Monday, 28 October 2013


I look out of the window to find that the rain has stopped, albeit briefly, and notice the downstairs neighbour (the house next door is divided into a house and a basement flat) outside in the garden, huddled in her dressing gown smoking her morning cigarette. Her rental contract states that it is a no-smoking flat and so she goes to smoke at the bottom of the garden, allowing her little dog to do his doggy business at the same time. Today, as well as picking up the doggy business in little plastic bags, she also inspects the garden for storm damage. 

We have none. The storm has been fierce down in the south and east of the country. It is likely our son has arrived late at work in central London as he is at the end of the Metropolitan Line which I read has been closed for a while to remove fallen trees from the line. And the papers are full of pictures of huge waves, 

trees on railway lines 

and cars squashed by fallen trees. 

For once we are fortunate enough just to have heavy rain and a bit of strong wind. Maybe the fallen trees will come later.

Over the weekend I’ve read the papers. It’s only on Saturday and Sunday that I read the papers properly. If I did more than skim headlines and select articles online the rest of the week I’d never do anything else but read newspapers. 

In The Observer Magazine I found an article about ladies in Qatar who insist that traditional Muslim dress is no more than a fashion statement. The “abaya” (cloak), “niqab” (face veil), “burqa” (whole body covering) and “hijab” (head and shoulder scarf) are all items of clothing which can be personalised and given a touch of “bling” to be made into an expression a woman’s personal fashion preferences. 

Yes, I imagine that is the case. And yet in Oldham and Manchester, where you see a fair number of women in traditional Muslim dress, I’ve never seen anyone dressed like this. And I’ve yet to notice such high fashion footwear under the traditional dress either. However, it may be that younger women here will also want to personalise their dress in that way. 

 The trouble really lies in the places where the traditional dress is not just a question of choice and fashion but is obligatory and inspected. And where women have to break the law to try to assert their rights at all. And so today I have read about women in Saudi Arabia protesting by driving cars around and being arrested for it. There is no specific law against women driving. They just can’t apply for driving licenses. So they’ve taken to the streets in their cars once again. 

The whole question of women’s image in the media, in the music business and in life in general has been in the news again. There’s Sinead O’Connor giving young Miley Cyrus advice on not letting herself be forced to “sex up” her act in order to make career progress. I’m not sure how much the young lady will listen. I’ve stopped watching music videos because it doesn’t seem possible to record one without making it almost pornographic, no matter what the song is about. Maybe I’m growing old and grumpy. 

But it’s not just me. I read an edited extract from a speech made by actress (no, I won’t call her an actor) Natasha McElhone to the Wired 2013 conference in London recently. She bemoaned the state of equality in the world, principally from the women’s point of view but also expressing concern at the condescending attitude that still exists towards full-time fathers. She commented on mothers at the school gate telling her that education is less important for daughters than it is for sons. Really? This is 2013, isn’t it? It’s not 1913? And then there are the Kinder Surprise eggs that come in blue wrappers for boys and pink wrappers for girls!! 

As regards the reporting of events and interviewing famous people she had this to say: 

 “If I were a journalist, I would ask every man I interviewed if he was worried about his hair loss, his weight, how he managed his work/home balance, what his neuroses were – and skip over the content of what he actually did. And I would ask all my female interviewees about their aspirations, their favourite music, the biggest influences in their lives. I would – yes I know I would be fired – but I would neglect to mention her physical appearance. Just until the tide turned a bit.” 

Maybe all interviewers should listen to what she has to say.

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