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American Times: Washington DC: Welcome wagon of rules that awaits the Clintons

NOW THE First Family's housing problem has been solved, it may be appropriate to explore some of the delights that await Bill, Hillary, Chelsea, Socks, Buddy - and anyone else for that matter - in the upper reaches of home-ownership, American style. For the Clintons, who have not owned a home since 1982, the demands of their new neighbourhood may be a shock.

Anyone who thinks of the United States as a free- booting, free-wheeling, live-and-let live sort of place should try a few months in our Washington apartment block. Our accommodations are in a league quite different from those of the Clintons. A two-bedroom flat in central Washington is hardly your five- bedroom 1.1-acre estate in Westchester County. But the watchwords for both are the same: rules, rules, rules.

The rulebook for residents of our 10-storey block is a thick volume of clauses and sub-clauses waiting to be transgressed. Our first unwitting misdemeanour concerned a doormat. Shaped like a cat, we placed it where we thought a mat belonged, in front of our door to look welcoming to guests and to distinguish our doorway from the others on the same floor. Which was precisely the problem. Within a couple of weeks we had a letter from the "Board" that could best be described as kindly but stern - it referred to our mat as "cute" - which translated as an order to remove it. Distinguishing one's front door is precisely what our block is not about; all doors must look alike.

Our second infraction concerned rubbish. Regulations for dealing with "garbage" run into many, many clauses. But when you live seven floors up, in a semi-tropical summer climate you are particular about dispatching the rubbish down the chute in the corridor. A call from the front desk drew our attention to a "report" that there were bags of rubbish outside our door. Well, there were, for a few minutes while our once-a-week cleaner assembled them for the trip to the chute.

For the third violation I expect a written reprimand from the Board: I swam in the pool when there was no lifeguard present. In my defence, this was not deliberate. It was during normal hours (10am to 8pm); the door was unlocked, and two people resembling lifeguards were by the pool.

In fact, they were fellow residents trying to drum up support for longer pool hours, but pointed out I had been swimming illegally. With pleasure, they spread before me a letter they had from the board citing "reports" that they had swum out of hours "on more than one occasion". The presence of a lifeguard is a condition of the block's insurance policy in this litigious country. But sports facilities breed regulations: shower before and after; no broken skin. And, please, no walking around the common areas in "sportswear". A friend had her "pool privileges" withdrawn for a week for that.

And no beanstalks. A recent circular instructed everyone with plants or trees higher than the top of their balcony railing to cut them back at once. Only window-box flowers may protrude above railings.

Which is where we return to Bill and Hillary. At a preliminary guess, neither the Clintons nor their guests will be allowed to park their cars in the road, even for a few minutes. While a giant 4x4 on the drive is fine, a caravan or delivery van is not. They must keep their lawn trimmed to the grass equivalent of a crew-cut and weed-free. They must sweep up the leaves in autumn, and the snow in winter.

Whatever their debts, they may not start any business. Prayer meetings more than once a month are also out. Mrs Clinton will have to keep her cookie-baking within bounds, and Mr Clinton's "spiritual advisers" may find it easier to counsel him on the golf course, if, that is, he meets membership requirements.