Weekend breaks

Just sometimes echoes of Larkin’s “Going, Going” drift across my mind as I contemplate the pleasures of the wealthy world and the desperate scrabble of the poor. I know that Larkin’s poem is about a cramped, polluted Little England of guildhalls and meadows, and here I am travelling back to Copenhagen across enormous areas of clean lakes and clean air. And Larkin didn’t other his head with political/economic/sociological questions, so where’s the comparison?

“But what do I feel now? Doubt? / Or age, simply?”

There were so many tourists in Stockholm (me included) . . . and this is only March in a very expensive city. I’ve been told that in summer, when the Baltic cruise ships dock, it’s hard to find space on the pavements. Five nights in the hotel, so to accommodate just me that would have meant five sets of clean towels, clean sheets and pillowcases (it looked like they changed them every day) had I not discouraged the chambermaid. A vast spread at the breakfast buffet every morning. Everybody else flew to Stockholm for the long weekend, but I can’t feel smug as I imagine my first-class train travel and six extra nights in swanky hotels will inflate my carbon footprint to the size of theirs. All this is replicated in tourist cities and resorts across the globe.

How can so many people afford to descend on that small city? What motivation or inducement propels them there? And – biggest and most self-interested question of all – how long can this hypermobility and gobbling up of resources last? Perhaps it is a bubble that will burst eventually, but in the meantime we act as if sustainability is just another word in the dictionary.

And then there is the opposite end: each tourist attraction had its patient, identikit beggar outside. What has propelled them there? Have their claims for asylum been rejected or are they not eligible? How do they cope in such an expensive city? How will it work out, this vast discrepancy between the world I inhabit and the one that I read about but have no connection to?

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