Monday, August 07, 2006

Who would think of taking hair gel to Beirut?

5 August 2006
There's a certain war reporting chic in Beirut, to be observed at all times.
Not shaving gives you a "war beard" and colleagues will tear the mickey out of you for trying to look macho.
Having an Apocalypse Now-style cut-off sleeved press photographer's jacket is unforgivable, as is donning anything remotely military.
Any dirt, dust, scuffs or marks of any kind on your clothes looks like you are trying too hard to look like you've been in the zone.
The same goes for ruffled hair, mucky shoes, carrying too many bags with you or even a specially-designed water bottle like the ones soldiers and cowboys carry.
I have seen all of these things being worn by members of the press in recent days. All of them have been ridiculed.
With this in mind the British press in Beirut collectively looks itself over in the morning to check for any deviations from the rules.
Shirt sleeves and T-shirts are okay - after all it is boiling here during the day and you don't want to overheat.
Shorts are just massively disallowed - not just because we are in the The Middle East and it might cause offence but, well, they just look stupid. Always.
Jeans are very good, as are light-weight Chinos, even though they are impractical as they look dirty after an hour in the dusty streets.
Though practical, hiking boots are borderline as they may look a little military and you will raise a few eyebrows from the photographers.
The best footwear for safe passage through the minefield of mickey takes you have to step through every day is a pair of trainers.
But you have to be careful even then as some SAS-types at the embassy wear trainers and you definitely don't want to be caught emulating them.
So, armed with a plastic bottle of Perrier - non military and straight off the shop shelf - clean-shaven, dressed in jeans,a sleeved shirt and wearing trainers, I stepped out of the lift yesterday carrying a small notebook and a pen.
So far no mistakes.
Then a photographer from a British broadsheet screamed at me: "Take that ******* war pouch off."
I was carrying a moneybelt - practical you might think but apparently an unforgivable crime. Wallets that can be stolen easily are the fashion.
My shame only lasted five minutes as we drove around Beirut hoping to find the site of the previous night's Israeli bombardment.
And there he was - the full Monty!
A photographer was taking pictures in the middle of the road sporting all of the above, including the war beard, dirty combat trousers, sleeveless fishing jacket, belts, carabiners, webbing, desert boots, water bottles and loads of khaki bags.
I was off the hook.
But every day you live on a war-fashion knife-edge, trying to look as casual and as un-warlike as possible.
I have just got returned from trying to arrange a story with some gentlemen from the Hezbollah organisation.
They are the only locals you see wearing shades who stand guard over bomb sites, briefy barring you, then allowing you in after ten minutes after speaking into a walkie-talkie that may not even work.
After showering and changing for dinner I bumped into Daily Mirror photographer James Vellacott who suggested I put some gel in my hair as I looked too business-like and needed to be more scruffy.
Who would think of taking hair gel to Beirut?
You can't win!
From The Mirror's BeirutBlog by Chris Hughes