The miserly French villa owners made me do it

Call me petty, but the microfibre dishcloths, tea towels, dishwasher tablets, undrunk wine and Twinings tea were mine


Do we have to leave all that toilet paper, I said, looking at the pyramid of the stuff still standing in the bathroom at the end of our holiday in the rented French villa. It wasn’t a nice thought – it wasn’t even particularly nice toilet paper – but as far as I was concerned, they had started it. “They” being the owners of the villa, or more precisely their letting agents.

Or maybe we had started it, by arriving with a suitcase full of sheets and towels to avoid the €100 linen charge, though it cost €50 for the extra bag with Ryanair. Petty? Yes, but then you can buy a lot of ice cream with €50. Smug? Certainly, until we discovered that when they had said “bed linen”, what they had meant was “all linen”. There wasn’t a hand towel, tea towel, rag or dishcloth in sight, although no washing-up was necessary, since the makings of tea or coffee were missing too.

The fridge yawned emptily, except for a strong smell of fish. You couldn’t call it a warm welcome, but never mind, we were on holidays, and everything about this villa said so. Seashells marched along the window sills – glued down, it must be said; a straw shopping basket swung from a hook; there were curly metal cafe chairs under a tree in the garden. It was gorgeous. What did the lack of a dishcloth matter, with a supermarket nearby and, next to it, a traiteur – one of those fabulous French delis selling everything from boiled pig’s snout in aspic to a tray of crème caramel so smooth and silky that you can suck it in between your teeth.


Not a lot happens

The beach was close by and we had made an exciting discovery in the shed – a pair of those low-to-the-sand, stripy deckchairs that made us feel quite like locals on the beach, except that we didn’t smoke like chimneys while doing sudoku puzzles, or tweeze small hairs from our inner thighs for hours on end.

The beach stretched away in either direction, mostly empty. Not a lot happens in this part of the world, which suited some of us more than others. “Everyone on this island is either under six or over 56,” said my youngest, who had taken along a friend as a precaution. They scoured the village and campsites in search of other teenagers, but could find only one, a sullen fellow selling waffles in a nearby town. They ate there every day.


Where are the trashy novels?

“We’re all just here to relax,” I said, lying flat out on the sofa, with nothing to read but the local property gazette. What with all those sheets and towels, there was no room for books, and I had relied on there being left-over Dan Browns or an Eat, Pray, Love. No such luck. Instead, a shelf full of linen-bound French classics that were there for show only, as the pages were uncut. Where were all the tatty paperbacks that a villa is meant to have? Thrown out after each rental, no doubt, along with the left-over tea and coffee.

Our very own rental agent was featured in the property magazine, in a long piece about the awful things summer renters can do to your villa. Keep your insurance up-to-date, he warned, because your white linen sofa could be hideously damaged by the great unwashed who would be using it all summer.

As I read, I found myself being a little careless about the bits of chocolate that fall off a Magnum when you bite into it. Most of them I caught, but some just disappeared from view.

On the bathroom wall was a map of the world with pins stuck on various Caribbean islands, along with photographs of people I took to be the owners, disporting themselves on a yacht and on bougainvillea-clad verandahs. I became a little irritated with this beautiful family and their boat, which may or may not be funded by the villa rents. The weekly rate could go a long way on the high seas, even if their idea of a welcome pack is a single small bar of soap broken in three, one for each of the sinks.

So I didn’t see why, at the end of our week, they should also have the microfibre dishcloths, or the tea towels, the 40-odd remaining dishwasher tablets we had had to buy, or the undrunk wine. The kilogram of courgettes I could do nothing about, but the box of Twinings tea?

“You are not taking home those tea bags,” my husband said when it was time to pack up. “No, you’re right, that would be mean,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t open the bed-linen suitcase and see all the toilet paper in there.

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