My entire budget for today is as follows: Travel to museum: free (I already have a travelcard)Museum: freeCurry: £2.50 (David E. Barton says you can make a wonderful curry for four people for less than £5.00—and there are only two of us.)Total daily expenditure: £2.50

That’s more like it. Plus I get to experience culture instead of mindless materialism. I have chosen the Victoria & Albert Museum because I have never been to it before. In fact, I’m not even sure what they have in it. Statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, or something?

Anyway, whatever they have, it will be very interesting and stimulating, I’m sure. And above all, free!

As I come out of South Kensington tube, the sun’s shining brightly and I stride along, feeling pleased with myself. Normally I waste my Saturday mornings watching Live and Kicking and getting ready to go to the shops. But look at this! I suddenly feel very grown-up and metropolitan, like someone in a Woody Allen film. I just need a long woolly scarf and some sunglasses and I’ll look like Diane Keaton.

And on Monday, when people ask me how my weekend was, I’ll be able to say, “Actually, I went to the V&A.” No, what I’ll say is “I caught an exhibition.” That sounds much cooler. (Why do people say they “caught” an exhibition, by the way? It’s not as though all the paintings were thundering past like bulls at Pamplona.) Then they’ll say, “Really? I didn’t know you were into art, Rebecca.” And I’ll say, “Oh yes. I spend most of my free time at museums.” And they’ll give me an impressed look and say. .

Come to think of it, I’ve walked straight past the entrance. Silly me. Too busy thinking about the conversation between me and. . actually, the person I realize I’ve pictured in this little scene is Luke Brandon. How weird. Why should that be? Because I table-hopped with him, I suppose. Anyway. Concentrate. Museum.

Quickly I retrace my steps and walk nonchalantly into the entrance hall, trying to look as though I come here all the time. Not like that bunch of Japanese tourists clustering round their guide. Ha! I think proudly, I’m no tourist. This is my heritage. My culture. I pick up a map carelessly as though I don’t really need it, and look at a list of talks on things like Ceramics of the Yuan and Early Ming Dynasties. Then, casually, I begin to walk through to the first gallery.

“Excuse me?” A woman at a desk is calling to me. “Have you paid?”

Have I what? You don’t have to pay to get into museums! Oh, of course — she’s just joking with me. I give a friendly little laugh, and carry on.

“Excuse me!” she says, in a sharper voice, and a bloke in security uniform appears out of nowhere. “Have you paid for admission?”

“It’s free!” I say in surprise.

“I’m afraid not,” she says, and points to a sign behind me. I turn to read it, and nearly keel over in astonishment.

Admission £5.00.

I feel quite faint with shock. What’s happened to the world? They’re charging for admission to a museum. This is outrageous. Everyone knows museums are supposed to be free. If you start charging for museums, no one will ever go! Our cultural heritage will be lost to a whole generation, excluded by a punitive financial barrier. The nation will be dumbed down still further, and civilized society will face the very brink of collapse. Is that what you want, Tony Blair?

Plus, I don’t have £5. I deliberately came out with no cash except £2.50 for my curry ingredients. Oh God, this is annoying. I mean, here I am, all ready for some culture. I want to go in and look at. . well, whatever’s in there — and I can’t!

Now all the Japanese tourists are staring at me, as if I’m some sort of criminal. Go away! I think crossly. Go and look at some art.

“We take credit cards,” says the woman. “VISA, Switch, American Express.”

“Oh,” I say. “Well. . OK.”

“The season ticket is £15,” she says, as I reach for my purse, “but it gives you unlimited access for a year.”

Unlimited access for a year! Now wait just a minute. David E. Barton says what you’re supposed to do, when you make any purchase, is estimate the “cost per use,” which you get by dividing the price by the number of times you use it. Let’s suppose that from now on I come to the V&A once a month. (I should think that’s quite realistic.) If I buy a season ticket, that’s only. . £1.25 a visit.

Well, that’s a bargain, isn’t it? It’s actually a very good investment, when you come to think of it.

“OK, I’ll have the season ticket,” I say, and hand over my VISA card. Hah! Culture here I come.