Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tie be, or not tie be - that is the question

Drive through any urban area between three and four pm when the schools are disgorging students faster than the speed of light, and you will notice the radically different ways kids from different schools wear (or sometimes don’t wear) their school ties. This got me wondering whether tie fashions reflect the way students feel about their ties or about their schools.

As a former teacher, I know how important the school uniform is to a school and in most secondary schools, the senior management team will try to ensure that children leave the school premises looking smart. After all they represent the school to the local community. But somewhere between the school gate and the nearest bus stop, that uniform – and the tie in particular – undergoes a radical makeover.

If students resent wearing ties so much, shouldn’t we be listening to them? What real function to ties serve anyway? The blazer colour and badge identify the school perfectly well, so as a means of advertising the school the tie is pretty well redundant. The majority of students leaving school will probably only wear a tie on very rare occasions. For boys, these will be their first interview, their wedding and perhaps if attending a funeral. But what about the girls? Unless they join the forces, they will probably never again wear a tie in their lives. So why inflict this unwanted accessory on them for eleven of their most formative years?

I began noticing ties more and more over the last few weeks – or perhaps I should say I began noticing their absence. On a trip to London during the rush hour, I noticed the majority of commuters were men and in my carriage only a small percentage were wearing ties. On the TV, whilst Tim Henman seemed to sport his tie with pride, another famous commentator, Boris Becker, looked far more relaxed without one; and on Question Time, last week, I noticed Hugh Grant was the only male panellist not to wear a tie – but that certainly had no adverse effect his eloquence, wit and credibility. The audience was solidly behind him (and I only noticed one tie amongst them). Conversely, Stephen Fry was the only tie-wearing member of the all-male team on QI and while his tie may have looked like an esplanade of multi-coloured pebbles snaking a beach of fuchsia-tinted sand, it definitely did not dim his dazzling repartee.

Nevertheless, it seems being on TV (even the BBC) is no longer up there with weddings and funerals as meriting formal attire. Is this a silent rebellion against the noose-like symbol of subservience to one’s company? Are ties gradually disappearing in the same way as cuff links which might be seen as jewels in the manacles of servitude?

Politicians, when they do wear them, seem to pick them as an afterthought to bring out the colour their rosettes when they are out and about, slumming it with Joe or Jo public; whilst in hospitals they are no longer considered de rigueur by the medical profession.

So why do men wear ties? And what’s more, why do women seem to get so much pleasure out of choosing and buying them for their men? Are ties really smart attire, or are they simply outdated throwbacks to some sort of institutionalised servitude, which women, in some sinister fashion, endorse?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Travel Writing - Siena, Italy

I am frequently asked to write articles on travel, which I enjoy because it allows me to relive memories of some of the wonderful places I have visited in the past. I love Italy in general and Siena in particular and below is a sample of a brief article written about this magical place.

Siena travel guide

Little more than an hour’s drive from Florence lies the captivating little oasis that is Siena. Seated in the true heart of Tuscany, this beautiful mediaeval city, now a UNESCO World heritage Site, beckons visitors within its protective walls in order to weave a spell of enchantment with its charms. Its narrow streets are made for walking, not driving (in fact cars are not allowed within the centre) and for losing oneself in time as well as place.

Siena dwells heavily in the past and it is a past steeped in tradition, as a wander through the warren of narrow lanes and cobbled alleys will reveal. The numerous museums and galleries recount Siena’s past Gothic glories and, for those with a taste for the macabre, grisly instruments of torture can be viewed at the Museo della Tortura, while the mummified head of St Catherine (which was separated from the rest of her remains and smuggled out of Rome) resides in the Basilica di San Domenico.

Twice yearly the Palio, or bareback horse race takes place, in which 10 riders display their equestrian prowess around Il Campo. There are also several places in which you can learn to make (and then eat) traditional Tuscan cuisine or you can snack on local peasant fare of stuffed and deep fried olives, prepared by cheery street vendors. Alternatively, you may choose to sit out in the cool shade of open air cafes surrounding the Campo, Siena’s shell-shaped central piazza, as you watch Siena life buzz by.

A visit to the Gothic cathedral, Il Duomo, Siena’s artistic and architectural masterpiece, with its inlaid marble floors, all frescoes and painted windows and crammed with fascinating history is a must-do; while an ascent up the spiral steps of Torre del Mangia, a mediaeval bell tower, is equally advisable. This affords a 360° view across the tightly-packed ochre rooftops of the city and out across the vineyards and rolling fields of olive and lemon groves, stretching out as far as the eye can see into this dreamy landscape which is true Tuscany.