Just before the Xmas season proper began I was lucky enough to break bread with an interesting bunch: sociologist Sean Carey who I sometimes link to here for his New Statesman and CommentisFree columns, Tower Hamlets education bigwig turned Labour councillor in Newham turned educationalist in Bangladesh Ayub Korom Ali and one-time world kickboxing champ Ali Jacko (pictured here with Pele), all hosted by Bashir Ahmed at the fine Kasturi Indian restuarant in Aldgate. Good food and great company. Jacko who was Channel 5’s face of boxing for a bit is starting a foundation that will finance a hospital in Bangladesh and setting up a football stadium – both are to be in Sylhet. Ayub has become director of a school also in the same region where he has headhunted a UK head-teaching to rule the roost. The co-educational establishment is for kindergarten  to secondary level.

Most interesting though was the chinwag with Bashir at the start (when I was waiting for co-diners to turn up who all emerged a little late ie Bengali time. )He told me that times are hard for Indian restaurateurs at present. Food prices have risen by 40%, the coalition have hiked up VAT to a record whopping 20% something something inbuilt prevents the British from forking out more than a tenner for a meal whereas less-filling Italian grub for example is seen as higher value food that people will pay more for. Bashir admitted that the old immigration rules could be open to manipulation but that his staffing had been affected by the crackdown on curry chefs entering the UK. Later in the evening there was a bit of an anti-benefits and handouts sentiment round the table with one opinion voiced that Nick Griffin might have liked. It was claimed that Muslims claim such things as the concept of zakat – charitable giving to those less fortunate – is inbuilt into the religion meaning that the “less fortunate” will always be there. Can’t say I neccessarily agree but stimulating debate nonetheless.

Let’s hope the New Year brings better cheer to the Indian restaurant trade and to the high street/ small business generally. Talking  of which this blog would like to say to all its readers… have a good one.