Of holiday planning and family bonding

03 January 1999

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As well as saving, Chittenden writes, flying with the RAF could save Cherie Blair from any repeat of last January's potential embarrassment, when fellow passengers mistakenly thought she was trying to get into first class when she was visiting her children, sleeping on the upper-deck of the plane. It is not the first time Blair had used such an excuse to make savings on a flight. In the summer he used a BAE 146 from the RAF fleet because he had "official business" - a lunch with Romano Prodt, the Italian Prime Minister before starting his family holiday in a Tuscan Villa.

Four weeks ago, Downing Street robustly defended Blair's right to use RAF planes for holidays amid criticism, that the Seychelles trip could cost British tax payers up to £20,000. But following Peter Mandelson's resignation as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry because of an undeclared big loan from a fellow cabinet minister to buy a fashionable Victorian town house, Blair, decided not to use an RAF plane for the subsequent official visit to South Africa.

Instead, a chartered plane carrying media people officials from Downing Street will pick up Blair in the Seychelles and take him and Cherie to South Africa on Jan 6. Blair's children and mother-in law will return on a scheduled flight.

It is a tough life being a British Prime Minister, unlike being president of the US or prime minister of other Commonwealth nations.

Holidays can be tricky even for those with no money constraints. There is the difficulty of finding a location to please everybody in the family, and then the question of when to travel an din which hotel to stay. I am lucky my family is small - only six of us. Imagine the debates and discussions if the family is bigger.

Fuad, Adhha, Didi and Yati are prepared to fly long haul but only in business class. They like the idea of relaxing, sightseeing and shopping. Fauzah is adverse to hot climes (therefore no beaches), and prefers to get away from touristy crowds.

An of us like English speaking countries - the US, Ireland and Britain, in particular - for ease (no language problem), friendliness and the number of things to do.

Italy and France are the family's second favourite. Fuad, Didi and Adhha are fond of skiing, yours truly cruising (but voted out by Fauzah because of her sea sickness).

The most important thing during holidays is family bonding since we live in three different continents - Fuad in London, the other children in KL and Fauzah and I here.

Normally, we compromise - either London, occasionally here, Italy or home!

My sister-in-law, Muhrizah, who is very close to my children, joins us most of the time. The children also like the opportunity to go separate ways on occasion. However, once a year at least, we all holiday together. It is a family rule which must be adhered to.

When I am on my own, I go for river or sea cruises, or to anywhere I have not been. I also keep on visiting favourites, where everything is familiar and safe, with no surprises.

When people at home ask whether I am still in politics (undoubtedly out of curiosity) I say no - which is true, but not the whole truth. My politicking is very much restricted. I like making sentences and the result is what you are reading.

What a year 1998 was. It was great (Commonwealth Games and Apec). Yes, 1998 could have been - had it not been for reformasi and Anwar - a really great year. And despite the recession, it was not all bad either. A belated happy happy and prosperous 1999 and I pray the next twelve months will be better.

(Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is our Special Envoy to the United States.)

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )