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Getting your fees paid may not always be straightforward . . .

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Exasperated by the continuing failure of my client to respond to my letters demanding payment, I decided late one evening to go and see him. It is some 20 years ago now, but I remember it all well.

A publican just off the Old Kent Road had run into trouble with the District Surveyor over 'alterations' and drawings had been needed 'a bit quick'. He was facing a stop notice and things were pretty serious.

Confirming my appointment in writing (strictly in line with the arb's current requirements), I did the work and then sent in my bill with a polite covering note.

No joy. Polite reminder . . . Still no joy . . .

Professional training and my new Part III qualification counted for nothing in this situation: the more I wrote, the less serious this character thought I was about getting paid. We talked a different language - this was the University of Life.

I could, of course, have resorted to litigation or arbitration, but somehow I didn't think I would get far using such processes with a client like this. Instinctively I felt it better to go it alone.

And so it went on for over a year. The amount was not large, but it was good money, and it was rightly mine.

Finally, looking bleakly at a list of outstanding debtors this particular evening, I got angry - as I should have done months before - and set off for a showdown.

Leaving my old Volkswagen under the sodium glare of a street lamp, I walked purposefully into the pub. There, pouring a 'chaser' with his back to me, was my client. A hush descended over the room as I made my way - an obvious stranger - to the bar.

'That geezer wants a word,' murmured the bartender, pointing in my direction. The landlord strolled over, but genuinely couldn't remember who I was. His face was a complete blank. Finally, he remembered. Bemused rather than outraged that I should press him publicly for cash (I was now talking his language), he suggested we 'go out the back to sort this out'. There, in the presence of his irritable Alsatian and his uninterested wife, we argued . . .

He claimed that he hadn't understood the fee basis, said I couldn't be serious about the money, and thought the bill was 'plain daft'. I complained bitterly that he hadn't answered my letters and insisted on payment. He said I was 'some kind of a nut'. Of course, we were chalk and cheese - the aspiring professional and the street-wise rogue. Principle and integrity versus a wheeler-dealer on the make!

Then I realised that this dispute was all my fault - I had played it wrong from the start, misjudging the man, and failing to communicate in a way that he found acceptable. He hadn't wanted an appointment letter - why should he? He'd never had one before, and he had wanted a written invoice even less. His world was made up of bartered deals and rough but firm handshakes. It had its own rules and honour, but it was a world away from anything I had been trained for. Part III had said nothing about this lot.

But, somehow, this rough diamond warmed to me. He obviously respected 'the visit' and the face-to-face exchange. If he didn't think that I had earned my money through drawing, he seemed to think that I was earning it through this meeting.

'Tell you what,' he eventually said. 'You can have all the money in the machines - how's that?' (He meant the one-armed bandits). He grinned and said they would 'more'n likely cover you'.

Returning to the bar, I held open several bags as coins were poured in, then, refusing a drink, I quickly repaired to the car, and made a speedy getaway. Counting up later, I was just a few pounds short, but a good deal rougher and tougher myself.

Some time after, Danny asked me to do a job on his house. I didn't bother with a written appointment and I never sent any bills - why should I? For his part, he paid on demand - but I always had to collect, and when I did, we drank well together!

Years later I heard of him again: he had been seriously wounded in a gunfight at the pub. Obviously, someone hadn't found him as straightforward to deal with as me! Pity, really - I liked Danny.

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