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Sunday, 7 September 2014

What an Insult!

Browsing the Daily Mail online is something I find so relaxing after a day's work window cleaning. So it was the case when I looked through the Travel section that one article caught my attention. Under the heading: Stress and cheap travel deals are main reasons why Brits are going on more holidays...the article went on to announce that 40% of British people fly out every six months. Whew! Sometimes it's great when you work for a generous company allowing you so much paid holiday time in the year, as well as earning an income which meets those needs, on top of all the mundane day-to-day living expenses, such as groceries, fuel bills, mortgage or rental, and household utilities, not to mention both local and national income taxes. Yet these lucky 40% are a world away from one of the poverty heap who has to make a somewhat embarrassing visit to a Food Bank just to sustain himself and his family.

With the class divide so firmly entrenched in Britain, I was taken back by this comment written by a female living in Leamington Spa, which read, word for word:
I'm not a snob, but I wish the working class would holiday in Blackpool or Littlehampton where they belong and let us middle class enjoy our holidays without having to see, hear and smell the working class.

At first I thought such a comment would arouse fury, but instead I just marvelled, perhaps even feeling somewhat amused. As it stands at the moment of this typing, this comment had received 29 red arrows of disapproval, and 16 green arrows of agreement. This woman knew nothing of the meaning of Travel. But just to remind those not living in the UK, and as such, may not be so familiar with British geography, Blackpool is a brash seaside resort on the Lancastrian coast of the Irish Sea, made famous for its Autumn illuminations, while Littlehampton, far from being brash, is a quiet and sedate resort on the Sussex coast which has a very middle class feel to the town. By using these two contrasting resorts as a haunt for the crowds of loud mouthing, smelly yobs parading drunk along the promenade betrays her ignorance, not only of Travel in itself, but also of English geography.

It was obvious to her that foreign travel should be reserved for the better off, you know the sort - the man wearing a suit and tie in the office, along with the equally educated female graduate, not at all unlike those who compete in Alan Sugar's or Donald Trump's The Apprentice. Fiercely ambitious, yet remaining stoic, with an iron-like stiff upper lip, and a vast education to match, these men and women with their British Bulldog reserve are a world away from the crowd of British students in Thailand, on a gap-year, getting utterly sloshed on cheap booze and drugs while frolicking on the beach, with sex thrown in. Somehow I find it difficult to believe that the fun-addicted student staying at a backpacker's hostel in the far East, stoned out of his wits on alcohol and cocaine as he attempts to seduce a young woman - will be the same serious businessman walking along Waterloo Bridge spanning across the River Thames in London, while dressed immaculately in a suit, kept dry from the drizzle by the umbrella held aloft. As he enters through the doors of the shimmering glass office block, it will never enter his mind that the very office building he is so proud to earn his keep was constructed by the "smelly working class."

The Gherkin is one of many office buildings in London.

Yes, the same "smelly working classes" not only built the shimmering office block, but had also constructed the roads and walkways leading up to it, along with the rail tracks on which his train ran, maintained and kept in order by these same "base" men. If at home, the water mains happen to burst in the freezing Winter, he is not going to call a fellow office colleague, but a plumber dressed in a greasy boiler suit. As he looks around, everything he sees, which has made his day to day living so much more convenient, were built or laid down by the "smelly working classes" who would not want to be seen sunbathing next to him under the warm sun at a beach on the Greek island of Rhodes or Crete, or for that matter, at the Indian Ocean islands of the Seychelles.

I, for one, am not ashamed to call myself a window cleaner, and as working class as I can get. When I first began cleaning windows in 1980, I asked my father whether I was a businessman, as back then,  as now, have always been self employed. His reply, quite correctly, was that I could not be classed as a businessman, as such a profession fulfilled a very different role to what I was doing. In other words, I was not in the same category as a bloke in a suit sitting at a desk. However, there was nothing in my line of work to be ashamed about. Rather, into the 1990s, I began to work extra harder, saved up harder, and started long-haul travel for myself, beginning with Israel in 1993.

Far from drunken frolicking on the beach, rather I was soaking in the ancient history and modern Jerusalem alike, checking out all the archaeology, as well as admiring the Medieval architecture of churches, and walking through the narrow, roofed souq with the pungent fragrances of spices and mint. Even the tiny backpacker's hostel I stayed in had a Medieval domed ceiling, and it was located at the heart of the Old City. To the east, the Mount of Olives overlooks the whole urban area, and I felt such a privilege to witness the very site where  the resurrected Jesus was lifted to Heaven and, sometime in the future, will return to that very spot, rather dramatically, as his arrival will cause the mount to split into two, according to Zechariah 14:3-5.

