'I don’t believe it! I simply don’t believe it!’ shouted David Bedfellow into his telephone.
The telephone was the only thing left in his house, apart from a kettle and a radio nearly tuned to Radio 1. Everything else had just been loaded into a huge van called Your Move, I Think, which was about to drive to his new abode and disgorge the whole lot again. It had taken seven hours to load.
'You must be joking! It can’t be true!’ shouted David Bedfellow into his telephone.
If you have recently moved house, you will probably guess what has happened. David’s solicitor had just rung him up to inform him that completion, which was due today, had been held up because of a hiccup further down the chain.
David’s solicitor was called Mr Rintoft, of the firm Rintoft, Grass and Bloor, and the only reason he dealt with Rintoft rather than the other two was that the other two were dead. The way Rintoft reacted, David sometimes thought he was dead as well. ‘The only reason I have you as my solicitor, you know, is that you have been the old familiar, family solicitor firm for years,’ David once told him. ‘I could easily go out and find someone newish.’
‘All solicitors are old family solicitors to someone,’ said Mr Rintoft. ‘Your new and fresh man would be a veteran to someone else. Why, I would be fresh and new to someone!’
‘I simply do not credit it!’ shouted David down the phone.
‘Do you want us to go ahead with the van?’ asked the man from Your Move, I Think.
‘Yes! No! Wait a moment!’ said David, having what looked like a heart attack but was only a minor nervous breakdown. The van-driver, who moved houses every day, was used to such seizures and went off to make a cup of tea and listen to nearly Radio 1.
Finally, they came to a compromise arrangement. David would move out of his old house but not into the new one. He would leave all his stuff in the van, which he would rent until completion took place.
‘I can’t go on like this, Rintoft,’ he told his solicitor three days later. ‘All my clothes are in the van. I have to buy a new white shirt every time I go to work.’
‘As a matter of curiosity, where do you sleep at night?’
‘In the van, too. Luckily, the sofa was left right at the back. But I can’t go on like this. What’s the hold-up in the chain and when can I complete?’
‘Hard to say. There is someone several purchases along who is holding things up.’
‘Can’t tell you. Their solicitor won’t tell us.’
‘But solicitors are meant to help you!’
‘Oh come now, Mr Bedfellow, let’s have no talk like that.’ Mr Rintoft looked quite shocked. ‘Solicitors are here to protect themselves, not their customers.’
‘Do you know what I would like to happen?’ said David. ‘I would like everyone in Britain to agree not to buy a house for a whole year. Everyone. Then it would bankrupt all the estate agents, all the solicitors and all the surveyors in the country!’
‘That is the sort of line which, in a theatre, would get a sitting ovation,’ said Rintoft drily. ‘Here in a solicitor’s office it gets only a thin smile and that’s more than it deserves. However, I will see what I can do.’
When David had been living in the van for ten days (long enough to get a traffic fine, a rates demand and enrolment in the local Neighbourhood Watch Scheme), Rintoft summoned him again.
‘Quite unofficially, I have been chasing down the chain of purchase until I have come to the man who is who is causing the trouble. It’s someone by the name of Bedfellow.’
‘Same name as me,’ said David. ‘Unusual.’
‘It’s a David Bedfellow. He is the seller of 24 Thackeray Avenue.’
‘Unusual address,’ said David, feeling rather strange. ‘Same as mine.’
‘The chain goes right round from you and finishes up at you. You are eight purchases from yourself in either direction. If you remember, you gave instructions that your completion should not be finalised unless EVERYTHING was satisfactory. You have been holding up your own purchase. You are, if you don’t mind my saying so, a right twit.’
‘Yes. The only reason I go on working for you is that you are an old, familiar family customer. The temptation is very strong to go out and find a new and fresh customer.’
Which wasn’t, thought David, half a bad remark for a solicitor.
The Independent 1987