Wednesday, 20 February 2008
The War of Fog
And so out the door and down the street on my daily mission to empty the dog and fill the mind. After rain, sun, cold, sun, sun, cold, frost, we're back to fog here in Oxford. The impenetrable pea soups of Dickens's time are long gone but there's still the feeling of walking through a feather pillow as you amble out in the morning. Noises seem oddly present--the honk of low-flying geese, the rhythmic tick of a bicycle chain, the flatulent putt-putt of a diesel motor, the crash and tinkle of the glass-recycling men.... Headlights loom out of the clouds like monsters' eyes.
A sign outside the newsagent's (I've learned that its proper name is a "news bill") suggests good fortune has visited my colleagues:
Alas, it's a story about 14 Oxford postal workers who've been pooling a pound each a day for four years and have won more than 55,000 pounds. Good for them. The other side of the bill promotes another odd story:
"Meat fight"? It sounds oddly disturbing: sausages at 20 paces, ground beef hand grenades.... But no, the front-page headline clarifies: "Halal of a Victory." That's a pun, son, one the Oxford Mail has been using ever since this particular story broke. An Oxford elementary school switched to halal meat for its lunches, figuring it tasted no different from non-halal meat but was acceptable to its Muslim students. It would be cheaper than making two separate lunches. Unfortunately, the principal didn't tell the parents, and when they found out there was, according to the Mail, "One Halal of a Row." (That's another ill-chosen pun. If the issue had involved kosher food I wonder if the headline would have been "Jew Must Be Joking.")
The school should have leveled with the parents from the start, explaining what it was doing, but the protesting parents exhibited that particularly British strain of xenophobia that seems to relish ignorance. Halal meat was somehow "bad" for their offspring. "Parent power" won the meat fight and the school backed down. "The school has now decided to offer youngsters a choice of normal meat, a halal option or a vegetarian dish," wrote the Mail. "Normal" meat? Someone should really tell the Mail that it's wise to choose words, um, wisely.
I'm sure the fog will lift eventually.