Top Of The Tree.

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In 1994 I changed profession. I decided to become a Financial Advisor. Two of my mates were doing it and earning some serious money. I had to sit a few exams of course, Financial Planning Certificates they were called, but they were a breeze. I passed and was let loose on the general public. I worked for a large Estate Agents and became their Mortgage Advisor. Anyone wanting to buy a house through them had to see me first. Those were the rules and it worked like a dream.

If they already had a mortgage, no problem. I would beat the deal they were on and show them a cost saving that they just couldn’t ignore. If they didn’t have a mortgage in place, no problem, I would sort one out for them with one of my contacts at the local Building Society or Bank. Any Endowments, Insurance or Pension products they needed I would arrange and take the commission. In a good week I was arranging three a day and earning some serious money.

I soon got a reputation for being a bit of a “fixer”. I was the man people came to if they had been turned down by other Financial Advisors.

You see I soon realised that EVERYONE has targets, and if they don’t achieve those targets they don’t get their bonus. And in some cases, they might even lose their jobs.

Take the Manager of the local Building Society. He has a lending target set by his boss. Let’s imagine the target is one million pounds. This means that he WANTS to lend people money. In fact, he HAS to lend them money or he doesn’t get his bonus. So what does he do? He encourages people like me to place their Mortgages with him and not another Building Society. He’ll take me out for a few beers or get me tickets for Football matches, he’ll even offer to let a few mortgages go through that perhaps shouldn’t. He’ll make sure that they get stamped “approved”, but then get lost in a pile somewhere with a load of other applications.

People are desperate to buy they’re houses, but sometimes it’s obvious they can’t really afford it. Doesn’t matter. Lend them the money anyway. They always keep up to date for the first few months, it’s only later that they realise that maybe they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. But by that time, everyone’s hit their targets and bonuses have been paid.

That’s just the way it was back then. Easy!

I remember one couple. They were in their late twenties. They’d seen a house they wanted and sat down with me to work out how they could afford it. He worked as a delivery driver on a low wage and she had a part time job at the local supermarket. They had no savings. No way could they afford it.  But I was a “fixer” I could do miracles. I made a few calls, asked a few favours and within forty-eight hours I’d arranged a 100% mortgage plus a personal loan to pay for their deposit and expenses.

I can still see their faces when I gave them the good news. Pure joy! The man couldn’t thank me enough. He kept saying “Top of the tree you are mate. Top of the tree.”

My career lasted four years. In the end my conscience got the better of me and I resigned.

But that was a long time ago. Things have changed after the crash a few years back. We all knew it would happen. It was never an “If”, it was always a “When.”

I retired last year and now my days are filled with golf and having a few beers with mates. Today I’m in the pub with my best mate Danny. We played eighteen holes this morning and the first cold beer has gone down well. I’m about to order another round when I see a familiar face beside me.

“Any chance?”

He looks at me with sunken red eyes. His skin is a strange shade of grey, his cheeks seem to be all bone and no flesh. He looks as though he’s just walked off the set of a Zombie film.

“How much?”

“Tenner? I’ll pay you back, you know I will, just a bit strapped at the moment. But I will…I will…promise.”

I reach into my back pocket and pull out a twenty-pound note.

“Here you go. Take a score. Pay me when you can.”

He leans forward and for a brief moment I think he’s going to hug me. But he pulls back at the last minute. I can see his eyes beginning to water.

“Thanks mate. Really appreciate it.”

He turns away and takes a seat at the other end of the bar. Danny looks over at me and shakes his head.

“You are one soft touch you are.”

I shrug.

“It’s only money. He needs it and at the moment I can afford it. So why not?”

Danny gets up off of his bar stool and stands beside me.

“Because he’s a fucking loser. That’s why. You’ve just paid for his next fix. When that’s gone he’ll find another mug in another pub and pull the same scam. He’s a fuck up!”

I ignore him and order two pints from the barmaid. She quickly delivers. I give her a big smile and look over at the man at the end of the bar.

“Get him a pint of whatever he wants.”

Danny’s jaw drops.

“Are you for real?”

The man gets his drink, looks over and raises his glass.

“Top of the tree you are mate. Top of the tree.”