When I was young, I tired of pensioners telling me “I fought a war for your generation” as they gazed at the urban landscape murmuring “I remember when it was all fields round here.” Now I’m 72, I’m beginning to understand how they felt
Recently, my wife and I celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary. Normally we’d choose a nice rural B&B pub and reminisce over the dish of the day and a bottle of cava.
This year, as I had to attend a literary seminar on the same day, the organisers, impressed by our near half century of married bliss, generously gifted us an all-expenses paid overnight stay in a five-star hotel, with dinner and breakfast. Yet this fortuitous event, unlike any previous nuptial commemoration, served to hammer home in stark detail just how much has changed since our brief 1966 honeymoon in Scarborough, where the landlady served us egg, chips and a pot of tea.
Out of respect for my benefactors, I’ll not name the swanky Birmingham hotel. It was not the kind of place we’re used to. All black, chrome and leather, with a bed high enough to inflict vertigo. The room cost around £200. We opened a small tin of potato crisps, not realising they were on the mini-bar menu at £3.50. There was wine, but at £40 per bottle it remained unopened. As for the mini-bar fridge, with its £5 bottles of beer and exorbitantly priced water, that was a no-go area. In the afternoon we ambled around the second city’s chic Canalside development, all bistros and Italian restaurants, bristling with iPhone clutching young corporate ‘suits’ bellowing through their fashionable beards. There, a bowl of ravioli would cost £15.95 and a small beer £6. We found a Tesco Express, bought bread, cheese and beer, returning to our plush room for a humble yet economical lunch.
Dinner in the hotel’s busy, extremely noisy brasserie was a revelation, a far cry from austerity, benefit cuts, the bedroom tax, zero-hours contracts, and food banks. I’ve often wondered who that 1% are who own the majority of Britain’s wealth, and now, two elderly working class ‘oiks’ (as they’d call us at Eton) by default, shared their 30-something, aggressive conglomerate for one night. We refused the wine list. Merlot at £50 a bottle? Champagne, £120? Forget it. They brought us a small platter of bread and olives, £13.50. My ‘cheapest meal’ of steak and chips was £21, but the pepper sauce an extra £6. A small bowl of ‘frites’? £4. Bottled water? £6.
At breakfast, we tentatively finished our £13.95 continental breakfast, (toast charged extra) and longingly anticipated being back in Mansfield for lunch.
If anyone needed a wake-up call to illustrate Britain’s economic inequality, this was it.
There is an unseen, privileged world beyond the ‘Big Society’ reality most of us live in.
But as Albert Einstein quipped; Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.