Thursday, 16 October 2014

A whiter shade of pale.

Like most blokes these days, I'm a sucker for creams and lotions that promise to keep me from cracking up under the strain of the sun and other natural phenomenon, collectively determined to reduce my body to the appearance of dried corn flakes stuck to a an over-weight skeleton.  Don't get me wrong I've not gone down the whole 'Metro-sexual' route, I can still get in and out of the bathroom in fifteen minutes, but if you look at the shelf in there it does look like a research centre for the Laboratoires Garnier.

Naturally you have the shaving gel (not foam, it has to be gel), face cream, hand lotion, foot softener, hair gel (not really a cream), after shave (again, not really a cream..), sun cream (x2, winter and summer) and toothpaste.  Not too indulgent really?  I put it down to living in the middle east and the Baz Luhrmann song from 1999 Everybody's free (to wear sunscreen).  There is no doubt that sun + wind = dryness, hence the desert, so I feel obliged to protect myself at every opportunity.

Seeing I was running low on the face cream recently, my wife kindly offered to pick some up during a shopping trip.  I'm no slave to a brand, unless the brand is called 'Special offer' or 'Buy one get one free', I'm not even convinced that these various lotions are any different to each other, so she had free reign with regard to choice.

Upon her return I was initially confused as to why she had bought a diminutive tube of toothpaste?  Not wishing to complain, as let's be honest, if someone does you favour and buys something for you, saying 'it's not the right thing?' is a quick way of wearing the entire contents on your head, with immediate effect.  So I took a closer look, '10x whitening effect', must be toothpaste?  But no, it is face cream, designed to protect and lighten the skin, an entirely new concept to me.  

It does exactly what it says on the tin..
I should mention that when I'm filling out a form and I get to the bit at the end which asks 'This is not a compulsory question, but where are you from and what colour are you?', I tick 'White European'.  Becoming whiter was not on my to do list, in fact I'm aiming for the opposite.  Let me give you an example.  When we first got here we had to produce a bundle of passport style photos for various I.D. cards.  My wife was called in to the office and asked if she could get more photos of me looking 'a bit darker', as my white face was blending in with the white background?  You see my problem?

Moreover, we visit the beach most weekends and every time we see a host of tourists trying their hardest to change their white skin to brown, it had never occurred to me that some people may want to go the other way?  I always thought that whole Michael Jackson thing was a modern myth?  I appreciate that there is a host of products available to change the colour of your hair, but your face??

But fair (get it?!) enough, whatever floats your boat, but now a moral dilemma, do I use it, throw it away or give it to someone else?  It has been said that I am careful with money, I'm paraphrasing, I think the actual words were 'tighter than a duck's chuff', so throwing it away is not an option.  Difficult to give it to someone else without seeing the sub-text of 'he thinks I'm too brown, what a racist'..  So I'm using it, which explains my current translucent state.  A friend (you know who you are JK..) suggested that I use it on only one half of my face, so we can see a before and after effect, I say friend..

Besides, I'm not in possession of a colour chart showing me the different shades of white?   How would I know if I was 10x lighter, how does anyone know?  I've been using toothpaste which promises to make my teeth whiter in 15 days, but I've never checked to see if it's worked.  So I think I'm going to have to take it on the chin (oh there's another!) and buy some ordinary cream, or soon I'm going to be rocking the Elizabeth I look.  

Besides my skin is getting confused, 'whitening during the week, sunning himself at the weekend?  Make your mind up mate!'.

Friday, 10 October 2014

In search of the elusive unicorn..

We've just got back from a visit to a zoo, which is quite a common occurrence in our household.  Our five year old is animal crazy, so a visit to see some in a zoo is always high on her 'to do' list, which leaves me with a dilemma.  I've always been a bit of a conservationist so zoos give me a conundrum.  Having said that I can't claim to have any detailed knowledge of conservation.  For example it's beyond me how a country (no names, no pack drill) can have a whole fleet of ships for whaling, purely for scientific research?  What are they researching?  Other than '101 uses for blubber' it's difficult for an ignoramus like me to comprehend the scope of their studies?  If they want to find out how whales communicate or navigate the oceans with such accuracy I would have thought it best to do that while they're alive?  Ah, my naivety..

Giraffes, nature's way of pruning the top half of a tree.
Most zoos these days will have part of their website dedicated to telling you how much of a conscience they have, how they are the guardians of the world's species and the fact that the public is admitted to have a peek at the animals under their protection is a positive educational side effect on their conservation.  I see their point, there is no doubt that since mankind came to dominate the globe its ceaseless persecution of every other species has been shocking.  So much so that the only way to preserve some animals is to take them in to protective custody as such.  We have visited some zoos that do this very well and create an environment that is as near as realistically possible to the breed's natural habitat.  I say 'as near as possible' because there is only so much you can do to twin Cheshire with the jungles of Borneo.

