Month April

  • Hurrah for Wills and Kate! But what about all the other brides?

    This is my weekly newspaper column published in The National today (UAE).

    Hurrah for Wills and Kate! At the end of next week, they will be finally tying the knot at a much-hyped wedding extravaganza.

    courtesy davegranlund

    I enjoy watching a good wedding, and having organised my own a few years ago, I know what a challenge it can be to pull off the perfect one when nothing less than perfect will do. The entire shindig is usually the preserve of the bride, who has probably dreamt of this day since she was a tiny tot. Do men really care?

    Don’t Tell the Bride is a UK television programme that plays with the notion that the wedding is all about the bride and that men know nothing – and care even less. To cover the expenses of the entire wedding, the programme gives the substantial sum of £12,000 (Dh72,000) to the groom.

    As it happens, this is about the same amount the Emirati Marriage Fund gives to Emirati men, a sweetener to encourage Emirati men to marry Emirati women. Can he be persuaded not to “marry out” and instead rescue an Emirati damsel? Will the lady get her man?

    In Don’t Tell the Bride, the catch is that the groom must not confer with the bride on any aspect of the wedding. Can he pull off her dream wedding, or will she curse him forever for ruining her special day? Will the lady get her day?

    I admit to finding this programme disturbingly compelling. The bride’s desperation for perfection is played off against the groom’s cluelessness. She wants a romantic fairy-tale castle; he organises a poolside barbecue. She wants a slimming frock; he plumps for a flouncy, meringue-like skirt. And yet, it all seems to work out well in the end. The bride smiles, the groom’s relieved – and they all live happily ever after.

    It seems men are not so useless wedding-wise after all.

    Is this how Kate feels as her big day draws near? Is she the mastermind enjoying having a team of professionals at her behest? Or is she feeling excluded from the process that turns her wedding into a public spectacle?

    Frankly, and I say this on behalf of all couples who are getting married this year, William and Kate have set the bar too high for the weddings of mere mortals.

    How on earth can anyone compete with this royal spectacular? Surely every wannabe princess will bemoan her own very ordinary, “commoner” wedding after this. Copycat weddings will be all the rage, and the style of Kate’s frock will become staple wedding attire, as was Diana’s.

    Westminster Abbey is the venue for the ceremony, one of the most exclusive locations in the world. And just to rub it in, the Abbey has just released an iPad application to allow you to see the building in its full 3D glory. The queen’s own kitchen staff will take care of the catering. And George Michael has recorded a special cover of Stevie Wonder’s You and I as a wedding present for the couple.

    It’s estimated that two billion people worldwide will watch Kate get married on Friday. A wedding is a day many women see as their fairy-tale occasion. At this wedding, one bride will – literally – become a princess. Not for their royal status, but for their lives together as a married couple, I wish them every happiness and success.

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  • Respect people, not just the earth

    This is my weekly newspaper column in The National (UAE) published today, in a special Green Issue of the paper.

    The concept of being green is like the concept of being religious: nobody is quite sure exactly what the definition is, but you are either a believer or you’re not.

    from istockphoto

    Once, everything was couched in religious terms; today everything is green. We’ve had religious buildings for centuries; fashionable religious gear has been around for years, and Malaysia’s Proton automaker has an “Islamic” car. Now we have green buildings, green fashion, green cars.

    Like religion, the green movement has its own jargon, one that is part of our day-to-day lexicon. Green vocabulary trips off our tongues with words like renewable, recycling, carbon offsetting, pollution, eco-friendly, organic.

    Being a believer in green doesn’t necessarily mean you will actually do anything about it. Like lazy religionists, it could mean you are apathetic or even agnostic, you think it’s too hard, or you’re a procrastinator. You think you’ll eventually get around to it – when it becomes really urgent. Mainly, you hope you won’t be dying before you actually do something.

    Then there’s guilt. We’re familiar with cultural notions like “Catholic guilt”, but green guilt is rife, too; if you’re not recycling properly, or if you drive a gas-guzzling car, then you probably feel constant twinges of guilt. I admit that I’m a sufferer of this ailment.

    But unlike religion, green belief focuses on material things. It’s about stuff: how much we use, where it comes from, what happens to it afterwards, and what the effect of our consumption and output on the physical world around us is.

    But what if “being green” and being concerned about what we take from the world and what we return to it was a concept that also included the relationships we have with people? What if it encompassed emotions, spirits and feelings?

    After all, if being green is a mindset that is respectful of the environment, then we should be respectful of the people in the environment. No point generating friendships and then throwing them away. Why not build them to be sustainable? No point allowing bad feelings to fester and spiral out of control. Why pollute the human environment with recriminations?

