Friday, January 15, 2010

Lessons learned while in Britain

In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessing and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

"O ye who believe! Ward off from yourselves and your families a Fire whereof the fuel is men and stones. Over which are set angels strong, severe, who resist not Allah in that which He commandeth them, but do that which they are commanded." (Q.66:6)

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. Recently I was in Britain for a short visit.

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. My wife and I 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 Malaysian Ringgit 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 allowances. 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 important to us as first timers in London, they were easily accessible 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 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 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 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 advertisements 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 cigarettes.

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 my hotel room, 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!”

All life ends in death. Therefore, let us remember that a certain time is fixed for us when we too will be abandoned to the darkness of our graves.

No comments: