By PHOEBE DRINKWATER ou would expect an advertisement in the I London Times, offering a two months' lease of a villa in Positano in exchange for a London flat, to attract replies. It did. The postman was in so bad a humour by the time he had brought the first batch of them up the hillside that I had to fill him full of Chianti before he would even deliver them.
One of the first I opened was from Mayfair : written in delicate handwriting on finely scented, light mauve writing paper, from a Mrs. A. She and Lord B., she wrote, had been living together for ten years, but having seen my advertisement it had occurred to them that a change might suit them. Would I be interested in coming to London and living with Lord A., while she had a holiday in Positano? Lord A. would occasionally be called away on business—but the caretaker would look after me in his absences.
A Grosvenor Square resident asked if the exchange could be for the whole winter, provided that my villa in Positano was suitably staffed. I wrote back that the excellent Luciana would do all the shopping, cooking and washing for about £7 a month. My letter crossed one from her adding that the Grosvenor Square house had three parlour-maids, cook and assistant, butler, valet, personal maid and social secretary. I increased Luciana's wages to £8 a month and gave her the day off.
A husband and wife from Swiss Cottage wrote saying the exchange sounded suitable if I did not mind sharing their bathroom with their two sons, both barristers. The elder (they went on to say) brushed his teeth and shaved between 7.30 and 7.50; the second brushed his teeth and shaved between 8 and 8,25; at 8.30 the first son, having had his breakfast, took his bath until 8.50; and at 9, the second son, having had his breakfast, took his bath until 9.25. Outside those times the bath- room would be mine. It was not stated why the second son took five minutes longer each session; and I did not feel inclined to look into the matter myself.
The tenant of a flat in a new London block suggested that I should add £25 a week to my share of the exchange, because the flat had recently been sublet to royalty (I had foolishly included in the advertisement that I was Ameri- can). But most of the letters were no more than thinly disguised inquiries about Positano—the weather, cost of living, texture of the beach, etc. A secretary asked me to forward the name of, an Italian boy as correspondent; if the correspon- dence was successful she would visit her pen-pal the next year—the exchange of her room for my villa could be arranged then. A titled lady wrote with no pretence of interest in Positano, simply to ask if I could find some maid locally who would come and work for her in Devon. After a time 1 began to wonder whether I wouldn't do better to stay in Positano and set up a job—a pen-pal matrimonial bureau.
But in the end I made my choice, and came to London. It turned out to have been unfortunate. The woman whose offer I had selected brought me in and, over a sherry (in a large tumbler), confided that it was the first time she had entertained any- body in her flat for seven years. She just wanted to have somebody there, while she lived in a box- room, so that she could hear the sound of voices in the flat.'
None of the six possibles turned out to be remotely suitable; in the end I got a flat only by putting up a 'Wanted' card in a Chelsea shop windovt/. I was put off, at first, by the woman who answered the advertisement, because as soon as she heard my accent she pulled out all the American phrases she knew : 'Good, dearie; come round tomorrow about ten, OK? Swell, honey . . .. great . . . that will be wonderful.' I would not have followed it up, only she rang the next morning, and insisted on showing me her flat. After I had described where Positano was in some detail, in relation to Naples, Capri and Rome, I was disconcerted when she told me she would take my house because she thought she would enjoy living in the South of France. It was only then that I realised that she had never been out of England before, even in her imagination.
Eventually the deal was arranged. On the day before she left she .came to see me, and her last comment, as she was waving goodbye, was, 'Well, honey, I'll give everybody in Portofino your love.' Portofino! I could just imagine her arriving in Naples and asking the taxi-driver to take her to Portofino. He would have, too, if I know Neapolitan taxi-drivers, and charged her about 250,000 lire.
am the tenant of a pleasant little Chelsea r
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