However we have also visited some which fell more toward the cash cow option rather than towards the preservation aspect.  Rows of small cages containing primates that would far rather be swinging from tree to tree and terrariums that are devoid of any greenery, and in fact are of lesser length than the snake they contain, are not an edifying sight.  It's more reminiscent of Stalag Luft III from The Great Escape rather than the plains of the Serengeti from Born Free.  From the point of view of the customer, I can appreciate that if you've paid to see animals it's animals you want to see, not areas of greenery with rustling leaves where they move around freely out of your line of sight.  But small cages and the absence of any aspect of a habitat that facilitates natural behaviour seems so, well I guess Victorian.  Showing us a cheetah and saying how it can run at speeds up to 75mph is great, but they forget to add that in its compound, which is 20 meters square, it can only get to 15mph.  I would far rather they built it a home in the shape of a greyhound track and feed it by attaching lunch to the electric hare, now that would pull in a crowd. Ah, there speaks the Victorian in me.

Steve McQueen escaping from Stalag Luft III circa 1945, dressed as a resident from Malibu beach and riding a bike that wasn't built until 16 years after the event.  Still, accuracy isn't everything.  (I'm being sarcastic, obviously it is..)
But there are other dilemmas that visits to the zoo bring.  Our daughter's favourite animal is a unicorn, so we get the inevitable question while we are walking round, 'where are the unicorns'?  Naturally we do what any good parent does when confronted with a tricky question, we work out which lie is going to give us the least amount of grief later (after all good parenting is all about sincerity, if you can fake that you've got it made).  For example if we respond 'they have the day off',  then she'll suggest we come back tomorrow.  So rather than tell the truth and rain on her parade, we just explain that they don't like living in zoos.  She looks at the other animals and you can tell she's thinking 'I don't blame them'..

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Eid mubarak.

I was going to write a light hearted piece about shopping, but events in the news made this seem very light-hearted and trivial, so I'm changing tack.

We are fortunate to live in a very interesting place among people from a variety of nations and with an indigenous population who seem happy to share their space with the world.  I understand that there is a quid pro quo, but on the whole it seems to work, a win-win situation.  

However if an alien were to land and read the paper or watch the news they may think that the majority of the world is not like that.  They could think that most people are doing their utmost to ruin the lives of anybody who doesn't see things the same way as them and that it is the norm to act with great savagery and prejudice.  But to go away with that impression would be shame, as I believe the opposite is true.

I'm currently struggling to come up with one word to describe a group of people who are smaller than the smallest of minorities, is microcosm sufficient?  A group whose actions push them to the forefront of the news ahead of any features which concern work which is for the general good of mankind or encourages bonhomie, two areas that encapsulate the vast majority of human endeavour.

So my good news report is about a day of joy, as today is one of the Eid celebrations.  I'm not going to explain in detail the origins of the festival, mainly because I don't know much about it and I'm not about to re-cycle a load of information from Wikipedia, that you can look up yourself if you feel so inclined.  All I'm going to do is outline what I've gleaned from discussing it with people who celebrate the occasion.

In that respect it seems the same format as special days throughout the world, including time spent with family, special food and a day off work/school.  More recently it would appear that consumerism has begun to creep in but that is inevitable I guess?  If the big loser at Christmas time is the humble turkey, an animal that is left alone by the majority of people for the rest of the year yet eaten with abandon for one day only, the beast of choice over Eid is the sheep or goat, depending on who you ask.  As we live in a rural area, many local families still raise and despatch their own animals so there is still a direct connection with the source of their meal.

The turkey, in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Big, slow and tasty, it's never forgiven the Founding Fathers or whoever it was who first sought out a regular supply of meat for a celebration in North America.

A great deal of emphasis is placed on looking good at the family gathering so new clothes are an important part of the preparation.  Elaborate collections of sweets are prepared by the local stores, sometimes to be given as gifts but always it seems shared with family and friends. Street decorations are evident but subtle and there are no noisy outdoor manifestations of celebration like we see on National Day.

It seems like an understated day of private gathering, sharing and of goodwill, messages which in my opinion should be on the front page of every newspaper and on every TV station.

I finish with a profound reflection from one of my students who is of the wise old age of 12 years:

Me:  'What do you think of Eid'?

Him:  'I don't like it, lots of old ladies come round the house and talk all day.  I have no-where to sit as they take all the chairs'.

Me:  'Who are these old ladies'?

Him:  'I have no idea'..

Well everyone is entitled to their opinion.