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August - September 2007

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From Far & Near: Topics of Interest

by Bhupendra Gandhi

Bulgarian Holiday

It is a well known fact that travel broadens one’s mind, especially in this day and age when we meet people from so many countries, all under one roof that is in one hotel.

It is a misconceived concept that British people are dull and humourless. Perhaps they may be at home but not when they are on holidays, in the company of strangers whom they may never meet again and that may boost their confidence and bring out the best of British humour.

While we were on holiday in Bulgaria recently, we went on an excursion to a very beautiful coastal village of Sozopol which included a river cruise and a visit to a bird sanctuary.

Most of the people on our coach were seasoned travellers, who like us, take several holidays, as being retired; they have plenty of free time on hand, as well as financial freedom that comes with the age and prudent management while working.

Although river cruise was no more than a boat ride, mercifully with an outboard engine rather than the old and tested method of oars, refined to perfection by the Romans. The bird sanctuary was a coastal plane, grassland with plenty of sea birds, nesting on artificial pylons specially constructed for the birds. No wonder most of us, perhaps with little knowledge of birds and ornithology were disappointed.

We were expecting a passage, a pleasant drive through a well shaded if not a dense forest but with plenty of trees where birds would have nested, the type of bird sanctuary we are accustomed to visiting in places like Goa and Kerala.

Again, my perception may be wrong, as there were plenty of birds, sea birds occupying every perch with a view! Only the surrounding area was desolate which, at least according to the guide’s thinking, gives the real beauty to such a trip! But then again, variety is the spice of life?

However, the visit to the village of Sozopol, a gem of a place, where we had a wonderful time. A three hour break to explore the village and have some refreshment was the real reward. Then again the real fun we had was on the coach, way back to our hotel.

As Bulgaria has recently joined European Union, it is but natural that it is not the same league as other seasoned and well developed tourist attractions like Spain, Portugal, France and Greece, although hotels in our resort of Sunny Beach were the best we have come across any where in Europe, especially when it comes to value for money.

As Bulgaria is a late comer to the tourist trade, it has the advantage of learning from the mistakes of other countries that developed their resorts some twenty to thirty years ago when the building technique and demand for entertainment were at best basic.

Most hotels in Bulgaria are 4* and 5* with state of the art gym and above all, most hotels have a massage parlour with well trained staffs familiar with every type of massage, from Ayurvedic, Chinese to Thai. It can even compete with Kerala for massage, the well known massage tourist centre in the world that attracts health conscious tourists in their thousands.

The coach we were allocated was well pass its retirement age and the guide was a sweet, very young girl who had just passed her linguistic and historical knowledge test to become a guide. No one would let her forget that she was much younger than the coach, which may perhaps be a present from Stalin when Bulgaria was part of the Soviet sphere of influence, a relic of cold war!

Normally Vodka is the preferred gift but so often the country runs out of this liquid gold. To make the matter worse, the air conditioning was not working, with water dripping every where. Soon the jokes started flowing thick and fast, as the temperature reached an uncomfortable 100* when it was too hot to keep clothes on? As most of the coach occupants were well past their retirement age, it was not a striptease show by any stretch of imagination!

The cold shower was a bliss, a real luxury on such a hot day. Although air conditioning was not working, the sauna was in perfect working order, thrown in free! The poor guide did not know whether to laugh or to cry but no one blamed her in any way.

The coach was travelling so slowly that every type of vehicle was overtaking us but when a horse drawn carriage appeared in the next lane, every one urged the coach driver to let it pass, overtake us and it did, as our lane was blocked?

At the next stop, we met the horse cart and many of us bought bananas and carrots and fed the horse, perhaps fuelling him up for the next stage of the race?

The guide, a young and a very pretty girl with long blonde hair and a permanent smile on her face must have received the shock of her life when the box for the tip was overflowing with notes and coins, as every one contributed generously, having felt a bit guilty for pulling her leg, making her uncomfortable. I am sure she has learned a valuable lesson in how to handle British tourists under adverse condition!

After three days we had a surprise, as we were refunded 50% of the excursion cost, with a note of apology. In some ways it was our best, the most enjoyable excursion in Bulgaria. It seems the British people have a sense of humour; know how to turn an adversity into an advantage and some one even suggested a reunion next June?

