I thought it wise not to ask exactly how my assistant Norman had heard about the Albanian Harry Kane soccer boots which were in a container-lorry parked behind the police station and were available at a knockdown price if we took the lot.
Certainly the invoice Norman showed me was pretty impressive and when I Googled for the suppliers they did actually exist, although the address was a sheltered housing estate in Bloxwich.
It seemed an opportunity too good to miss, particularly as Norman had a mate who had offered to take 25 pairs sight unseen to kit out two teams he managed in the local youth league. He said the red boots wouldn’t show the blood.
The only problem was that with our somewhat disappointing summer sales figures and the repairs we had to do to the front door after that glass pane fell out on to a passing health and safety officer, readies were in short supply, but surely this was just the sort of situation where our bank could offer a helping hand?
After all, only the previous week I’d had a call from someone who said she was Jackie, my new small business enterprise adviser and personal relationship manager and I was welcome to drop in for a coffee (or a mineral water if I preferred) and talk about future business plans and how she could help.
She’d even given me her direct line so that I wouldn’t have to go through all that ridiculous automated answering-service rigmarole.
When I rang Jackie’s line, an automated voice asked me to select from 14 options. Number nine, “Speak to Your Personal Relationships Manager” was followed by the slow movement of Beethoven’s pastoral symphony and an invitation to take part in a prize draw for a visit to a nuclear power station.
Nearly 40 minutes later I heard the first human voice – a man who said his name was Sean and he was just about to go to the dentist. He said that Jackie had left after only a week to concentrate on preparing her 10-year-old son for his Channel 4 Child Genius quiz audition and hadn’t been replaced.
In any event, the bank had no funds available for transactions involving discounted consumer goods from non-EC countries, and did I know I was nine pounds over my overdraft limit and that a letter from the manager was in dictation?
Norman, who, as usual, had been loitering in the doorway to listen, said he wasn’t surprised by any of this, which was why he and his wife now had nothing to do with banks.
It dated back to when he ran his own sports shop, lost his two biggest customers and was scratching around desperately to fill the financial void.
Hearing that Norman was no longer supplying his local football club with training kit, and had also lost, though no fault of his own, a contract with a big local leisurecentre, Norman’s bank-manager, benign and supportive during the good times, turned overnight into a financial Rottweiler. He called in Norman’s business loans and wrote or telephoned almost daily for his money.
The result was that Norman, by then living mainly on chips and aspirins, suffered a stress-induced mild heart-attack and landed up in Liverpool Royal Infirmary.
Three weeks later, home, but still frail from his ordeal, Norman watched from his bed as the bank manager, looking furtively left and right, scuttled up the garden path, pushed something through the front door and legged it down the road.
And the special delivery? A houserepossession order folded inside a get-well-soon card.
“We’ve made our own arrangements since then,” Norman said.”If you want those boots you’d better get a move on. The police are putting cones around the lorry and my mate is making inquiries about some Peruvian plimsolls.”
My friend Harbottle, who runs a sports shop of sorts in the next parish, is always banging on about how easy it is to get a business grant so yesterday I went down to the local business advisory service, optimistically taking a hold-all for the cash.
Despite filling all the forms and asking if it would help if I included my cholesterol count and inside leg measurement, the meeting was not entirely a success, and I came back wondering why I had been given such short shrift after going to the trouble of wearing a suit and my late dad’s archery club tie.
“I’ll tell you why,” said my wife. “Your tie’s inside-out and the moth’s got at your trousers.”
You’ll be pleased to learn that this little tale has had a happy ending. The Albanian football boots are now in our stockroom after Norman persuaded his wife to lend us some of the 500 quid she keeps in a plant-pot in the garden shed.
It has to be said she drives a hard bargain – five per cent, a large box of Quality Street and permission for Norman to leave early next Thursday to go to the Indian for their silver wedding anniversary.