Of holiday planning and family bonding

03 January 1999

Kegawatan ekonomi? Recession? What economic meltdown are you talking about? I know so many friends and people who holidayed at fabulous resorts in Europe and elsewhere during the Christmas-New Year holidays. And why not, if they could afford the break?

I know a group of friends who went to Abu Dhabi, and other "liberal" Arab nations. Many more went to Umrah, to Jerusalem, Cairo and Istanbul. Others headed off to London, the Seychelles, Gstaad, St. Moritz, and thousands more to cheaper places in neighbouring countries. Some even took a break on islands, yachting or cruising around Malaysian waters for a week or two.

I do not know where the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datin Seri Dr Siti Hasmah and family spent their New Year break, but we all know where Tony Blair and his family, consisting of his wife, Cherie, Cherie's mother, Gale, and children Euan, 14, Nicholas,12, and Kathryn, 10 went. They were at the sun kissed and moon-lit Seychelles, which was once described by General Gordon of Khartoum as the "original garden" of Eden, off the coast of Kenya.

The Seychelles, if my memory serves me well, was the island where the British sent off on exile Sultan Abdullah of Perak following the murder of James Birch in 1875.

I forget names and places but it is not yet serious, and if I can't remember my history, Fauzah quite often comes, to my rescue. Not bad, considering that neither of us did Malayan history.

In any event, Sultan Abdullah was terribly homesick and always longing to return home.

It was in the Seychelles, so the legend goes, that the famous Malay song Terang Bulan (bright moonlight) was composed and first sang and which formed the basic tune of the Negara Ku, originally played in slow tempo, but which was given a marching beat several years ago.

According to Maurice Chittenden of The Times (Dec 6) Blair took his family for a 10 day break, at the Seychelles for the second year running. The Blairs must have agreed with Gordon that the Seychelles is a paradise.

While in the Seychelles, the Blairs stayed in the guest house of President Albert Rene.

In 1997, they paid for their own return flight in Club class aboard, a British Airways plane, even though Blair met President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya during a refueling stopover at Nairobi.

There was some objection to Blair mixing work with pleasure. By meeting with the Vice President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, "Blair Force One", the PM's RAF flight, took him and his family home thus saving, it is alleged, for himself, and his family up to £10,000 (RM63,000) of airfares.

The Blairs flew on an Air Seychelles plane two days after Christmas which cost the prime minister £9,612 (RM60,555) out of his own budget for six people. The British tax payers picked up the bill estimated about £20,000 (RM126,000) for his return journey on an RAF VC-10 aircraft with a dozen crew. What a small sum to incur for Blair to have talks with Mbeki, the next president of South Africa.