The Way We Lied

Nick believed every business had to be aware of the competition. Sometimes your competitors operate along similar lines; occasionally they employ very different tactics. Today Nick was checking out The Rural Homes Society, a charity which had already succeeded in beating him twice on land deals in nearby villages where they proceeded to build small developments of houses and flats. This organisation was dedicated to ensuring affordable housing was provided for key workers, such as teachers and medical staff. They had a knack for hearing about site availability before anything went public and each time their plans had proceeded without a hitch. He wanted to know more about them and find out how they did it.
Of course he could have sent one of his land agents, but he wanted to see the set up for himself. There is nothing like knowing your enemy he thought. Booking his place under the aegis of his builder, he had decided to invest the best part of a day in London attending a conference on affordable housing, at which the key executives of the charity would be speaking. It was held in the sleek headquarters of the Directors Society, which, the printed programme for the day declared, had been donated to the charity free of charge by an interested supporter. Damn, cursed Nick, and I thought I’d spotted the first loophole in their worthy, high principled arguments.
The majority of delegates were civil servants, planners probably, in tweed jackets and twill slacks. There was a large sprinkling of town councillors, the men in tired crumpled suits and the women in large shouldered, brightly coloured jackets they must have bought when power dressing was first fashionable in the eighties. One particularly short woman with broad hips resembled a green cube in her unflattering, outmoded suit. A handful of people stood out as individuals in their black sweaters and collarless shirts, which Nick recognised as the common uniform of all architects and designers.
However one delegate in particular, a handsome woman, probably in her forties, was particularly striking. She clearly did not care what her clothes said about her as she was wearing worn jeans, scuffed brown boots and a crumpled pale blue raincoat. Half way through the first presentation she shrugged off the coat to reveal a striped man’s shirt with rolled up sleeves.
Nick kept glancing at her. She looked so different to the other members of the audience. Sitting just a row to his left in an aisle seat, he could see her resting her foot on her knee and leaning back. He noticed she had a large pad of paper of her lap. She must be planning to take a lot of notes he thought. But as he continued to watch her, he realised she wasn’t writing, she was sketching, drawing in easy strokes with a pencil comfortably held as if it was an extension of herself.
The first session of the morning outlined the charity’s work and its aims for the future. It emphasised how large numbers of vital staff, such as health workers, teachers and members of the police force, were struggling to find affordable accommodation near to their place of work and how many organisations would be crippled if they lost their staff because of housing problems. Nick yawned, as this was not news, but he perked up with the second session which explored illustrated case histories of successful developments. This was more like it; this was how they got their foot in the door.

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