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A day in the life of a flat hunter

by Alan Townend

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
         in advance.
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!

New words and expressions

Questions and exercises

Related Articles

New words and expressions 1.

flat hunter                someone looking for a flat (two or three
                           rooms on the same floor)
there's no privacy         you cannot be alon
Read more
A.    Comprehension questions

 1.    Where did Peter and Erika meet for the first time?
 2.    What is Erika's nationality?
 3.    Why didn't Erika like the hostel?
 4.    What is 
A. 1. At London airport.
   2. She's German.
   3. Because there was no privacy, the food was
      horrible, and she had to be in by eleven o'clock.
   4. Charming self-contained fu
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