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What are they on about?

David Newnham gets bossed aboutin France

I don't know what you did on your holidays, but I had little choice in the matter. I did precisely what I was told.

For an entire week, I was guided by detailed written instructions. In the bathroom, in the bedroom and especially in the kitchen, strategically placed notes, in waterproof wallets, prompted me at every turn. I might have been in a research laboratory, a human guinea pig in some bizarre psychological experiment. In fact I was staying in a French gte.

At least it was in France. But I knew the moment I read the first set of instructions that the property was owned by a British family. Who else would request that on departing I leave "a few teabags in the glass jar" in order that the next incumbents might enjoy a welcome cuppa?

I wasn't to leave anything else in the kitchen, mind. Far from it. "Please do not leave any food" said the note above the draining board. And in case I had difficulty navigating my way through a simple sentence, the words "do" and "not" were underlined.

Leaving sugar and flour was "very kind", the note concded, "but it just encourages antsmice". So with the exception of teabags, surplus food "must be wrapped amp; thrown away".

A note on the fridge instructed me to leave it empty and clean "and switched on and working May-Sept (Summer) - BUT Sept-May (Winter) switched off with doors OPEN".

In summer (May-Sept) I was to leave two blankets and a pillow folded at the foot of each bed ("as you found them"), while in winter (Sept-May) these were to be placed "in plastic sacks provided".

The bedroom windows were to be left open during the day ("Please remember to close them before you go out"), and if I could find time to water the window boxes during prolonged dry spells, then that would be appreciated.

How hot was the water in the hot tap? "Hot water can be very hot". What should I throw in the toilet? "Throw only toilet paper in the toilet". And how about the garden?

"Please do not allow your children to destroy plants etc" said a friendly note above the backdoor. "Please remember, we are letting you use our house as your own."

Oh, really? For a minute, I almost forgot.

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