Monday, 26 January 2015

Princesses in the tower

When I was about 11 years old, I wrote a story about an Arab princess who escaped her home country by driving over the border to a new life. My family was living in the Middle East at the time and as a child I watched the local women, wrapped in their black abayas, with growing fascination. They would waft about Abu Dhabi's shopping malls with haughty disdain, leaving a cloud of perfume in their wake. Perhaps it was just my Western sensibilities, but I liked to imagine that one or two of them were desperate to break free from the swathes of black material.

A fort in Oman
New frontiers for women of the Middle East?
With the death last week of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, stories are re-emerging of real Saudi princesses locked up in palaces, unable to enjoy a normal life. According to various reports, Princesses Sahar and Jawaher have been held under house arrest in Jeddah for the last 10 years by their father, the late king. Their sisters Maha and Hala are also believed to be held at separate complexes nearby. 

The apparent crime of these young women was to speak out about human rights abuses and restrictions placed upon women in the secretive kingdom. Last March, Princess Sahar reportedly told Channel 4 News in an email, "We suffer on a daily basis... Our father said that we had no way out and that after his death our brothers will continue detaining us." The women claim that they have been starved and drugged by the regime. Princess Sahar's mother, a former wife of King Abdullah who fled to London, is campaigning for their release.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Don't need no education...

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Quiet One has sex education coming up at school. Hopefully not a demonstration of whips and fluffy handcuffs (one never knows in this post-fifty-shades-of-grey era) but more of an educational exposé of the birds and the bees. I'm told that it's all about relationships these days - understanding what's allowed and what's not cool (in parent-speak: verging on abusive).

I have always been candid with my children about sex, answering their enquiries in an age-appropriate manner (of course). So we talk about 'special hugs' and how Middle Child's magic 'seeds' will eventually turn into babies. Jack and the Beanstalk has got nothing on us.


The birds and the bees
Ploughing my way through the birds and the bees
©  | Dreamstime.com
Still, I can't help wondering if Quiet One is in good shape for her Sex Ed class. I take pride in making sure my kids are prepared for whatever life throws at them - call me a snowplough parent if you will, Mrs Farr.*


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Mum's the word

Minutes before the dawn of the new year, I found myself locked in a dispute over gender. As our wineglasses glittered in the dying candlelight of 2014, my friends and I duelled over the dining table, debating whether there were innate differences between men and women and how these might determine their career choices. 

In the heat of our exchanges, there was no time to make resolutions about taking up yoga or cutting back on Facebook. There was barely enough time to rush over to the television to watch London explode in fiery delight as Big Ben tolled in the new year.


Image of girl mixing tubes in a laboratory
Her mum said it was okay
Credit: ©  | Dreamstime.com
Oblivious to the passing of the years, we had been preoccupied with the need for female role models in male-dominated professions (such as fund management or engineering) and the possible virtue of using a quota system to employ more women in these bastions of male achievement. 

We also wondered why women gravitated to professions such as primary-school teaching. Was it because women were more nurturing? Or was this simply social conditioning at work? Despite our inebriated fervour, we fell short of putting the world to rights. Time was not on our side. There were more questions than answers.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Seasonal nostalgia

As the last few days of 2014 dribble out, like the dregs of champagne from an empty bottle, I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year! Thank you once again for all your support and most importantly for dipping into this blog every now and then. Without your readership, there would be little point in taking to my keyboard each week and airing my thoughts online.


River scene at sunrise with birds flying
Credit: William Lam

So put your feet up in front of a roaring fire, crack open the liqueur (my favourite Xmas tipple has got to be Baileys on ice) and enjoy the holidays! 

And, in case you are looking for some light entertainment, I am including a list of my most popular blog posts in 2014.

Until next year,
Emma x

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Where wild things go on

My 11-year old daughter has just discovered the photo-sharing app, Instagram. It is her first foray into the digital world. At the moment she has a private account with a nickname, and only a handful of followers, all of whom she knows. Mostly she posts pictures of the dog ("another picture of my lovely doggy") or the cat so hopefully we are safe for now.


Photo grab of Instagram profile
Instagram: a gate into the world of social media
Which is a good thing, particularly as she behaves online just as she does in real life, in a characteristically candid way. 

"I am not sure I like that very much. Sorry )-:" she wrote under her dad's picture of some autumn leaves the other day. Under another picture, she wrote: "Completely gorgeous. Never seen anything so beautiful and colourful, Mister Fantastic Photographer!"

The point is that she has yet to moderate her behaviour between a personal and public sphere - and why should she? She is only a child with no experience of these things. The problem is that anyone reading her comments wouldn't be able to see them in that context. To most people online she is just another user.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Electric dreams

My family and I took a ride into the future last weekend. We borrowed an electric car and tried out life in the green lane. I say the future because at some point we plan to upgrade to an electric car, once we are convinced the technology is robust enough for our needs. I have always been fascinated by those silent Prius hybrids cruising around the roads like great white sharks on the prowl, but have never before encountered an electric purebred.


BMW i3 electric car
The 'fun' BMW i3 on electric charge
The car we tested was a BMW i3, the 2014 winner of What Car? 'best green' car award. Described as providing "the most fun you'll have in an electric car", this zippy little automobile was definitely responsive and very easy to drive (in its optimum 'comfort' mode). Parking it in the busy Tesco car park was more sweaty than fun, but that was mainly down to my anxiety over driving a car that wasn't mine to prang.

When I first got behind the wheel, I shrieked to the nice BMW employee who dropped it off, "My goodness it's just like driving a go-kart!" It glided forward on a soundless wave of electrical power. Looking back, I am not sure all those BMW engineers (who have no doubt ploughed countless man hours into designing the i3) would have welcomed my analysis. It got the kids excited though. My 11-year old daughter, having honed her karting skills at Odds Farm, was desperate to have a go.