Erika Weiss had corresponded with Peter Jarvis for nearly three years, but they only met for the first time last month at London airport. Erika had come from Germany to work for a year in her firm's London office. When she first arrived, she went to stay at a hostel, but she wasn't happy there.
She decided to look for a flat of her own, but as she didn't know her way around London, and couldn't understand the advertisements for flats in the newspapers, she went to see Peter and to ask his advice.
Erika I must find a flat of my own. I don't like living in the
hostel, Peter. There's no privacy, the food is horrible
and I have to be in by eleven o'clock.
Peter How can I help?
Erika I can't understand the advertisements.
Peter Well, let's have a look at one.
Erika This one, for example. Whatever does it mean?
Peter Let me see. "Charm s/c furn gdn flt, dbl bedrm, lge lnge,
kit, bth, cent htg, £20 pw."
Erika Now please translate it for me.
Peter That's no good for you.
Erika It may not be, but I want to know what it means.
Peter It means, "A charming self-contained furnished garden
flat with a double bedroom, large lounge, kitchen and
bathroom, with central heating, at twenty pounds a week.
Erika Yes. I see. That's too big and too expensive for me. How
am I going to find what I want?
Peter Tomorrow's Saturday and we've both got the day off. I
suggest we spend the whole day looking for a flat. If we're
lucky, we might find something for you to move into next
week. All right?
Erika That sounds lovely. I hope I can find a flat as nice as
Peter That won't be easy.
Erika You mean this wasn't the first flat you looked at?
Peter You must be joking! I've only been here for two months.
You should have seen the terrible flat I had before. And
it was hard enough to get that. Finding a flat in London
is very difficult. To start with you've got to buy the
first edition of one of the London newspapers, and after
you've read the accomodation advertisements you've got to
run to the nearest telephone so that you are the first
person to ring up.
Erika But what if it says, "ring after six."?
Peter Oh, you mustn't take any notice of that. I've missed lots
of flats by taking that too seriously. You must ring up
at once and keep your fingers crossed that there's
someone at home to answer the phone. If the owner answers,
you mustn't sound too eager.
Erika What do you mean?
Peter You've got to give him, or her, the impression that you
don't really mind if you get the flat or not. You must
sound as if you've got dozens of other flats to consider.
Erika But there aren't dozens of other flats.
Peter Of course not. But if you sound too eager the owner will
think you're having difficulty in finding a flat, and
then he'll think there's something wrong with you.
Erika I suppose you're right.
Peter Of course I am. It's like a game. You pretend you don't
really want a flat at all, and the owner pretends he
doesn't really want to let his flat. He says, "It's
ten pounds a week you know," as if he doesn't think you
have enough money, so you say you didn't realize there
was no private bath and you're not interested after all.
When you've collected a list of addresses to visit, you
set off. You get to the street where the first flat is
and pass the most beautiful houses you've ever seen.
This is perfect, you think. A flat in a house like
this for only ten pounds a week! And then, as you
get nearer to the number you're looking for, you notice
that the character of the street is changing. The
houses are dirty, the doors are unpainted, windows
are broken. And of course the house you're looking for
is the worst of all. You want to turn round and go home,
but the owner is already at the door. He takes you
up to see the flat, and although you can see what's
there for yourself he points to everything in the
room. "There's the bed," he says, "and there's the
table." In the end you tell him that you've got
another flat to look at and that you'll let him know.
After seeing a lot of places like this you begin to
think you'll never find a reasonable flat. I even
thought about going to a hostel like yours.
Erika Oh, no! If other hostels are like mine you
wouldn't have liked it at all. This sounds terrible,
Peter. Are you sure you still want to help me tomorrow?
Peter Yes, of course I do. I just want you to know what it's
going to be like.
Erika I'm getting a pretty good ideal Tell me how you got the
terrible flat you had before this one.
Peter I got it through an agency. I paid a small fee to the
agency and they gave me three addresses. I went to the
first address and a charming grey-haired lady opened
the door. She showed me a self-contained flat on the
ground floor. It was nicely decorated, clean and cheap.
I told her I'd take it and paid her a month's rent
Erika But I thought you didn't like it. It sounds fine.
Peter Wait a minute.
Erika Sorry. Go on.
Peter I moved in on a Sunday night. I was woken up the next
morning at half past seven.
Erika What woke you up?
Peter Road drills and bulldozers! There was one little thing
the landlady hadn't told me: they were going to build a
motorway right outside my window!
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