    We could extend “greenness” to be a more holistic concept so that we treat the people around us in ways that are respectful and sustainable. For eco-friendly, read “good tempered”; for carbon offsetting, read “forgiving”; for organic, read “sharing”.

    Of course “green” does have an ethos, a concern for something other than self. In this case the concern is for the environment. And one of its persuasive arguments is to be worried for the legacy we leave our children.

    It also hints at related ideas about other people: that workers should be paid fairly, that their resources should not be abused, that countries should not be exploited, that wars should not be fought nor people killed for oil. These need to be made more explicit, and embody the ideas of sustaining the human environment, not just the physical one. We need to elevate the importance of the human atmosphere as something to be improved, protected and maintained.

    image from triplenetmarcus

    Going green, we normally ask ourselves: how hard is this going to be and how much is it going to cost me?

    To be green in a human environment costs nothing financially. All it takes is a ready supply of smiles, a reserve of tolerance and an abundance of faith in the ultimate goodness of humanity.

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  • European leaders legitimise anti-Muslim sentiment: latest is burqa ban in France

    This is my weekly column published in The National (UAE) today.

    France has gone all burqa-phobic again. As of Monday, it will be illegal in France for anyone to cover their face in public. The ban has been on the horizon for some time, so nothing much new here, but the wider context has intensified.


    The leader of the far-right Front National, Marine le Pen, is campaigning hard against Muslims and immigration, and her popularity is increasing. She has compared crowds of Muslims praying in the streets outside mosques to the Nazi occupation.

    Not to be outdone, the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, this week organised a debate on secularism and the role of religion. His prime minister, François Fillon, refused to attend, saying that it would further stigmatise Muslims. Abderrahmane Dahmane, who was fired from his post as Sarkozy’s adviser on integration for criticising the debate, called on Muslims to wear a green star in protest against the discussion. It is aimed to echo the yellow star that Jews in Europe were forced to wear during the Nazi era.

    With such emotive references on both sides to the Nazi era, it’s clear that France still needs to come to terms with its own history in dealing with minorities.

    Despite arguing that the ban and the debate are in defence of secularism, Sarkozy has had no qualms in simultaneously praising the “Christian heritage” of the country.

    And even though a 1905 law separated church and state, churches and synagogues still receive indirect subsidies from the state. If mosques were included in this it might help put an end to the lack of space in them that forces worshippers to overflow onto the streets.

    It is easy to understand the motivation behind the ill-conceived debate on secularism held this week, as it is the political context for the ban on face veils in public.

    However, this would fail to illuminate the bigger picture. By pandering to the far-right to gain votes, Sarkozy is giving anti-Muslim sentiment legitimacy and a national platform that it does not deserve and that could have long-term and dangerous consequences.


    He is not the only leader guilty of this. Germany’s Angela Merkel was keen to score cheap political points last year when she stated that the “multikulti” project had failed, and pointed her finger at Muslims. Merkel would do well to remember that Germany’s earlier mono-culture project in the 1930s and 1940s did not work out so well.

    Following hot on her heels was the UK’s prime minister, who repeated the same vacuous mantra in February this year at a conference in Munich.

    He told world leaders that state multiculturalism had failed in the UK and pledged to cut funding for Muslim groups that failed to respect basic British values such as freedom of speech and democracy. Strange words from a government that harped on about “stability” when the protesters of Tahrir Square were demonstrating for democracy.

    Europe must be more principled in its approach to dealing with its Muslim populations. Countries such as the UK and France are taking bold actions in Libya to support the movement towards freedom and democracy. At the same time, domestically they wish to suppress Muslim self-expression.

    You can’t have it both ways. Freedom, self-expression and democracy need to be accompanied by one more value to be meaningful: a consistent standard for all.

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  • Has EDL pressured Luton Council into not selling to a Muslim group?

    I came across this incident today – plans to sell a hall to a Muslim group have been shelved, seemingly after pressure by the EDL.

    I don’t know anything about this particular mosque, but it does seem as though the council has behaved in a very peculiar fashion. They didn’t even inform the Muslim bidders that their decision had been reversed, leaving them to find out in the newspaper.

    Here is the story:

    PLANS to sell a large site in High Town to a Local Muslim group have been put on ice by Luton Borough Council.

    A campaign had been set up against the sale of the Old Drill Hall site by Darren Carroll, a relative of English Defence League leaders Stephen Lennon and Kevin Carroll, who claimed to have collected 1,500 signatures on a petition demanding the site was used for affordable housing.

    Luton Borough Council said the site had been originally intended for housing, but economic conditions meant it had to sell the land on the open market.

    But yesterday the council said a ‘change in government policy’ had meant it had had to suspend the sale of the site, in which MA Community Centre (Masjid-e-Ali) were understood to be the preferred bidder.

