THE STREETS OF WEST LONDON are clogged with expensive German-made 4x4s. The only off-roading they might do is in Waitroses car park, when their owners need to pick up the foie gras that was missed off the Ocado delivery.
Recession doesnt seem to affect these people, not in the way it might affect ordinary folk. They cut back by reducing their gardeners hours, rather than the cost of their holidays.
You wont see many of them at our inland dive-sites, either. Diving for them is intrinsically linked with luxurious tropical destinations, and what their money can pay for.
I first met Alexis Vincent running the dive centre at the Rangali Conrad in the Maldives. He offered 10-dive packages at US $500 but his guests always opted for the private boat with crew and personal dive-guide, with a gourmet lunch to fill the surface interval. It cost them $3000 per day. You may not identify with such people, but its interesting to see how the other few per cent live.
Whenever I go diving, I reflect that it will never be seen as a glamorous activity like, perhaps, skiing. Struggling into a wetsuit, strapping on a cumbersome tank and weights, waddling to the water before falling in ungracefully, and returning with half a yard of snot hanging from your mask isnt likely to attract the casually observing beautiful people to the activity.
But Alexis has opened his own dive operation in the Maldives now, and he is hoping it will be one of a chain that satisfies the needs of such people. He has gone out of his way to counter the less-than-comfortable aspects with Dive Butler International (DBI).
While we diving masses are bumping about in the farmers Land Rover, he is busy adding the leather seats, deep pile carpet and air-conditioning to the experience, and providing the Porsche Cayenne equivalent of diving.
The very rich can hire their own dive-guide or instructor from DBI, to come with them on their luxury yacht and oversee every aspect of their diving. Can you imagine it I wouldnt mind doing the job, let alone being the customer!
Trim your aspirations a little, and come with me to the recently built Constance Resort & Spa on Halaveli, in the Maldives. It offers peace and privacy.
The guests water-villas are set on poles in the shallow turquoise lagoon and surrounded by the sea.
At night, lots of large sting rays browse between the supports. During the day, whole fleets of juvenile blacktip sharks hunt around them.
Hundreds of silvery barracuda form a tight defensive ring in the sunlit shallows. You see all this without so much as putting your head in the water.
You get to the private water-villas, and one of the resorts fine restaurants along an elevated teak walkway where a constant flow of willing multi-national staff in golf-carts will give you a lift to save that tiring walking nonsense.
They leap out of the cart when you reach your villa, standing to attention and generally aping the antics of a chauffeur of a limousine in town.
Im told that this jetty is the longest in the Maldives. I can believe it. Ive walked it in the mid-day heat.

I HAVENT MENTIONED THE SPA, have I I didnt succumb to that temptation. The senior staff at Constance Halaveli are dressed like nurses at a Swiss clinic. It adds to the atmosphere, and makes you feel that you are in a tropical version of the Priory. I hasten to add that you are allowed to drink as much as you like.
The villas are self-contained, and designed to be private in every way. Their bathrooms are suites in themselves, with separate ante-rooms for the necessary ablutions, but designed in such a way that it demands that you are there with your lover. I must point out that I was not!
Bedrooms are spacious, with a roof that is designed around the upturned hull of a dhoni, the traditional Maldivian boat. The private sun-deck has its own infinity plunge pool, so that when youre overcome with the heat of sunbathing, or whatever else you might be doing with your lover, you can slip naked into it in the full knowledge that no-one will see you - or, at least, nobody you did not intend to see you.
When I visited (sadly alone) there was 85% occupancy, but I saw little sign of any other guests, even in the restaurants. Most had their meals in their rooms.
One night, I was joined by two other visiting journalists for a romantic beachside dinner, lit by flaming torches, under a rising red Maldivian moon. We were alone save for our attentive waiters, who would appear only from time to time, but always at exactly the right moment.
Theyd pop out from the tropical undergrowth with yet another stage in our epicurean adventure. There wasnt even an insect to bother us.
It could have been very intimate, but I was there with a decorative writer from a glossy gossip magazine of the type my pre-pubescent daughter reads.
She was interested only in celebrities and, more specifically, what Simon Cowell was doing. He was not present on the island, so she seemed content to contemplate her next spa treatment or watch movies on the enormous cinema screen powered by a Mini Mac in her water-villa.
The other was the editor of a chain of upmarket publications from Range Rover-land. She was actually a member of a BSAC branch, and chucked herself into the water like me every day.
I had to persuade her that this was not typical PADI diving, and that things could be less service-orientated elsewhere. However, on Halaveli there is something for everyone, if you can afford it.
When you pay a room-rate of around $1000 per night, I guess you dont want to be bothered with mixing with the rough and ready folk who generally tend to go diving but, being a boring diver, I would usually make the long walk to the restaurant, and enjoyed fabulous cuisine at breakfast and lunch before stumbling to the dive centre, where my kit was already set up and waiting for me, courtesy of TGI Diving.
It was no surprise for me to discover that Alexis Vincent was part-owner, along with long-time Maldives operator Giuseppe DAmato, and running things here too.
Multi-lingual staff and, very importantly, a local manager called Santana support them. They are used to clients who expect to be looked after. They will even defog your mask for you if you let them.

