Uncalled for

On upsetting remarks, the first lady's exposure and speeding fines.

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A distressing row has broken out in the UK this week over the disabled television presenter Cerrie Burnell, who fronts a children's programme on the BBC. The excellent CBeebies is part of the news BBC Prime package acquired by Showtime Arabia and airing here on Sundays, much to the delight of people who have very young children and want them to see something a bit more stimulating than endless cartoons.

It has been somewhat overshadowed by a distressing row over Burnell, a pretty blonde woman and lively new presenter who has the singular misfortune of having been born with the lower portion of her right arm missing. Nine formal complaints have been made about her to the BBC from parents who say that her appearance is scaring their toddlers. Parenting message boards and blogs have been buzzing with equal outrage from others scandalised by the small-mindedness and in some cases outright bigotry of the remarks. Some comments sent to the CBeebies website were so nasty that they had to be removed.

One of the more printable is this: "Is it just me, or does anyone else think the new woman presenter on CBeebies may scare the kids because of her disability?" Frankly, I think that particular writer is much more scary, along with the father who told the BBC he didn't want his daughter to watch the channel in case it gave her nightmares. Some parents complained that they were forced to deal with difficult issues with their kids before they were ready. And sure enough, there was that overused old chestnut about political correctness gone mad in a BBC that is clearly determined to force "minorities" on to our screens and fill up quotas.

The 29-year-old presenter, who has a four-month-old daughter, recently took over the popular Do and Discover slot and The Bedtime Hour programme. Although she says she is upset at the comments, she feels it's a good thing that the subject of disability is being so publicly aired. She's clearly a sensible young woman who hopefully understands that remarks such as these stem from ignorance and inadequacy. It's the parents here that need help, not their youngsters.

She will also know, from her work as a special-needs teacher, what a boost she will be giving to children born with disability who face prejudice and this sort of mindless cruelty every day. Whether we like it or not, there will always be those who would like to see anyone with mental or physical handicaps locked up in an institution so that they don't have to acknowledge their existence. Thankfully, there are those such as the UK Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, and his wife, Samantha, who enveloped their severely disabled son Ivan with love and pride until his unexpected death last week at the age of six.

In the UAE, there is a particular awareness of children with special needs and it's good to see that the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival is organising an event for them with the specially trained musicians of Live Music Now. Able-bodied children should be encouraged to go along, too. "Special" shouldn't mean segregated. If the blinkered complainers were simply to treat Burnell's disability as something that is part of life and nothing to be frightened of, their children would probably accept it. They would learn to treat the disabled as part of the human race just like them; they would stop staring at them in the street and learn to look them in the eyes and smile at them. They would notice the person and not the wheelchair, the caliper or the missing limb.

My goodness, it didn't take long for the knives to come out for Michelle Obama. Until now she has barely put a foot wrong with her individual and stylish dress sense, but in her first official photograph, she dared to bare her arms. As any woman knows, when it comes to body image, arms are difficult. After the age of about 30 or sometimes even younger, many women start to worry about them. Too plump, too skinny and, oh dear, where did those wobbly bits come from?

So the sheer presumption of the American first lady in showing off a pair of toned and muscular arms at the ripe old age of 45 has got the feline species caterwauling in protest all over the world. Anyone would think she had stood on the White House lawn and taken her clothes off. Some of the more ridiculous remarks were that it's snowing in Washington and she should be covering up in the cold weather, or that an official photograph was a business occasion and she looked too informal. The implication is that she looks like mutton dressed as lamb. Well maybe the critics should take off their frosted glasses and have a closer look. She looks absolutely fabulous, and it's a cheap shot to try to suggest otherwise.

Mrs Obama gets up every morning at 5.30am and goes straight to the gym, where she works out vigorously. I reckon she has earned the right to show off her lovely arms. The dress she wore for the photo shoot in the Blue Room of the White House is simple and elegant, worn with a double string of pearls. The image is of an athletic, healthy and elegant woman who is enjoying her new life and is comfortable with her self-image.

Millions of women will look at the picture and rush upstairs to their mirror to inspect their arms from every angle. Some of them will make the comparison and decide they don't measure up, but there's nothing wrong with that. There can't be many women who don't do a bit of camouflaging and covering a little flab here and they can only improve the landscape.

The other day I was surprised to discover that I had managed to incur Dh1,600 worth of speeding fines. I knew about two of them, as the speed cameras flashed as I passed them, and I do try very hard to keep to the speed limit, but not the others. My car gives out an irritating beep every time it is pushed past the 120 mph mark, so it's not too difficult to remember to slow down. Still, I am determined I will listen to its insistent warnings in future. Trawling around the Dubai Police website, I discovered that my fines paled into insignificance beside those of the emirate's most prolific offender, a woman who has racked up fines of Dh70,370 for 295 traffic offences including speeding, parking and overtaking from the wrong side.

She even had her car seized by officers until she paid up, but then she went right back out there and clocked up a further Dh53,239 in one month. It's hardly surprising that police are considering naming and shaming the worst offenders. It's worth visiting their website, www.dubaipolice.gov.ae, if only to look at the section with a series of graphic photographs of horrendous crashes taken on UAE roads that police are hoping will act as a deterrent. The rocket lady should be forced to view them all and so should all the tailgaters who make it so hard to keep to the limit.

An early introduction to poetry, whether it be classic or modern, stays with us for life, but too often it is overlooked in a busy educational system so that the art of writing poetry remains shrouded in mystery. So it was with some pleasure that I spent a couple of hours last week with the Emirati poet and film director Nujum al Ghanim at Wellington International School, Dubai, and watched her as she skilfully encouraged a group of bright teenagers to give it a try. She gave them a subject, in one instance it was "grandmother" and then urged them to think of associated colours, smells, sensations and feelings. Within minutes the initially shy youngsters were scribbling away and the results of their efforts were truly gratifying.

Al Ghanim is one of more than 100 poets from 45 countries who will take part in the Dubai International Poetry Festival, which runs until Tuesday.