    The organisation is currently based in Moor Street but wanted to move to the Old Drill Hall and create a community centre, which it said would be open to people of all faiths.

    A spokesman for the council said: “The property was placed on the open market and a marketing campaign was implemented which invited bids by means of an informal tender process. A number of bidders engaged in the process and the council did identify a preferred bidder (Masjid-e-Ali Community Centre).

    “However, in the time which elapsed through that process, policy guidance changes have emerged from central government with regard to provision of housing and educational needs.

    “These changes have required a review of the process of site disposal across the authority. The government has set a new policy framework for the provision of affordable housing and has altered the funding stream by which this can be achieved. This new policy guidance only came into force in February 2011.

    “As a result of this change to guidance, elected members have now directed officers to look again at how all site disposals – not just the Drill Hall site – are dealt with as part of a wider review of policy and procedure so that these new objectives can best be addressed. Officers will recommend changes to the wider policy and procedure on surplus site disposals to a future meeting of the executive.

    “In the light of this review, the executive decided to suspend the bidding process of the Drill Hall site in the 11th hour.”

    MA Community Centre were only made aware of this breaking news via the Luton News Paper & feel that this decision is unreasonable & unfair as LBC had completed all checks and issued a draft contract for approval. MA Community Centre feel LBC have given into pressure from a facist Group the so called EDL (English Defence League) following their recent march in Luton.

    MA Community Centre plans were to regenerate the site as a Community Centre with new & improved recreation facilities for all the community that would also house NHS Walk In clinics, rehabilitation Centre & many other social & welfare services for “ALL” the local community.

    A petition has been created which you can sign up to (anonymously if you wish) here:

    One Luton resident told me: “The council needs to know that EDL are not the only arbiters of what goes on this town.  This is a diverse town.”

    This is not about this particular mosque – we need to ensure that this kind of u-turn behaviour is put to a stop.

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  • The Story of Mum

    Now that I’ve entered the club that is MummyHood, I’ve started to notice more and more of the resources available to mums. The internet of course is a wonderful thing – I can search out others who have similar worries to me (somebody somewhere has gone through what I’m facing with my own baby!), I can read about how to help my baby’s development, and I can do my weekly shopping online (an amazing achievement, and saves the arduous task of carting baby around in the shopping trolley and trying to pack/load bags in the car at the same time). Oh, MummyHood, what hast thou done to me!

    It all feels a bit seriously mummy-ish out there, so it was refreshing this week to see the launch of a site called “The story of mum” whose strapline is “Inspiring mums of all ages to connect, create and celebrate.” It is all about the mum and rejuvenating that creative streak that we all had before baby and which still exists, but sometimes takes a back seat to feeding/nappies/cuddling/laundry etc etc.

    Take a look, it seems quite fun. I particularly liked “Photograph your chaos” because it’s good to know that you’re not the only one whose house can suddenly explode into mess. One minute pristine, and then suddenly…  And what’s not to love about “Buntify your life” by hanging bunting in random places round the house, when it’s framed with the truism – “because being a mum can sometimes be a bit boring.” (you know it’s true when all you’ve done is cuddle the crying little one, feed her and change her nappy, and the highlight of the day is a walk in the buggy because that’s the only way to stop the grumbling.)

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  • How to be a child in grown up clothes (“Life, I wont let you pass me by”)

    How it feels to be a grown up. Courtesy of Grim and Proper Cards

    In my heart, I am still four years old. I look at a picture of me at that age, glowing skin, exuberant smile, cheeky glint in my eye. I’m still that girl, running around the garden, kicking a football, laughing in the summer sunshine, looking for my parents’ approval as I explore nature.

    I am still seventeen. Waiting for the results of my university application, tense with anxiety about how my future will unfold, studying hard to achieve the grades that will take me into my degree course. I’m full of hope and innocence that life will open its arms to me.

    I am still twenty one, dressing for my first day at work. Savouring each day as I get up bleary eyed and commute across town to my job, my first grown up paid full-time work. I go because I am thrilled to be in the work force, not because they pay me. That’s just a bonus.

    I am still twenty five, trekking across deserts to explore the world, arranging last minutes flights to unplanned destinations, free of responsibility but laden with hunger to experience as much as I can. I’m learning about myself, about the world; making friends that will last.

    I’m still a child, still a girl, still a youth, still a young woman. In my heart, what I am not, is a grown up.

    Yet when you look at me, you will emphatically disagree. You will tell me: you have a house, a mortgage, a car. And then eyes popping at me you will say firmly, and now you have a baby. You are most definitely grown up.