Perhaps India Link should have a special column under the heading “Laughter is the best medicine. It may lift the gloom in the life of some readers or at least cheer them up. Well, can any reader surpass our experience; have a funnier holiday tale to tell?

Blair’s Unenviable legacy

Tony Blair arrived at No 10 Downing Street in 1997 with a bang but has left with no more than a whisper. Even the Terminator, the Governor of California by his side failed to arouse any interest from either the public or more importantly the press who had always been at his heels for the last ten years.

He will be leaving behind an unenviable legacy, that of avoidable disaster in Iraq, a war based on a dodgy documents, to satisfy his egoism, to please his pal, the brainless Bush, NHS in a mess, in need of a major surgery, an antiquated transport infrastructure, the worse in Northern Europe and a balance of payment deficit of some £6 billion a month, having destroyed the base for manufacturing industry, now employing less workforce than ever before.

This difficult task when the party moral is so low, after taking a drubbing in the recent local council and Welsh and Scottish assembly elections will fall on the shoulders of the newly non-elected PM George Brown. I would also like to urge Mr. Brown to remove the disparity between English and Scottish tax payers when it comes to tuition fees, prescription charges and nursing care.

Like the PM, the Chancellor moved into No 11 with a promise to balance the budget, only to borrow to invest in capital projects, yet the budget deficits is now some £35 billion and on the rise, due to his policy of tax, spend and borrow. We now pay the highest taxes.

The Council Tax has more than doubled since Labour came to power and for almost all old age pensioners, Council Tax is the biggest burden on their meagre resources, some paying even £150 a month, a king’s ransom for many OAPs. Yet the government has no clue how to reduce this burden.

When Labour came to power, our spending on NHS was one of the lowest in Europe, today it is one of the highest. Yet thousands of doctors, nurses and essential NHS staffs are made redundant while the army of administrators have trebled since 1997.

As a regular user of NHS for the past 30 years, with a wife who is a qualified nurse, having worked in the NHS frontline, I can say without hesitation that NHS has never been in such a mess, patients like us receiving such a poor patient care, in spite of doubling the NHS spending. Treatment like psychology, haematology and psychotherapy are a postcode lottery, causing anguish and strain to many sick, the disable and old age pensioners.

When we write to Secretary of State for Health, pointing out the terrible mismanagement of recourses, giving our own examples that we are sent to a hospital a couple of hours’ travelling distance when the treatment we seek, need is available on our doorstep, with less than ten minute’s travelling time, that physiologist, psychologist insist on visiting us at home when we could easily attend local hospitals, we are flogged off, get a round about reply, failing to address the points raised but filling the pages with useless information that is of little relevance.

One success that I can willingly attribute to Mr. Blair is the peace process, the ceasing of hostilities in Northern Ireland. But that was as much through his effort as that of the late dynamic Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam. Yet she was forced to resign in disgust at her treatment when she was ill, suffering from a terminal cancer. We should also not forget that the foundation was laid down by John Major who was the architect of the peace process.

Northern Ireland peace process and winning the Olympic bid for 2012 are two most significant achievement of the Blair era, yet he will always be remembered as the one who dragged us in a war with Iraq that has claimed thousands of lives and unstabilized the Middle East.

Now that he is appointed the M.E. Peace Envoy, I hope this will give him the opportunity to repair some of the damage this government has inflicted on the Middle East.

Is it a Cock and Bull Story?

Shambo, the holy Bull has become a celebrity over night, when a notice to slaughter him was issued by Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) presided by none other than charming, youthful looking Mr. David Miliband, the rising star of the Labour Party who is destined to take over from the newly installed Prime Minister George Brown, if he falters at the next general election.

Apparently the healthy looking bull, living in a lap of luxury at the Skanda Vale Monastery in Carmarthen, in Wales, which means Community of many names of God, a multi denomination monastic centre at Llanpumasaint, a popular place of pilgrimage for most Hindus residing not only in Britain but as far afield as Canada and India, was issued with a slaughter notice, when a bovine TB test by DEFRA proved positive.

Shambo is happily munching away the mixture of delicious and nutritious cattle nuts and freshly assembled hay, modelling a very fetching rose and chrysanthemum garland round his bulging neck in a hastily converted accommodation near the main building, so that a constant watch can be kept with minimum manpower. Yet a team of some twenty two people are engaged in looking after the vast and varied animal life living within the temple compound.

