How to behave when Madonna comes to call

Your first reaction is to rush out and invite them in for tea, but it is funny how they flinch when you get close
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The Independent Travel
Imagine that you live in the leakiest council house in the most antiquated town in England. You hate your smelly bathroom and have not bothered to sweep your front path for months but have no money to move out. You are vaguely aware of the interiors of rich people's homes through having seen Scarface and The Godfather, Part II, but realise that Al Pacino is never going to walk into your life.

Until he does, that is. Suddenly, one fine morning, there he is, standing with Madonna and Prince Charles on your front path, looking just as you remembered, except slightly sweatier and tattier.

And that isn't the end of it. The next day Tom Cruise and Mick Jagger show up. For reasons unknown to you, celebrities are suddenly taking an interest in your miserable home. They arrive early, smiling outside your bathroom window as you get up from the toilet. They park their four-wheel drive jeeps on your litter-strewn path. One day, one of them gives your daughter a hundred pound tip for agreeing to be photographed in her oldest frock. Tears spring to your eyes at the sheer benevolence of it.

You dare to hope that life is looking up. Instead of you looking at them, suddenly they are looking at you! You have something in common after all! Your first reaction is to rush out and invite them in for tea, though it is funny how they flinch when you get close. And when you ask them friendly questions about their glamorous lives they grin and talk in an incomprehensible language. In the mean time, your daughter has been to Bennetton and bought a brand new frock, though the celebrities stop giving tips when she starts wearing it.

As time passes, you begin to feel more self-conscious about the grottiness of your home. You decide to build a new wing to contain a small museum and a restaurant for your important visitors. It has begun to dawn on you that it is precisely the things you dislike most that movie stars enjoy best. So you put stuffed dummies of people in old frocks sitting in a mock-up of your dirty old kitchen (which you have now replaced with a new one from Habitat).

In the restaurant you want to serve the food that movie stars are used to eating, so you do a close study of The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover and notice that stars seem to enjoy consuming roast hogs and swans. You create an approximately suitable menu of minor roast pork joints and chickens, though to your surprise the guests start complaining that they really wanted to eat what they called "authentic" food, namely crisps and chocolate ice-cream.

You then start trying to sell souvenirs such as model council flats and burnt out toy-cars, but it seems that the more effort you make, the less friendly the stars become. They walk past the souvenir stand sniggering and ignoring your attempts to be helpful. In the end they stop bothering to come at all. The penny drops that the stars weren't interested in you after all.

What on earth is this unlikely story about? Basically, I am trying to work out what it must feel like to live in a remote village in any place where tourists come face-to-face with severe poverty. The movie stars are the glamorous western tourists. The grotty council house tenant is the local resident of the stone-built mountain village in (say) the Yemen.

The Yemen? Well I happen to have just visited that fascinating country's ancient "skyscraper" mountain villages of stone and mud, which are indeed picturesque.

But they are also filthy and poverty-stricken. If I lived there, I would be highly confused as to the meaning of this steady trickle of wealthy exotic visitors, few of whom ever agree to buy my plastic model houses and Yasser Arafat headscarfs, let alone eat in my humble restaurants. What on earth do they really want?

If they were coming to share out all their money it just might make more sense.

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