arm in the air, like a swimmer in distress and Pete swaggered over, with the speed and banter of an East End barrow boy (with a tie).

Supervisor Pete was as smooth as operator as ever Sade sang about. He hemmed us in with four irrefutable concepts, like a distortion of the Four Great Noble Truths. If we liked it, could afford it, understood it, and could use it then there was no reason not to write out a cheque, there and then.

It was brilliant really. If we didn't like it there must be something wrong with us, unlike the rest of the cheering hordes. If we couldn't afford it then what the flip were we doing there in the first place. If we couldn't understand it then we must be stupid. And if we couldn't use a fabulous virtually no-strings-attached holiday home for the same two-weeks a year then God help us.

Pete made it clear that any negative response would brand us second-class citizens of the worst kind. i.e. people who weren’t buying.

"Of course." He added tellingly at the end of his victory speech. "If the answer to all four questions is 'yes' and you’re still not interested, than Wanda here hasn't been doing her job properly."

Wanda, you will not be surprised to learn, turned suddenly fish-eyed and cast her gaze rehearsedly downward. I even checked the floor for glass beads, in case she’d been crying.

Now we were really up a gum tree and the pressure was on. I did wonder how the other couples were doing and if it was too late to tunnel into their cubicle and form an escape committee. All thoughts of 'I hope we don't end up with the Queen Anne cruet set' evaporated as we locked wits against the wily Pete and his affordable special-price-today-only repayment scheme.

For a while, it looked like I’d be seeing in the next twenty New Years in the same apartment in the same holiday block in Portugal. Or a similar standard alternative destination, subject to availability and transfer charges.

Then my silent prayer to St. Jude* was answered. In a sudden and uncharacteristic burst of inspiration, I started chatting to Pete as if we were chums.

"So Pete, have you got a new car?"

My logic being, if he had he must be loaded and if he hadn't then timeshare can't be that successful.

Caught off guard, he snarled at me, "Yeah, newish; why?"

"And tell me," I questioned him like a strutting TV lawyer, "Did you go down to the showroom with a pocketful of money or did you take a brochure away to think about it?”

The metaphorical penny dropped; the only kind he'd be getting from us.

"I’ve ’ad enough." He surrendered, which is the timeshare equivalent of 'It's a fair cop guv.' Then he stormed off muttering in a loud voice: "You’re obviously only here for your free gift."
As opposed to a charm demonstration perhaps?

I hope it won't come as a shock when I tell you that the £1000 prize eluded me, in the prize draw on the way out. My blue vinyl suitcases did just nicely though, thank you. And besides, it was a small reward beside the real prize - a one-day sales psychology seminar, courtesy of Fab Holidayhomeshare.

I believe the company is no longer in business.

* St. Jude is the Patron Saint of lost causes.


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