The monastery is situated in a remote and beautiful part of Wales, surrounded by rolling hills, fast flowing streams and abundant greeneries that if the Wales Assembly plays it right, protects and publicize the monastery rather than persecute it, they can turn this place into a tourist attraction, as there is already a zoo with popular animals like white peacocks, ducks, geese, llamas, terrapins, occasional visiting deers and many more, not forgetting the elephant Valli, a gift from the Sri Lankan government.

They can easily double the number of visitors to this beautiful part of Wales, as Hinduism is fast gaining popularity and respect as the most noble, culturally rich and peaceful religion. The devout Hindu monks, who mostly come not only from the local indigenous community but even from cities like London and Manchester, immediately launched their plan to thwart this evil dictat to slaughter an innocent animal with a supposedly clean bill of health, according to vets who examined him at the request of the temple authority. The monks vowed to protect him at any cost, even to form a human chain to prevent the vet from entering the holy shrine to carry out the slaughter.

Their endeavour has caught the imagination of the nation, making headline news even on BBC which normally shies away from giving publicity for a Hindu cause. Even an early day motion was been tabled in the House of Commons by Shri Andrew Dismore, MP for Hendon which states: “That this house expresses concern at the decision of DEFRA inspectors that Shambo, the bull must be slaughtered, recognised this to be a matter of utmost importance to the Hindu community with some 90,000 pilgrims visiting Skanda Vale temple who regard such slaughter as an act of desecration and urges the government to use its discretion under section 34 Animal Health Act 1981 to reprieve Shambo.”

he latest good piece of news is that a High Court jdge ruled that an order that Shambo be destroyed was unlawful and innfringed the human rights of monks at the Hindu temple. As we go to the press, an appeal against this ruling made in the High Court in Cardiff, is to be heard on Friday 19 July. Brother Alex, a monk who looks after Shambo, said,”We ae delighed that the judge has vindicated our position. There are visible alternatives to the slaughtering of Shambo.” The farm lobby. Under pressure from National Union of Farmers (NUM) Conservatives and LibDem in Wales are supporting the slaughter of the bull. They may yet have their wish unless Hindus protest and protest vigorously without being violent.

Margaret Hodge deserves our support.

It seems any politician, especially a white indigenous person who champions the right of the ordinary, hard working local people who have made this country their home, worked hard and contributed immensely on educational, academic, political, social and economic front, immediately attracts the wrath of the left and so called anti-fascist campaigners and the pro-immigration lobby who makes their living out of the misery of these late arrivals, akin to ambulance chasing in America. It seems the decent silent majority have let these so called bleeding heart activists take over the crusade and superior moral ground which should rightly belong to the silent majority.

If one studies Ms Hodge’s remarks closely, it would be difficult to disagree with her assessment, even if one may believe that her remarks may be misinterpreted, taken out of context and taken advantage of by BNP and their likes. Attitude like this makes us sleep walk into segregation, ghettos, economic disadvantages and dissimulation.

There are people who have been here for a long time, worked hard and paid their taxes living in poor houses and who have been on the council list for a long time who are routinely ignored in favour of new arrivals. This is not the question of race, colour, creed or religion. It is a question of fair play.

Recently a couple of my childhood friends, in their early seventies, arrived here from East Africa. One couple was given a council flat within four months while the other moved in a sheltered accommodation, council paying their rent and rates, as they were genuine destitute.

I am glad that such people are getting the benefits of our excellent but fully stretched social services. However, there are old age pensioners who are in poor health, live in their big four bedroom houses and find it difficult to maintain their homes.

If they want to move into a Council run sheltered accommodation and are willing to pay the commercial rent, the Council advisor promptly informs them that they are not entitled for such a move, as they can sell their home and buy a flat in a private sheltered accommodation.

Margaret Hodge is standing up for these people and for that I appreciate her honesty, even though she knew that the left wing of her own party will be at her throat. The fear of BNP should not stop politicians from speaking truth. When BBC asked this question on News Night to Labour supporters, by far the vast majority agreed with her, so do most of the people I spoke too. Timidity, fear or appeasement should not stop us from distinguishing right from wrong.

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