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As we headed across Southwark Bridge my stomach gave a faint gurgle and I wondered if it had gone unnoticed or whether I should acknowledge and excuse it. I was near the end of my day with a German client, over from Stuttgart for 12 hours in the hope of finding an apartment. He being a thorough sort of chap, we had a broad remit. Via email we’d narrowed down the areas: Kensington, Chelsea, Notting Hill, Holland Park, Primrose Hill, Borough and Little Venice. (As a relatively new resident of LV, I must caution against proselytising it.)
At the first flat in Kensington – a mansion block, solid with generous Victorian proportions and representing good square footage value – I recalled the previous evening, which started with dinner to celebrate Hi Darling’s new fashion gig – her nickname was earned as she addresses everyone in this way.
The German and I moved on to Notting Hill and a first-floor flat with three large windows facing south over communal gardens. But that was it – effectively it was one splendid room with a price tag of over £2m. We sauntered downhill to a small house in Holland Park, which he liked; his concern being that as a youngish man he felt the area too staid. I didn’t mention that I’d lived in the next street throughout my twenties.
With each flat he had a catalogue of questions – past prices, projected future prices, council tax, transport links, relative benefits. All perfectly legitimate and thankfully in property terms I was in my comfort zone, so could answer questions accurately, without too much intellectual rigour.
Chelsea and Knightsbridge followed and were deemed too much (price) for too little (space).
Over lunch, I advocated London living. I haven’t done a full-day tour in years. Normally the specificity of clients’ requirements means only one property is viewed at a time and I’d forgotten what it was like to be “on” all day. When he suggested a lunchtime glass of wine I declined, recalling dinner the night before which had rolled into more drinks back at Hi Darling’s.
I must have imagined myself at a José Ignacio beach party as I had started mixing caipiroska – dare I blame too much of January spent in South America? What seemed like such a good idea retrospectively seemed like reckless abandon.
Primrose Hill came after lunch: a large maisonette with a roof terrace leading off a light-drenched eat-in kitchen. This pocket of town retains a villagey feel. I pointed out that he could walk across Regent’s Park to his offices in Marylebone. He seemed interested, but not overwhelmed. He was definitively underwhelmed by the next flat on the lower ground floor with no views and a pitiful excuse for a garden.
Borough and Bermondsey brought new flavour to the afternoon – hip and happening, a creative buzz emanates from the paving. As the inevitable questions came, honesty proved the only policy. I told him I’d check past prices and promptly fired off a BlackBerry message. As we sat in traffic (thank goodness I’d acquired a driver for our tour) and I awaited the response, the karaoke bar of the early hours was revisited in my head. What possessed us? Hi and I duetted to “Islands in the Stream”, the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers classic, then “Don’t Stop Believing” – we both love a power ballad. Next had followed our dance-off; Hi shaking it to Rihanna, me jumping wildly to the Scissor Sisters.
. . .
The optimism of returning home and setting my alarm for a morning jog had been pure fantasy. Instead, I had languished in bed listening to Radio 4, remembering my resilience is not what it was, which is why such weeknights should never happen.
The stats came through and the converted warehouses were viewed. They were too edgy for my client, so it was to Little Venice we headed optimistically – he believing I had saved the best flat to last (which unintentionally I had) and me that I had got through the day somehow, with an internal promise that I’d never sing on a weeknight again.
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