Monday, August 4, 2008

Four days and three nights in London

DURING my primary school days some 35 years ago, I loved reading Enid Blyton’s books. Many of her books had the English countryside as their settings. Adventure stories set on the English farms made me wonder what England really looked like. And then when I grew up, I read Shakespeare and it really amazed me about Britain.
Before being introduced to Enid Blyton and comic books like Beano (remember Denis the Menace?), fascinating children’s stories such as ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Pinocchio” had already captured my heart on England.
The famous children’s song,‘ London Bridge ’, made me more eager and determined
to see it (London especially London Bridge) with my own eyes. Then during my secondary school days, I learnt to hate the British after reading and learning history about their interference in the Malay States. Stories on proud British officers such as JWW Birch and the greedy ones who plundered the country of its wealth, angered me but still couldn’t stop me from wanting to go to Britain. During the last school holidays, my dreams became reality. I was in England from the 27th May to 5th June. During the visit, my wife and I spent four days and three nights in London (30 May-2 June) and the rest in other parts of the country.

Here I would like to share some interesting things that might help readers and me
in becoming better persons.Maybe those in power and the government too should
learn something about them. From my humble experience, I would say the British public transport system is very efficient. We went to London by express bus (National Express) from Manchester. The journey of some 300 kilometers on the main motorway (highway) was smooth and one big surprise for us was being informed that highways in Britain are toll free. The retail price of petrol is reasonable at about £1.10 per litre (please don’t convert the amount to RM since that comparison is not fair,
assume it is RM1.10). If we were to look at the standard of living in UK, the price of
essential items are cheap, affordable to the lower income groups; wheat is only 54
pence per kg, long grain rice at 89 pence and chicken at £1.48 per kg.
Education is free in the UK, from pre-school up to tertiary level. So is treatment
at its government hospitals and clinics. Furthermore senior citizens are given al- lowances. A Malaysian student who had several school-going children, told me he did not have to pay anything when school reopened and his children were told not to bring any equipment including pencils since they were all provided by the government!

In London, we traveled by bus and train including the tube. Their services were
first class and most impor- tant to us as first timers in London, they were easily ac-
cessible with lots of information printed on leaflets or in the internet. The officers at the stations were polite, and ready to help commuters.
Before going to London, we had bought the bus ticket and some trains journeys through the Internet. It is cheaper this way, and I assumed they were so because the companies involved managed to cut cost on labour because in Britain , the minimum payment for an
hour’s work is £5.52! Our hotel room in Feltham, a few kilometers away from Heathrow Airport was also booked online.
Our stay in London was met with surprises with events resulting from a directive from the office of the London mayor Boris Johnson, that from 1st June 2008, drinking alcohol or carrying open containers of alcohol would be prohibited on tubes, buses, DRLs and tram services and stations.
The advertisements on the ban that were posted at strategic points among others read: ‘Making everyone’s journey more pleasant’.

The new Conservative mayor’s tough law on the tube on the booze ban was met with resistance from some sectors of the public, especially the boozers. They organized huge booze parties in defiance on the tube and in the stations. On that fateful night, we retired early in our hotel room, taking precautions.
True to our guess it was reported on the papers the next day that about 10,000 revelers swarmed the stations’ platforms and trains, some of them swinging bottles of alcohol. It was reported many were fighting or vomiting.
Seven tube staff and two police officers were assaulted, six underground stations had to be closed and several trains were taken off service after party-goers began smashing them up.
There were 17 arrests. The authorities in Britain were not only concerned about the ill effects of boozing in public transport but from the news on television and papers that I read, Britons were at war on the issue of children involved in alcohol consumption. The Daily Mail on the 2nd June reported that parents were to be given a new age limit saying when it would be acceptable to give children alcoholic drinks at
home. Currently, the law allows parents to give any child over five alcohol in private
settings. But in another extension of the ‘nanny state’, chief Medical Officer, Liam
Donaldson is expected to recommend an advisory age limit of 12 or more.

In my hotel room one night, I saw an item on BBC news showing police officers
cracking down on groups of children having fun time with alcohol. They showed several children including a nine year old being hauled up to police stations where their parents were called and later on counseled. In interviews with the relevant officers on TV news, some suggested that the age limit allowed to buy alcohol be raised to 21 compared to 18 years now. Some even suggested 25 years of age. London’s free
newspaper, Metro on it’s front page on 2nd June summed up its headline ‘Scandal of the
child drinkers’ in four white letters on screen headings, ‘Under-14s are being treated
in hospitals’, ‘Parents of drunks face fines up to £1,000’, ‘9-year-olds say adults go bingeing all the time’ and ‘Bars told to check ID if you look under 21’.
Other than alcohol, Britons were also at war with smoking. In our hotel room, there
was a clear sign – WARNING:
It is against the law to smoke on these premises. Failure to comply will result in a fine of up to £150. On television, British health officers were shown being concerned about the increasing numbers of young smokers. Some suggested that all cigarette ad-
vertisements be banned. Although non-smoking zone covers much of public space,
they wanted stricter rules to make it hard for the public, especially children to buy

Britons too are campaigning for green environment. It is hard to find plastics bags. They prefer using paper wrappers that could be easily disposed off. In our hotel rooms, there was an advise to reuse our towels (not to change them everyday), “for your actions may not save the world, but it will certainly help!”

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