Tuesday 17 October 2006

What have you got to hide?

It’s quite difficult to write a vaguely topical column that doesn’t risk offending someone, and these days there are so many sensitive minorities one has to worry about. Virtually everyone, in fact, apart from fat people, who are apparently fair game for anything. Though this may be a special editorial dispensation because I am, as my tailor kindly put it last week, ‘a little portly’ myself. After all, comedians from minority groups seem to be free to describe themselves in words that would provoke riots if they were used by outsiders.

During the eight weeks that I’ve been away, pondering on these matters, I’ve channelled all my creative energies into growing a beard. I knew it had worked when I spent an hour or so having lunch at the next table to the esteemed editor of this paper, and he completely failed to recognise me. So I reckon I should be pretty safe if this article results in the declaration of a fatwa by, say, the members of the Alnwick & Rothbury Secret Eaters pie-guzzling club. With my beard and newish multi-focal glasses, the biggest risk I now run will be from bowler-hatted extremists mistaking me for Gerry Adams.

I’m a bit of a pognophobe myself, ironically. Whenever I see another man with a beard, I think (a) lazy so-and-so, and (b) what has he got to hide? Similar arguments apply to other forms of facial and head covering, whether it be the ubiquitous hoodie, the balaclavas favoured by animal rights fanatics, or the Muslim ladies’ veil. As a libertarian, I think that everyone should be allowed to wear what they like. And if the veil annoys the more rampant female liberationists among us – well, too bad. They could always assert their freedom and independence by wandering around topless, to show the less progressive how it should be done.

Alternatively, if we want to avoid civil war, we could all adopt that old maxim: if you can’t beat them, join them. I mean, which would you rather encounter in Narrowgate as you try to make your way round Alnwick? A Secret Eater in tight leggings and an fcuk T-shirt, or one in a voluminous burka? Exactly. Very slimming, black is. Added to which, extensive tests have proved that it is impossible to insert a pie into the mouth while wearing an outer garment that covers the entire body, apart from a narrow slit for the eyes. Over time, this could prove to be the greatest advance in public health since the discovery of penicillin, and the salvation of the NHS.

We could also crack the whole ‘oppression of women’ issue if men started wearing them, too. I’m quite prepared to take a lead on this, if only for the pleasure of thinking how much use the billions of pounds worth of CCTV cameras dotted around the country will be once the burka becomes our universal uniform. It’ll also be great fun when we turn up at our local cop shop to be registered for the Dear Leader’s cherished ID card scheme, and explain that it is against our deepest principles to take them off.

There are plenty of empty shops in Alnwick (though not as many as there will be once Aldi and Sainsbury’s open up) and as a public service and a money-making opportunity, I’m going to take one on as the first north of England branch of Burkas Are Us. We’ll stock a full range of sizes (extra large, huge, enormous) and colours (black, coal, incredibly dark grey). And as a special opening offer, I’ve just procured an unusual line in burkas from the USA. These ones are white, and come complete with a funny pointy hat. I reckon they’ll be just the thing to wear when participating in that other ghastly American import: trick or treating on Hallowe’en.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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