Getting steamed up

My sister just treated me to a spa weekend and it was an eye-opening experience. The hotel was five-star luxury from start to finish - television hotel inspector Alex Polizzi would have been lost for words. Everything was as it should be, including a nightly turn-down service in case you were too exhausted from sitting in a sauna all day to pull back your own top sheet, and two obliging doormen with big black Mary Poppins umbrellas to protect you from inclement weather. It was undiluted extravagance. And the spa was even more decadent. Fluffy robes and matching slippers on our arrival, top-brand toiletries to use in the shower at the end (most of which ended up in my handbag, alongside the swag from breakfast - a croissant, a muffin, a slice of Gruyere and a tiny pot of jam).

Short of following you home and doing your marking, the spa designers had accomplished everything in their power to help you relax. There was piped ambient music, twinkling coloured lights and an assortment of steam rooms where you could sweat out last night's Rioja while listening to whales making love. In order to foster a sense of grandeur, they'd also given the steam rooms Romanesque names such as the Tropicarium, the Caldarium and the Tepidarium. Presumably calling them the Humid Room, Hot Room and Lukewarm Room failed to convey the requisite sense of imperial grandeur.

The fact that spas such as this are still flourishing in a recession is testament to the rupturing of the economy. In the US, this economic inequality is shameful: in 2010, the top 1 per cent of earners took home 93 per cent of the growth in incomes. In the UK we're not much better: our financial elite are feted while our economic underclass are fucked. At the bottom end of UK society, half a million of us are reliant on food banks, while the rich are seeking increasingly indulgent ways to squander their lightly won cash. Witness the existence of luxury spas, personal trainers, personal shoppers and those obsequious regional magazines that run hundreds of pages of estate agents' advertisements for la creme de la creme country houses.

Sadly it's not just the commercial sector that promulgates social inequality. Schools, too, play their part. Take the recent media furore over students' work experience. While state school kids are traipsing off to their Auntie Flo's hair salon to sweep up split ends for a week, students at an elite private London school are being offered fast-track tickets to a much fancier future. Parents of students at Westminster School have been offered - by auction - a range of luxury internships for their progeny, including opportunities with Coutts Bank, a criminal defence barrister, government retail adviser Mary "Queen of Shops" Portas and the Mail On Sunday newspaper.

So while the private school kids are getting richer pickings; the poor kids remain trapped in their overalls.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a teacher in the North of England.


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