    What exactly is a grown up, and do I have to be one? Inside I’m still the free, independent, unshackled young woman, who craves experience, joy and adventure. My happiness at playing in a beautiful garden, enjoying the adoration of those who love me, of laughing through sheer contentment still persists. But outwardly my shape has been moulded into the straightjacket of grown-up-ness. Children look at me and call me ‘Auntie’, the ultimate push into adulthood. How and when did all this happen?  Where did the days – nay, the years – go? And will I be asking myself the same thing as the golden days of my autumn set in?

    These days – now I’m in the new mummy phase – life passes as more of a blur.  The morning wake ups, the feeding, the nappies, the crying, the cuddling. Each day is the same, but each different, observing the little life growing in front of me. Days pass by, and I lose track of the dates. But you have a new baby! You cry. You tell me that this is normal.

    But this is not just about my current phase. This increasing blurriness of passing time just speeds up each year. Tasks and activities get planned, and milestones must be reached. All necessary, all admirable, all expected. We want to move house, go on holiday, visit friends and family, get a new job, look after our loved ones, drink a good cup of coffee, tend the garden, throw surprise parties.

    In this routine which is made up of the wonderful, yet simple and mundane pleasures of living a good life, it is easy to forget the need to factor in living the good life.

    Finding your place in the scheme of life is the first step towards doing that. For me, one of the moments of epiphany was seeing myself not just as a daughter, but as a mother, a link in life’s ongoing chain. The question is what kind of link do I want to be? And how will I ensure that what I pass on is worth perpetuating?

    I can – and choose – to be contented, irrespective of the labels of child, youth or adult. Being a grown up brings certain privileges – the ability to choose how to live, the self-awareness to know your place, and the acceptance of who you are. But the best part is that inside, you can still retain the joy and free-spiritedness of being a child.

    As for that four year old I was telling you about? She’s still running around with unbounded happiness in my heart, willing to embrace life and to love with abandon those around her.

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  • My name is Shelina and I want an ipad2 (and a handbag, and make up)

    This is my weekly column for The National.

    My name is Shelina and I want an iPad 2.

    All morning on March 25, the day of the global launch, I wondered if I should go and queue up outside my nearest Apple Store. Should I be one of the anointed legion of iPad 2 pioneers?

    image courtesy of

    I had to restrain myself from lining up to receive the sacrament of Mr Jobs’s latest offering. I pictured myself in the queue: woman in a headscarf, big pram, breastfeeding my newborn baby whilst waiting for the 5pm launch. Would I have traded in my baby to get to the front? No comment.

    I used to mock the Apple zombies, with their illogical dedication to gadgets that are never quite the best available pieces of technology. I’ve concluded that Apple-worship is like being a Trekkie – either you get it or you don’t, and there’s no middle ground. And with the launch of the iPad 2 I’ve crossed over to the dark side. My computer screen is covered with drool as I gaze lustfully at its images online.

    What’s not to love about the slender curves of metal and glass? It’s thin, it’s light, it connects to your TV, and it has a slidey-foldy cover that comes in at least eight colours. We won’t talk about the price tag. Or the fact that I don’t really need one. Or that a newer version will probably be released just as I’ve become accustomed to the sweepy-slidey finger movements that operate this gorgeous little beast.

    Or that it seems to be a slimmer version of the children’s toy Speak & Spell that I had when I was six. Oh, that was a fabulous gadget, complete with liquid crystal display and a keyboard made of squiggly buttons. Perhaps that was the gateway drug to my current gadget craving.

    The smaller and slicker these gadgets become, the more appealing they are. Especially if you’re a woman fighting the perennial problem of the overloaded handbag. And the new iPad 2 – like many other gadgets – is now teeny enough to slide into all but the smallest of purses.

    According to the UK shopping chain Debenhams, the weight of the average British woman’s handbag was a staggering 3.3kgs in 2008, the equivalent of carrying three and a half bags of sugar (and the same as my newborn baby). But, as paper organisers have been replaced by multipurpose phones and laptops that themselves have become lighter, this figure is now a much more manageable 1.5kg.

    It’s not the weight of the handbag – nor the gadgets that reside within it – that are fascinating; it’s the cost of the contents of the typical handbag. This comes in at more than £250 (Dh1,471). And that doesn’t include those luscious gadgets; it is just the cost of all the make-up that women carry with them wherever they go. According to Debenhams, a woman’s supply of warpaint alone is worth as much as £256 on average. In fact, nine out of 10 women said that they wouldn’t step out of the house without their mascara.

    With the entry-level iPad 2 coming in at £399, it doesn’t feel that different in price to all the make-up in the handbag, and probably a whole lot less heavy to carry.

    So now I have to decide: gadget or face goo? Both are about good looks and sleek finishes. The marketing hype for each tells me that I can’t live without them. The solution might be an iPad application to replace the make-up the average woman needs. It could be called iWorthit.

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