Flat viewings are an inevitable part of life in a city where most adults in full time employment either can't afford or don't have the energy to buy their own place. It takes two to avoid it. Literally: an extremely well paid job and/or a partner who makes co-habiting a sensible choice. Otherwise, you rent: setting up home with friends or complete strangers, everyone in the same transient boat.
On the scale of necessary yet completely tiresome evils, the process of selecting a complete stranger to live with sits somewhere between a blind first date and a job interview. It's a bit like speed dating, except each one-on-one takes place completely sober, in your living room, several times throughout the week instead of once for a laugh and never again, and you've got half an hour to decide whether you want your prospective match to move in with you.
The process: first, well, ideally they turn up - and I mention this because sometimes they don't - the doorbell goes and you take a deep breath.
They introduce themselves, ask whether they should remove their shoes, and you say a line you'll end up repeating to the next three people, verbatim: 'no no, don't worry about it, we're a shoes-on flat.'
Then it begins: the routine unveiling of rooms and personalities that hopefully didn't seem too much cleaner, brighter, and bigger in the ad. The person in your living room aligned themselves to a description which was generic enough to appeal to the masses, but contained enough sprinklings of words like 'chilled' and 'quiet' to weed out anyone who'd view the kitchen table not as somewhere for a nice glass of red on a Wednesday evening, but as the optimum glass surface for a Saturday night rack of drugs.
Over the course of the week's viewings you hone your ability to extract potentially irritating daily habits through a mix of jovial getting-to-know-you-chat and a series of seemingly innocuous questions (why are you moving out of your last place? Where do you like to go out? What time do you start work?) - and none of this should be done over a cup of tea.
My housemates learnt the hard way once, about the tea. The French girl sat and stayed and sipped, referring to her plants as her babies. They nodded along and asked perfunctory questions while she nursed the cup of cold dregs in her hands, wondering when she would put it down and leave. 'You did what
?' I said, when we caught up later. 'You're mad. Water, maybe, if they're coughing. But no one gets tea
Our advert went up last week, days after I'd acclimatised to the news that not just one, but both housemates would be moving on
, ostensibly, the other said, because finding two new people at once would be easier than one.
From 75 messages, this week I met 10 people over three nights. It's been pleasant at times, but tiring. By Wednesday I had a headache. By Thursday night, I was resisting the urge to just give the room to the next person who liked it; an option that I know would potentially bring more headaches later on.
By the final viewing, after an evening of cancellations here and there, people running late, staying a little bit too long, I was faltering, energy sapped. It was 8pm when the doorbuzzer went, and I invited the person through.
'No, it's fine. Leave them on,' I said when she asked, leading her through to the living room, 'we're a flats-on shoe'.