Posh or Poor? Reactions please!

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I’m writing this in the humble little’ Cafe Roma’, opposite the grand main entrance to The Royal Marsden Hospital in South Kensington, London. (I’m looking after my sister who is recovering across the road from a nasty cancer operation.) ‘South Ken’ one of the poshest areas of London. Two weeks ago I was riding my motorbike in the Balkans, one of the poorest areas of Europe. It’s been a bit of a culture shock.

In Bosnia my three course dinner, coffee, two carafes of wine, ensuite double room, secure parking and breakfast cost £20. Here a carafe of wine will cost that – forget the dinner, the bed and the breakfast. Secure parking? You wish.

In the Balkans I needed a new tyre for my well-worn motorbike. “Follow me!” the man said, and generously led me 30 miles to a different country – literally! – to get me to the right supplier, and gave me an engraved lighter as a goodbye present. That won’t happen here in ‘South Ken’. (Old motorbike? This is stunning sports car and black limo country. Blacked out, exclusive, custom-built £200,000 limos, Range Rovers and Ferraris abound. The main Lamborghini dealership is just up the road.)

In Albania ‘poor’ is normal, yet people don’t think of themselves as poor. Just normal. I did see one reference to the poor in South Kensington: “Don’t give them money” the poster warned, “they will use it to kill themselves with drugs and alcohol.” So giving becomes murder. Hmmm.

Clothes? Every possible fashion house is here, from Stella McCartney and Prada to Versace and YSL, with a pair of jeans costing … 550. Pounds, that is. (850€). In Montenegro it is likely to be 550 too. £5.50. 100 times less.

My new friend in Serbia earns in a day about the same as the basic wage in the UK for an hour, yet he STILL gave me a gift to take back to Britain worth a day’s wages for him.

I saw a three bedroom apartment advertised for rental today. £2,800 (4,000€) a week. A WEEK! A year’s wages just 1500 kilometres south of here.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta said “The more you have, the less you can give.”  (Jesus Christ pointed out a little lady who gave a tiny coin. “It is all she has,” he said. When it comes to generosity, it’s what you have left after you’ve given that seems to be the measure.)

How comfortable in your skin are you? What does rich mean? Are you rich?

Max Winchester Visits Bethlehem

Max hadn’t intended to visit Bethlehem. The truth is, geography never has been his strong point, and satellite technology isn’t either. When the word ‘Stable’ had come up on his TomTom, he’s assumed that it meant something completely different. He’d hit the ‘Go’ button – with a degree of his normal trepidation – and driven off into the night. Mrs Winchester, knowing the limits of her beloved husband’s technological skills, and aware that he’d left his trusty AA map at home, went to bed a little worried. In the morning, when his side of the bed had remained unslept in, she phoned the police.

No, they hadn’t had any reports of accidents, but thanked her for leaving her details. She heard the Community Support Officer on the other end of the phone snigger as she mentioned his satnav skills. As Mrs W. returned the old phone to its rest, she noticed his mobile on the chair. The battery was flat. Her faith in angelic beings looking after her beloved husband of forty years would be tested over the next few days – and it was. She slept not a wink that night, lying in bed imagining the worst. Or even worse.

If she had only checked with his credit card company in the ensuing week she would have found a series of petrol purchases across Germany, Austria, Croatia and Greece. (Greece was worrying.) And a huge cash withdrawal at Athens. Little did she know that as she lay in bed on the fourth night, their little Ford Fiesta was on board a ferry in the Med, headed for Haifa.

Max Winchester arrived at Haifa and continued to follow TomTom diligently. The man at the border had asked him for his passport, and he was relieved to realise he had on the same jacket he’d been wearing when they’d done their last international trip – Newhaven to Dieppe in the summer. The passport was in his inside pocket. What a stroke of luck! He still remained a little confused about how he had managed to travel so far when he’d only planned to go Christmas shopping at Bluewater. The Med had indeed appeared to be the only blue water he had been in close contact with since he’d left home. However, during his drive through Albania he had noticed a particularly bright star in the night sky. He’d found it strangely comforting – not least in the absence of Mrs W’s reassuring night-time warmth that he had snuggled up to for so many years. This shopping trip had not been quite what he’d imagined, and he knew there was no way he could do anything other than follow the satnav. He’d be lost without it.

He drove out of Haifa with his spirits high, and it was one in the morning when, having had a bit of a kip in the back seat, he checked the satnav again. Only ten miles to go!

The next city looked very unattractive. “Unemployment high here” he told himself as he surveyed the unkempt streets with their high walls covered with graffiti. Very down market. Poor. Not a very safe place to stay. He kept an eye open for a place where he could get a room for what was left of the night – with secure parking. Mrs W. would be very disappointed if he came home without the car.

So it was that a few minutes later a little inn attracted his attention, and he pulled over. This place really was the pits. The gum-chewing girl on reception was chatting up a bunch of locals who smelt of, well, the countryside, and through a doorway he could see there was clearly a lot of activity going on under the light in an old stable. He could hear a girl crying in distress. What on earth…

Max never forgot that out-of-this-world moment. It wasn’t the teenager giving birth, or the scruffiness of it all. It was as if a shaft of burning light like lightning pierced his heart on that December night.

And back in her warm bed, Mrs W. switched off the light, closed her eyes and slept like a baby.

Part 2 … Coming Home.

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