“Yes Sir,” Briggs said with relief as he prepared to take the next left and escape the morning stream of metal and rubber running through the centre of Newbury.
The traffic is never light on Princess Street. Often bumper to bumper at midnight and always congested, slow and hostile by 8.00am. Designed to meet the horse-drawn needs of the last century, and inadequate even then, Princess Street Newbury is at the start of one of the main highways leading south from the city: A congealed artery of traffic in search of a by-pass.
In real estate speak; Newbury is a suburb on the way up. A suburb, which having caught the eye of trendy young home renovators more than a decade ago is still to fully realise the dreams of an invading army of speculators: A suburb with potential.
Away from the bustle, Briggs weaved the yellow Rolls Royce noiselessly through the back streets, past the rows of Edwardian terraces common to many inner city suburbs. Urban renewal, the dream of politicians and developers alike, had already started to change the face of the streets. The renovated and faithfully restored houses of the rich newcomers contrast starkly with the run down tenements and lovingly ‘modernised’ homes of the older residents still waiting to be bought out.
The two men in the back of the Rolls were also contrasts; Men from different worlds, and different eras of financial supremacy. Ray Purvis, an over-fed property developer in his mid fifties is the embodiment of new money, one of the few high flying entrepreneurial folk heroes from the days of greed still airborne. His clothes are nautical; tight cotton shirt, white trousers, blue blazer with a breast pocket badge and white deck shoes: The uniform of new money in the years after his hero, Alan, had won the America’s cup back in ’83. As Bondy, Skasey and all the others began to fall from grace like little green bottles sitting on the wall of public adulation; the nautical look fell from favour, replaced by the sharp, dark Italian suits of currency traders: A look for the trim and taut, lean and mean, but not for a man of Ray’s generous proportions.
Ray Purvis epitomised all that the old money of the country had come to despise and dismiss as “nouveau riche” with a jealous intensity. This, of course, was never allowed to stand in the way of business.
The other passenger in the Purvis Rolls Royce, Elliott Price, was old money, resplendent in the uniform of the squattocracy; cream moleskin trousers, light blue shirt with a tartan wool tie and a straw coloured tweed jacket. His pedigree was impeccable extending right back to a purloiner of sheep who had been persuaded to join the first fleet on its journey to the new south land.
“You can see what’s happening, the suburb is moving up” Purvis said with enthusiasm. “Mainly young trendies with no children; You know, Dinks?”
With no reply, Purvis started to explain. “Dual income…”
Price raised his hand and quietly finished the comment, “And no kids. I know Ray. Although why they want to spend so much money on these old workers cottages is a mystery to me.”
”It’s going to be like Paddington or Fitzroy.” Purvis replied. “And there is no shopping centre for miles.”
“What about Princess Street?” Price asked with little interest.
“Mainly coffee shops and Asian restaurants; a couple of butchers and the delis of course. Not much really. And the parking’s a bugger.”
As the Rolls headed towards one of the less developed corners in the least fashionable area of the suburb, Ray Purvis began the hard sell. Price stared silently out of the window regretting he had agreed to this early morning excursion and hoping it didn’t take too long for them to get to where ever they were going.
Purvis in selling mode can be an awe inspiring experience; At least so thought the many angular, wise young stars of finance in their pinstriped suits, pockets stuffed with blank cheques. If nothing else he was unstoppable, even when failing to impress, telling all who would listen that he was born to sell, coming as he did from the east end of London where his parents had worked a barrow in the hard years after the war. Although not entirely true, the story guaranteed Ray Purvis a place in one of the great myths of Australian migration; the ten pound Pom who made good.
Never one to be overly concerned with the truth, selling was what Ray Purvis was good at. He loved everything about it: Finding the right product, discovering the maximum price the customer would bear and then delivering the minimum amount that would be accepted. Most of all Ray Purvis liked to make money.
During the mid eighties, when share prices seemed to be always rising, Purvis had made, lost and cheated his way through several fortunes, most of them not his own. Always happy to oblige the many punters keen to buy pieces of paper inscribed with magic words of instant wealth he somehow managed to keep out of the clutches of the law, even when at his most creative.
Following the crash of 87, Ray moved into the used car business. Built up an empire, became almost respectable and sold out for a fortune. Cashed up and with no where to go, he got in on the ground floor of what was to become one of the great property booms of all time: Prices rising, banks falling over themselves to lend, and money sloshing around as though there was no tomorrow, or today for that matter. A time of upwardly spiralling magic for the Ray Purvis’s of the world.
For Elliott Price, the banter of the sale was never interesting, merely commercial muzak designed to sooth the nerves of those being taken for a ride. However, as the words “the shopping centre will cover the entire block,” cut through his reverie, the passing blur of buildings snapped into focus. He turned away from the window as Purvis continued, “It’ll be the biggest for miles around.”
“I take it you would like our assistance with this venture?” Elliott Price asked cautiously.
“You bet. I haven’t brought you here to look at the scenery. We’ve been quietly buying up the land for the last eighteen months. There’s only two properties left.”
As Purvis chortled, describing the parry and thrust of each purchase with relish, his guest stifled a yawn. “Everything was so much easier in the past” Price dreamed, “Graziers and farmers were the backbone of the country and you did business with friends”.
In the next episode, “Deli and Crystal”, Purvis and Price eye-off the two shops. An incongruous clash of the old and the new never destined to win a town planning award for the best preserved street scape in the retailing category…