x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Strong-arm tactics

The band strikes up, the audience applauds, the curtains part and now here comes Philippa Kennedy with her take on the week gone by.

Details of Mrs Obama's exercise programme have caused ripples of excitement all over the world.
Details of Mrs Obama's exercise programme have caused ripples of excitement all over the world.


The first voice I hear in the morning belongs to the New Zealander Brandy Scott on Dubai Eye radio. Its tone is just right, authoritative without being bossy and annoying, classless, friendly and usually talking about something interesting. Occasionally I will flick over to 92FM to listen to Catboy and Geordie Bird with their easy married-couple banter and gentle good humour, but it's the voices I like first and foremost. They sound as if they belong to people I wouldn't mind spending time with.

There's something about certain accents that make them much easier to listen to than others and sometimes just a few hundred miles makes all the difference. Without being too specific and offending half of the world, it's why the Scots and the Irish make such good broadcasters. It's hard to pigeonhole them or decide if they are frightfully smart or just ordinary Joes. I guess it's the same with New Zealanders, although I don't remember listening to a Kiwi before I came to the UAE.

Mornings aren't my best time so it's important that I don't accidentally tune into some wittering idiot whose inane comments provoke fury before my brain has clicked into gear. I don't even want to hear my own voice first thing. By the time I've had my first cup of tea, however, I'm able to appreciate the occasionally spiky, but always intelligent sparring between Scott and her co-host Malcolm Taylor.

The right voice at that time of day makes all the difference, which is why I'm sad to hear that Terry Wogan is giving up his early-morning show on BBC Radio 2. His particular brand of self-deprecating humour and unerring eye for the ridiculous is so attractive and listening to him first thing every day always puts me in a good mood when I'm in the UK. He was even able to poke fun at the hierarchy of the BBC without getting fired thanks to liberal doses of charm. Much as I value John Humphrys' rottweiler-style interviews on Radio 4, they're sometimes hard to take at 7.00am.

Wake Up With Wogan is one of those institutions, like toast and marmalade and the Sunday papers, that is peculiarly British, even though Terry is as Irish as can be. Like Parky, whose strong Yorkshire vowels I have always found pleasing, you hoped he'd go on for ever. I'm not sure if my early-morning constitution is ready for the ever-chirpy Chris Evans even if he has calmed down a bit over the years.

Sir Terry is 71 and I don't blame him for wanting a few extra hours in bed in the morning after nearly four decades, albeit with a short break when he launched his TV show. He says he'd rather "leave while we're in love, as the song says", and the decision to pack it in was the hardest of his broadcasting career. The TOGS (Terry's Old Geezers and Gals) will be devastated even though we know nothing lasts for ever. It's just that Wogan's gentle Irish voice has provided the backdrop of so many lives and we'll miss it.


There's gossip and there's gossip. When it's good it can be so rewarding, lifting spirits, encouraging laughter and that frisson of knowing something spicy before other people. It's not so much fun when it's about yourself but then again, as Oscar Wilde said: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." Now an eminent psychologist, speaking at the British Science Festival, has pronounced that to gossip is fundamental to being human. Dr Nicholas Emler, a social psychologist at the University of Surrey, also claims that gossip is responsible for the development of language. Sharing social information has allowed us to build richer and more complex societies.

It also allows us to know about people we have never met. I think he must be talking about the acres of newsprint known as celebrity magazines that exist on turning the most trivial of titbits into articles covering several pages. Emler believes it inconceivable for us to waste so much time on something were it not important to our development. "Baboons and chimps have complex societies because individuals know a lot about each other. But because they cannot talk they rely on direct observations and are limited to groups of around 50. The one thing that sets us apart is that we can talk to each other. With gossip you can know about 100,000 other people without knowing them."

The problem is that gossip about famous people has become so banal. Does anyone care that Katie Price has told her children to call her new boyfriend "Daddy"? Or that Shilpa Shetty is waiting for her parents to announce an auspicious date for her forthcoming nuptials. General office gossip can also be tedious and often revolves around who said what to whom, what someone wore to the office party, who is going out with whom and such like. So much of it can be cruel and cause pain. Still if it's contributing to the development of mankind it's probably worth the odd snigger by the water cooler, even if it's only to get one up on the chimps and baboons.


When we were teenagers my girlfriends and I used to do an arm-flexing exercise to a chant that went like this: "I must, I must, I must increase my bust. I will, I will, I'll make it bigger still. Hurrah, hurrah, I need a bigger bra."

Bosoms were the thing. Frankly, triceps never came into it. Ever since the emergence of Michelle Obama on the world stage, however, busts are out and big triceps are the ultimate body parts. Now Mrs O's personal trainer Cornell McClellan has revealed the secret of the US First Lady's sculpted arms. Tricep pushdowns and hammer curls are going to be the next big things in gyms all over the world, I fear, thanks to McClellan's revelations in a new magazine called Women's Health and Children's Health.

All you have to do is perform one set of tricep pushdowns using a straight bar attached to the high pulley of a cable station and then, without resting, follow with a set of hammer curls using dumbbells. Then repeat the process and keep on doing it for years and years and years. If I knew what a hammer curl was, I might try it some time but it sounds a bit too much like hard work for most of the women I know. Perhaps if they put this routine to music and release a DVD it will catch on.


As has been recently reported, the RTA has made a whopping Dh1.8 billion by auctioning off the names of the new Dubai Metro stations and I'm sure Nakheel and First Gulf Bank will be delighted to have nabbed a couple of them. But I'm wondering if the names will stick. Most of the streets around where I live have recently been renamed. This causes endless confusion for everyone, so I just ask drivers to take me to the Safa Park Choithram. Bearing this in mind, and with the best will in the world to companies such as the Al Futtaim Group which has bagged the Majid Al Futtaim Group station, I will probably just call it the Mall of the Emirates stop. As for the catchily named GGICO (Gulf General Investment Co) station, let's just hope that I don't have to go there any time soon.


The skill of the surgeons at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City who removed a tumour the size of a grapefruit from the face of the 14-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim Mohammed is truly awe-inspiring. The growth could have killed the child but more than that the poor lad's life must have been unbearable and isolating. His father struggled for two years to find a surgeon willing to take on the complex procedure of removing the lower jaw, chin and part of the boy's mouth along with the tumour and then rebuilding his face using bone taken from his leg.

Reconstructive surgery is so often used these days to bolster the vanity of people, mostly women, who are unhappy about a crooked nose, droopy eyes or a sagging bottom that young Ahmed's story is a particularly poignant reminder of how advanced medical techniques can truly restore quality of life when used for their original purpose.