Opinion: Happy birthday Leo

POSTED: 06/22/11 11:59 AM

Let’s take a look at the friendly side of St. Maarten for a change. All this talk about good governance and airport directors, full prisons and strained budgets …. Newspaper readers are only able to take that much. There comes a point when mind, body and soul start screaming for something that is more fun.

Well, how about this? St. Maarten is one of these countries where you might run into the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition or any parliamentarian in almost homely situations. We’ve met former Education Minister Omayra Leeflang at the vegetable department of Le Grand Marché. We turned a corner one day in the same store and bam – we were face to face with opposition leader William Marlin. At our favorite Saturday morning breakfast haunt Sarafina in Marigot, we have encountered UP-parliamentarian Jules James and his charming wife.

All this within a time span of five years, and we’re just giving a few examples here – the complete list would become a bit long in the teeth. Compare that to 45 years in Holland where faithful weekly shopping trips to Albert Heijn supermarkets netted us exactly zero encounters with politicians or royalty.

In Great Britain, the country that invented the stiff upper lip and the stuffed shirt, chances to run into somebody like, say, former Prime Minister Tony Blair or his stingy wife Cherie, anywhere in the country – let alone at the British version of Le Grand Marché is not even zero. It’s below zero.

So one could very well imagine how excited the schoolmates of Leo Blair were when they got an invitation for his birthday party. Leo is the eleven-year-old son of Tony, who turned 58 in May – a latecomer among the fathers of this world.

There was also an immediate downer: the kids would have to pay 10 British pounds, around $16, for the transport to the Blair residence – a modest estate with a price tag that exceeds $10 million in Wotton Underwood, in the vicinity of Oxford.

The kids have to go to the party in a bus because the security service that guards Blair’s estate does not allow strangers to approach it with their private cars.

Since he stepped down as Prime Minister four years ago, Blair made an estimated $40 million with his memoires, lectures and advisory functions. His wife Cherie is a top attorney who nets several hundreds of thousands a year of her own. The Blair’s real estate holdings are valued at around $23 million.

British taxpayers take care of the bill for the security service that guards the Blair homes in London and Wotton Underwood.

So, to say that some parents of little Leo’s classmates were mightily pissed off when they heard they had to pony up $16 for a bus ride to the wealthy Blairs might just qualify as the understatement of the next five centuries.

In an unprecedented attack of British generosity, Blair announced stone-faced that children of poor families would be allowed to ride the bus for free.

All in all, this a fine example of what money does to some people. Poor Leo – but Happy Birthday all the same.


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