Cost of making poverty history

5th August 2005 at 01:00
his has been a summer of opposites, of marching to end world poverty, but spending as if there was no tomorrow - and being torn between what I believe I ought to believe in, and what perhaps I do.

And knowing that until we, the rich, feel able to give more of what we have to the poor, our words and fine gestures are empty.

I'm still reeling from a family weekend in London, to celebrate my sister's 60th birthday.

Cheap flights - at what cost to the environment? Remind me to plant some trees to atone for that. Cheap hotel - an oxymoron. But it was within sight and smell of the bombed bus, and the billowing white tarpaulins and numerous police added an extra dimension to what became a celebration of being alive, our children safely grown with children of their own.

We are a family who rarely come together. Enough of us to make it economical, and an asthmatic relation to justify it, we hailed taxis all the time. Emboldened by the heat, we sat at pavement cafes, and wanting to please each other, we went to all and anything anyone wanted to do.

We sat and dangled feet in Princess Diana's memorial fountain. We marched over the non-swaying bridge and spent a tenner on the Frida Kahlo exhibition.

We found a fantastic Turkish restaurant with erotic paintings in the ladies', and we whizzed up the Thames and found history still alive. Cruel times past, as we saw Traitor's Gate and the holding prisons for those awaiting transportation to Australia for stealing a loaf of bread.

We had lunch in a fabulous restaurant with views over the river. As we swept in, a few looked up and for a brief moment I was a film star who deserved all this attention . . . until I glanced down at the cotton dress and sandals and remembered the reality.

Credit cards after much wine, and a bill that ate two days' pay. Who cared? The great-niece had slept, and the food was fantastic.

We went to see Billy Elliot and wept at the miners' plight, and at the sheer joyful exuberance of the lad who danced his way through what was a spectacular musical. Fifty quid a ticket . . . well worth it.

But we walked past people with no money or home, and we were served and cared for with great courtesy by people on not-so-great wages. It's a good world for the rich, and despite our generous social security system, a hard world for the poor.

There are some things you can't buy, and the bomb-shaken London we experienced reminded us that we are family, and we were right to throw caution to the wind.

But those youngsters sitting begging will haunt me, and my conscience will hush only if I acknowledge my good luck, my affluence and recognise just what I have to do to make a fairer world.

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