Dear Helen,

Monday, 20 June 2011

I know you are interested in social issues – well let me tell you, I have just returned from a night of ‘Living Like the Other Half’! Very eye-opening.
It was an initiative of Candace’s. She’s quite as socially minded as you. Me, I hardly have to find out what Living Like the Other Half is like, since I’ve been with Burke – he’s paying alimony for three ex-wives, plus a girlfriend of old who has fallen on hard times – or has his child, I’m not really sure which.
Candace’s plan was that we all spend the night in tiny, old campers, with little or no facilities. Not easy, for me! There was no loo (or ‘toilet’, as the common people call it), no kitchen, no shower even…Imagine it, me without a shower! But the loo thing was of course the worst of it…I made sure not to drink any alcohol in the evening. There was a café not 100 meters down a charming sandy path, but I had only a ginger tea – you know how alcohol hits the bladder so aggressively. Of course Candace’s hare-brained idea was that we would relieve ourselves outside…But most poor people don’t even do that! So there’s no way I’d go through that sort of ordeal, not for all the social ‘engagement’ in the world.
It wasn’t too bad a night, really, and some of it was actually fun – staring up at the night sky through a little window in the roof of my ancient Volkswagen, for instance, and there was some sort of adventurous excitement about making it on your own, with nothing and nobody to fall back on. Even sleeping in that horribly small makeshift bed (1.20 m wide!) had its charms, so long as I knew it was only going to be for one night. It’s a rewarding challenge to make do, I find.
On the serious side: the privations that come with even one single night of significant inconvenience have to be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated, and I did feel this gave me a notion of what it’s like to do without. I was constantly concerned that some deranged local might break into the camper. We were all parked at least 50 meters from one another, and any scary nutjob could have crept up to the Volkswagen and forced his way in. I had Barnaby with me, of course. I knew his barking would alert me, so at least I wouldn’t be assaulted in my sleep. But it was a frightening idea.
I’ve never been alone in my life, you see. There have always been men, and even though I’ve traveled alone, there was always staff I could alert through the mere lifting of a phone. It was a first, for me, to be locked into my own little space, with nobody at hand to provide assistance or safety.
A sobering experience, in that regard. As I say, I do know, more or less, what it’s like to live a life of poverty, since being with Burke (isn’t it interesting how Angela always said I only ever date rich men, and I’m ‘in it for the money’? What would I be doing with Burke, if money was really all I cared about?) But needless to say, I’ve never spent a night without showering, both in the evening and the morning. I felt filthy and scruffy, in the morning – went out for a short walk with Barnaby while, apparently, all the others were still asleep, and ran into a man also walking his dog. He has a yacht in the little marina nearby, quite a sophisticated sort, it seemed.
I was very insecure and inhibited, in talking with him! Felt acutely aware of my unkempt hair and my naked, tired face – I’d only dabbed a little day cream on, a little rouge and some mascara, but without a large mirror I can’t do  my usual routine.
He did seem charmed by me, but I could tell he was a little guarded – as I would be, when confronted with a messy looking stranger. This is why poor women never catch rich men, isn’t it? They take so little care of themselves. Bad make-up, cheap clothes, hair that gets cut once a month, if that…The rich are instinctively repelled by such outward signs of disorganization, of letting oneself go. I find that most poor women have little self-discipline. If they did, they would spend what money they do have on good clothes and a beautician, and they’d be far more likely to escape from their life of poverty. By which I don’t mean to say that it’s always people’s own fault if they’re poor. Just that they might show a little more initiative.
Must say I feel quite happy to sleep in my 1.80 bed, tonight! I fear I’m not cut out for real privation – beyond what Burke and I go through, these days.


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