Hosteling can be a fantastic experience without the need of hedonism or excess alcohol. While staying at the hostel in Jerusalem, another backpacker from South Africa and I started talking, and eventually asked me why I was in Israel. I explained to him how close to Jesus I felt as I walked the same streets he walked, see the same sites as narrated in the Bible, and to pray over the city from the Mount of Olives. I then explained the Gospel to him, and he asked me questions. Although this grew into a discussion meant to be between my new friend and myself, when I looked up, there were three or four other faces looking straight at me and apparently listened into our conversation. Then at another time, still at the same venue, there was this Irish builder who had just completed a year's contract in Israel, and was spending a few days bumming around before flying back home. The friendly banter over breakfast between myself and the builder must have lasted a better part of an hour, but there again, I was in no hurry to leave, neither was he.

Then not to mention other places visited, such as Singapore, and particularly Sentosa Island, with its superb sandy beach, lined with palm trees which marked the edge of beautiful tropical gardens. These in themselves were a joy to wander through, without losing sight of the giant Merlion which dominated the whole island. Sentosa Island also boasted a superb outdoor water theme park with slides and other fun features, such as the Lazy River, where the provision of an inflated ring for reclining makes superb scenic relaxation as it drifted slowly, winding through lush tropical vegetation flourishing on both sides of the river. Who says we as believers in Christ cannot have some fun?

Then Australia, with the Great Barrier Reef! Did I spend my time there getting sloshed with alcohol? Rather, exploring the Great Barrier Reef using snorkel gear was an eye-opener. Imagine my fascination and joy as I stood on a small beach of coarse sand and broken seashells which surrounded Green Island coral cay, and then the even lusher Low Island coral cay with its rich reef surrounding the tiny speck of land in the ocean, with beautifully coloured Surgeon Fish and the striped Zebra Fish swimming peacefully near us, totally unperturbed by our presence. Then the Sydney Opera House, in which I bought a ticket to watch and listen to a classical piece - the skill needed for composition of the music earned a standing ovation even from myself, a smelly working class window cleaner, seen inside an opera house rather than at a nightclub or bar slowly becoming fizzled with alcohol.

Then I must mention the United States. Backpacking there was also great, if the humdrum of modern city after modern city can be absorbed without the tediousness of it all. Downtown New York City provided free education at a museum close to the New York Stock Exchange. In here I learnt of how New York was the original capital city of the USA before being transferred to Philadelphia, then to Washington D.C. as it stands today. Then not to mention the 630 foot high steel arch which dominates St. Louis in Missouri. This monument marks the Gateway to the West, commemorating the western expansion of the United States from the Mississippi River, which in a geographical sense, splits the whole nation into two distinct halves. Then how can I not travel across America without visiting - and hiking - the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River? This two-day trek along the Bright Angel Trail allowed me to take a closer look at the different coloured layers of sedimentary rock which erosion over time formed the pinnacles of Buddha, Zoroaster and Isis Buttes, along with Pharaoh's Pyramid, and the spectacular view of Battleship Rock set almost right above the trail. I then spent the night at a spot close to where the Bright Angel Creek joins the main Colorado River, under a dome of brilliant stars filling the sky to a level I have never observed over the UK.

The Gateway Arch, St.Luis, Missouri

Such was the experience of an unmarried working class window cleaner out on a long-haul backpacking trip. If I had an odour, then nobody told me about it, to make me aware of the smell, particularly on any of the overnight rides on the Greyhound Bus, where the passenger sitting right next to me would have suffered most. After marriage, I took my wife to Kos, Rhodes, Israel, Sicily, Malta and Lanzarote. Not so much as independent backpacking as package holidays designed for families, but as a couple we did backpack Israel in the year 2000.

So what does all this mean? The comment written by this female was published on the Internet worldwide which gives a bad impression of the working class as only flying to the sunshine abroad for a grand booze up. Okay, much of that is true. Ibiza in the Mediterranean is a hotspot for both working and middle class revellers, their social distinctions becoming blurred with the alcohol. But let us not generalise all working class holidaymakers as boozers and beach revellers while the middle class are all on educational tours. All that is pure tosh! If anything, the drunken revellers and beach frolickers on the shores of Thailand are more than likely to be university students out on a gap year, a bit of relief after remaining closeted in educational institutes for much of their lives. But to believe that foreign travel should be reserves for the middle classes only, would put the culture of Britain back by at least fifty years.


  1. Unfortunately, in our world, the more essential a job is for survival the less it is valued. the so called business men and upper class could not survive without some farmer to grow their food or carpenter or plumber to build their homes. They consider themselves superior, simply because they are ignorant and don't realize how little real value they contribute to the world.

  2. The ignorant comment of the woman does nothing to undermine the integrity of the working class, but instead speaks volumes about her own unfounded arrogance. We traveled to Blackpool several times, not for the resort town, but to compete at the British Open Ballroom Championships. Sadly, it takes place over Bank Holiday weekend, so we saw the ill effects of binge drinking up close and personal in those sleeping it off in doorways. You are blessed not only to have traveled so extensively, but to do it for the right reasons and to learn so much from the experience.
    God bless,

  3. Hi Frank,
    money and status can not hide what a person is inside anymore than poverty and lowliness can prevent what a person is inside from being revealed. As a man thinks - so he is, and that is what matters.
    God bless.