Friday, 23 July 2010

Burkas, Crash Helmets, Hoodies & Other Blurry Issues.

God, I get more confused with each day that passes. I used to be so full of certainty - about pretty much everything, but especially political ideology. Now I'm like a rabbit in the headlights. Today's surgery makes things even worse. No wonder The Boss is losing the plot.

We haven't had much comment from constituents on Philip Hollobone MP's recent attempt to ban the burka, or the niqab. Until now. I must admit I hadn't thought much about it myself, my knee-jerk reaction being that of course we can't ban it, and that it seems a bit arrogant to assume that all women who wear it are doing so under pressure from men. But then along comes Mrs Jewson.

"I want to talk about this burka thing," she says.

"Ah," says The Boss. His catchphrase.

"Well, I'm getting a bit fed up with the double standards in this country. My son wears a hoodie, like all the youngsters, and he got made to take it off in the Mall yesterday. By the security guards."

"I see," says The Boss. He looks sideways at me. I keep my head down, and write "hoodie" ten times on my notes.

"Well, if he can't wear a hoodie, why can these women wear bloody burkas, or whatever those things are called that cover their whole faces?"

"Well, I think that's rather different," says The Boss.

"Why is it different?" Mrs Jewson doesn't wait for a reply. She's on a roll now. "Do you know why my son likes to keep his hood up?"

"No-o." Andrew's looking a bit twitchy. I'm still leaving him to it. Serves him right for ignoring Joan again this morning.

"He's deaf! And if he doesn't keep his hood up, then all the young 'uns take the piss out of his hearing aid."

Andrew's given up saying anything. He just looks expectantly at Mrs Jewson, as do I. It's obvious she hasn't finished yet.

"So what I want to know is - say he got a teacher who wanted to wear one of these things, and he couldn't lipread her because he couldn't see her face, whose rights would the bloody Government decide were the most important then?"

I have no idea of the answer to this question. Neither does The Boss. He looks optimistically at me, but in the absence of any response, is left with no option but to say,

"I will be happy to take this up on your behalf. Molly will let you know when we receive a reply."

He even remembers that thing about standing up and walking to the door, to give Mrs J the message that her time is up. She complies but, as she's going out of the door, she has one last rejoinder:

"And don't even get me started on that woman who worked for BA who had to take her cross off. Or all that nonsense about Fiona Bruce's cross on the news."

Of course, after Mrs Jewson's gone, Andrew's furious with me. Again.

"You are less and less bloody help with every week that passes," he says.

"Well, I don't know all the answers anymore," I say. "Same as you."

He obviously doesn't agree, as he storms off, leaving the security doors open. I am gathering up the papers, when I am suddenly confronted by a man wearing a crash helmet. He leans aggressively across the table, and nearly gives me a heart attack. A rush of something hot travels up my body, which I don't think is a hot flush - though who can tell. I have got them to look forward to at some point, after all.

After what seems like an hour, the man finally speaks.

"Getting bloody sick of waiting for my wife's operation," he says. "What the hell are you lot doing about it?"

Thank God. It's only Mr Beales. I am torn between relief and fury.

"You know full well that the hospital won't operate until she's lost that eight stone," I say. "Has she?"

"Well, how's she supposed to do that, when she can't exercise until her bloody hip's fixed?" he says.

I have no more patience this week.

"By eating less, I presume."

While Mr Beales' mouth is still hanging open in astonishment at my uncharacteristically forthright response, I add:

"And I would appreciate it if you would never - ever - walk into this building again with your crash helmet still on. It's a security risk."

It's only when I get back to my desk that I realise the implications of this. For God's sake, how is anyone ever supposed to know where they stand on anything? Every bit of the warm glow left over from Johnny's "massage" last night has dissipated. I spend the rest of the afternoon trying to work out exactly how many ministerial departments I will have to write to in order to get a proper answer to Mrs Jewson's enquiry. I may even mention the crash helmet. It'd be nice if someone could restore my sense of certainty. Unless Johnny really means it when he offers to "take me away from all this."


  1. There's a helpful precedent for you on the wearing of veil's in classrooms, which, whilst it won't answer Mrs Jewson's enquiry fully, will enable you to solve the lip reading part of it.
    Hope that helps! BG Xx

  2. Thanks, BG. Will read in a minute, as have only just woken up from tragic old person's nap on the sofa. Tempted to let the ministers deal with the complicated scenario raised by Mrs Jewson, though! That's what they're paid for, I guess ;-)

  3. I so wish I could take an old person's nap on the sofa... or wear a veil to cover up the bags Im getting under my eyes... and I forgot to go for my massage this morning because I thought it was this afternoon... and now Im rambling on someone else's blog.
    Is this making you feel better/more organised/younger...?

  4. Haha - at least I don't feel so alone now ;-) I can certainly see the appeal of a burka whenever I have to dress up to go out socially, plus it would stop those horrible moments when you catch sight of yourself passing a mirror....and remember you're not 25 any more. Napping on sofa not to be recommended, though - unless husband/partner finds gormless open mouth and trickle of drool appealing. Ability to look attractive when asleep also seems to diminish with age!

  5. At least you weren't snoring... Oh, is that what woke you up ;P

  6. I don't snore, or at least, I don't think I do. Max snores enough for both of us! Could have been that which woke me up, come to think about it!

  7. I've only just read this article and it throws me into the same kind of trauma I have to say.

    I dont think the Burkha should be banned either as we cannot be seen to have religious intolerances in this country but i see the rationale on a personal note with regards to the lady whos son is deaf. I work at a Deaf charity with deaf colleagues who need to lip read me. They obviously wont be able to do that with a burkha on.

    Its also not just the mouth being covered that is an issue. British Sign Language (BSL) uses other NMFs (non manual features) to express things where signs are the same. A face covering or even just a misplaced hand can completely change the context of a conversation.

    How do we confront these issues and the stigma of those among us who wear hearing aids? I really dont know. I wish i did

  8. I agree. On thinking about it, I realise just how much I myself rely on non-verbal cues to try to ensure my safety when dealing with certain unstable constituents. I'm not actually sure what the woman who stabbed Stephen Timms MP was wearing, now I come to think of it.

    I find it increasingly difficult to decide exactly what I think on issues like this - it seems easy in terms of simple ideology, and to promote tolerance, but is much more challenging when you consider the real-life and wider implications.