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?