The Chinese are back in town. I promised myself I’d have nothing to do with them after the last debacle but heyho, I’m an ex-Estate Agent and pound signs make me come over all giddy.
This time they want a large property in large grounds, a place they can bring important Chinese people to. Government officials are mentioned by name, I do a good impression of having a clue. It needs to be quintessentially English I am told – but in a Chinese way, obviously. That apparently means it has to have a polo pitch. This is key. Mrs Chang is very keen on polo. ‘Does, she play?’ I ask. Apparently she will once she’s learned to ride.
I get the usual ’gotta be the best of the best, money no object’ jargon and additionally they must have at least ten bedroom suites, games room and swimming pool etc… A Playboy mansion in the Shires it seems. Images of portly Chinese dignitaries wandering around in satin dressing gowns frightening the polo ponies fill my head.
I pick them up at the apartment I bought for them and am left waiting for an hour as Mrs Chang had been for a jog (impossible in Beijing because of the smog so I am expected to be understanding) and she was now eating noodles. I have a meticulously timed itinerary of exceptional off-market properties that I’ve begged and borrowed to get access to and which is fast getting screwed. My fixed smile is really struggling.
Out of the blue I am informed that they will follow me in their brand new car. The biggest flashiest 5 litre SUV I have ever seen. Mrs Chang and Aunty haven’t driven in the UK before. The banker will drive there, Aunty will drive back, it will be her first driving lesson. Marvellous.
First property is in Surrey, I am met in a field by two country house estate agents and my colleague who have been waiting an hour and a half and are looking chilled – not in a good way. Mr Smooth and Mr Country. Mr Smooth is buttoned up in City chic. Navy cashmere coat, polished Loakes and a silk tie. The ruddy Mr Country has covered his Fair Isle jumper in a battered old Barbour and wears country brogues that haven’t seen polish since a young farmers dance in 1987. He sports brown cords of a similar era.
As what they are looking for almost certainly doesn’t exist with all the necessary Feng Shui criteria, we are looking at a plot with planning for a suitably tasteless faux Georgian 30,000 square foot pile and Mr Country suggests that most of the party jump into his 4×4 to have an off-road tour of the many acred estate. The look on his face makes me feel that he is more excited at showing off his off roading skills than closing a deal. I manage to look magnanimous as I usher the party and my colleague into his car, whilst Mr Smooth and I will follow in my 4×4. Wheels spinning mud, he heads off across the fields and onto woodland tracks. I follow in his wake, see the mud, remember how much the valeting cost and think sod it. I swerve back to the nice piece of tarmac with a shed and a bloke called Clive who makes tea. Mr Smooth seems pretty relieved that his Loakes won’t have to touch anything brown or green.
It takes a good twenty minutes before the mud caked party are back. Apparently Mrs Chang had been leaping out of the car taking pictures of trees and planning which ones can be cut down to make way for the polo pitch. There was also a lot of iPhone compass shaking so she could build this nouveau palace facing the right way for Feng Shui.
Having delayed the start of the tour by hours Mrs Chang now says she would like to cut short the day and go to Claridges for afternoon tea. My face was stoic. but I did something I rarely do, insisted they see the next one. Won’t take long I lied, we will whizz up the motorway to Berkshire in no time. Whizzing was the last thing that happened. I hadn’t quite realised how inept Aunty was behind the wheel. We started out of the field in a convoy. The bankers husband decided to jump into my car with wide eyes. I lead, followed by Aunty, followed by Mr Smooth in his BMW and Mr Country in his mud splattered 4×4. It is a narrow lane. As I accelerate to about 15 mph I can see Aunty in my rear view mirror receding into the distance. I slow to allow her to catch up. We watch as she clips the verge, once, twice, three times and decimates a good percentage of England’s hedgerows in her wake. My passenger’s phone rings, it’s his wife the banker. ‘Tell Tracy to slow down, Aunty’s panicking’. I slow to 12 mph. She adds that Miss Chang didn’t like the site.. ‘too much mud’.
We hit a problem, there are now cars coming the other way. Aunty stops. There are now at least eight cars behind her, all honking at her. My phone rings, it’s Mr Smooth three cars back, through hysterical laughter he tries to ask what they thought but never manages.
Slowly, very slowly we make it through Guildford to the M25. Who knew Guildford had so many flaming roundabouts. Roundabouts and Aunty don’t mix and with a cacophony of horns still ringing we slowly get onto the motorway. And slowly it remained. 5 litres of super charged German engineering half on the inside lane, half on the hard shoulder at 28mph. At one point we are overtaken by a tractor on a low loader. I tell my passenger to call them and see if they can speed up. He rings his wife but all I can hear are shrill Mandarin voices shrieking at each other as I watch their Teutonic behemoth gently swerve from lane to lane in the rear mirror.
I’ve had enough and to give Aunty fair warning I start indicating a mile before the next services. Safely parked up, the ashen faced entourage disembark, inspect the scraped car and remove bits of hedge from the front grill and wheel arches. An argument breaks out between the sisters.
I turn to Miss Chang and the banker translates. ‘You know what, go to Claridges, this next one is a Feng Shui disaster. It faces the wrong way, has loads of cracked mirrors and the nearest water is the sewage filtration plant next door. And..’ in my very best Taggart voice I add…. ‘There’s been a murder’.
As my foot hits the pedal and I speed unceremoniously fast out of Heston services, I am resolute that from now on the only Chinese in my life comes battered, fried and MSG’d. It’s better for my health.