• Source: Scotland on Sunday
  • Date: 25 July, 1999
  • Author: Antonia Swinson

Three weeks away, I return to face mounds of unopened post and e-mails. Credit card junk mail looks strangely tempting after three weeks in France eating moules frites, but I desist and hit the bin at six yards. Have you been away? Friends ask amazed. I am not a holiday taker by nature. Partly because I love my home and partly because I hate handing over so much money.

It was the Scots? attitude to family holidays which struck me most when I returned here permanently in 1995. ?Should I take 4k or 5k for spending money?? a friend asked, one night at our local. My look of horror persuaded him that this was unreasonable, so he took 6k instead. He?d been talking Florida after all. Another friend sheepishly admitted over fish and chips that their family holiday in Canada had put them back ?15k. I nearly choked. Personally any family holiday where I do not get change from a thousand pounds is anathema. Call me old fashioned. But for you Scots in the nineties, it?s skiing holidays, time shares, cruises with regular trips to Crieff Hydro in between. Maybe it?s the weather, but the Scots certainly know how to show themselves a good time.

And on the other end of this island too, on England?s south coast they are flaunting it bigtime, so great is the volume of cash splashing around. The night before ferrying across to Normandy we spent the night in Poole. Friday evening. The sun still packed a punch and the restaurant and bar crowds spilled out onto the streets. Men sported nipple rings and tattoos, women gold chains and big hair. We walked on past the scores of luxury yachts moored in the harbour. Their owners were not just flaunting cash, several boats flew the St George?s flag. Ingerland! One, the Tigre D?Or was like a giant floating creamcake, obviously the spoils of City piratings in the far east. A brief memory surfaced of Donald Trump greeting friends onto his yacht on the Hudson River back in the eighties; nowadays in comparison the money being flashed about, whether real or lent, makes the eighties seem cheap.

Next morning at our small hotel while the wife was frying up the bacon, the husband settled down to drinking vintage port in the sun. It was 9am. His paunch was generous, his tattoos mesmerising. Poor old German guests were complaining by how expensive Great Britain was and I remembered how the Germans stuck us in the seventies when the British first started going abroad in huge numbers. How rich and how fat so many of them seemed to us then. How we hated their deckchair nabbing guts! Don?t you know there?s a war on? could have been written in cartoon bubbles, for then, there were three day weeks petrol shortages, the British Disease and inflation, which we had not then realised was such a Godsend for getting the hard-pressed middle classes out of trouble.

Now the jackboot is on the other foot for whether paying in cash or plastic funny money the UK has caught luxury fever from the US. Max Bialystock style, if you got it baby, flaunt it. As the hotel proprietor enthused about the booty in fags and booze his cheap day trips to France netted him twice a month ? 1500 Benson & Hedges, magnums of Bolly ? I sensed the same indiscipline with sudden wealth the Germans suffered from back then. It?ll all end in tears I said. My husband said I was sounding like wee Rab?s ?Mary doll.?

Our part of Normandy seemed untouched by time and Thatcherite restructuring. Prosperous farmers sold their produce at the market and house prices ? 45K for a three bedroom detached house made me dream. Even our car looked rather grand parked in the local square. Youth unemployment is high; the local mayor?s son, a manager in meat packing spoke perfect English, describing how he had been working in Northern Ireland. No work here he said with a gallic shrug. I remembered recently how strange I found the sight of Frenchmen driving buses in London.

The exchange rate is just on 10 francs to the pound which opens up feasts of smoked salmon and champagne. I go shopping in the local Ecomarche ? keeping the bill as reminder to feel ripped off whenever I go up to our local Safeways. 8 pains au chocolat 11frs , packet of saucisses 7.65frs, 1 large tin of petits pois 4.45frs. I read a two day UK paper to find British supermarkets are whinging about price comparisons. They must think we came up the Clyde on a bike. Why, after twenty years of mass travel has it taken so long to realise just how ripped off we are? It must be our feudal heritage, for unlike the French, we are reluctant revolutionaries. We hate change and making a scene. Why, because we were told by advertisers that our food is good value, did we automatically assume it was? Certainly the ancien regime at M&S should have been pushed onto tumbrels years ago, but the Brits are a sentimental lot who prefer the familiar however high the price.

Wednesday, 24 April, 2019
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