Donald MacInnes: My camel-ride tip gave Egyptian tourist guide the hump

In The Red

As we all know, money has no intrinsic value, beyond that which it holds relative to our circumstances, age and financial position.

I once found myself in Egypt, astride one of these pungent, phlegmy, behumped behemoths, as it bore me on the type of lolloping tourist excursion which makes you feel less "Omar Sharif" and more "Oh, my BACK".

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the experience, all the more so because each of us had a local person to lead our camel and mine was a kid called Felix, who told me he planned to give up his dromedary drudgery to go to college.

I liked the cut of his dishdash, so when the tour was over, I handed him the equivalent of £5 in that sleight-of-hand, don't-tell-your-mother fashion favoured by favourite uncles.

He looked at the money as if it were a Willy Wonka golden ticket, before backing away sporting a smile as wide as the Nile. The Egyptian tourist guide noticed this and came over.

"How much did you give him?" he demanded. I told him. He slapped his forehead.

"This is very bad!" he wailed. "It is too much. It will bring him trouble!"

Apparently I had just given Felix a week's wages, which would cause resentment among his peers and get him duffed up behind the Sphinx. I had gone from Wonka to plonka in the bat of a camel's eyelashes.

I slunk back to my hotel and drank five large G&Ts to numb the guilt, which worked marvellously.

I was, though, reminded of when far less than £5 meant everything.

When I was nine, like many wee boys, I collected football stickers. One Saturday, having saved every 1p or 2p I could, I had about £2 to spend on stickers. I filled my pockets with coppers (so much I could barely walk) and went to the corner shop, my heart pounding.

I had enough for 10 packets of stickers, so scooped my precious cargo on to the counter and breathlessly requested my merchandise.

The shopkeeper regarded the mammoth pile of coppers as if it were a dead badger, then took an old jar from under the counter and, with a sigh, swiped my hard-earned fortune into what was clearly a forgotten receptacle of worthless currency.

He tossed the stickers at me and told me to beat it. In two seconds, my glittering pirate booty had become mere grubby ballast. I was mystified, but as I said, perception is all. At least I had my stickers ...

d.macinnes@independent.co.uk

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