A PADI OPEN WATER COURSE at the Constance Halaveli costs $825 and a Discover Scuba slightly less, at $550. A one-off dive costs around $100.
Naturally, everything you need is supplied, but you can save $30 by hauling out your own kit from the UK. The prices are not for those with thin blood in their veins.
Halaveli is in North Ari Atoll, so is ideally placed for the many famous dive sites such as Mushimasmagili, Maya Tila, Eillaidoo, and Bathala Maga Kan Thila. The lagoon is deep, with a wide variety of dives to suit all abilities, whereas in atolls with shallower lagoons the diving is more advanced, and usually only in channels with big currents.
During dives we saw plenty of hawksbill turtles intent on feeding, and seemingly oblivious of my big camera and lights. This allowed me time to pick my angle and get really close.
There were several hawksbill turtles roosting at Maya Tila at night, including an exceptionally large one under an overhang.
The first time I did a succession of dives here, 20 years ago, I remember writing that it had to be the worlds most frenetic night dive. Dozens of whitetip reef sharks hunted voraciously alongside huge meaty marble rays and endless streams of snake-like moray eels.
Today, its frenetic simply because of the number of divers present the moment it gets dark. When I surfaced, I amused my fellow-divers by stating that I remembered the time when there were more sharks than divers.
The turtles that were attempting to enjoy deep slumber suffered a severe case of sleep deprivation once 20 or so divers lights had shone into their eyes at close quarters.
If you do a night dive here, try to arrange to do it after all these other divers have gone to bed. Itll be worth it.
Years ago Giuseppes dive centre, which was based in the former three-star resort on Halaveli island, deliberately sank a wreck, and would feed numerous giant marble rays nearby.
Eventually hundreds of divers from many other island dive centres came to visit, and it all became too much of a circus, so they stopped feeding.
There are few signs of these rays now, but they are regularly seen at all the other sites, and the wreck is still there.
Once you have your dive kit on and are ready to jump from the TGI Diving dhoni into the water, one would expect that the diving instantly becomes the same as with any other operation.
There will always be some things you just have to do yourself.
However, I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the other divers on the boat wouldnt know where to start if they had to assemble their own kit, and Im sure that none of them really understood what their computers or pressure gauges might be trying to tell them.
After quite a serious dive, gripping onto an overhang 28m deep and staring out through a mask-ripping current to watch some assorted sharks, a flotilla
of eagle rays and a few large dogtooth tuna cavorting effortlessly in the flow, we finally broke away to make a slow ascent once I was out of no-stop time.
Nobody else seemed to be in any haste to leave the spot. I noted that one guest had a pressure gauge needle well into the red, yet he still managed to do a safety stop at around 6m with his gauge reading absolutely nothing at all.

I CAUTIOUSLY PREPARED MY OCTOPUS RIG, ready for the moment when he ripped my second stage from my mouth, but it wasnt needed.
He did the same dive on three days in succession in exactly the same fashion.
When I observed to another guest that he must have been close to needing to do deco-stops each time, she asked me what it meant if her computer indicated that she was out of no-stop time.
I suppose if you have enough money, you dont have to bother with trivial subjects such as diving theory, and the diminutive Japanese girl guide probably still had most of the contents of her tank intact for any out-of-air emergency after the main part of the dive. I cant imagine a typical group of club divers relishing spending the sort of money it takes to stay at the Constance Halaveli resort and that, I suppose, is the crux of the matter.
People who enjoy this sort of pampering want to be surrounded by those who can match their wallets.
They dont want to be bothered with the likes of club divers, and they are quite happy to do the occasional dive rather than dive three or four times each day.
On the other hand, if you want to dive and have a spouse who doesnt, perhaps its worth spending the money.
A divorce will surely be more expensive.
An important aspect of my journey out to Male and back was that I was able to make a 10-hour non-stop flight with Sri Lankan Airlines from London without that debilitating overnight stop at Dubai while waiting for an onward connection. Suddenly the Maldives have become a lot closer than they were.
The luxury of the Constance resort might have been the acme of conspicuous consumption, but I was amazed at how quickly I took for granted the superior decor and luxurious facilities of my water villa and everything that came with it.
If you are used to this level of comfort at home, you dont want to rough it while on holiday.
Meantime, Ill nod knowingly to those ladies-who-lunch, as they park their 4x4s untidily outside the restaurants.
Me Im back in my VW, and eating in my kitchen.

GETTING THERE: Sri Lanka Air flies direct from London Heathrow with a 30kg baggage allowance, Maldivian Air Taxi seaplane services from Mali to Halaveli take about 20 minutes.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION:TGI Diving, Constance Resorts,
MONEY: US dollars and all major credit cards accepted.
HEALTH: Recompression facilities are available on Bandos.
WHEN TO GO: Any time. The south-west monsoon brings drier weather and normally occurs between the beginning of December and the end of May. Water temperatures range from 25 to 30°C, so a 3mm wetsuit is suggested.
PRICES: The cost per person with departures in May through to 20 July is £1989 for seven nights B&B (two sharing), direct flights with Sri Lankan Airlines and seaplane transfers.